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  Books   02 Dec 2023  Book Review | Tamil Christian girl from Rangoon becomes a doctor

Book Review | Tamil Christian girl from Rangoon becomes a doctor

THE ASIAN AGE. | MALATI MATHUR
Published : Dec 2, 2023, 10:34 pm IST
Updated : Dec 2, 2023, 10:34 pm IST

The author has been able to be objective in the recording of personal, social and professional experiences.

Cover photo of 'Three Countries, Three Lives: A Doctor’s Story' by Lindy Rajan Cartner. (Image by Arrangement)
 Cover photo of 'Three Countries, Three Lives: A Doctor’s Story' by Lindy Rajan Cartner. (Image by Arrangement)

Three countries, three generations, three cultures… The story of Dr Lindy Rajan Cartner travels across India, Burma and the UK, intertwining with the stories of her grandfather (her thatha) and her mother amid the cultural ambience of Chennai, Rangoon and Great Britain. It is a simply but touchingly narrated story of an India — and Indians — before Independence, their aspirations and struggles and family dynamics within a Christian Tamil family.  In its sweep, it encompasses World War II and the consequences it held for the Indian population in Burma at the time of the Mandalay bombing of 1942.

There are traces of pain, longing and regret — the hallmarks of any life well-lived — anecdotes and vignettes of a life that has faded away into the pages of history and lives on in sepia-tinted photographs in musty albums neatly stored away among mothball scented clothes of a bygone era in steel trunks and forgotten attics…

This is a self-deprecating look at human foibles, and a firsthand account of lives and attitudes during the British Raj in India, with a refreshing dash of humour.  At one point, Lindy remarks: “The British looked down on Indians and Anglo-Indians, the Anglo-Indians looked down on Indians, and the Indians looked down on both.”  There is also an explanation of the term ‘Anglo-Indian’ and how it gradually changed to label people differently from what it originally did, which was to describe the British who went to India.

The reader is given glimpses into the life of Lindy’s extraordinary thatha who became a doctor in spite of all the dice stacked against him; and even more so, her remarkable mother, a teacher and a dispatch rider for the British in Rangoon during the war. She was a radical parent. The narrative is deeply revealing of the struggles of women and their tightrope walk between tradition and self-fulfillment. 

The author has been able to be objective in the recording of personal, social and professional experiences — beginning with a somewhat dysfunctional family; her education in Rangoon, Bangalore, Lucknow, and Vellore; her career as a doctor  in rural deprived communities, and the racial prejudices, and casual sexism she encountered in India and then in the UK.  One instance from her personal life is all too telling where she recounts how, Michael, her first husband who had given up smoking  when he was courting her, as someone had told him that Lindy would never marry a smoker, started to do so after they were married, saying, “You don’t run after a bus after you have caught it”. 

There is also the discrimination against dark skin, both by her mother-in-law and in the socio-professional spheres in England. Lindy is once approached by a woman on a pier in Southend and asked why she had come to her country.  “Because you came to mine” is her simple but effective reply.  Societal norms, biases, transformations, challenges, the determination to overcome and make something of one’s life — all are recounted with insight and candour. 

Three Countries, Three Lives: A Doctor’s Story

By Lindy Rajan Cartner

Aleph

pp. 318, Rs 799

Tags: book review 2023, burma, british raj