Retired medical practitioner Dr Bhagvati Oza is a multi-faceted personality, one who inspires many with her grit and determination. At an age of 79 years, she continues to swim, cycles, runs, treks and is involved in a lot of social service. A private pilot, she has 170 hours of flying experience to her credit.
Brought up in a joint family, Oza did not know what luxury meant but received lot of love from her grandfather and uncles. She had only one dress to wear and no footwear but was satisfied.
She hails from the Sadgrasthnagar family, known for its sincerity and honesty. Most family members were in the field of education. Followers of Gandhian philosophy, her family encouraged her to pursue medicine inspite of financial constraint.
“I had decided to become a doctor at the age of 12 years. When I joined science college in Bhuj, Kutch, I was the only female student. People began to scare me. My grandfather then advised me to first think hard and be ready to face the consequences once a decision has been made. Since then, I take all decisions myself and never take advice from others,” she said.
Dr Oza inherited great amount of tolerance and determination from her mother. “What I am today is because of my family support,” she stated.
Her mother was a strong-minded, tolerant and religious lady. “Every night, she would tell us inspirational stories. While combing our hair, she would ask us to spell English words, some Sanskrit shloks and mathematical calculations. She was good at maths even though she had studied only till grade three. She was a voracious reader of Hindi and Gujarati books,” recounts Dr Oza.
Dr Oza’s grandfather also inspired her. He would play lawn tennis every evening. Her uncles swam in the Machhu river. “When I joined NCC, my longing to achieve became more intense. I began to grab ever opportunity to learn new things in life,” she said.
An article in Reader’s Digest inspired her. It said, “If you desire to lead a lovely life, add one new hobby every three years”. I do exactly this. Life without adventure is like food without spices.
She started her medical career in 1960 as in-charge of Government Women’s Hospital at Morvi, Rajkot district in Gujarat. During the Macchudam calamity in 1979, she worked with late Mother Teresa. Recipient of the Sadhana Padma award for social service award from Rotary Club, Dr Oza owns a hospital in Vodadara. She was in-charge of Ladies Wing of Homeguards in Morvi, leading three platoons of both men and women.
Fond of adventurous activities, Dr Oza first tried mountaineering and rock climbing at Mt Abu in 1974. In 1975, she underwent ice and snow craft training under the late legend Tenzing Norgay. Her mountaineering expeditions include places like Tharkot, Nun, Koteshwar, Kala Pather – Mt Everest base camp and so on. She has also traveled to Valley of Flowers, Hemkund sahib, Vasundhera falls, Adi Kailash and Om Parbat.
In 2001, Dr Oza set off for Kargil and Drass after the war. At an age of 65 years, she worked with the army for six weeks. She also started participating in competitive sports competitions like athletics and swimming at state, national and international levels and earned many gold medals. She has participated in long distance swimming and open sea swimming competitions too.
A high point in Dr Oza’s life was being on the cover page along with among top achievers of India like film maker Yash Chopra of Harmony magazine published by Ambani Foundation in 2006. Her name has been included in Limca Book of Records in 2009 for sports and social service. They included her name in National Records in 2013 for paddling from Kolkata to Kanyakumari covering a distance of 3000 kms at age of 75 yrs.
In 2009, the University Grants Commission made a documentary film on her life, which was telecasted on the Discovery and National Geography channels. Since last 12 yrs, Dr Oza has been using a bicycle to travel. “I stopped using cars and two-wheelers. For different causes, I have pedaled long distances.
From Pune to Ahmedabad, Pune to Bengaluru, Wagha border to Agra, Bhuabaneshwar to Kolkata – For ‘Safe Motherhood Bicycle Rally’, Saurashtra Sea Coast to Ahmedabad – ‘Go Green Gujarat’, from Mumbai to Delhi – For Environment, she rode to set an example. In 2011, she rode from Kolkata to Kanyakumari for ‘Go Green Girls’. In 2013, she rode 2500 kms from Gangotri to Gangasagar for ‘Save River Ganga’ cycling expedition.
Wait, there’s more. Bitten by the acting bug, Dr Oza made her appearance felt in a short film “We Shall Overcome’. The film was screened at Goa International Film Festival on November 26, 2010. It received logistic support from Air Force airbase in Vadodara. The film was screened at Jaipur International Film Festival too.
A motivational speaker, she is regularly invited by prestigious educational institutions and organizations. At 73, she learnt scuba diving. In 2010 during the national swimming competition, the lady mayor of Hyderabad felicitated Dr Oza for senior-most women swimmer of India. In the same year, she started project ‘Bal Shali Gujarat’ along with retired defense personal. This project involves visiting schools and colleges to make students aware of career opportunities in the defense sector.
In December 2011, Dr Oza was selected as the chairperson of the Gujarat chapter of Indian Women Pilots Association. She received the Bhaskar Women Award in 2012 in sports category. The Indian Mountaineering Foundation – West Zone felicitated her on April 27, 2013 for adventurous activities. She was the only woman participant in Peace march on cycle ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ organised by Delhi University students.
Fitness plays a big role in one’s life, Dr Oza believes. However educated one may be, however intelligent one may be and however rich one may be, if he or she is not physically fit, than the person cannot achieve desired results. “At 79, I run 10 kms, cycle 100 kms per day, can swim 5 kms but my college friends can barely walk. While running with business tycoon Anil Ambani during a marathon in Mumbai once, he told me that during his father’s illness, he realized that wealth is useless if one’s health is not good. Even though life expectancy has increased, medical treatment has become very expensive today. Good health is a boon,” she pointed.
Dr Oza reinstated that a healthy person is more confident and thus more successful.