Had Karia Gounder, a rich landlord at Ambalur, a village in Vellore district, not been a man of progressive ideas, Coimbatore would have lost its reputation in having a US- educated doctor as the city’s first paediatrician. Thanks to Gounder, who wanted his daughter Manonmani to be ‘Doctor’ Manonmani, even before seven decades.
“When I had hesitations to study medicine, my father drove out my fears and encouraged me to pursue medical education” recalls Dr. Manonmani, who is 87 years old now.
Due to his close association with progressive thinkers and Justice Party leaders like Raja of Bobbili, P. T. Rajan, R. K. Shanmugam Chettiyar, A. T. Paneerselvam and Periyar E. V. Ramasamy, Karia Gounder practised equality and treated all his Dalit servants with due respect at his village Ambalur.
“ My father used to call our farm worker Periya Appu as ‘ Anna’, though he was a Dalit. Hence, we too would appropriately call him ( Periya Appu) ‘Periayappa’” writes Manonmani, in her autobiography Ambaluriliruthu America Varai- Oru Gramaththu Pennin Suysarithai (From Ambalur to America – A Village girl’s autobiography), which was released in the city recently.
“During the British rule, only 3 percent of the people in India were literates and that too in the urban areas. Worse still, women could never think of getting educated during those days. But, Manonmani, who was born at Ambalur, a village on the banks of river Palar in Vellore District, rose to the heights of fame by successfully studying medicine in the US” writes Pollachi N Mahalingam, well-known Tamil scholar philanthropist, in his preface to the book.
After taking her MBBS from Christian Medical College, Vellore in the early 1940s, Manonmani pursued her higher studies in American Board of Pediatrics and later got employed as a paediatrician in Bob’s Robert Baby Care Hospital in the US. Later, starting her practice as the first paediatrician of Coimbatore in 1958, Manonmani has, so far, treated around 10 lakh children.
“In those days, Coimbatore was a small, beautiful town with rich green cover. I still remember the traffic-free Good-shed Road, through which I regularly drove my Fiat to the Government Hospital” she reminisces.
On writing her autobiography, Manonmani says:
“I always loved to read Mahatma Gandhi’s The story of My Experiments with Truth and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s The Discovery of India. Their recollections of personal life in the books inspired me to write my autobiography”
When asked about her passion for Tamil literature, Manonmani says that her mother Thiruvammal, who had studied only up to class V, introduced her to the works of great Tamil poets like Avvayar, Ottakoothar and Pugazhenthi Pulavar.
“Moreover, I cannot forget the Tamil classes taken by my teacher, Mu. Va. Alias Mu. Varadarasanar, an erudite Tamil scholar and well-known author “avers Manonmani.
Link to my article in The New Indian Express: http://epaper.newindianexpress.com/c/1207675