Few people have had the ability and conviction to create history every day and influence the future the way Captain Lakshmi Sahgal has. Reiterating this sentiment, her daughter and vice-president of All India Democratic Women’s Association, Subhashini Ali, spoke about her mother, in a manner that was both poignant and inspired. She was speaking at a memorial lecture organised on Friday, at Madras Medical College, where Captain Lakshmi was an alumni.
Illustrating how Captain Lakshmi had the ability to affect change from the highest to the grassroots level, Ms. Subhashini said: spoke about how an autorickshaw driver decided to donate his body after learning that Captain Lakshmi had donated hers. “She was the first doctor in Kanpur to donate her eyes and her body and when they were taking her body to the medical college, an autorickshaw driver approached me to find out what had happened. When he heard that she had donated her body, he immediately fetched himself a form, and signed up to donate his body too.” Captain Lakshmi had helped his wife deliver three children, and would often give him boxes of milk powder to feed his children.
Captain Lakshmi decided to study medicine because she wanted to serve society. “She was deeply impacted by the different social and political movements that were taking place in her lifetime. But, she was one of those rare people who had an impact on those events and the direction those movements took,” she said. Captain Lakshmi’s first rebellion was when she lifted a dalit girl in her village.
“Captain Lakshmi’s first political act was burning not just her foreign clothes and toys, but also involving children in her school and neighbourhood to do so,” she added. But, no matter how violently you disagreed with her opinions, it was impossible not to love her, said Ms. Subhashini, citing how her teachers who were pro-empire still liked her. While many believe that people join the communist party when they are young, Captain Lakshmi joined CPI (M) when she was 57,. “In her early days my mother was attracted to communism. Sarojini Naidu’s sister Suhasini Nambiar used to stay at her home in Chennai and they used to sing the Internationale and she would tell her about the Russian Revolution. Though the sympathy was always there, she did not know how to express her feelings,” she said.
She traced the eventful life of Captain Lakshmi from her early days: how she joined the MMC, went to Singapore to treat the poor, met Captain Sahgal, joined the INA and went on to lead the Rani of Jhansi regiment, got arrested in Burma, and set up practice in Kanpur.
“She became a doctor to two kinds of people, groups that were considered adversaries. One was Punjabi refugees from Pakistan and other was Muslim women whom nobody was willing to treat,” she said. Nobody was even willing to go to those bastis,” she said. Captain Lakshmi was also the first doctor in Kanpur to insist that both the husband and the wife be tested if they were not able to conceive. having a child.
It is imperative said N. Ram, Director, Kasturi and Sons Ltd, that a biography that is detailed and non-hagiographic be written about her life. Lenin, he said, called Leo Tolstoy the mirror of the Russian Revolution.
“If you applied that kind of characteristic to Captain Lakshmi, who lived for close to a century, she was a mirror of an Indian revolution, that is yet to happen,” he said, “She was the hero of our times,” he added, about the gentle yet fiery revolutionary.
V. Kanagasabai, Dean, MMC, also participated.