Medical professionals are so much occupied with books and patient welfare and at times their talents get locked away. KWAY gives our doctors to write about themselves and their hidden talents. In the busy life of patient care such talents definitely ease the minds of doctors and readers.

Dr Suresh Venkita, our Group Medical Director, a senior cardiologist and an avid writer, has yet again shared this lovely story from his desk, dedicated to all the lovely and incredibly talented and resourceful women out there, and wishing each and everyone a great womanhood.

When I asked him the secret behind his story writing talent, he mentioned that every story written by him were blended episodes from his life which had inspired him to write.

In this story he had shared the description of the new born baby from the exact description of the premature birth of his wife Raji at the Pollachi government medical college, as he had heard it from her family!

He met her at Kolkata and she had toured him all around the city. His accurate description of Kolkata in this and as well as the previous story that we had published "Happy New Year" is also from that personnel exposure he once had to this old and congested city!!!

The descent and ascent of Laxmi Bhattacharjee

She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life--the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build--begin to crumble around her.

It was from the Chairman of the Board of Directors.

It said “Your stewardship of this Company has come into conflict with the vision and mission of this Board. We hereby dispense with your services as the Chief Executive Officer of the Company. Your severance package is attached’’.

She instantly felt both the ejection and the free fall that followed, from the rarefied height of the Indian corporate pinnacle she had reached after an arduous and determined climb. The fall accelerated, following the laws of physics, reaching a terminal velocity that gave her a few seconds to reflect on the journey that she had taken on the way up, edging past other equally tenacious climbers. Soon she would be crashing into the ground zero from where she had first looked up from the pit she was born into and took the first step to climb up the glass wall of life and career.

She was born an orphan; she could comprehend that fact only after she was well into her early childhood. It was not easy to glean the truth about the exact circumstances of her arrival at the orphanage at Kolkata. The kind people who brought her up did not wish to hurt her, so she received only vague recollections; some thought she was found in a basket left at the door and some others thought that she was left near a minor deity at an obscure way side temple. It was only the night before she left to find her future that she was told the truth at last by the oldest inmate at the orphanage- that she was found abandoned in a drain, wrapped up in blood stained newspaper.

She fought for life from day one. The oldest inmate had also added that she was premature and was only the size of a mouse when she was found. They wondered how she was not washed away by the rain, picked up by a crow, gnawed by a hungry sewer rat or eaten by a foraging cat.

But when she eagerly sucked at the cotton wick soaked in milk, eyes shut tight and tiny fingers groping to touch a helpful hand, they knew she would be a survivor.

And survive she did! Through malnutrition, measles, pneumonia, malaria and even cholera! The crowded orphanage, tucked away in a dark and damp alley not far from the crowded Sealdah railway station, was a soft spot which no visiting bug, bacteria or virus could resist visiting to find and extinguish easy prey- thin and fragile children sustained with stale bread, watered down milk, discarded fruit and decaying fish from nearby markets.

No one seemed to remember how she was named. Someone suggested Laxmi (pronounced as Lokhi), the goddess of wealth, as the first name for the dirt-poor child. A homeless old man dying from cancer generously gifted his surname, Bhattacharjee.

No fancy schools, colleges and prestigious institutes in Kolkata ever came to know of her. She was lucky to be sent to school at all. But she sat on the hard floor, scratched on her slate, scribbled on discarded note books picked up off the streets, listened intently and lapped up all the knowledge that came her way. At the end of the day, beside her flickering lamp, she thought furiously about what she learned over the day. There was always a fire in her belly from hunger but that fuelled a raging fever in her head driving and daring to get ahead.

But that going ahead made her leave behind everything else, especially her child hood and the teen ages. She rarely had the time or opportunity to play. Not for her the giggles and whispers of little girls! She rarely knew the excitement of browsing and bargaining for a trinket in the market. She almost never saw a movie, not even television.

Instead, she learnt finance and business from the squatting, chattering and arguing sellers at the street market- how much each slippery coin and soiled note mattered, how nebulous sales were furiously bargained, how deals were struck and how profits were cleverly hidden from marauding lenders extorting bruising interest rates on grudgingly given principals.

Her maiden business venture, launched when she was barely in her teens, was a microcredit scheme for the women fish sellers in the market. She was smart enough to spot a potential investor from the visitors to the market, who also happened to be the father of a class –mate at school, and persuade him to advance her the seed capital. She did not look back from there, she went on to create the first street-smart bank of the fish market that grew into ‘First Finance ‘, a dynamic lending institution that was feisty and fun, and flush with success from fish!

She wrote up her experience, got her figures audited, collected her bank statements and attended the interview at a business school at Kolkata. The modest members of selection committee hoped that this willowy girl, born and bred in one of the back alleys of the city, but tough as a nail, will have the drive and determination to succeed and would one day burn the track in the race that Indian business had become.

She intuitively learned that though it is knowledge of finance that kept business healthy and competitive, science and technology would drive business and development.

She avidly absorbed and assimilated the advances in science and identified its applications that will lead to inventions and innovations. Her lexicon and repertoire bristled with her ideas for putting cutting edge technologies to use in creating exciting products that will change the way of life in this planet and others we may migrate to.

Her career sky rocketed, each stage separating as the next one ignited- from CFO to CTO to CIO, and then to COO. The highest rung on the ladder was the position of CEO.

But, when the day’s work was done, when the last business meeting and dinner was over, she returned to an empty room. There was never the time and opportunity to cultivate a relationship, much less a friendship. But she never felt lonely because she was alone to begin with.

She did not go looking for it, but the CEO-ship found her. A discreet search by an exclusive firm that did head- hunting only for elite clients pointed the way to her door as she was getting to be known as a go-getter, track-burner and do-or-die chief executive.

The field was virgin and ripe for a leader who was science-led, financially savvy but street smart who can outfox the fox and run with the hare as well as the horse.

Genomic medicine was that field. It was an emerging medical discipline that involved using genetic information about patients to plan their clinical care.

Genomics was the core business of “Gene Field’, the first green field venture of the venture capital firm that promoted the company. The process of setting up was complex and expensive, the risks were enormous but Laxmi gained full control over the operations. She developed the project from the beginning, building its own culture and structure. Gene Field came into full bloom and came to be known as the bio-tech company to be watched as it would be going places.

Cancer had emerged as the scariest spectre in life and Gene Field launched diagnostics for genomic markers that were becoming the most valuable tools in cancer screening as well as in guiding tailored treatment strategies. Cancer was at last being tamed, to behave not as a dreaded killer but as a manageable chronic disease like diabetes or hypertension, or even HIV/AIDS.

She saw the brilliant and exciting future ahead for Gene Field in populous India, China, rest of Asia and Africa. She recommended taking the company public to raise resources, confident that the imaginative and enterprising Indian investor would see the enormous potential of the company. She was confident that the IPO would be oversubscribed several times.

Little did Laxmi imagine that Gene Field would become her mine field.

The Board balked. An anonymous buyer had materialized and offered to buy control over the hitherto privately held company. The buyer had promised an unimaginable amount of investment to scale up the company.

Laxmi stood in the way. She did not trust the faceless buyer from overseas. She hoped the wheel will firmly remain in steady Indian hands. The work force, including the premier scientists, backed Laxmi.

That rebellion stemmed from pride in Indian capability. The Board deemed it a palace revolt. Infuriated, the Board decided to punish. Its decision was akin to a medieval style of execution of the CEO by axe on a corporate ‘Tower of London’.

The press was not kind to Lakshmi. She was one of the very few female professional managers of bio-tech firms in the country. She was termed a rebel, a hot-headed grand-stander.

Across the tables of business clubs, greying heads, mostly male, nodded in agreement.

The tiny band of female senior executives in the country opted to remain publicly silent and privately unsupportive.

The mail thus set the date of the execution.

But Laxmi was not the kind to go away gentle into the night, to be walked lame, rest her head tamely on the execution block and wait for the axe to strike, or a guillotine to fall. She was not reconciled to be another Anne Boleyn of Henry VIII or Marie Antoinette of Louis XVI.

She had already booked for an initiation experience with an expedition to Everest and headed for the base camp. She had planned to take only several deep breaths of the rarefied air and take a long and contemplative look at the majestic mountain this time. The climb to the top can come next time.

The air was chilled but exuberantly fresh, a refreshing change from the air of the city. She almost felt intoxicated. The mountain stood tall, snow-capped, peaceful, time less, incredibly strong but not forbidding; in fact, it seemed to her very welcoming.

‘‘I am coming soon, wait for me’’ she told the mountain.

She returned to her tent and flipped the lap top open.

2 messages popped up.

First was an apology. From the Chairman of the Board! 2 lines this time!

It said ‘’ We learnt that the overseas buyer had no intention to invest and develop. That was a deception, a ploy to buy out Gene Field, break it and bury it. Laxmi, come back. Our apologies’’

Second was from Harvard Business School.

It was just one line’’ We know your work in Asia and welcome you to join our faculty, on a tenure track’’

A shout from her friends shook her head ‘’Hey Lokhi, we are making a bid for South Col, if we manage to make it past C 1, 2 & 3. Come along.”

“Why not?” she asked herself. ‘‘This can wait’’, she closed the laptop. She mused ‘‘I may even make it to the summit’’.

‘’Am coming, wait for me’’ she shouted back!

Article by Dr. Venkita. S. Suresh
Group Medical Director
Kauvery Hospital


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