published Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

Doctor takes lessons from India to heart in visit from Arun Gandhi

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    Dr. Mukta Panda, left, speaks with Dr. Arun Gandhi, right, before Gandhi speaks at the Probasco Auditorium at Erlanger Friday, the last day of his tour of Chattanooga. Panda, whose grandfather was a freedom fighter in India with Mahatma Gandhi, Arun Gandhi's grandfather, is the head of Erlanger's internal medicine teaching program and will be traveling to London in October to accept the "Mahatma Gandhi Pravesi Gold Medal" honor at the House of Lords.
    Photo by Allison Love.
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Even as a small child in India, Dr. Mukta Panda knew not to disturb her grandfather — a freedom fighter who was jailed several times while working in India's freedom movement — while he drank his morning glass of water and began his day with meditation.

Those values of mindfulness and self-awareness have remained a part of her life, said Panda, who serves as chairwoman of Erlanger's internal medicine program and a professor at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine Chattanooga.

On Friday morning at Erlanger, as she shook hands with Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Arun Gandhi, she clutched an orange folder filled with pictures of her grandfather and the recognition he received.

By her side were her father and mother, a surgeon and physician who live in India, but who had planned a visit to Chattanooga before they knew Arun Gandhi would be in town this week.

"It's a very proud moment," Panda said of the opportunity to meet Arun Gandhi. "I can relate on a very personal level, the honor it is for my heritage and my culture. But on a much larger scale, I'm excited for what it means for Chattanooga."

Arun Gandhi spent the week in Chattanooga at various public and private events to promote his grandfather's nonviolent teachings. His short talk at Erlanger was one of his final stops in the city.

Panda's father, Dr. Shyam Kumar Parashar, said meeting Arun Gandhi brought back a flood of memories about his father and the fight for Indian independence. He has written a book he hopes to have published soon about his family's history called "The Twists and Turns of Destiny."

He was 6 in August 1942 when Mahatma Gandhi first issued his call for the British to leave the country. As the news spread across the country on radio broadcasts, Parashar's father grabbed him and his 4-year-old brother, leading the two though the streets in their small town amid the cries of "Quit India" and "Long live Mahatma Gandhi."

When a policeman struck a man carrying the Indian flag, Parashar's father ran to grab the flag before it could hit the ground and carried it down the street. He was arrested for his actions.

Other people took the two young boys home, telling them they were the sons of a brave man. His father later went on to serve in various public offices in India and practiced on the country's Supreme Court.

"The very word 'Gandhi' means a lot to us," said Parashar. "Today took me down memory lane."

Panda, who has been at Erlanger since 1994, said she tries to pass along the life values she learned from her parents and grandfather to the medical students she teaches.

Doctors must get to the root of a problem, whether it is poverty, lack of education or depression, before they can help their patients, she said. They also must learn to deal with stress as a part of their lives.

"To care for others, we have to learn how to be mindful of who we are," she said.

about Mariann Martin...

Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...

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