One family, 140 doctors

Updated on Apr 13, 2009 01:31 AM IST

Ever since 1919, five generations of the Sabharwal family in Delhi have chosen medicine as their career — they also marry only doctors, reports Riddhi Shah.

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HT Image
Hindustan Times | ByRiddhi Shah, New Delhi

One family. 140 doctors.

This isn’t an advertisement for a newly opened hospital but a true story of Delhi’s Sabharwal family. For five generations, every single member of this family has become a doctor.

“It all started with my great grandfather Lala Jeevanmal Sabharwal, who was a station master in Lahore. One day after he heard Gandhi ji talking about health and education, he decided to build a hospital. He then insisted that all his four sons study medicine,” said Dr Ravindar Sabharwal, 71, a surgeon.

That’s how, in 1919, the family’s first doctor — Dr Bodhraj — was born.

“Dr Bodhraj then decreed that every subsequent generation had to study medicine. And every son had to marry a doctor bride,” Dr Ravindar added.

After the partition, the family moved to Delhi and opened five more hospitals, each bearing the name of the patriarch of the family — Jeevan.

“Of course there have been rebellions: boys who didn’t want to become doctors, others who wanted to marry non-doctors. Emergency family meetings were called, phone calls flew back and forth. But eventually everyone fell into line,” said Dr Sudarshana, 68, a gynaecologist and Dr Ravindar’s wife.

The one son who married a biochemist was eventually redeemed when his wife decided to study medicine after several years of
married life.

“She was probably fed up with people asking her why wasn’t she a doctor,” laughed Dr Sheetal, 30, also a gynaecologist and a 4th generation daughter-in-law of the family.

There are other quirks too. When Dr Bodhraj was alive, it was a ritual to seek his blessings whenever someone made it through to the fourth year of medical school. He, in turn, rewarded them by handing out a brand new stethoscope.

“He was obsessed with making us doctors. He’d make us practice giving injections on a banana tree,” recalled Dr Vikesh, a 55-year-old ophthalmologist.

For the children of the Sabharwal brood, dinner-table conversations have almost always consisted of hospital talk.

“I remember doing my homework inside the operation theatre. We’d run to see accident victims,” said Dr Shinoo Rana, 39, a daughter of the family who is not settled in the United States.

Another interesting thing about this family is that the children aren’t named according to astrology.

Instead, a name’s merit depends on how it will affect a child in medical school.

“My brothers and I were named with the letter V. But in medical school that meant being at the bottom of the roll call. Whenever we’d have to go for an oral examination, the teacher would be tired by the time our names came. So I decided to name my sons starting with the letter A and the others followed,” said Dr Vinay Sabharwal, 56, a surgeon.

Will the sixth generation follow this 90-year-old tradition? Their parents don’t seem so sure. But when I asked a three-year-old Sabharwal her name, she looked up and said, “Dr Sarina,” without missing a beat.

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