All posts by whitecoatnerd

Remembering Tabitha Solomon,the first Indian woman dentist

About a year back when I just became a fresh graduate in Dental Surgery I read a fascinating story about Anandi Gopal Joshi, who became the first Indian woman to graduate with a degree in medicine in the United States. In the same year (1886)  Kadambini Ganguly and Chandramukhi Basu obtained the same degree in India and thus became the first two female graduates from India and the entire British Empire.

This piqued my interest in knowing about the first pioneer Indian woman in my field of study. So who was the first Indian woman to graduate with a degree in dentistry?

A quick search over the internet and talking to few people yielded absolutely nothing. Except for the fact that Fatima Jinnah, one of the founders of modern Pakistan and sister of  Muhammad Ali Jinnah was the first woman graduate in India, who obtained her degree from  Dr. R. Ahmed Dental College in the year 1923.

Though the country was undivided at the time of her graduation,this obviously didn’t satisfy my quest to find the first true Indian woman dental surgeon. So over the next few months I started doing my own research to find that elusive woman and to know her story. And after a lot of work and checking and cross checking references, finding sources, and talking to people who knew her, I bring you the fascinating unknown story of India’s first woman dentist- Dr. Tabitha Solomon.

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Dr. Tabitha Solomon in her younger days (c. 1926)

Born in 1901 in a Jewish family from Calcutta, she graduated from the Calcutta Dental College and Hospital in 1928. Founded by the legendary Dr. Rafiuddin Ahmed in 1920, Dr. Solomon was the first Indian female graduate of the college.

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Tabitha Solomon’s Dental Certification signed by Dr.R. Ahmed

At that time Jewish women were well-educated and played important roles in their families and in the community. Many were professionals and were highly trained in numerous fields. She assisted Dr. R. Ahmed with the Calcutta Dental Journal and started a dental clinic in the Chittarnjan Seva Sadan Hospital and also served in the Dufferin Hospital. She served in both these institutions in an honorary capacity. As a pioneer woman of her times Dr. Solomon served on several Jewish community committees including WIZO, Calcutta Jewish Association and also a multicultural Calcutta Women’s Committee.

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Dr.Tabitha Solomon- India’s first woman dentist (c. 1929)
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Dr.Solomon with her son (c. 1956)

This is the story of a woman far ahead of her time. A story forgotten but a woman worth remembering.

Note: This post would not have been possible without the support of Dr. Jael Silliman and Mr. Charles Solomon. All images used in this post are the exclusive property of Charles Solomon, and is not to be reproduced without prior permission.

Book Review: In Other Words

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Unlike any of her previous works, this book in the words of the author herself is a “linguistic autobiography”. A book full of metaphors and a search within that leaves the author with contradicting feelings of joy and despair, independence and dependence.

“Why, as an adult, as a writer, am I interested in this new relationship with imperfection? What does it offer me? I would say a stunning clarity, a more profound self-awareness. Imperfection inspires invention, imagination, creativity. It stimulates. The more I feel imperfect the more I feel alive.” 

 

Master storyteller Jhumpa Lahiri practically uproots herself when she decides to move to Rome to learn Italian. Keeping aside her days in New York where she struggled to grasp the language, the author takes the bold step of relocating to a foreign land to learn a foreign language. That journey in search of a language, which is at times exciting and at times exhausting, is what this book is about.

The book has glorious moments in it where you can literally feel the struggle she is facing. The doubts she is having. A struggle which is not as much as in learning a foreign language, but more so in belonging to that language. It’s like a journey unlike any other. Which she sums up beautifully,

“ An absurd journey, given that the traveler never reaches her destination”

If you are looking for the vintage Lahiri, this book is not for you. It’s neither the fiction she is best at, nor a full-fledged autobiography. While the book has its moments it’s not an engrossing read Jhumpa Lahiri is famous for. But if we look back at the context in which this book was written, its incredible the amount of courage she shows in learning and writing a book in a foreign language, which she even refused to translate herself. Maybe this book will make you look at your own life and help you to take that next bold step in your life. Good luck with that!

Book Review: Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ

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Amazing would be an understatement for this book. “Gut” is the delightful international bestseller by doctor-scientist Giulia Enders. In this book the author talks about the much needed credit and recognition for one of our least understood body organ- the Gut. Through the chapters you get to understand your body and food habits better. And get to know about things which are often embarrassing but nonetheless important and even miraculous.
The best thing about the book is that it’s completely devoid of complex medical jargon and therein lies its success. It can become an effective companion for just about anyone. Though from the title it may seem like it’s a long boring rant about our digestive system, but it’s far from that. The author writes in a fluid and crisp language that’s easy to grasp and hilarious at the same time.

Backed by strong scientific research and studies the book touches on a whole lot of interesting topics- from the friendly microbes in your stomach to the food you should or shouldn’t eat. And even on how to check on your poop once in a while to make sure they are of the right consistencey!

This charming book succeeds in putting across some important information of how our body functions in an entertaining and informative manner. The content of the book is so important that it’s worth your time reading this. Coupled with lots of humorous illustrations by the author’s sister, “Gut” is an important book that’s not too preachy and a book I am glad to have read.

Book Review: Kafka On the Shore

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As two parallel worlds collide, so do the lives of a 15 year old boy and a senile old man. What happens after that is a tale of love, loss, rebellion, magic and hope against all odds.

“Every one of us is losing something precious to us. Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again. That’s part of what it means to be alive.”

Murakami creates a world of thoughts where the mind perceives the unreal as real and vice-versa. As the characters realise, so do the readers that the boundaries of realism are really that very fine. Where the only thing real is what we imagine it to be. For love and for hope no boundary is a boundary, nothing separates magic from realism.

As sardines and leeches rain down from sky, as a young man falls hopelessly in love with an older woman, as cats chat with humans, as an old man seeks out his purpose, as Johnny Walker drinks feline blood, as a person grapples with his sexuality, as Colonel Sanders pimps for prostitution in a Japanese street, as Beethoven brings out the subtelties of emotion in a rough young man; the readers become immersed in an experience.

Yes! , reading this book is not just that. It’s an experience. A time you just surrender yourself to the story and stop reasoning.

“Silence I discover, is something you can actually hear.”

Like the young Kafka, we the readers sit on a shore and gaze at the expanse in front; as the sea blends in the sky, so do our worlds of realism and make believe.Love it or hate it, for this and more Kafka On the Shore would remain an unique one.

Book Review: Farthest Field by Raghu Karnad

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Books are special for they often shed light on history forgetten, facts diluted and memories locked away.

Raghu Karnad’s  “Farthest Field”  is a delightful account of a Parsee family and how the war we never fought ravaged their life.

While Europe and East Asia feature prominently in the history of the second world war, we have grossly overlooked a battle closer come; that of the largest voluntary army in the World War II, the Indian Army. The tribulations of this Army in lands far from home are brought to life through the experiences of 3 young men who chose to fought a war on the wrong side.

Reading  this book I was pleasantly surprised how little we know of the Indian army and the role it played in a war for the British Empire.These men were neither celebrated nor despised, only forgotten.

“People have two deaths: the first at the end of their lives, when they go away, and the second at the end of memory of their lives, when all who remember them are gone.Then a person quits the world completely.”

The book is extremely well researched and the author has taken very few liberties as and when required. Particulary engrossing is the account of the battles fought in India’s North-East against the Japanese.How the men fought for a cause they were not sure of and how in death, little separated them from  the enemy is brought to life by beautiful prose.

“Bobby saw between the Indians and the Japs was what grew on them: fungus on the winners, maggots on the losers.”

The men were forgotten as was the history. They never really chose the wrong side.But for independent India they were on the other side. This attempt by the author to evoke those memories of these long lost men, who gave up their lives in farthest fields has resulted in an important book for all of us. Not to judge them, just to remember them.

Book Review:The One Thing by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan

Make sure every day you do what matters most. When you know what matters most, everything makes sense. When you don’t know what matters most, anything makes sense. The best lives aren’t led this way.

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This book is not your average self-help book that we come across so often. The book is basically divided into 3 parts. It starts off with the lies that mislead us decrease our productivity. Then it discusses the truths we should know, but we don’t. And finally ends with the ways to achieve those truths, forget the lies and achieve our desired goals.

“The art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook.”
—William James

The recurrent theme in this book, as its title says; is to ignore everything else that eats up into our productivity and focus on that which matters most to us, our “One Thing”.

It talks about the everyday things that takes us away from our goals and the habits that can help us achieve those. The book is unique in it’s way it describes the simple yet important task of decluttering our lives. The methods aren’t anything over the top, and neither is it something cooked up by the author. Simple, time tested advice that’s presented in a flowing language and with unique diagrams ,graphs and charts that craves your attention right from the stars. The book is full of lovely little quotes that can be your ready reckoner. I would end this review with one of the best and often repeated quote of this book, which sums up the theme of this book brilliantly.

“What’s the ONE Thing I can do / such that by doing it / everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”

Book Review:The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

For the world did not change, this violence had always existed and would never be eradicated, men would die under the boot and fists and horror of other men until the end of time, and all human history was a history of violence.
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Memory is a strange thing. Some you want to treasure forever, while others are hard to let go no matter how you try.This is a story, a memoir of epic proportions. Of recollections and the frailties of it. How good memories sail us through the darkest of times. While some others haunt us for eternity.

Man Booker prize winner Richard Flanagan writes this more as a memoir for his father, who served in the Burma Death Railway as an Australian prisoner of war. The book is centred around the camp doctor Dorrigo Evans who struggles throughout in a shared memory of forbidden love, while struggling to save the men under his command from the follies of war and hardship.

 

Forever after, there were for them only two sorts of men: the men who were on the Line, and the rest of humanity, who were not

This is an important book. A savagely beautiful one that keeps on searching life amidst the dead. Much like its central character. The graphic descriptions of the prisoners life and death hits you where it should. And maybe just it will leave you feel helpless, just like the doctor Dorrigo Evans.

As the war ends and Dorrigo Evans is hailed as a hero; deep inside he knows he lost something. Much like the death in the camps, a part of him dies. For the rest of his life the decorated doctor keeps on searching for those lost pieces of his love and soul.

This book compels you to think. To search within for the various forms of love and death in our lives.To know what makes us and destroys us at the same time. How often do such books come?

When it does, it deserves the applause. It deserves every single one of those stars and more.

A good book … leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul

Book Review: Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

It was then that I realised I was old enough to know fairy tales were not true

61oAnsSzm0L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015, and hailed as one of the most anticipated novel of the year, Anuradha Roy’s “Sleeping On Jupiter” disappoints on many levels.

The story runs a number of parallel tracks, primarily with Nomita Frederikson, who visits a holy town called Jarmuli in search of her buried past and coming to terms with her childhood which haunts her in an attempt to sort out the fact from fiction. Suraj, her work partner who’s also dealing with life’s issue and who looks lost throughout the novel. Then there are 3 senior women who travels together for the first and probably the last time together. Also playing a part is temple guide Badal, who’s ill fated and torrid affair with Raghu forms another sub-plot. Tea stall owner Johnny Toppo, who sings a mysterious folk song and vehemently refuses to revisit his past.

The book tries to do too much in too little. Some of the character build-ups are good, especially the central character of Nomi. While others seem as lost as their lives. The book is at times directionless with the reader having no clue about who to connect with and what.Although some of the passages are brilliant, overall it failed to excite me. The author, it seemed had very little plot to develop this into a full fledged novel.

Maybe I would have been less disappointed if I had picked this book up randomly. But with the expectations I had from this one it was certainly not more worth than 2 Stars!

Book Review: A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk

The sea was as dark as dreams and as deep as sleep

Have you read a book that calms you down? That soothes your soul? That which flows on its own, and before you know it you start wishing it would never end..

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“A Strangeness in My Mind” is one such novel. A novel of epic proportions, this is Orhan Pamuk at his best. The “strangeness” about this novel is that throughout its vast scope of literary genius nothing of significance happens. Yet it draws you in and relaxes you, like only good books can.

The central character of this book is Mevlut, a poor “Boza” seller in the streets of Istanbul. Struggling to adapt to a fast changing city Mevlut keeps on hoping for a better tomorrow even in all his failures. The book captures all his hopes, aspirations and failures beautifully. The love he has for the city is almost a touch autobiographical from the author. If you loved Pamuk’s “Istanbul” then this book is definitely for you. Slowly and slowly you would start falling in love with this grand old city.

At the heart of this novel is a love story. Of Mevlut and his wife Rayiha. Of Mevlut and his craft. Of Mevlut and his city. A man fiercely protecting his fast dying craft of Boza selling. A man loving his wife to the last day. A man discovering his city through all his life’s joy and despair.

In a city you can be alone in a crowd,and in fact what makes the city a city is that it lets you hide the strangeness in your mind inside its teeming multitudes

The book is also more than just about a Boza seller. There are so many voices in this novel. This style of writing is unique where many people involved in Mevlut’s life share their own story, in their own voices.

As the book grows on you, every trivial detail of this man’s life seem important. And then you come to realise how the uneventful things in our life means the most to us and our loved ones. Mevlut is a failure by society’s standards in a thriving city. But he never moans this and neither the author. He is average and honest, and he thrives in that.

The book sails you through a city. Through Mevlut and his life and love. And as he keeps on searching for a meaning to his “strangeness” in an endless sea of possibilities; you might just stop and reflect back on your own life. In all its glories and defeats.

This is probably the best work of Orhan Pamuk yet. It stays with you long after you have read the last page. So much so that long after it ends, you might just hear the Boza seller crying out, “Bozaaaaa, Good Bozaaa”