Rita Frenchman

Rita Frenchman Gavankar M.D.

Queen Mary (Batch of 63)

I was born in Mumbai, India , the youngest of three children The initial sweet name Sarita given at birth slipped unnoticed , and I was called Rita  from very early on. My father holds himself responsible for the change ,  he renamed me after his favourite Hollywood  actress, redheaded ,and gorgeous Rita Hayworth , sometime  wife of play boy Aly Khan , head of the Muslim Khoja community.

My parents were Gavankars/Parulekars ,Saraswat Brahmins, my Mom from the Konkan area and Dad from the Bassein area in Maharashtra . Theirs was an arranged marriage, and took  place in Dad’s two bed room quarters . You see, after his graduation in Arts from the famous Wilson College in Mumbai , set in luscious settings in Chowpatti 

(where the famous Queen’s Necklace chronicled in British History books starts from) , he took up a then very prestigious job as Sub-Inspector of Police. He passed the examination but he got the coveted post on account of his height of six feet and four inches, a remarkable feature by any exaggeration . Remember , this was around 1940 ,when the police department and the entire Indian subcontinent was under British Rule . When I was older, I often used to ask my Dad why he served under the enemy , and he would lovingly explain to me that there was a lot of dignity and authority in his job and many Indians had to serve in  positions of power  under the British .The Indian officers  didn’t necessarily like it , and whenever they could , he and his friends would not wield the stick and come down heavily on the Satyagrahis, patriots who fought for India’s freedom 

Another feature of Dad’s job was that he would get transferred  from one area to another  within Mumbai city limits every 2 to 3 years , so the whole family moved bag and baggage , and sought to travel to the same school via different routes of trains and buses.

I became a champion of travel  in Mumbai and would know no fear moving from say Bhendi Bazaarr( stronghold of the Muslims ) to Dadar ( stronghold of the Hindus ).

Also , there were no real issues between the two religions and as a child I remember playing happily with my Muslim neighbours and breaking bread with them .

My mom was a housewife , a great one by any standards . Her father, my grandfather was a school teacher and money was hard with six children to feed . but my grandmother was so resourceful and careful with the little money that trickled through grandpa , that they lived like they had plenty . As was the custom in those days , my grandmother kept orphan children 3 to 4 at a time in her house till they reached adulthood and  who were treated like the rest of the family with chores to do after school hours .

My sister , Nanda was 6 years older than me , and my brother Sudhir 3 years . You would think I was the youngest and so must have been spoilt. No such thing . It was an understood fact that Nanda was Daddy’s favourite and Sudhir, the apple of his mothers’ eye . One well intentioned cousin used to console me by telling all the relatives  that , I was God’s favorite and HE  would always take care of me .

Mother and Daddy always believed in good education and we girls went to Queen Mary  High School and my brother to St. Xaviers .I was a real tomboy and for some unknown reason ( Mother still says it was for my own good ), I first entered school in 3rd standard , and that too after  fierce back and fro arguments between the British principal and my parents . Finally an entrance exam was given , passed and at age 8 sat down with the other children in this confined prison called school.

British teachers, Episcopalian Christianity , loads of discipline and a severe attitude to life in general for all of us girls , made me dislike my school years and yet respect what I was taught and the values imparted . One and a half hours of hymn singing and prayers daily made not the slightest difference to us Hindu girls and we emerged as staunchly tied to our own religion without being Christianized ,ending exams were two, the Cambridge and the SSC , the former came from England and was tough and the latter was set in India and easy compared with the former.

I passed both with First Class and went on to Elphinstone College for two years of undergraduate training , where I decided to be a doctor . I stood 17th in this examination  and was invited to join the very prestigious King Edward Memorial Hospital and College in Parel, Mumbai . I was going to be the first ever doctor on my father’s side of the family and mostly everyone was proud of my achievements . My father having suffered from long years of Diabetes succumbed to its complications and I lost him during my medical school years , his passing away being the first ever tragedy in my life . I was 22 years old.

Around the same time , I met a nice boy Khushru Frenchman , half Parsee , half Saraswat Brahmin, we fell in love and got married three years later. My dad was aware of it and blessed and approved of him ..Khushru did his post graduation in Surgery from my Hospital while I finished up my MBBS degree .He  applied for further training in the USA , and we came to the US to Michigan in 1972.I was very sad to leave my family behind at the same time, this was the popular trend then , almost half of my 160 member class was in the US .and I “went with the flow “A daughter, Meghana was born to me around this time .What bad timing , na ?

We finished up our Residencies , me in Anesthesiology and he in Plastic Surgery in Michigan and Ohio  and settled down in Nashville, Tenneessee to practice our respective professions.

I must say , we were not impressed with the State nor its level of education nor its hospitals . But the local residents  respected us for our efficiency  , smartness and language proficiency.

We did  not get lost, like a lot of my friends did, in the big cities . Instead, wherever we went to the Malls , to American Doctors’ houses , to the Hospitals , we were noticed immediately .In an admiring way .Our neighbours were kindly, showing their Southern Hospitality and even our dogs were well received , though they dragged home the neighbours’ garden gloves or shoes…

I have been practicing Anesthesiology for the last 36 years . I like it well enough , although looking back, I think I would have been a better  Psychiatrist . Again , it was God’s ( and my husband’s wish ) that I practice Anesthesia .The best part about my work for the past three four years is that I work with  my husband . We have a surgery clinic/office where I render the anesthesia for his plastic surgery .This way I can keep a good solid eye on him, too ! Right ? With 90% of his patients being young females !

He is  a well known surgeon  in the area , his expertise being in  breast enlargement ( popularly known as a boob job ). His patients love  him , he does a lot of charity work too especially amongst the senior age group .

My major achievements have been my medical profession, being a wife to a uniquely wonderful man and plastic surgeon , mother to delightfully dutiful and goodlooking Meghana and Aparna .Meghana has been married to Shankar who is a Plastic Surgeon in the making for 9 years now and we all have been blessed with a two year old grandson Arjun.

I must say I am a proud Indian . Whenever and wherever I can , I toot my Indian horn . I love my Hindu religion , and practice it in my own way . Growing up, my children were not brought up religious , but now they thank me for being broadminded enough ,so that they have no hang-ups about any religion.

Below are some of my achievements , I am writing them down , quite embarrassed .

  1.  Patron member of AAPI ( American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin )
  2.  Founder and first President of AAPI of Tennessee.
  3.  Founder and first President of Tennessee Marathi Mandal
  4. Founding member , American College of International Physicians
  5. Vice President , India Association. of Nashville, Tennessee
  6. Executive Committee Member , Brihan Maharashtra Mandal
  7. Tutor with Hendersonville Literacy Council
  8. Advisor, Domestic Violence and Juvenile Offenders Mediation Program. 
  9. Member , AAPI  Board of Trustee

     10   In 2002, I was part of a 4 man panel discussion at the prestigious National Press    Club in Washington D.C The topic was “ Media Coverage of Terrorism  in India and Pakistan 

 No matter how successful we have become in the US, the first generation Indians like me missed out on family life, my children did not mingle with extended family enough . All these are drawbacks of living away from one’s roots.

My plans for the future are to be with my family here in the States, spoil my grandchildren ,  continue visiting India and give of myself , profession- wise to the people of India . There is so much that needs to be done.

I also wish that Indians living in the US come closer together, refrain from fighting amongst themselves and be proud of their heritage.

Jai Hind

 Rita Frenchman Gavankar M.D.

Hendersonville, Tennessee