At 79, Mahtab Bamji, along with friend Dr. Devyani Dangoria, relentlessly works towards health and nutrition of the farmers
It was a sea of humanity at the Dangoria Charitable Trust at Narsapur and in one of the several blocks where the medicos were examining patients, there were new born babies, some children came for their regular check ups and some for their vaccination. A few yards from the health centre of the Dangoria Charitbale Trust is the office from where every project functions, with a team of seven to eight people headed by Mahtab Bamji. “It’s afternoon time, please refresh yourself, it’s a long drive and we can quickly go to the old age home before the residents retire for their siesta,” says Bamji with a smile. Bamji is set to work till late hours in the centre. Her flat pump shoes and the finely starched cotton sari is a hint that the 79-year-old lady is set and geared up to wind up her work only when she is satisfied with it. Or may be spend the night or a couple of days in a quarter which is in the same compound. “It overlooks the lake and in the morning it is a sight with all kinds of birds chirping. I walk up the jungle every morning and it is the calmest moments for me." Mahtab S. Bamji is an INSA Honorary Scientist, Director Grade Scientist, retired National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad (NIN) and she says, “I still want to work more. There is a lot to be done for the women and children and I want to work on it. People ask me whether I get bored alone, I say, ‘where is the time to get bored?’ If we know how to fruitfully use our time, there wouldn’t be any dull moment or a day for us.”
And it could be this attitude of Mahtab and Dr Devyani Dangoria that The Dangoria Charitable Trust received the National award from Director Science and Technology, for Development of women through science and technology. “The award makes us proud but also reminds us of the responsibility that goes with such a prestigious award. My friend Dr. D. Balasubramaniam — Director of L.V. Prasad eye institute and former director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology read about it and nominated us. I received it on behalf of the Trust at a function in Delhi on March 8, International Women’s Day. Our focus over the years has been different aspects of nutrition security — food (crop diversification using green methods of farming, backyard poultry, food processing), environment, health care, livelihood and this holistic approach has been appreciated,” she remarks.
Devyani credits Mahtab’s insight and her determination for the achievements and work at the centre.
Mahtab Bamji tells us about the day when she decided to get into an institute in Bangalore and her mother threw a fit. “But my dad was certain about letting me do what I desired. So I walked into the Indian Institute of Science escorted by my dad and uncles and it still is the talk of the institute,” she giggles.
On completing her studies, Bamji was sent abroad by Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and after having lived there for a couple of years she expressed her desire to return to India. That was when NIN happened. “And this was the first piece of furniture I bought when I moved into a company accommodation,” she says, pointing to a semi-reclining cane chair in her quarters at the Trust.
Bamji is glad NIN happened because she is able to use the knowledge gained and give it back to the people in the most crucial time. “Giving it back to the people from where it all comes. Farmers and their families toil to produce the grains, fruits and vegetables, but what do they eat? Our mission and vision is to educate them on eating balanced food along with ideas to improve their livelihood and nutrition,” she explains.
Bamji and her team didn’t find it easy to convince people especially women to produce and consume the healthy options. “Farmers including their wives were only interested in selling their produce to earn more. So we decided to encourage them to produce more so that they can consume some part of it. The efforts paid off and they were consuming food that gave them the nutritional benefits the natural way. This along with methods of health and hygiene infant mortality rate also improved,” she adds.
As the women and households began to respond better to the ideas, the centre also started focussing on making ready mixes for cereals and Indian breakfasts. “Some of the packaged food from our centre like the multi dosa mix, the poshana mix etc are very popular. We also do fresh seasonal fruit crushes and pickles. These are organic and prepared in the most traditional way,” she says.
As she explains, Bamji also shows around the solar-treated driers, the gas roasters etc which the women in the centre use to dry and millets and grains. These are then processed through a seed and stone separator to clear the products of impurities before they are pounded. Bamji thoroughly credits her teams for the help and support and says she loves the dedication they have for the centre.
The Dangoriya Connection
After her retirement, when Mahtab Bamji looked to work in the field of health and nutrition for women and children, Dr Devyani Dangoriya suggested her to make use of a centre which was already existing. The Dangoriya Trust hospital was establishedmade because Dr Devyani was keen on working in the rural centre ever since she became a doctor. “My father was not very amused with the idea so he set up the hospital for me at RTC X roads and I was stuck here. When things fell in place in my hospital, I went hunting for a place to start a hospital for women and children in the rural area. I wanted to build one in the Narsapur forest but since it was a forest area I wasn’t allowed to do so. Even then we managed a wonderful place on the banks of a lake and I didn’t waste anytime in setting up the hospital. Bamji’s work is an asset addition and it has given the Trust a whole new meaning.