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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 9 New Delhi February 17, 2018

My fond memories of Dr Usha Shrivastava

Saturday 17 February 2018

by Amarjeet Kaur

I lost my very good friend for the last 46 years, Dr Usha Shrivastava, who breathed her last on February 6, 2008. I felt a vacuum somewhere within me with the news of her demise I was not prepared for. Our work together as AISF activists from 1972 when I was a student of B.Sc (H) Physics in Ramjas College and she was doing MBBS in Lady Hardinge College brought us close and we became good friends. She was known as Usha Vyas, daughter one of the legendary communist leaders, Comrade H.K. Vyas, who was looking after People’s Publishing House and editor of the Hindi daily of the Communist Party of India, namely, Janyug.

Usha, with a smiling face, would always greet you with all the confidence and optimism, howsoever adverse the circumstances around her. My first close meeting with her was in October 1972, after some days of my being released from Tihar Jail following a ten-day jail term. I was in the first batch of court arrest programme (satyagraha) in Delhi as part of a nationwide protest call of the CPI against price-rise and hoarding, for establishing universal public distribution system, for ration etc. This first jatha was led by Com. B.D. Joshi and most of us were arrested and sent to jail.

It was in the latter part of October that we met in a meeting in the CPI State office in the Jama Masjid area, where we were discussing about the AISF membership campaign and activities to be conducted in Delhi University and its affiliate colleges, in JNU and in Jamia Milia Islamia University.

Our friendship grew steadily as active comrades in the field and as personally becoming closer as family friends. It was only after we talked in our families that we got to know that Com. H.K. Vyas and my father knew each other very well through the circle of freedom fighters as they both belonged to that generation. They were also working together as comrades in the CPI. We started visiting each other’s house. The house of Comrade H.K. Vyas became the meeting place for Delhi AISF leaders and activists for planning activities and how to execute those in the field. Her mother would be doting her love with all our needs being met. Comrade H.K. Vyas himself having grown from the AISF ranks as a very important student leader in the beginning of the 1940s took much interest in AISF activities. I heard a lot about his meticulous way of planning and organising from none other than Com. Satyapal Dang and Com. A.B. Bardhan. He alongwith Com. Prem Sagar Gupta would sometimes sit with the leading students in the AISF to extend their experience of building the students movement. I realised that Usha had acquired the quality of the ever smiling face of Com. H.K. Vyas as well as remaining cool in all circumstances and to act boldly.

In 1974, the AISF put me up as a candidate for the General Secretary’s post in DUSU elections when I was a student of M.Sc (Phy) first year. An active team of students in the election campaign included girls as a strong component, when those days girls were not known to be taking up political activities. Usha Vyas, Ania Loomba, Maya Rao, Nandini Dulal Guha, among a large team of girls, were prominent among those who worked day and night in campaigns, postering on walls, pamphleteering, going college to college and addressing meetings as well as confronting hooligans of Rightwing students.

The caring nature of Usha came into focus very strongly during our campaigns. She would be concerned for every person’s need for food, tea, rest and relaxation and rejuvenation to bounce back to hectic work schedules.

I always got tremendous support from her when I was the President and then Secretary of the Delhi State AISF. In one of my tenures as Secretary, she was the President of the Delhi State AISF. We both could work in unison, maybe more so because of her, who would always be there every moment when you want her to be there, with all her fresh ideas, thinking many-a-time out of box and being innovative. Being a student of medicine, it was too much of time-constraint for her, but she with available time could make up the deficit because of her powerful presence and quality suggestions. I found her always more mature than her age. She was not only a science student but a person with scientific temperament and hence well organised. The national leadership of the AISF with Com. Azeez Pasha as the General Secretary and Dr Shambhu Shrivastava as the President decided to organise an All India Medicos Federation to bring medical students on one platform and to conduct a campaign against the emerging trend of capitation fee at that time. Dr Usha became the natural choice of being its first General Secretary. She ably played this role,

After I was elected as the AISF General Secretary in February 1979, I continued to receive her support and suggestions. She practised in Patna, where she shifted after her marriage to Dr Shambhu Shrivastava. But the distance did not matter for us. She was always there to soothe me when I would feel too much tension and pressure on me. It never mattered after how many months we were meeting, we always felt as if we had met just a few days ago. Time was no factor, the relationship was so deep and mutual, maybe that also more because of the nature and temperament of Dr Usha, making you feel as someone special for her. She had the art of bridging the gap of times very well. After some years Dr Shambhu and Dr Usha shifted back to Delhi. She became a very important part of the leadership of the India Chapter for the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War—IPPNW (an organisation founded in 1980 and which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985 for its extensive work on the peace agenda). Later on the Indian organisation was named as the Indian Doctors for Peace and Development (IDPD). The India chapter was founded with Dr K. L.Wig, Director of the AIIMS, as its first Chairman. This body was chaired later on also by eminent doctors including Dr P.N. Chutani, Director, P.G.I Chandigarh, Dr Shyamal Sen, world renowned Neurologist from Kolkata, Dr C.M. Habibullah, world renowned Gastroentologist and Dr L.S. Chawla, another famous Gastroentologist, former Vice-Chancellor of the Farid Medical University, Amritsar; and it is presently being chaired by Dr S.S. Sudan, Medical Director, Acharya Shrichand College of Medical Science, Jammu. Dr Usha Shrivastava rose in its ranks and became the General Secretary of the IDPD.

Dr Usha had the honour of having done the first doctorate in Community Medicine from AIIMS, New Delhi. She was a clinical epidemiologist. Several papers of hers were published in international journals.

She was also part of the young women’s movement in India. She was in a delegation to Sofia, Bulgaria for the World Congress of Working Women organised by the WFTU. I saw Dr Usha suffering from different ailments since her college days but she would never let you feel her pain and difficulties. Her mother was a severe asthmatic patient and Usha also had early symptoms of asthma during her studies in college days.

She suffered from kidney ailment and went through kidney transplant. She braved every disease and came out with her strong will. Her attitude of never giving up was always inspiring for those who were close to her. Howsoever sick she herself would be, she would rush to the help of comrades who needed any medical care and assistance. I am personally witness to how she used to reach with just one call to Comrade A.B. Bardhan and Comrade Gurudas Das Gupta for work assignment or for any medical help.

This time when she was detected with suffering from cancer, she faced it with her ever cool and bold attitude. All those who shared their feelings with me after having met her during her treatment this time, wondered how Dr Usha was just normally able to take it as the disease had pierced into her lungs as well.

We all wanted her to come out from this phase also but were hoping against hope when the spread of cancer took its root towards the brain. Dr Usha was a very mature person in life, in politics, in ideology. She stood strongly for a composite culture based on diversity and pluralism of beliefs, faiths, languages and living ways. Dr Usha Shrivastava was a thorough Marxist intellectually and a practising Marxist in the field. She was a very perturbed soul of late, worrying about the Right shift in Indian polity at the Centre where the RSS is playing the leading role in governance threatening all democratic institutions including the challenge to the Indian Constitution which guarantees the right to dissent, freedom of expression with a Preamble of resolution for building a secular, democratic, sovereign and socialist republic of India based on justice and equality in political, social, economic and cultural life. Dr Usha would always discuss these matters with me whenever we met in Ajoy Bhawan or AITUC Bhawan or elsewhere in meetings, seminars etc. in this period when the retrograde reactionary shift in the Indian polity had begun. Her health was failing every day, but her urge to be part of every activity in the doctor’s movement, public health issues, environment issues, women’s movement, trade union movement or party programmes, was growing with the passage of time as she felt deeply that there was no time for rest as the challenges facing the society and nation were too big.

I could sense this urge in her when I went to meet her in the Max Hospital on January 17, 2018. I never found her to be giving up in front of any desease, but on that day I felt crying as for the first time I saw tears in her eyes while telling me that she felt defeated this time. I assured her that she would come out this time as well. She smiled at me as if she had caught me telling a lie. That day I was desperate to meet her as Dr Arun told me that she could lose her speaking capacity and may slip into coma with the advance of the desease. Very soon from her tearful eyes she returned to her normal self as a worried person, who would want to come out to do something for saving the nation from the drift towards fascism.

She was repreatedly urging us to launch serious efforts for strengthening the CPI, and the growth of the Left in general as she emphasised that communal outfits, the fascist forces could be fought ideologically, and with the spread of awareness amongst the toiling masses, through the broadest mobilisation of all forces to halt and defeat these forces; and the Communists should play the most significant role. She did not mince words. From where she mustered this strength that she spoke with me for half-an-hour whereas till morning of that day she was finding it too difficult to speak. She reminded me of the college days of ours, our work together, remembering my mother and father, my sister and brothers with whom she had very good rapport, students’ election campaigns, with my house and her house literally turning into election offices. She laughed at the reminiscences of some events in our life.

That night I was haunted on one side for grasping the reality that we would finally lose her and that evening there was solace for me that I could be with her, when she wanted to pour out her thoughts with several of her ideas, advices and suggestions for party work, trade union work or work with broad groups.

I would not have excused myself all my life if I would not have met her that evening to have a heart-to-heart talk with her before her departure just after little more than two weeks of our meeting.

She was a doting and caring mother for her two sons. She gave her full to them.

She is deep in my memory lane for our friendship remains as fresh as it was when it began in 1972 till she breathed her last.

Dr Usha, you would continue to be with me whenever I will talk of the humane values of compassion and care, meaningful way of living for the society and humanity, trustworthy, transparent and ever lasting friendship, a strong urge for giving your bit to the society and nature as a responsible citizen of the universe.

The author is a member of the Central Secretariat, Communist Party of India and the General Secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress.

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