For Dr Prema Bhat, her career made her feel alive. While her family was very important to her, her work as an ayurvedic doctor was equally important. Read this spellbinding interview on how working in villages and being called “amma” gave her an ultimate high – probably why the doctor chose career over family and moved to a remote village to work, while her husband and daughter stayed behind in the city. Read why Dr Prema Bhat can never give up working and how her family happily complied with every career move she made.
Dr Prema Bhat, 66 years, Ayurvedic Doctor, Bangalore
Interviewed by Poorva Dinesh
Why did you decide to give us an interview on career?
I love my career. I love being in the medical profession. I really feel doctors should work in remote villages where there are hardly any medical facilities.
You quit city life to work in remote villages and with tribals later, while your family stayed behind in the city. Tell us more about it.
When my daughter was 7-8 years old, I got a job at a family planning center in Tamil Nadu. Can you imagine, I left my daughter with my husband in Bangalore, and I took up the job? My husband is very understanding. After a year or two, they came there but my daughter wasn’t able to adjust to the village school after having studied in a good convent school in Bangalore. I returned to Bangalore later because my daughter needed me, but I couldn’t adjust to Bangalore. Later, the three of us moved to Kodaikanal where again my daughter had trouble adjusting.
Was there guilt that came with such career choices especially because it is generally believed that the mother needs to be the primary care taker?
Yes. I felt bad for leaving my daughter like that. But I was always very involved in my work. I used to work 24/7 as a Resident Medical Officer at the village and I used to do nothing less than 20-30 cases a day. My career picked up really well here. I became very famous. Our centre covered nearly 40 villages, and everyone used to call me “amma”. I think this was far more lucrative than anything else (laughs). I was very successful there, and I just couldn’t leave that and come.
Do you remember the conversation you had with your husband when you broke the news to him about wanting to go to Tamil Nadu?
Yes I remember. I had my own private practice in Bangalore then. My husband thought it was a good idea for me to work in Tamil Nadu than continue my private practice, while he would continue his private practice. He readily agreed. Since our daughter was easy-going, he assured me he would be able to manage. I also thought it was worth trying.
In cities, you don’t get the respect you earn for yourself in villages. I was taken in by this life, and I thought I should also serve these people. In fact in Kodaikanal, tribal women used to come to me for deliveries. But all along I did feel there was something missing in my life – it was my family.
There are very few men who will take care of children single-highhandedly so that their wives can have a career.
Yes, he was taking care of our daughter. Of course, even my daughter is intelligent, so there were no failures from an academic point of view. Now she is well-settled.
How did your parents react to your decision of moving to the village leaving your husband and daughter behind?
My parents felt very bad, and they said I was making a wrong decision. A mother needs to be with her children. I think so too, but in my daughter’s case, the love and nurturing came from her father. In fact my parents thought my husband and I had issues between us, which is why I was moving to Tamil Nadu. But I was going there purely from a career point of view. Those days, ayurvedic doctors weren’t given too much importance or respect. We weren’t even treated as doctors. So working at places where I felt accepted and appreciated made me feel good about myself.
You belong to a generation where not all women had a full-fledged career like yours. Was there any friction with people around you?
In those days, some women were jealous, but they were still good to me. It’s now that I face a problem. I don’t know whether I feel inferior to my colleagues or they are jealous of me. I really can’t tell. I am old now, and I do feel neglected at work. There are always going to be misunderstandings and friction at any workplace. But I still enjoy working. I only want my patients.
Have you thought of life post-retirement?
(Laughs) my daughter and son-in-law are so good. They tell me to stay at home and be with my granddaughter. But I fear I might slip into depression if I have to stay at home. I am busy 24/7. I earn my own money; if I sit at home, I will have to financially depend on somebody else. As long as my health allows me, I will continue to work. Fortunately, I have no health issues.
If your daughter also decides to go to another city to work leaving her husband in charge of their daughter, how will you react?
I will happily take care of my granddaughter, and I will support my daughter. I will be very happy to do that.
But now I am feeling bad because they are shifting to another part of the city. It has affected me, especially because I will miss my granddaughter. For a long time now, my life has been just about taking care of my granddaughter and going to the hospital. I am attached to my granddaughter the most.
Does taking care of your granddaughter bring back your daughter’s childhood in a way? Something that you missed out on…
Yes definitely. I left my daughter when she was 8 years old, and this makes me want to spend as much time as possible with my granddaughter now. Having missed out on my daughter’s growing up years, I don’t want to do the same thing with my granddaughter.
What helps you sustain the life you have built for yourself?
I think support from one another within the family is very important. I got that from my husband from the beginning, my daughter and now my son-in-law.
The last question has nothing to do with your interview topic, but we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
(Laughs) love is everything, but I will tell you one thing, there is nothing like a mother’s love. I could not give that to my daughter, maybe because I was too busy with my patients.