Omana Gangadharan: Journey of doctor-novelist to politics

By : Smitha George

London: On May 4, Dr Omana Gangadharan was  elected for the fourth term as the Councillor in Newham , London.  A doctor by profession, she has been an active member in the local government from 2002.

Dr Gangadharan was also chosen to be the Civic Ambassador (speaker) to Newham council and was the first Indian woman to hold that position.  She founded the British Asian Womens Network to help address the issues of Asian women in the country and also served as a non-executive director for a National Health Service Trust in London.

Novelist, medical doctor, politician, social worker nothing fully describes this multi-talented personality.  Dr Omana Gangadharan shares her experiences with Matters India reporter.

MATTERS INDIA: Congratulations on being elected for the fourth term as councilor in Newham , London. You must be feeling quite proud of this recognition

OMANA GANGADHARAN: Yes, indeed it is a very satisfying experience to be recognized by the people around us. It is very rewarding to see that my service as a local councilor over the years have made a difference to the lives of many. Coming from an Indian background, I have been able to understand the issues faced by the Asian community as well as the issues faced by women.

Many people in India, especially Kerala remember you as a novelist and a doctor. How did you get involved in the political scene in the UK?

Mine was not a deliberate entry into politics. Probably it was due to my nature of getting involved with people and helping with their problems; I usually feel very uneasy ignoring those in need. Around the time I came to UK, a lot of local residents from the Asian community used to approach me for assistance with completing necessary forms, understanding rules and regulations, translation of documents etc. In addition, due to my medical background, women use to approach me for advice for health related issues for themselves and their children. This helped me to get to know them more.

My active involvement in the community started that way. Around this time, one of the local councilors from the Labour party encouraged me to take a membership and I started attending party meetings and became more involved with the Labour movement. Since then I have enjoyed the support of the local community who first elected me to the postion of councillor in 2002.

What are the responsibilities and your challenges in your role as councillor?

One of the challenges in Newham is that it has people from several different countries. There around 140 different languages spoken in the borough. Being a democratically-elected local representative, a councillor must engage with community groups, local businesses and residents on issues affecting them and take on a  leadership role. It is important to have personal contact with different communities and groups to facilitate their participation in the democratic processes.

Can you tell me about your personal background and family

I am originally from Changanacherry in Kerala. My father was a Public Works Department contractor and a businessman, but above all he was someone who cared for society and environment. I recall him planting fruit trees by the sides of the roads he constructed. He thought this would help the poor in the area. My mother was a talented writer although she stuck to the roles of homemaking.

I graduated from NSS Homeo Medical College in Kottayam.  After my marriage to Gangadharan we moved to London and has lived in Newham since then. He has always encouraged me and been very supportive without which I could not have come so far.  I have two children Karthika and Kannan. Karthy works in government service and is married to Dr Sooraj who works as a General Practitioner in National Health Service. They have a son – Atul who is a school student . My son Kannan is completing his post-graduation in business studies from Oxford university.

Coming to Dr Omana Gangadharan, the novelist we cannot forget ‘Manimathoorile Aayiram Sivarathrikal’  , the famous Malayalam movie which was based on your novel. So can we expect another super hit movie from you ?

A: The movie was based on my novel Aayiram Sivarathrikal (The thousand Nights of Shiva) . It was not written with the intention of making it into a film. I used to write novels right from my college days, sometimes even on my friends’ notebooks.  But I never published any of them. It was my relative Dr. Shobha who during a visit to the UK, took it to Kerala and arranged for its publication in a magazine. This caught the attention of film makers due to its popularity.

So far I have published nearly than 20 books- which includes novels, short stories and poems.  Currently I am in the last stages of completing another novel and a biography. I believe that writings do not die. There are discussions going on about possible future film projects.

Being in the UK for nearly four decades, have you had the opportunity to contribute to the society in India?

Yes, I was able to set up links with schools in Kerala to provide help for children of people with HIV/AIDS. Besides I have been able to share my knowledge in recycling, waste disposal and other environmental issues with the local government bodies there. I have also set up a charitable foundation trust to promote talents in the field of literature. From this August, the foundation has introduced two annual awards one for a young female novelist and another for the best short story. I sincerely hope my efforts will make some difference to the social as well as literary scene in India.

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