My father was the editor of ‘Tarun Bharat’ published from Belgaum during the Independence Movement of 1942. Along with his responsibilities as editor of the paper, he also participated in the freedom struggle. He was not lucky enough to have an enjoyable childhood like most people. But unlike many others, despite an unhappy childhood, he was very kind and concerned about other people and had a very positive attitude towards the world. During the freedom struggle many stalwarts like Nath Pai had gone underground; many were put behind the bars. My father remained out of jail but took upon himself the responsibility of assisting these underground and incarcerated freedom fighters to overcome the tough time. He used to arrange for their food; collect money from sympathisers of the struggle and give it to the families of the freedom fighters; console their families and help them as much as possible.
Growing in a Joint Family:
(In Marathi we generally address our Father and Mother as Baba and Ai. We shall use these endearing terms hereafter.)
Ai comes from Goa. My maternal uncle’s children had to be sent to Belgaum for education as Goa was a Portuguese colony at that time. They were of the same age as were I and my siblings. Some children of relatives from my father’s side were also with us. So, in all we were about 12 children being brought up at the same time, in our small house in Belgaum. We had just three rooms in our house. We did feel the paucity of many things, but we all grew with friendliness and kindness towards each other. For my mother and father, every one of us was their own child and we children too treated each other’s cousins as their own siblings without discriminating between “us” and “them”. This same childhood feeling of being one unified family is still alive in our hearts. Some of us children studied in Marathi Medium Schools and others in English Medium Schools. Baba felt that I was able to express myself rather well and will benefit more from an English Medium School. So he put me in St. Joseph’s Convent School. He had to struggle hard to make ends meet but he always provided enough for educating all of us. Baba and Ai never mentioned or gave us even an inkling of how much they had to strive.
Inculcating Eternal Values:
Every day Baba read some articles from the news papers for us children. I remember Acharya Atre’s penetrating articles of those days. As Baba returned home around 9’o’clock in the evening he used to read that day’s editorial for us and also explained how to read an article, raising or lowering your voice paying attention to the discourse as well as punctuation marks in the text; which word should be stressed and how; what was the gist and the important point of the article and many such things. He told us, ‘learn from Acharya Atre how to admire a person when you want to admire one; and also how to criticize and to what extent you can go when you want to criticize someone.’ In those days Atre used to criticize Nehru severely; but when Pandit Nehru passed away, Atre wrote article after article for 13 days on Nehru praising him magnanimously. Baba had preserved all these articles for us and made us read them time and again.
Occasionally Baba used to teach us; but it was all without any harsh discipline. Ai, on the contrary was a strict disciplinarian. Ai had lost her mother, (my grandmother) when she was still a child. So she had decided to remain totally self-dependent wherever she may have to go. It had become her second nature. She tried to raise us too in strict discipline. Baba and Ai at times used to quarrel with each other on this issue. Naturally we were more attached to Baba who allowed us to be a little unruly. He raised us; or rather he shaped us as he thought it fit. He had instilled in us that one ought to do some good deed every day. Money-wise, we were rather poor. My parents somehow managed to make ends meet. Even in such a state of affairs, he used to say, ‘See; Shaila whatever little you may have, you should always consider it ‘more than enough’; i.e. if you have one Bhakari (homemade bread of the coarse cereal Bajari), you should give away a quarter of it to someone who needs it more.’ Baba had taught us many such good things of life. In fact he quite successfully inculcated these eternal human values in our minds, the importance of which we realize today.
A Gift Hamper of Human Values and Joy:
Baba used to tell us a lot of good things about Gandhiji and all the movements he led. He was very fond of telling us what he thought of Gandhiji, many anecdotes about him, Panditji’s thoughts or his lectures when he visited Balgaum, etc. In those days, there used to be many stage shows in Belgaum and my father being a journalist would always get free passes to the shows. Baba used to take us all to see the shows. Ai thought that going to the theatre so often would spoil us. My brother listened to her and did not accompany us. Being a bit naughty and wilful, I accompanied my father and saw as many plays as I could. It was a very joyful time-a sort of provision for the future journey in life. I loved to share my joy with others in those days and eventually it became my habit. I never felt that there was anything unusual in sharing for I expected all human beings, all over the world to be as simple and straight forward as I was. I believed that I must share everything that I have with others. Such moulding of our supple and pliant minds enriched our childhood with graciousness and civility. Rarely is a child lucky enough to be brought up in such environment as I enjoyed.
I Became a Doctor:
I got admission in a Medical College easily, but could not attend the classes out of fear and returned home without attending the classes. Then Baba used to take me back to the college and put me there again. I got used to the routine of medical college gradually and also managed to become a doctor in due course. Then I thought I should do M.D. in Medicine. In our college there was one professor, an M.R.C.P. from London, who was not only an excellent teacher but also was a very good speaker. Since he was attached to a big Government Hospital, we-his students- got ample opportunity to serve many poor people. I wished, I could also study further and get M.R.C.P. degree so that I could teach in that college and serve the people. While doing my internship I scored very well in medicine and would have surely got that seat (M.D. in Medicine). I had also arranged for the expenses. Being attached to a big Government hospital, that college drew a huge crowd of poor patients. It offered a rare opportunity of serving thousands of patients. So I had decided to go there and work. But my longing to go home came in my way. I lost the well deserved seat because of my inadequate attendance. They told me I would get admission six months later. In the meanwhile I appeared for the M.P.S.C. examination, cleared it and was given the post of Grade II, Gazetted Officer. My first posting was in the Civil Hospital at Belgaum. Now I was in a dilemma- should or shouldn’t I try for M.D. in Medicine?
Marriage-a Vexed Problem:
I was about 25 years old then. I had not even thought of marriage. But my mother was bent on getting me married. I told her, ‘I want to study a lot more.’ One of our lady teachers-Lalita Madam- was unmarried and lived alone, all by herself. I wanted to follow in her footsteps. But my mother urged and goaded me day in and day out, so much that finally I arrived at the conclusion that the only way to escape from this harassment is to agree to get married. A Medical College in Belgaum was attached to the Civil Hospital where I was posted as a Gazetted Officer. I was required to teach in that college as a lecturer. Most of the students there had donated large sums of money to secure admission and many were older than I. Being a Gynaecologist, while teaching them Obstetrics, I had to instruct them how to hold the foetus while the mother is delivering the baby. At times they were not able to follow my instructions and I had to hold their hands and show them how to do it properly. One of my elderly students misinterpreted it as a gesture of affection and proposed to me. It had never occurred to me that my action could be misconstrued in this manner. I only knew that I was their teacher and they were my students. This created an additional problem for me. On the one hand Ai was tirelessly goading me to get married and on the other there was this problem of teaching older students coming from affluent families. It was not possible to continue with the latter and I had to make a decision.
First tête-à-tête with Doctor:
One of Ai’s friends (wife of my elder brother in law), once suggested to her, ‘we are in search for a suitable match for our youngest brother in law. Why don’t you propose to him for your daughter?’ Ai agreed to it. I did not at all approve of this custom of arranging a meeting between the boy’s family and that of the girl’s. It did not fit into my way of thinking. Ai used to rebuke me for being so nonconforming and weird. She would remind me that when you live in the society, you ought to follow social norms. I was extremely angry with her about this as never before. Then one fine day Baba and Ai literally put me in a car and took me to Satara. In this very same house, (where we are sitting now) in Sadashiv Peth in Satara I and Doctor (Dr. Narendra Dabholkar) met and talked with each other. The first questions he asked me were, ‘are you able to do a caesarean operation? And are you able to manage and also provide for a household?’ He went a step further and made it clear, ‘If I felt like writing, I will only write; a job or a service and earning money is not my cup of tea; so you will have to manage all that. But you will be free to do what you want to in all other respects.’ I realized then that this self willed man will always do exactly what he wants to do. I wondered why I should give up my prestigious job as a gazetted officer and live with this determined and wilful man? After all I want to work for the patients; whether I do that in Belgaum or here in Satara is immaterial. It’s certainly better in Belgaum. I would rather face Ai’s wrath but would not like to marry. So I told Doctor that I won’t be able to carry out all these responsibilities, so I can’t marry him. We returned back to Belgaum and I thought that the topic of marriage was over for me.
Finally I Got Married:
However in the next two months there were a number of marriage proposals for me. After all I was a lecturer in a Medical College and a Gazetted Officer in the Civil Hospital so proposals were a plenty. Most of them were very rich students living in luxury. During nights they littered the Gynaecology Department with beer bottles and I used to get wild when I saw it. I used to take them to task and told them that I would not tolerate any such thing in my department when I was on duty. I never hesitated in telling them my mind. Eventually all this became quite exasperating. As time passed, I began to feel that ultimately I will have to settle somewhere, sometime and that is the only way to escape from the present situation. Unwittingly I started comparing the rich arrogant young men who proposed to me with the frank and forthright young doctor from Satara. The huge disparity between them was obvious. The Satara Doctor was prepared to give me complete freedom. He respected and trusted me. All he expected from me was that I should take the responsibility of running and providing for the house. I was thoroughly perplexed.
Then I met with Doctor once again and told him, ‘See, I want to live with my mother and father. I would not like to be away from my brothers and sisters also. If you agree to this, then I am prepared to marry you.’ He agreed. And thus we decided to marry. The ‘talks’ went on for nearly a year and finally we got married.
From Belgaum to Satara via Kolhapur:
After marriage, I came to Satara to a very old house. However I was, by nature, a resolute and self-assured person. I face all difficulties squarely and overcome them. I had decided to manage whatever was in store for me. My service in Belgaum continued. Doctor also had a job at that time but was not interested in it. He somehow continued in that job for a few years. I was reluctant to give up my job of a gazetted officer. So for the first year and a half I did not shift to Satara but we used to meet often. Afterwards we decided to meet each other at Kolhapur at my brother-in -Law’s house, which was midway between Belgaum and Satara and therefore more convenient to both of us. At times we used to stay there for a couple of days. This way we began our married life. Then people in Belgaum started doubting whether all was well with our marriage and became more and more inquisitive-an additional Social Pressure, a new difficulty and again a decision to be taken.
Tight Rope Walk and Satara Again:
Being selected through the Public Service Commission, I was entitled to reach up to the highest post of ‘Director of Health’ and will have lot of powers which I could have used effectively for the welfare of the people. In thinking over these prospects, the objective of doing M.D. in medicine was lost somewhere, and I proceeded on a new track. Real beneficial work was possible in this track too. The sheer thought of giving up such a Job was quite painful. I had to choose between going to Satara and continuing the present job.
After being posted at Belgaum I took admission for Diploma in Gynaecology from the Mumbai University. Going to Mumbai, and working at Belgaum was a real tight rope walk. I had night duty once in every five days. For two days I had to go to Mumbai to attend lectures. On my way I used to drop at Satara, meet my husband and then take a bus to Mumbai. I would return to Belgaum on the first day of the next cycle followed by a night duty on the next day. After a year’s struggle I finally became a D.G.O. The thought of getting an M.D. degree emerged again. I had already studied a lot in that subject. So I requested my husband to let me complete my M.D. He did not like the idea. He said, ‘I am tired of this job and want to give it up as soon as possible and take up full time Active Social Work. I am also fed up of this lonely life; so come back to Satara now.’ I gave up my plan of studying for M.D. and returned to Satara.
Plenty of Patients with Empty Pockets:
My husband earned a salary of about Rs. 600/- per month but the payment was delayed for months. It was difficult to make ends meet. After coming to Satara, I opened a clinic. My husband being very popular, many patients soon started coming to the clinic. But after examining over 40 patients, my income of the day was less than Rs.10/-. I was certainly not good at asking them to pay me. Everyone used to claim to be a friend of ‘Narubhau’ and it became embarrassing to ask them to pay. On being asked to pay they would say they will pay later. So whatever I earned was spent on buying medicines and other stuff for the dispensary. So I called my clinic, ‘Plenty Patients and Empty Pockets’. At the end of the month I did not know from where to get the money for the required provisions. Once I earned 40 rupees in fees and was overjoyed. I remember how carefully I kept all that money in a box.
Doctor’s ‘Dhadak’ and Two Lawsuits against Me:
Later I got a job in the Municipal Hospital on a salary of Rs.400 per month. Despite the meagre salary, I accepted the job thinking that it would at least help me keep the home going. Lots and lots of women came there for delivery offering a big opportunity to serve them. I am capable of facing all difficulties on my own with confidence since my childhood. I had no complaint or grievance when I had to give up a remunerative job and good life that I had at Belgaum and live so frugally in Satara. I did not repent then; nor do I repent it now.
Once Doctor organized a huge confrontation against the Satara Municipality. He was also publishing a newspaper named ‘Dhadak’ at that time. He had nursed these ideas of confrontation and publishing news paper of his own since long. I was also enjoying my municipal job of one and a half thousand deliveries every year. Quite a few of these deliveries were much complicated and I personally attended them, looking after their medicines as well as diets. Many women could not afford any medicines. So I raised a fund to buy them medicines by contributing one hundred rupees out of my monthly salary of 400/-. When some patient returned the money that I spent on their medicines, I put it back into the fund. I tried my level best to improve the treatment they were given.
Along with nurturing Mukta, my first baby, as a doctor I lived an uncommon life. I served tea and snacks to many activists who came to consult with Doctor. Our drawing room would be always full of visitors. They were working selflessly for society and sharing their experience with us; so I thought I ought to support and encourage them. It became the mission of my life.
Once during this job of mine, a new born infant died in the hospital. The infant died because it was born with multiple congenital anomalies. Yet the people in the municipality launched a case of negligence against me. None of the three doctor colleagues of mine supported me. So I had to defend and prove myself not guilty. I handled all the people involved appropriately and returned home. My nature was to forget such small irritating things and not to brood over them. I did not tell my husband anything about it.
Later on, Doctor wrote an article in his paper ‘Dhadak’ exposing the corruption that was going on in the municipality. Next day a municipal officer came to warn me, asking me to restrain my husband and to tell him not to indulge in such mischief or else, I will lose my job. I told him that I was least worried about the job. He tried to persuade me, ‘just remember, your whole family depends on your salary and I know you are not well to do enough not to bother about losing your job. I know Dabholkar and his family since his childhood. So you better distance yourself from these affairs and tell your husband also not to interfere in it. I warn you all this must stop if you want to live in Satara.’ I told him, ‘what to tell and what not to tell my husband is my problem. Secondly before we got married we had decided to work sincerely for the neglected poor people and what we are doing is the right thing to do and we would not let anybody interfere with our work. If you want me to resign, well I am happy to resign.’ They could not afford to lose me since no other doctor was available there.
I thought that this episode was over then; but it was not. Within a month’s time I was accused of infanticide. One mother slept over her baby and it died of suffocation. I went to the hospital at 1 o’clock in the night and asked for the baby’s post-mortem report which they did not give. Having worked in a big Civil Hospital, I knew all the necessary procedures in such cases. I wrote the whole report of what happened on a paper. But I forgot to take it home. They got an opportunity to launch a case against me and declared my name (as a culprit) on the board in the court yard. This meant the end of your career in those days. I was completely confused; so I asked Doctor what to do. He told me I will have to rewrite the whole thing again and find a lawyer to defend our case.
In fact the husband of that woman had already told us that the Municipal Authorities are going to drag me into the court in this case. He was very sympathetic to me because I had helped him a lot; he was aware of what had really happened and also that I was not responsible for it in the least. He came to me and said, ‘Madam I have not forgotten the way you helped us; I know, as you also know, what exactly had happened. But these people are offering me money and pressing me to give evidence against you. They harass me and want me to insult and hurt you.’ Then he quietly got hold of the report I had forgotten there and gave it back to me. It was now possible for me to fight the case successfully. But soon after this incident, I submitted my resignation from the service to avoid such unnecessary bickering in future. They did not accept my resignation because they were bent on dragging me into the court; but they had to in the end.
Demanding Responsibility-Providing for the Family:
I gave up my job; but how to run the household was a big problem now. In those days the movement ‘Ek gaw ek panavatha’ (one source of water for all the residents of a village) led by Baba Adhav was in full swing and Doctor was totally involved in it. He had already given up his job. He was involved in many other parallel social activities along with his participation in Baba Adhav’s Movement. He was not yet able to decide exactly what he should do or what his mission should be. Mukta was now four years old and Hamid was just born. I had to bear the demanding responsibility of providing for and also running the household. I was somehow carrying out the balancing act.
There was another difficulty. I had started a maternity home but did not afford to provide the necessary amenities and facilities. I did not have even the required instruments. In this very house, where we are sitting now, we lived in one room and the hospital was in the other room. When number of patients arrived, the living room too became hospital. But I was fortunate in one thing. My mother in law had come to my rescue. She helped me in every respect and made my work easy. She was a pillar of support and encouragement.
Hamid’s birth was a turning point that brought some stability in our life. I could take proper care of both Mukta and Hamid while bringing them up. During this period I started reading books on psychology. I practiced all that I learned from this study on my two kids. It proved very useful for the kids as well as our life together.
Obsession with Gandhi:
I was also eager to participate in social movements like my husband. On this issue we used to quarrel off and on. I still remember the incident when Mukta was just a few months old. There is a village called Bhandera. The villagers there had a problem regarding their lands. Doctor organized a small team of about ten young volunteers and proceeded to that village. They used to go there, meet with the villagers and talk to them. Later Doctor decided to start the ‘Charakha’ (spinning wheel) Movement, for, in those days his mind was preoccupied with Gandhian thought. So he collected a few Charakhas, from somewhere, and started demonstrating to the villagers how to use it. …That night when he was about to leave for that village, he told me that he won’t be back the same night and may require to stay there for a couple of days. I said, ‘No, you can’t go alone. We will go together, that is what we had decided. I will come with Mukta; we will eat whatever you eat and live as you do… It’s you and not me who needs potatoes. I can manage with anything, anywhere. He said, ‘No. This won’t do. You have got to stay back. We can’t afford to neglect the child.’ And he left us. In the end I came to the conclusion that it’s no use quarrelling for long in this manner and I have to find my own path.
I was deeply disappointed that I could not lead the kind of life I had dreamt of with my husband. Then we decided that we will devote all Saturdays and Sundays to each other and leave all the other work for the week days.
Important Turning Point:
The Andhashraddha Nirmoolan Movement had started growing vigorously during this period. And despite our resolve to spend Weekends together, Doctor had to give up even this little leisure very soon. But I was fully aware how important and significant the work he was doing was and was proud of it. So I never resented or complained about it. Later, he had to shoulder the additional responsibility of editorship of ‘Saptahik Sadhana’.
ANS was founded with only a few likeminded activists. These founding members were-myself, Arun Limaye, Jyoti Subhash, Prasanna Dabholkar and a girl whose surname was Dharmadhikari. We all used to go to villages together. We used to explain to those people what black magic, possession by ghosts or by deities, and such other things are, through various programmes. Once Arun Limaye brought the famous rationalist B. Premanand to Satara. He demonstrated how miracles can be performed. We all participated in performing miracles. This was a turning point in Doctor’s life. He could now clearly see what exactly he wanted to do. He started filling in details and perfecting the vision he obtained from Premadanda’s demonstrations of miracles. He always took an informed and well considered stand. He insisted that the thoughts that are not expressed through action are of no use. He could think of innumerable programmes and activities to put his thoughts into action. In fact, Baba Adhav’s movement ‘Ek Gao, Ek Panavatha’ attracted him because it was full of programmes and activities. During that movement he would go to a village even with just one activist accompanying him, meet with people, converse with them and try to bring the whole village community together. He was very effective in making the villagers agree to open the sole source of water to all the members. He would return home only after accomplishing this mission. He was indeed very effective in bringing people together. After witnessing B. Premanad’s demonstration of miracles his self confidence doubled and he resolved to strengthen and spread ANS. This was around 1985-86.
Joint Family -Our Real Strength:
One of his friends and a well wisher thought that this man (Dabholkar) will do nothing for himself; so we ought to take care of him and his family. So he bought a plot for us and also paid all that was due. Later we returned his money little by little and also built a small house there when we could save enough. I had never aspired for a new house. I was quite happy with the small old house in which we lived all this while. So I told my husband, ‘I am not going to shift into the new house; and add to our responsibilities unnecessarily. As I think of myself, I realize that I am drawn more and more into the home and its affairs. I married you to become an activist and aspired for an outdoor active life. But now I am completely homebound. I am not going to live in your new bungalow.’ For nearly a year and a half I did not enter that house; I did not even know how it looked.
By now, my kids were growing. For them the house was too old and not big enough. I had my dispensary in the same house and also examined the patients there; about 15 patients used to be hospitalised at a time in the same house. Another difficulty erupted because of it. My children used to catch infection now and then and often fall sick. Finally I decided to shift. Shifting into the new house meant facing new difficulties. I had to look after my husband, then there was the hospital and patients to take care of; and now the new house with the children. How am I to manage all this?
I had my priorities already decided. My first preference was my husband and helping him in his work as much as I could. My parents and my brothers too agreed with me, ‘social work must come first and foremost.’ Both the families -my father’s family and the whole of Dabholkar family- stood behind Doctor supporting him whole heartedly. Thus he had around 50 unseen staunch activists backing him. Each one of them appreciated his courage and his determination to do something for the society; each of them helped in whatever way he could, sparing whatever resources he had- money, time whatever. He had endeared himself to every member of the two families. In fact the Dabholkar family is a unified whole. There never had been and even now there is no such feeling as ‘mine and thine’ or ‘one’s own and others’ in our family. This is our real strength. With all this encouragement my husband never felt frustrated. That is why we can overcome all difficulties.
Our Home Team:
After shifting into the new house, away from my hospital, I needed someone to look after the children and the house for the whole day. So I requested my father and mother, to come and stay with us otherwise I will have to give up my practice and somehow manage to raise the children. The tight rope walk of looking after the house and the children and continuing the practice away from the house was becoming increasingly difficult for me. I wanted to have my own children and raise them with utmost care and love and that was my first commitment. So I couldn’t leave them to the care of a hired maid. I could depend only on my mother. My mother refused to come and live in her Son-in-law’s house. I told her, ‘look Ai, this in fact is your house and you will run it as you wish and only let us live with you in your house. Will this be acceptable to you?’ Ai was still adamant. Then Doctor talked with her and convinced her of my difficulty. Finally Ai and Baba came to live with us. When Hamid was expected we hired a good efficient and affectionate maid. She managed our house quite well under Ai’s supervision. Later my brother, Anil, who was at Belgaum also came and stayed with us along with his wife. Now we formed a team of our own.
My in-laws were also there to give us company. We all have very sincere and cordial relations with each other. My in-laws have great respect for my mother. They call her ‘Mai’. She has her own identity in the Dabholkar family and so has my brother. Anil is much more intelligent than I am. But he preferred not to accept any promotion and continued in the clerical cadre in the Bank of Maharashtra. Why? Because he was worried that his Tai, i.e. I, would be left alone when he got transferred which was inevitable in the higher cadres. He remained in Belgaum and later with us to give me psychological support. He knew my short comings well and kept our family united. He never utters a word about this great sacrifice he has been making for my sake. Even today my daughter in law, Mugdha opens her heart to my brother and asks for his advice when things become difficult. He has become a parent to both Mugdha and Hamid. They have one more parent-Prasanna Dabholkar. Anil and Prasanna have substituted Doctor as a parent to them. They both do their level best to keep this family of ours together.
These things may appear trivial. But when you think of a family these trivialities become hugely important; important for individual’s development and they cannot be ignored. We had a union of 40 odd people in our house and each individual contributed as much as he could and rushed to help when somebody was in difficulty. Whenever Dr. Narendra was in need of cash and looked worried Dattaprasad immediately detected it and gave him enough money. Devadatta encouraged him to do whatever he wanted to do; be it the editorship of Saptahik Sadhana, or any other such activity or pursuit. Devadatta was always there to defend and support Narendra in whatever he wanted to do. Thus there were and are many family members to support us psychologically, financially and in all other ways. It was the ‘Cause’ for which they were all fighting together. Rarely can one garner such huge and wholehearted support from the family. There isn’t any other cause that I can think of, where so many individuals get so close to each other and work in unison. And yet all this went on unnoticed. It appeared as though each of us was working separately. But it was not so. We all felt that it is our duty to help Doctor Narendra because he was striving for a noble cause. Every one contributed as much as he could. A sister in law of mine sacrificed for Narendra much more than anybody else. To her Narendra was like her own child. All these components that shaped Narendra, the great achiever, have never come to the fore. Rarely can one find such an efficient core group and fine teamwork in his own family.
Made for Each Other:
In this huge family no one would tell him what his shortcomings were. So I had to do that job. He always used to tell me, ‘Shaila, I feel very lonely among this admiring crowd. Don’t ever leave me alone.’ This one sentence was enough for me to live. It gave me strength. He crisscrossed the whole of Maharashtra, travelling for weeks at a stretch. We could not meet or see each other or even talk to each other on phone for even a couple of weeks. But we could rest assured that we were there for each other in any difficulty and just one call for help will gather the whole family to defend and support us. This made us strong enough to overcome all difficulties.
Unified with Narendra:
Personally I was not involved in the movement. But I served as a guinea pig, because the first trial of any new thing was performed on me. If he had to deliver a speech anywhere I was the first listener. During our walks together I had to listen to his whole speech. Once I told him, ‘Look, I am now tired of listening to your speeches. I have many other concerns to discuss with you and you don’t spare any time for them.’ Then for a few minutes he would stop his lecture and discuss other matters. And again revert to his lecture. Once I was thoroughly disgusted and told him, ‘Your lectures are irritating and they torment me so much. And yet I tolerate it all, just because I love you with all my heart.’ He continued with his speech. And on top of it, while returning home he used to ask me if he had missed any point in it. So I had to listen to him very carefully and remember it well. In short I had almost become Narendra. I often pointed this dominating male tendency in him and he would try to change himself.
My Independent Undertaking:
This work I had started when Mukta was about four years old. I had met with a lady who asked me if I would work with her. She had raised a fund named, ‘Nivedita’. With that she had started a crèche for infants in a village. I agreed to work with her and started accompanying her whenever she went to that village. During this work I had the opportunity to talk with the women in that village. There I came to know that on the hill below mount Yevateshwar, lived a few women. So I started carrying some wheat flour and other nutritious food items for these women and gave it to them on returning from the hospital twice a week. I used to meet with these women and tell them how to feed their children. There I realized that those women had to climb a big hill and walk a long distance to fetch water. Nobody took any notice of their plight. Although I knew nothing about how to solve such a problem, I discussed it with those women. I thought that we should meet the Collector of the District and explain to him the difficulties these women faced and submit a written demand for water supply to him. I did not know how to write an appeal. So I requested my husband, ‘Will you write this application for me? Other husbands buy saris and other stuff for their wives. I don’t want any of it but just write this application for me.’ He wrote a beautiful appeal. Those women signed it. We went to the Collector’s Office in a Morcha. My husband told me what slogans we should give and how we should conduct the Morcha. On reaching the Collector’s Office we submitted our statement to him. Many other people joined in and soon our efforts bore fruit. Now they have water taps in their houses. Those women have become old now. But whenever we meet, they tell me, ‘How nice of you; we get water all because of you.’ In fact I had forgotten it altogether.
Sometime later Government had issued an order to form ‘Mahila Mandal’ (women’s association). So I approached the concerned D.H.O. and told him I wanted to take up this work. He had so far not found any doctor for orientation of women for starting a Mahila Mandal. I am well versed in health care, gathering women, etc. for I had done this before. So I undertook the responsibility of Mahila Mandal. The timing of the meetings, i.e. afternoon also suited me well. By 2 o’clock I used to finish attending to all patients; work at the Mahila Mandal from 2 to 5 and come back to the hospital after 5 to attend to the patients again. The Mahila Mandal scheme provided me with a car to travel around and also a ready audience to listen to me. My job was to go there, meet the women, converse with them, identify their problems and report them to the office. I attended 217 such Mahila Mandals. Mr. Sanap, the D.H.O. in charge of it respected me a lot. I too enjoyed this work thoroughly. I became much more confident because of the experience I gained from this work. I understood the difficulties women have to face during this work as well as from my patients in the hospital.
When I passed M.B.B.S. I blamed myself for becoming a gynaecologist, because a gynaecologist has to listen to the woes of women day in and day out, to the quarrels between husbands and wives; stay on their feet for whole nights during deliveries; all this was disgusting. I was able to fully appreciate the fact that a family is a system to satisfy the drive that is produced by the male and female reproductive systems combined together; but the tragedy is that women have become victims of this reciprocal reproductive urge and no one can interfere in it.
Once a patient came to me and told me that she wanted to have a baby. While writing her history, I asked her, ‘You look so young, just about 16. How old is your husband?’ She called her husband in; he was over 50 years. Looking at him I became furious. I asked him, ‘Is this girl your wife?’
He said, ‘Yes, this is my third wife, for the first two did not give me any children. Let me see when this one begets me a child’.
I asked, ‘Why did you not get yourself examined?’
In reply he asked me, ‘Do men ever submit themselves to such examination?’
I said, ‘No, you are wrong. You must get yourself examined?’ I told him to go out and asked her, ‘do all three of you stay with him together?’
She said, ‘What can we do mam? Our caste does not allow us to return to our parents since we have no issues. We have got to stay together as rival wives with him.’
I told her, ‘you will not get a child because the defect does not lie in you; it is in him. When three of you are not able to conceive the defect is surely with the husband.’
She replied, ‘We cannot ask him to undergo any such examination.’
40 years back a woman was completely helpless and could do nothing on her own. From this episode I learned that it was possible for me to do a lot of work sitting in my hospital (helping these women to become self-dependent). I started thinking over what I could do. I learnt farming from my elder brother in law. I started giving things; a goat to one village woman, hens to another to help them help themselves. Keeping ten hens is enough to sustain a household in the village. Then I went with my sister in law to Jamkhed. A doctor there has developed a perfect model village where women are becoming self-dependent. I observed all that he has done there and collected all the necessary information. Then I felt confident enough to encourage women to be self-dependent with some little help that I could afford.
My Husband’s Active Support:
Doctor always helped us in putting all these plans and schemes into practice and also in overcoming obstacles and difficulties. I used to tell him, ‘the whole day you are engrossed in some thought, conceiving and forming a number of plans and schemes in your mind and try them out on me. But one thing I must admit; because of these trials of yours, I don’t need to read many books like you; I get a proper world vision without any efforts. I should ever remain grateful to you for that.’ He used to laugh at me, ‘Oh, I see. I am glad; after all, I am of some use to you!’
Though he was quite regretful that he could not do anything for me, he never uttered a word about it to me. But in the last interview that we gave to a paper, together, he openly accepted, ‘I have been very unfair to Shaila and sincerely repent for not doing anything for her.’ I said, ‘My dear, why do you feel guilty? Haven’t you always been with me? Moreover don’t we have each other at least to quarrel with? We freely express our diverse and at times contradictory views in front of each other. Anyone can indulge in romantic love. But the feeling of being frank, sincere and truthful to each other is of utmost importance in life. Think of all the good things we are doing together. We may not even see each other for days and yet we can detect each other’s failings and weaknesses more than the commendable qualities in us because we have chosen a path of perfection to reach our goal.’
All of us are Activists:
After the assassination of Dr. Dabholkar, people all over Maharashtra and the country are looking at the Dabholkar family and ANS activists with great sympathy and also with great expectation. People from all strata of society are offering help and wholehearted support. So, at this poignant instance I want to expressly assure all our well wishers that every member of our Dabholkar family is an activist like all ANS activists. The only difference is that we could see a little more of Dr. Dabholkar than the rest of them.
Now that Dr. Dabholkar is no more with us, the ANS activists are naturally perplexed by the question, ‘What should we do next’. A few might even be contemplating to take some hasty extreme step because we all are prone to act rashly out of vengeance. But we must curb this tendency in us in view of the possibility of spreading violence. The changes that take place in the human brain are not revolutionary; they are very slow evolutionary changes. Our instincts and our emotions determine our actions. So we must consciously try to rein in our instincts and emotions and make our behaviour increasingly discrete and judicious, contemplated and well informed.
The selfish elements in society oppose people who act judiciously. The thoughts of the community as a whole are crude and naive. They (the thoughts) need to be treated, mended and healed. However this process of change is extremely slow. We should develop this basic understanding and proceed quietly like one lamp lighting another and illuminating our chosen path. Every community is bound in a frame of traditions. Nobody dares to break that frame. Moreover if anybody dares break the frame and free himself, the community is frightened and becomes nervous. The community then acts irrationally and exterminates the change maker.
The society may appear to be very progressive; it may use all scientific innovations; and yet it is not able to break out of the dreadful mould of tradition- cultural and religious. Those who are struggling to bring about change by breaking this mould should adopt a ‘win win’ policy which alone can curb the rash and irrational acts we often experience. The ‘win win’ policy however has yet not penetrated deep enough in us. This is our imperfection, a limitation that we need to overcome. If we keep thinking of defeating our opponent, we can never win in the real sense. Our triumph is not defeating our enemy but keeping up our own struggle-a continuous fight against evil. Moreover we cannot advance by hurting the ego of society. And simultaneously we ought to develop tolerance and patience enough to stomach the criticism heaped on us by society. In this arduous journey we ought not to forsake the two cherished principles- Truth and Nonviolence. Never mind if our work does not arrest attention of the people. In this connection I strongly feel that our activists need to read a lot more; be more perceptive of the changes that are taking place around them. Dr. Dabholkar too had started stressing this point recently.
One can do a lot of work without indulging in rebellious extremist activities and without offending society. Dr. Dabholkar had started many such programmes – Pro-environment Ganapati Festival, rehabilitation of drug addicts, and many others. These programmes are encouraged and supported by society and they increase our strength too. Therefore we should not concentrate solely on exposing Babas and Buvas. Exposing Baba-Buvas is no doubt important and should be carried out whenever necessary. But that is not our main goal. Similarly we should surely encourage and help inter-caste and inter-religion marriages but should not spend precious time and energy in criticizing those who oppose them. We should know our own strengths and weaknesses and try to increase our strengths and reduce our limitations. Boasting of our strength and disturbing peace and safety is meaningless. It only provokes opposition in society. Indulging in such extremist actions will take us in the opposite direction from our goal. If we also concentrate our energies on finding out Dr. Dabholkar’s killers, we will get distracted from our real goal. Doctor certainly would not have appreciated it.
Transcription: Sushil Dhaskate
English Translation by Suman Oak