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Widow at 10, doctor at 29. A grandchild remembers her grandma’s success against all odds

In the book My Ajji and I, Dr Nilima Kadambi, maps her grandmother’s incredible journey from being orphaned at two, becoming a bride at nine and a widow at 10 to her becoming a doctor in the 1920s.

books Updated: Jun 05, 2017 13:19 IST
Anjali Shetty
Anjali Shetty
Hindustan Times
My Ajji and I,My Ajji and I author intervew,Dr Neelima Kadambi
Dr Nilima Kadambi at the launch of the book.

My Ajji and I is the story of Dr Sarladevi Khot who was born Akutai Chitnis to an impoverished farmer in Ajara, rural Maharashtra in 1897. The author Dr Nilima Kadambi (granddaughter of Khot) highlights the protagonist’s journey from being orphaned at two, becoming a bride at nine and a widow at 10 to her becoming a doctor.

Dr Sarladevi went on to study medicine and graduated as a doctor in 1928, and married her classmate Dr Gopalro Khotin in 1929. In 1932, she established a Maternity Home for Safe Institutional Birthing in rural India. HT spoke to Nilima Kadambi about her book and the work that went into it.

Why did you decide to write about your grandmother?
I was fascinated by her life events and impressed by her gutsy approach to life as a child and as a young adult. I felt her story needed to be told so that many more youngsters, especially girls, would find the inspiration to achieve their full potential in life despite the challenges they may face.

What is your fondest memory of her?
My earliest and fondest memory of my Ajji is her long and thick hair that she allowed me to comb and play with even as a young child. She was able to connect with me at a deeper level by her ability to come down to my level and age at different phases of my life. The book cover is a picture of me combing her hair.

Tell us more about your grandmother.
I would call her a brave soul, who battled many odds in the early 20th century India. She had an adventurous and exciting early life. She went on to educate herself and became a doctor, who lived and worked in the jungles of Africa where she raised a family. My grandmother’s life was an inspiration for me, and I believe it influenced many decision I have made in my life.

How did you manage to get all the facts and details of her life?
I am blessed with a very good memory and can remember facts and figures of things that interest me very easily. Hence, my recollection of life stories she had shared with me over the years was quite vivid. Also, the family photo albums with captions, dates, names and places were a big help to put it together. The interviews I conducted with my family – my parents, aunts and uncles gave me a clearer narration. I also visited Ajara, the village where Ajji was born.

What have you learnt from her life?
The most important takeaways for me have been the realisation that nothing in life is impossible, if one is willing to work hard and trust God. And that our life is a gift and we should do the best we can to give back to society, country, humanity and the world.

How would you describe the experience of writing a book? Was it easy for you? What were the hurdles?Writing for me is freedom to express myself. It has been a fantastic experience for me. I feel it brought me closer to my senior family members during the interviews I conducted. And closer to my sisters and cousins who really enjoyed reading the book that reconnected all of us through our shared inspiring roots and ancestors. I feel happy that the current generation who never met my amazing Ajji will also get to know her. The words just flowed from my heart and my fingers could not write or type fast enough to pen it down as the initial manuscript. The challenging part was to review and self edit and rewrite the chapters a few times till I arrived at the final version.

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First Published: Jun 05, 2017 13:18 IST