A bit of Indian history

Malavika Karlekar writes about two of the first Indian women doctors (and their dressing habits):

We do not know whether Kadambini and Anandi were acquainted with each other or indeed knew of their respective achievements. Though their lives were very different, they certainly shared a deep commitment to better medical care for women, crossing the seas to do so. There is a photograph of Kadambini taken in Edinburgh where she is wearing a sari in the style introduced by Jnanadanandini Debi, wife of Satyendranath Tagore. With it she has an elaborate long-sleeved blouse with ruffs at the wrist, and a shawl around her shoulders. We do not know whether she had felt the need for sartorial indulgences such as wearing the more practical skirt and blouse; in fact, in those days, Brahmo women like Swarnalata Ghosh and a few from the Tagore household did wear Western dress with ease and panache, and that too in Calcutta.

It is possible that Kadambini perhaps did not change her style of dressing — and must have caused quite a stir as she would walk into class in Edinburgh, six yards of silk swishing, boots clicking. We know, however, that Anandibai did not wear anything but the sari — and nine yards at that! Worn like a dhoti, though it was more practical than the six yards version, it was nevertheless cumbersome. Feted by the Carpenters’ friends at elaborate non-vegetarian meals, she did not change her dietary habit of not eating meat. And hosted a grand party for her friends with vegetarian fare that she had cooked. On ceremonial occasions, Anandi would wear a resplendent red silk sari, many sets of bangles, a bejeweled choker around her neck, and a nose ring.

All clothing, shoes and books were transported with the two women on their long sea voyages. Not only did they become the first Indian women doctors but were also among the earliest women to travel abroad. Anandi knew all forms of existing locomotion — horse-drawn carriages, the train and now the ocean steamer. And Anandibai’s sea voyage was anything but pleasant. She had to share the cabin with a missionary, Mrs Johnson, whose attention was focused on converting the young girl. Anandibai resisted but was badly shaken by the time she reached New York. Her mentor, Mrs Carpenter’s calm disposition was a great relief — and soon Anandibai became an honorary member of her family, and good friends with the three Carpenter girls. There was no question of conversion. The furthest Mrs Carpenter got to try and pressurise Anandi was when, on a cold and miserable New England winter’s day, she arrived at her door with a skirt and blouse in hand. But to no avail — what would Gopalrao say, shuddered Anandi!

A very interesting piece; take a look!


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