By RAJ KANWAR
Dehra Dun’s Asha Rawal has been in the Business of ‘Delivering’ Babies for the past 50 years or so. “Even though the normal deliveries were important enough, those were mostly done by others. I started with high risk deliveries such as Toxemia, Twins, RH negative patients, Breech Deliveries and Eclampsia cases,” recalls the celebrated gynaecologist. On a rough estimate, even if she delivered 18 babies a month, the total ‘Deliveries’ by now must have exceeded 10,000 children.
EVEN before Asha had formally qualified as a gynaecologist, as the fourth and fifth year student and intern at the Queen Mary’s Hospital in Lucknow, she did a large number of ‘Deliveries’. Subsequently, post her marriage, she had gone to Middlesbrough in England where many more responsibilities were given to her that greatly helped build her confidence.
Until late 1960s, there was hardly any private Nursing Home worth its name in Dehra Dun. The doctors here then had no choice but to refer the high-risk patients to Delhi. That was easier said than done. First, one has had to fix an appointment with a specialist in Delhi and make reservations for a Bed in a hospital there and finally arrange for an ambulance together with a medically qualified attendant to accompany the patient.
When she eventually came to Dehra Dun as a full-fledged gynaecologist in January 1973, there was hardly any qualified woman doctor barring Dr. Savita Luthra, who had in 1970 set up Luthra Maternity & Infertility Centre on Chakrata Road. Drs. Kalhan and wife Indu came soon thereafter. In fact, Dr. Kalhan who started with a small clinic on the Eucalyptus Road had delivered my younger son Gagan in 1974.
Fortuitously, Dr. Rawal was also on ONGC’s approved panel, and in that capacity had attended to a large number of Russian wives whose husbands were ‘expats on deputation to ONGC’. She also took care of Col. Wahi’s daughter as also wives of some of its senior directors and officers. Incidentally, she was also on the panels of Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP), Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, the State Bank of India and a few more institutes.
It was then that she and her husband Suraj made a small beginning and set up a Nursing Home on the East Canal Road. Suraj was an ophthalmologist, and Asha an obstetrician and gynaecologist. “We were amongst the pioneers to revolutionize the modernization of healthcare in this region. We introduced what is called, ‘the culture of modern specialized Nursing Homes’ that not only served the elite, but also the poor. I was on the panel of ONGC for more than 25 years. There were then no CMI, Synergy, Max or even the Government Medical College Hospital. Our contribution was duly recognized and appreciated by the then chief minister Harish Rawat, and the governors such as Margaret Alva, Dr. Qureshi and Dr. KK Paul. Our ‘rewards’ were the recognition and the appreciation that we received from hundreds of satisfied patients,” says Asha Rawal with a sense of pride.
Dr. Rawal’s professional journey has largely been a smooth one even though the untimely death in January 1991 of her husband had caused a derailment of sort. It was Suraj who had primarily taken over the responsibility of managing the Rawal Nursing Home, leaving Asha enough of dedicated time to attend to her patients whose number multiplied rapidly. Though his unexpected demise upset her applecart, yet she did not shut the Nursing Home even for a day, and somehow managed to keep it on the track.
Asha Rawal has now completed 50 years as an obstetrician and gynaecologist par excellence. She enjoys the unique distinction of having delivered several of Dehra Dun’s residents below the age 50, and is undoubtedly the doyenne of her profession, and enjoys in ample measure the respect of the two generations of her patients. The recognition that she got from her peers in the profession is evident from the fact that she was elected as the first woman president of the Indian Medical Association (IMA), Dehra Dun in 2015. It was, however, not for the first time that Dr. Rawal had headed a professional association. She was earlier in 1998 the president of Gynaecology & Obstetrics Society. She had also consecutively held the posts of senior and junior vice presidents of Indian Medical Association.
HER husband was not only a source of inspiration and solace to her but also her soulmate. Thus it was the emotional trauma left by his sudden death that lingered much longer. Her younger daughter was then in class III; she felt emotionally drained and helpless. It were Asha’s father SC Saxena and mother Vimla (now both deceased) who instantly took a life-changing decision in their twilight years and shifted lock, stock, and barrel from their family home in Lucknow to Dehra Dun to become their darling daughter’s emotional anchors.
Dr. Rawal is a woman with a BIG heart, and so was her late husband. “Our Nursing Home was doing well enough, but my conscience pricked me whenever I noticed one of my patients counting soiled currency notes and coins to pay the fees. It was obvious that she must have found it hard to raise even that amount. Then one day my husband and I decided to have a FREE DAY once a week when the patients will not be charged any fees,” recalls Asha with a glint of pride in her eyes. And it has now for the past several years that the Nursing Home has been attracting the needy patients from the underprivileged sections of the society. On an average nearly 30 women suffering from minor and major ailments, and even those requiring surgery avail of the Free Weekly Day.
Today, she works nonstop from 10 a.m. to 3.30 in the afternoon and even beyond that if required. “My greatest satisfaction comes from a job well-done,” she says. No wonder then that she is so very painstaking in attending to the patients, and meticulous in her diagnosis. Dr. Rawal has also been taking a keen interest in the Blood Bank and has organized in the past numerous blood donation camps. She is also the Ambassador of IMA Blood Bank. “I would really love to further expand the scope of the IMA Blood Bank,” she adds.
Asha Rawal is one of the very few medical practitioners endowed with many multifaceted interests. Music has been one of her early passions, and she had religiously learned its intricacies at the Prayag Sangeet Samiti. Though she does not sing any longer, she nonetheless enjoys listening to soulful rendering of ghazals especially those of Shakeel Badayuni and Sahir Ludhianvi. Talat Mehmood too was one of her favourite singers those days. Ikebana, the traditional Japanese art of flower arrangement, was one of her other foremost passions. And the late Ratna Ramchandani (wife of then the Doon School Headmaster Gulab Ramchandani) was her tutor. And if all these artistic pursuits were not enough, she also dabbled in painting and had become equally adept at it. However, it was her allergy to linseed oil that became a handicap and she had had to give up that interest too.
Surprisingly for a doctor, she is also a qualified Kathak dancer or nearly so. “What would your patients think of you if they see you dancing on the stage?,” her late husband would often ask her. Thus, in a way, her interest in dancing, despite five long years of rigorous training, slowly ebbed and died a natural death. “I have always regretted my inability to be able to perform Kathak dances,” ruefully recalls the doctor who could have become, if fate had willed otherwise, one of the most beautiful danseuses in the country. “Maine apne ghungroo abhi tak sambhal ke rakhey hue hain,” she says wistfully.
But it was God’s choice that I became a doctor, and I am still very passionate about my profession, and would love to die with a stethoscope over my shoulders.