I hope that, through the creation of this foundation, I can continue the essence of my family—always giving.

Mamta Sadanah Swaroop, MD, FACS

My Grandfather: Sardar Jagat Singh Sadanah

From stories told to me by my Massi (maternal aunt) and my mother when I was a child, I know that my grandfather was a successful businessman when my mother was a young girl. The family had servants and I have a vision of my mother playing with her dog, a black and white lab named Jackie, with people following her around. I don’t know if this is true, but these are my thoughts of her childhood. According to the stories, my grandfather had a habit of going for walks with his cane in hand, mustache glistening, and pocket watch wound and precise. If he met a beggar who hadn’t eaten, he would bring them to the house and have them fed. This would infuriate my maternal grandmother, and yet made her smile. She would tell him, “You can’t bring so many strangers into the house.”

When my grandfather lost the business and the family went from wealthy to the working class, my grandfather continued his giving. My grandfather never stopped helping others. This was ingrained in who he was as a person. He also believed that education was the key to the future and made sure that each of his three children was educated. My grandmother was not educated at all—she could only sign her name in Hindi—but she valued education highly. She died before she was able to see what her children achieved: her eldest daughter, my Massi, held a masters of science in botany and a bachelors in education; my Mamaji (maternal uncle) was a mining engineer, and my mother became a radiation oncologist. My Massi and my mother both took on these qualities of helping and educating those who were in need.

My Maternal Aunt: Krishna Sadanah Ghosh

My Massi was a Radhaswami follower and deeply spiritual, believing that all religions were a way of reaching God. She felt that their teachings were all the same, but the way in which they spoke to people was what created different religions. She was the most influential person in my life. Her last letter to me always reminds me of why I became a physician and of my goal in life.

From my first memories of her to my last, my Massi always gave. Her home was a retreat for women who were distressed. I remember, when I was in middle school, a young woman who was pregnant out of wedlock and was temporarily staying with us. My mother and my aunt made her feel comfortable and told me always to help. It was an awkward moment for me as a middle schooler—I didn’t really know what was happening, but I remember the kindness.

My aunt also taught Rama, the lady who came to wash the dishes and clean the house, how to read. I would watch this and, although the boundary between them was clear, my Massi always pushed it. Rama’s daughter, Sheetal, and I grew up together. Every summer when I visited, Sheetal and I would hang out. My aunt never treated us differently, except for our respective working times. When we were together, we listened to music, watched television, and went to the market together. When Sheetal graduated and started working for a large organization, she came to visit my aunt. She was dressed up and accomplished. It brought tears to my aunt’s eyes. I will never forget that moment.

My Maternal Uncle: Pritam Singh Sadanah

My Mamaji was a staunch supporter of female equality in education and rights. When our grandfather was facing financial difficulties in educating his children, he suggested that my Maasi drop out of school, while my uncle continue his education. Mamaji put his foot down, insisting that either both he and my aunt drop out, or both continue their college education. My grandfather had to give in and arranged to educate both of them.

His strength was in his three daughters, Gudi, Dolly, and Renu didi (sister), whom he raised to be independent. Under his supervision, they learned to change the tires on a car, repair electric fuses, and change plugs. Renu didi, the youngest, studied in an all girls school until the 10th standard, at which point he withdrew her, against the advice of her school principal, and enrolled her in a co-ed college, so that she would learn to be comfortable in the company of men. He wanted nothing to keep her from reaching her full potential. Renu didi is now a practicing otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat surgeon). Gudi, his daughter, recently retired from her position as the Head of the Department of Anesthesia at Mulanazzad Medical College. Dolly is a co-owner of her own pathology business and lab.

Mamaji had photographic memory and could memorize anything after reading it just once. He often shared his vast knowledge of history with his daughters, especially the youngest daughter, Renu. Mamaji had an air of nobility; he loved fiercely and had a work ethic that I have seen in very few. He was honest to the core and almost to a fault. He never compromised his morality in his personal, professional, or spiritual life. He raised his daughters and me to be strong and recognize that love is not always as it seems, it can be seen in the simplest of actions and that the belief in each other is the glue that keeps families together.

My Mother: Pushpa Sadandah Swaroop

My mother is one of the strongest women I have EVER met. She lost her mother as a teenager and my Massi became her maternal figure. She is, indeed, a force to reckon with. An obstetrician and gynecologist by training in India, she went on to move to London alone, as a single Indian woman to continue her training in one of the first classes of nuclear medicine at the Royal Marsden Hospital Chelsey, London. There, she continued to break barriers by falling in love with and then eventually marrying a younger man of another religion and caste. She then supported her husband when he decided to move to the USA instead of returning to India, where she had planned to start and head a nuclear medicine department. She started fresh in Houston, Texas. She took a selfless path—instead of splitting the family and redoing her residency, she took a professorship in Anatomy and Physiology that gave her the flexibility to care for me and still participate in some way in the field she loved. She befriended women who were battered by their husbands. She empowered these women and supported them in the manner that they needed. My mom continued in her father’s and sister’s footsteps, caring for people who came into her life.