We have a very interesting guest today in our conversation series. 89 year old doctor Sarasabarathi. She is one of the best pathologist in Tamilnadu. The generation today start feeling old at a very young age. She is 89, but her energy levels are equal to a 40 year old person.
Let’s have a conversation with her.
Ashwin: Mam. Thanks for coming
Sarasabarathi: Thank you for inviting me.
Ashwin: What keeps you going on with all this energy?
Sarasabarathi: I wish I knew the answer myself. I think I realize that I am able to do the job right from day one. Maybe be it was due to the reason my parents were also involved in encouraging me. It was not only I but my brothers and sisters were also energetic and we were allowed to do whatever we wanted to do properly in the accepted manner.
Ashwin: Whatever you wanted to do, you were let to do. You were passionate about your job. Can I take that as a reason?
Sarasabarathi: Of course. Oh yeah.
Ashwin: You still look forward to see patients.
Sarasabarathi: Yes. Certainly.
Ashwin: You have been in the medical field for 60 years. It is not an easy thing.
It’s a huge sacrifice and we doctors know how difficult it is. You have to sacrifice a part of your soul. Isn’t it?
Ashwin: What is your take on you being a doctor? Please share a few things about that.
Sarasabarathi: Actually I wanted to be a doctor. It is more because of my parents who encouraged me. At the young age, we had some problems at home. My eldest brother was not well. He was absolutely brilliant. He was the first in everything he did. And his sports also was wonderful.
But he had epilepsy. So we were all around him and I was the one running all the time. Everyone cared for him. I had a thought of doing something over the situation. And then whenever someone fell sick, I was the one who was wanting to go and help.
Ashwin: So you wanted to help others who were sick and that is why you choose this profession.
There were lots and lots of challenges. Not just a few, but plenty. Challenges were from all ends and I was trying to do my very best to get over it. I knew I will sink if I don’t overdo it.
It is not about prevention and sinking. I didn’t even think about it. I said, I must get over this. I didn’t care. I never bothered about my challenges.
Ashwin: People nowadays, they climb a mountain, complete a task and they feel very content. They think they are done for the life and quit. You had a difficulty getting through to the next stage due to some politics. Can you please share a few words about it?
Sarasabarathi: I was doing postmortem and I found the heart was something unusual. It was not the usual heart.
I could find the right side atreium was huge. But I could not see the right ventrical at all. I was searching for it but could not find it at all. But I had something in me telling to look at the right side of the heart. So I opened and checked for the hole, but there was no hole.
Then only I realized it was a malformation. It was a very rare condition. It was for a 28 year old boy and it was an absolutely rare condition.
And the diagnosis was made to come from my mouth by this man. The professor was a cardio pathologist from London. He was invited by Dr. Rathnavelu Subramaniam who was the cardiologist at that time at the General Hospital.
He is the number one cardiologist.
Ashwin: He called you to London to explain about this issue, but you were not allowed to go.
Sarasabarathi: The invite was there and I had to apply through proper channels and request the government. But the seniors here all combined a wrote a letter to the government. There was no such incident in the history of MMC. The government asked the professors and the professor said, whatever the government decides we will abide.
Dr. Rathnavelu Subramaniam asked me about the letter, and I said, I got it, but told him the situation. He got himself involved and enquired about the matter. He said, this fellowship was only meant for Sarasabarathi, If she is prevented from coming because of some factors, it is not allowed for others.
Ashwin: So you did not expect these kind of politics and these type of challenges happen and you still kept going.
Sarasabarathi: Only then I was able to go ahead. Within the next two weeks, another miracle happened.
I had a look at the notice board in the library. I used to be at the library all the time. That day, Dr. Ramamoorthy had put in the message saying anybody can make use of the statistics available in this institute of Nuerology where so many brain tumor cases were available to study. Brain tumors were my favorite subject. I went and asked Dr. Ramamoorthy and he asked me to make use of it.
From that day onwards, I started collecting patient’s statistics and that was my thesis about. It was then I found out during my MD thesis, that the maximum of the tumors present at that time was one type tumor found only in Madras.
I found about it and informed Ramamoorthy.
But he did not take it seriously.
That is when I met the neuropathology professor in New York. He had come by himself by his visit to Vellore. He had heard about Madras Institute and Ramamoorthy and he had come to visit. But Ramamoorthy was not in town at that time. But people knew my thesis was based on that and I had met him and showed him my thesis and all of my collectives. He immediately recognized and was astonished by my findings. He appreciated me for finding the largest number of tumor cases in India.
I said, yes that’s the point I am making but Ramamoorthy was not considering it.
He appreciated me and asked me if I was willing to go with him for further studies? I said, I am certainly willing to learn. And he went back.
A letter came from him to my professor confirming my fellowship in neuropathology. No one believed it, but it happened.
I said, sure I will go, but the government should permit me to go.
But before that, I got my fellowship in London and I flew away.
I got a call from New York while I was in London. They have dialed my home and the call was diverted to London. He asked me if I was willing to come to New York to join. I said I was working in London.
He said, you find out when he will be leave you to come over or I can extend it till you come.
I was absolutely taken aback and It was only 3 months since I moved to London.
I went to Professor Hudson and told him that Zimmerman has also given me a fellowship and asked him what I should do.
He said, if I were you, I will fly tomorrow.
But I said I wanted to learn more cardio pathology.
He said, I wanted to keep you here for two years. I said, I will work for 1 year here and leave as I am more interested in brain.
He said ok and took it up easily. Once I finished my one year, I went up there.
I stayed there for 4 years and had a wonderful opportunity. I learnt how to do all these things, learn electron microscopic and came back. But Zimmerman did not allow me to go.
He said” Do you know what you are doing? “
I said, I had to go as I have told my government that I will come back. My father also wanted me back here. I returned to India.
He said “Doctor Barathi, you are a fool going back” He offered me a professor job.
He said, he will give me 3000 dollars. But I said I wanted to learn, go back to India and serve. That was my objective. He said I will not succeed.
Ashwin: Even while you had the opportunity, you were not allowed to use it. You had to fight and finally went to study abroad.
It is easy for our generation as we are exposed and we can travel easily. But it might have been tough at that time. When was it actually that you went?
Sarasabarathi: It was 1968
Ashwin: I think in the year 1968, most of the people did not know about travelling to other countries.
Sarasabarathi: yes Correct.
Ashwin: But You succeeded and you went abroad for studies. But when you came back, you had to face politics again.
Sarasabarathi: When I came back, I joined as an assistant professor, whereas with all my experience I should have been a better position much more than that.
And then Dr. Ramamoorthy said, I’ll have the Institute of Neuro Sciences and create a post and you can also come and join. Then he asked me to go and meet the secretary.
He was quite impressed with everything and said OK. But in the local pathology department, they could not accommodate such a thing. Somehow we managed and took the title as neuro pathologist.
But I was not happy with the title alone. I wanted to do something and show what I have learnt. One fine day, January 26th to be exact, I witnessed Republic Day march past and went straight to the lab to start my work on brain tumors.
One more thing is the mice, the whole world were using a particular type of mice. It usually took 1 year for the tumor to grow in the brain. Back then the policy was very strict and nothing can be imported. I thought why not we have our own type of mice. So I went to King Institute and requested the director. He readily gave access and asked me to take as many as I want.
I requested 200 mice for the study. But they gave me 8 and told they will multiply and within 3 months, I had about 60 mice. January 26, I started putting in the medicine into the mouse and waited for results.
Within 3 months, one mice had some kind of fits like seizure and then I knew I had succeeded. Then I checked the other mouse and the tumor was still there. For humans, the tumor will not come out of the skull, but in mouse, due to the fine structure, the tumor will protrude.
Ashwin: So you were the first to carry out the experience in our breed of mice.
Sarasabarathi: Exactly. I was the first to do it in the whole world.
Ashwin: That is amazing.
Sarasabarathi: That’s what I thought.
Ashwin: What would be your advice for parents or for those who are yet to be? What is that they need to know in order to make their kids succeed or to be happy in life?
Sarasabarathi: The parents, mother and father they should understand each other first and then they have to guide the child. Both of them should have interest in raising the kid. Do not treat your kids indifferently.
One may be good in a specific area and the other may not. If a child likes to draw, let him be. He may become an artist. Father and mother must watch, encourage and guide them. That is what I keep telling my own patients.
Never compare one child with another, especially in front of them. Parents are their power, because they are their role models.
If the child is making a mistake, it has not been brought up well. That’s the end of story.
Parents are responsible for the actions of their child.
We hear shootouts happening in Texas and that is because of their parents. It is all because of how we raise the kids.
Ashwin: When you take longevity, everybody wants to live longer. It is an amazing thing to be healthy at 89. Today, most of the organs are gone at the age of 60. How do you live your life to extend the longevity? What is your routine every day in context to health?
Sarasabarathi: Today’s generation may not even like my habits. I have always been a vegetarian wherever I went. I strictly believe that we have much more to gain from the vegetables than any other thing.
Everybody keeps asking me the secret for being so strong.
Ashwin: Your brain becomes more efficient when you eat vegetarian food.
Sarasabarathi: Yes. That’s what I think.
Ashwin: You eat only two meals a day. But how long you have been eating like this?
Sarasabarathi: I think for the past 50 years, I have been practicing it.
Ashwin: Is it sufficient for you?
Sarasabarathi: Yes. That is more than enough. Because I think the human body really doesn’t require too much food. If I can be an example for that, you can be sure about it.
Ashwin: How important extracurricular activities or hobbies for people especially of this generation?
Sarasabarathi: It is very important for everyone because it is where you express yourself. It may be a badminton court or anything else, you can do your best to show you have got the power to do all these things. If you do it, your oxygen level increases much more and the brain gets benefited by it. When you are exposed to such kind of things, naturally your body becomes efficient.
You become very strong.
This is the point people keep asking me all the time. You don’t know exactly who started the whole world. Nobody knows. Are you aware of it? Nobody knows.
What is there in the environment? You may say oxygen and something else.
So many bacteria and viruses, they all are here. We are covered with viruses and bacteria completely everywhere. They are all common sols. But how do they live here? Does these bacteria ask for food?
I want students to do a research on how these bacteria and viruses thrive?
Ashwin: The world today is towards shallowness. There is no depth in the things we do.
People are not analyzing or studying in depth to know the reasons. They do for the sake of doing and expect immediate results.
Sarasabarathi: That is what I am trying to say. I used to think how these bacteria is able to survive? Only now people are slowly started to think about it. IIT is now able to extract water out of air. What’s the big deal about it? It’s already there in the cloud.
We must know how to extract the lipid and the proteins. That is what we have to work on. It is possible and I know it can be done.
I teach students how to study.
The first is to explain what logy is about. We have been reading physiology, pathology and so many other things, but what is logy all about?
Nobody gives me an answer for this.
Logos means knowledge. In the Greek, knowledge means word. I give you my word means I give you my knowledge. Pathos means suffering be it physical or mental.
If you want to know the root of pathology, you have to learn history. Only history can teach you where and how it all started.
How the world did began?
The two theories, the western and our Vedas are absolutely correct. I asked people how the world began and nobody was able to answer.
If you take up the Vedas, it says in the beginning there was nothing in the world. The western version also says the same. There was nothing except helium gas. This is the beginning and slowly things started to grow.
But what I am trying to say is, people must get interested to know everything. I really would like to say everything, but I don’t have time.
Ashwin: Younger people should get deep into such learning.
People should work on the basics and then start thinking about travelling to other planets.
Ashwin: How does shallowness and depth both relate mam?
Sarasabarathi: Everybody is learning only the tip of the iceberg. They should be more involved in depth in finding the basics.
If you ask a child how the light burns, it will show you the switch. This is an example.
Ashwin: Another common problem is the e-devices madam. You have been seeing the world from pre-independent era and you might have seen drastic transformations. In the older days, children used to play, interact with people and activities. But now it is not the case as the kids are distracted through mobile phones and laptops.
Sarasabarathi: My wish is to ban the cellphones altogether. Cellphones have created a larger problem. Due to cellphones, temporal lobe cancer has occurred.
If small kids get such an issue, they will suffer. They won’t know. Even grownups ignore the statuary warnings on the cigarette boxes and smoke. He is the one who is going to have the cancer.
Ashwin: Cellphones and e devices have become a necessary evil.
I am not sure if it will be practical to remove these devices from our life.
Sarasabarathi: Yes. It is possible. We are going to ban cellphones in our hospital. It is not like our lives depend on cellphones. We used to make phone calls when it is needed. Due to the cellphones our brains are not working as they use to be. Even for simple calculations we depend on cellphones.
We have a better device in our head which we are not using.
Our brain development is totally disturbed. Just to stop the crying of children, parents lend their phones to the kids. This is not a way. The generation is lost.
How can a child be curious if this type of lifestyle is prevailing? All the answers are readily available with your cellphones. Google is giving the answers.
Ashwin: How can we avoid this situation madam?
Sarasabarathi: Don’t give access to such devices.
Ashwin: parents should spend more time with their kids.
Sarasabarathi: They have to spend more time. It could be easier if they bring the children with the proper education and proper manners.
If you leave them free at the young age, you cannot get hold of them ever.
Ashwin: Back then, women sacrificed their lives to raise their kids. But in this generation, people are running for survival. Both men and women are working parents. How can they balance in such a situation?
This is what I keep on trying to tell people but most of them don’t listen to me. If you are not satisfied with what you have, only then there is a need. You have to earn more and get the wife also to suffer. Finally everybody suffers and the kids are the one who are spoiled.
You should not plan that way at all.
Plan for the first five years. Let the man work.
Ashwin: people are materialistic and run behind money and objective things.
Sarasabarathi: There is no need for such things in life.
Ashwin: Mam, people today are mostly drained out, without energy and being tired. In your experience, what is that you think might be the reason?
Sarasabarathi: I have seen a lot of people in my life and they have unfulfilled desires and due to which they are stressed out.
Desires are the reasons for stress. If you lose your desires, your stress will go away too.
But as humans, we may have desires. It could be good if we have our desires within certain limits, but none listen. There is nothing wrong to wish for something in life, but you have to question yourself if it is an absolute necessity. Otherwise, you will be stressed. We have to find out the core reason for our stress and delete it completely. Delete the factor which causes the stress.
You have to have the courage to identify the reason for stress and completely delete it from your life.
You have to accept the reason and only then stress will go away.
Ashwin: Generally, the larger population has so much of ego and one should let go of it to see the goodness.
Sarasabarathi: If you have ego, then you cannot achieve anything. If you are egoistic, then you are not fit to live in this world. Stress and other disease will follow if you have ego.
Most of the common problems like gastric ulcers are due to stress. Skin problems are due to stress. All auto-immune diseases and rheumatoid arthritis are also caused due to stress.
And most importantly all the degenerative diseases begin when the stress starts.
Patients with multiple sclerosis are made to feel happier and the progress of the disease is halted completely and it has been proven through research.
And one of the most therapy one can think of is music. A person who can listen to music during his stressful time gets cured of his stress completely and he will not suffer auto-immune disease at all.
Music is something which can cure all diseases.
Ashwin: Everybody is behind happiness. Whether it may be alcohol drinking or dancing or being with friends or it may be even his job. You have crossed so many years in life, you are 89 and you are with zeal. You look like you are only 40. You have been a doctor for 60 years. What is your opinion about happiness and how important it is for a human being to be happy? What is happiness for you?
Sarasabarathi: Life thrives on happiness. Americans have designed their logo towards happiness.
What do we have in our country? “Sathya meva Jeyathe”
We need happiness here. The very point of life is to be happy and that’s what god wants. Be happy and I am there with you. And the only way is to surrender. Do everything in the name of God. You forget everything and work. Happiness will only come to you if you surrender.
Any role you play, whatever work you do, give 100% of your best to that particular role. Give your fullest to the work you do. The results will follow.
Ashwin: You did your best and your life changed.
Thanks to doctor Sarasabarathi madam for coming. I hope this conversation was useful to you all. We believe there could be answers to your questions and we believe this can change someone’s life out there.
That’s the whole point of this conversation series. Please share it to your friends who are trying to succeed in life. Hope we all make a strong and healthy society.