To have known the first woman psychiatrist of India is nothing less than a privilege. Dr. Sarada Menon founded the Schizophrenia Research Foundation (SCARF) in 1984 and worked literally all her life to rehabilitate people suffering from various mental ailments including schizophrenia. She passed away on Dec 5th, leaving behind a legacy.
For those who don’t know her, simply imagine a 98-year-old doctor, consulting over Zoom because her patients couldn’t come for in-person consultations owing to Covid. That was her dedication; I wish I had a fraction of it! Every time we went to Chennai, my parents made sure that Mr. P and I visited the doctor and that was one social call that I never said no to. Since she was always busy, we would visit her outside of her consultation hours and the 30-60 minutes we spent at her home were special. She was hard of hearing and spoke so gently, that her voice was barely audible, but the conversations were always interesting. The dainty treats, unique gifts she handed out, and above all her pleasant, smiling face made each visit memorable. This was true even at our last meeting in 2019. Her sharp faculties amazed me even then. We in our 30s and 40s complain of forgetfulness, inability to focus, lack of motivation etc, but even as her physical strength dwindled, at 98, Dr. Menon made up for it all with her lucid brain.
Every time she and my mother spoke over the phone, she would ask about us, tell Amma that she had seen some of my photographic endeavors on Facebook, and ask if I was still writing. To have been in her thoughts is again a privilege to cherish.
There are many things her life has taught us and of it, I think the most important lesson is the importance of staying cognitively active. The minute we stop engaging our brains, we will definitely head towards memory issues, and cognitive decline with no returning back. In recent years, I have seen an increase in online/app-based games that focus on mental strength and I believe there are studies that support these games: the fact that they encourage us to use our brains to solve different things, such as puzzles, crosswords, word games, Sudoku, etc. These and other activities constantly challenge the brain, keep it ‘on its toes’ technically, and ensure that cognitive decline slows down as we age.
In honor of this legendary psychiatrist who dedicated her life to people’s mental wellness, maybe we can all promise ourselves to keep our physical and mental strength in tip-top shape, for as long as possible.
Until I write again, stay happy, exercise your brain, be active, and stay safe.