It was 2 pm and I was rather early for an interview. I was actually a bit nervous as the lady I had to interview was a pioneer, a Padmashree, a very renowned physician and a senior practitioner. I waited for her at her clinic in South Mumbai and the administrative staff at the clinic told me she would arrive by 3 pm. As though it was a habit to reach clinic on time, she arrived just as the clock struck 3! There she was – Dr Indira Hinduja who pioneered the GIFT(Gamete intrafallopian transfer) technique resulting in the birth of India’s first GIFT baby on 4 January 1988. She was a very calm and composed lady. I was told she will meet me after having her lunch. However, that is not how her afternoon routine would start, The moment she walked past the waiting area, she noticed a couple in their mid-30s with their newborn daughter. The couple greeted Dr Hinduja with a sense of respect and immense indebtedness. The moment she went inside her cabin, she called them in and consulted. Her lunchtime was not important to her as much as her patients are. I was not surprised by this gesture by her. She was known to be a dedicated infertility specialist who helped thousands of couples conceive. After a while of checking on her patients who had arrived early, it was my turn! I was excited and nervous to be able to interview a practitioner with so much experience and commendable work in the field of infertility medicine. As if like a sincere student, I had prepared many interview questions that I wanted to ask her. But, Dr Hinduja’s interview began with the story of her journey as a little girl born in the year 1946 in the town of Shikarpur in Pakistan to India’s most celebrated gynaecologist and infertility specialist.
‘I was a very small child and can’t recollect how old I was, probably two, when my family and I came to India from Pakistan. In Pakistan, we used to live in a town called Shikarpur near Karachi. We belonged to a very rich family and used to live in a building which belonged to us.’ This instantly transported me to the pre-partition era of Indian history. She narrated her story and took me through her entire life. She recollected how during the partition her family and many more in the Sindh area of Pakistan were asked to move to Mumbai. She remembers how they travelled from Shikarpur to Karachi and were asked to embark on small boats and set sail to Bombay via the sea route. When they reached Bombay, they hardly knew anybody. They were put up in a camp for a few days when suddenly her father recollected that one of his business associates lived in Bombay and contacted him. He helped them get a room to stay for a couple of days. They came to Bombay thinking it would be just for a few days but then soon realised they weren’t going back to Pakistan. Living in Bombay was very expensive even back then and so the family of 10 decided to move to Pune. In Pune, they rented a two-room home and started a business to be able to sustain themselves. But, it was very difficult for her parents to feed 8 children and themselves, totalling to 10 members in the house. So, they decided to divide themselves into two groups. Few of them moved with her eldest brother who went to Belgaum to set up a business while the remaining went to Karad with her father. However, one of my brothers decided to settle in Pune and was struggling to set up business there. “He called Mummy and me to help him and so we moved to Pune”, she said. She said she went to a municipal school in Pune. Here she mentioned upon my asking an incident that was a defining moment in her life. As a child, when she was in Pune, she fell from the first floor of her school and fractured her leg. She was immediately admitted to Sassoon hospital and that’s when she first saw a nurse. She recollects how she was instantly attracted to the starched white uniform and the square-shaped cap. After her plaster came on, she was shifted to the room where she stayed for the next 2-3 days. “That is when I first saw a doctor- wearing a coat with a stethoscope around his neck and decided that I wanted to be a doctor”, she said. Since then, it was always a lurking desire for her to be a doctor. She didn’t quite know who or what a doctor was but was fascinated by the appearance of a doctor and how they would move around the hospital in their pristine white coats. That is how her desire to get into medicine was ignited.
Due to financial issues, however, they had to move back to Belgaum where she studied for five years, in a Marathi medium municipal school and then went to an English medium school from where she passed my SSC(10th Std). She completed her pre-university after which she wanted to pursue medicine but, there were no medical colleges in Belgaum back then. The nearest medical college was in Hubli and her family wasn’t comfortable sending her there alone. So, they brought her back to Bombay. By then Dr Hinduja’s father arranged a one-room house in Khar so she could come and get educated. She then pauses for a few seconds, as if re-living her past and said “We had a very difficult time”. She completed her under-graduation from National Medical College(today’ Nair Medical College) and then went to KEM for post-graduation.
I was surprised to hear from Dr Hinduja that she actually wanted to be a paediatrician and not a gynaecologist. She never really liked the smell of the labour room she said. She was a good student and got paediatrics in her post-graduation but, due to certain circumstances, had to take up gynaecology. However, she wasn’t quite excited about just performing gynaecological procedures. At around the same time, in the year 1978, Louis Brown was born (the first IVF human). This news caught her eye and she started reading up, researching journals, articles, medical books, getting information and making notes to study the new discipline.
Continuing the conversation with Dr Hinduja, I wanted to know if she looked up to someone or had a role model she wanted to be like. Dr Hinduja pondered over this question for a few seconds and said she never really had a role model but her mother played a pivotal role in her life. The support she received from her mother was immense, especially during the times when life got really difficult. “She really nurtured me, taught me values like honesty and made sure all that was engraved in me. She is the reason I am what I am today”, Dr Hinduja says, talking proudly about her mother.
By this time, I was already in awe of her achievements and her humble nature. With the slight glimpse that I got from her afternoon clinic schedule, I was keen to know how she balances her professional and personal life. “I hardly get any time actually’ she quips. She leaves her house in the morning at around 7.30-8am and goes to Hinduja hospital. In the afternoon, after she finishes her work at Hinduja, she goes to her clinic and has a bite of lunch around 3.30-4pm. She then continues to work here until 7-7.30pm and reaches home by 8 pm and has dinner. Post dinner she loves to catch up on many readings. She also prepares for the next day. It’s only on Saturdays that she finishes work by 5 pm and gets some free time. I then probed a bit further to ask her what hobbies or interests she pursues during her free time. To which she immediately replied saying “Music is my great passion”. Then I suddenly remembered seeing a sitar placed in her room next to the waiting area. When she was in school, her additional subject was music and that is where she first learnt music. However, it was difficult to pursue music after her SSC and while pursuing medicine. So, she had to leave it, albeit with a heavy heart. After she finished MBBS, she joined a class in Khar to learn the Sitar. She also took part in a few stage programmes. She talks fondly of music and said that music has always been there at the back of her mind but her profession and career superseded her desire for music.
After taking me through her entire life journey, she said that her life had been difficult. However, she was taught well by her mother to never give up, even in adverse situations. In spite of the hurdles she faced and the difficult life she lived, she pioneered India’s first GIFT baby in KEM Hospital, Mumbai in the year 1988. She also pioneered India’s first Test Tube baby in 1986 and is also credited with the development of oocyte donation technique especially for postmenopausal and premature ovarian failure patients.
Dr. Hinduja has been awarded the Padmashri in the field of Medical science in the year 2001 and is also the recipient of many other awards such as the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Federation of Obstetrics and gynaecological society of India, the Dhanvantri award by the Government of Maharashtra and Prerna Award by Door Darshan, among many. Her life may have been tuff as she mentioned during my wonderful conversation with her, but she is living example of endurance, bravery and hard work. Her work has brought happiness to hundreds of families for decades and she continues to work as hard even today.