The joie de vivre that Dr Revathy Maharajan feels about life is almost contagious. At 68 years, the retired doctor and professor of rehabilitation medicine walks around with the posture, purpose and energy of persons in the armed forces. On welcoming the interviewer into her spick and span, spacious apartment in Chennai, she insisted on preparing and serving a hot cup of coffee and biscuits before giving the interview. In hindsight, maybe that’s a mandatory coffee that she prepares for all her guests. There is a sense of purpose and orderliness to everything she does.
The retired doctor decided to speak to us on “habits”, and how one particular habit has helped her fight and win over the crippling disease of rheumatoid arthritis for over 40 years.
Dr Revathy Maharajan, 68 years, Chennai
Interviewed by Chirantan Shah
Why did you decide to give us an interview on habits?
I personally think that habits are an important and integral part of one’s personality. This personality of yours, determines how you really come up in life, or how your life changes.
Any specific habit that you want to talk about?
I want to talk about two habits which I believe are the most important for a good life. Those habits are happiness (being happy) and never losing hope.
Yes, both of these are habits.
Once you are happy from within, you can create a difference in the lives of the people around you – your colleagues, your friends, your family. Maybe, happiness is the most important habit which has to be cultivated from childhood.
Did your parents cultivate these habits in you, or did you inculcate them as you grew up?
I was very lucky to be in a family which was always happy. I lived in a joint family, with almost 30 of us in one house. We always had people around, and there always was fun and laughter and frolic. This was in Chennai, with my father and his siblings. Being brought up in a family that was happy, has influenced me a lot.
I think your happiness actually emanates from you. You have to feel happy. No one can make you happy, it’s your state of mind.
I hear people saying all the time that they provide everything to their husband/wife to make them happy. I don’t think it works that way. You have to be happy from within. If you are happy, then everything else in life will fall in place. What I have experienced in life – the most important aspect – if you are happy from within, and if this is known to your immediate family then the burden on them becomes less.
Easier said though. It’s a rather difficult habit to inculcate. Life’s pressures are there on each one of us. The difficult moments come and go. There will be periods when you are really disturbed, but you must figure out ways to overcome them and be happy from within.
At what age, or at what point in time, did this realization dawn upon you that happiness is not just an emotion but a habit that needs to be cultivated?
Like I said, my childhood passed in a very happy atmosphere. But this thought really struck me when I was affected with chronic rheumatoid arthritis – a crippling disease, at the age of 28. It was then that I realized how it could affect the entire family.
That is when I told myself that I would not allow this to disturb my family and friends. And I had to progress in my career too, I was rather young at that time.
I didn’t allow myself to get into depression. Of course, I was terribly depressed when I became so incapacitated, but then I kept thinking I must come out of it.
And when I did come out of it, it gave me a lot of confidence. I became very independent again. I am still independent in all my activities. This has been possible because of this attitude of happiness and of never giving up. My ability to deal with this has given my family the strength to not get affected by it.
It would have affected your mental balance at that point in time, in the least. You said that there are certain things that you need to do to get out of it. Is there any set list of things that one has to do to remain happy?
You have to believe in yourself. It may be a financial crisis, or a health crisis, or you may have been kicked out of a job. When a crisis strikes you off balance, don’t lose heart. You will have to fight it out.
You will have to analyse your situation, identify a goal and then move towards it. It need not be a very big goal that overwhelms you, to begin with – just have a short-term goal. If you are able to achieve one short-term goal at a time, that gives you the confidence to go ahead in life. In that way I would suggest to everybody – set yourselves short-term goals and see that you are able to achieve the same. If you are able to achieve the same, slowly everything falls in place. People around you also know that here is somebody who is really depressed, who is going through hell, but is making an effort to try and come out of it.
Can you take us through the journey, of you setting and achieving small goals?
For any woman, being a good homemaker is as important as her career. It’s very important, almost mandatory to keep your household in good shape.
When I had arthritis, it affected my mobility at a very young age, but I had to keep my household running. I had no grip in my hands. I used to keep thinking as to what can be done to change this. I started modifying my kitchen utensils, making bigger handles so that I can have a broader grip. And I started using tongs to carry vessels instead of carrying them by hand. I modified my knives with a broader handle for better grip.
I had been driving cars since I was 13 years old. I modified the steering wheel of my car – made it bigger and broader to have a better grip. I continued driving by myself, and that boosted my morale to keep me going.
These were small changes that I made, starting with the kitchen – so that life could keep moving despite my problems.
Whatever I could change, I changed. People around me could see that I was still mobile and independent, I was still doing things, and that made a difference.
And here I am, 40 years later, at 68, sitting in front of you.
That’s an inspiring story. Have you been able to inculcate happiness as a habit in your family?
Yes, I have, at home and in my students who I teach in medical college. A lot of my students have always come to me for counselling. I don’t know what made them come to me. They would come and share their problems with me – even when I was very young. I used to hear them out, and talk about happiness.
I would meet the usual resistance of ‘It’s not easy, I am not able to get over this problem.’ Of course, it’s not easy. That’s the first thing I tell them. It’s very difficult. But once one is able to understand this, and inculcate it, then one can see the difference. That way I have helped a lot of people overcome their problems – family problems, study problems, love affairs and so on.
Just communicating to people in a positive way is very important. A simple smile, or a hello from you can make people feel good and see the potential in themselves. I have seen this in my life.
The last question has nothing to do with your interview topic, but we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
Love to me is total commitment. If you are totally committed, love can never fail.