Doctor, sailor, medical clown and now fitness entrepreneur: Rohini Rau is a woman with no limits
Rohini Rau is not your average doctor. One week she’s writing up prescriptions for patients at Kauvery Hospital in Alwarpet and the next she’s jet setting off to a village in Ethiopia to facilitate innovative design for a baby poo device — in the midst of a water crisis. A stark contrast to earlier this year, when you might remember from the news, that she helmed an all-women’s sailing team at the J80 World Championships in Bilbao, Spain! While most would assume that being in the medical profession would leave little time for much else — this 33-year-old has long outgrown the conventional mould.
She attributes a big part of this to her mother and multitasker extraordinaire Aysha Rau, founder of Little Theatre. “As a kid, I watched my mother always doing a bunch of things at once. So I grew up thinking this is what was normal,” she tells us matter-of-factly.
I encouraged my children to explore different possibilities, not to pass exams but just to see what they liked. The only rule was, you couldn’t give up after one class. By the age of eight, Rohini had done everything from bharatanatyam to piano to sailing to tap dancing!
Of course, Rohini’s version of multi-tasking as it stands today might conjure a visual of a red cape and possible superpowers. We ask her how she does it — especially while pulling everyday shifts at a hospital. And her response, oddly enough, has nothing to do with time management or hard work and passion. Those seem to be a given. Instead, she says simply: “Ask for what you want.”
Woman up, period
In the world of working professionals, where asking for time off, that strays from the norm, doesn’t often bode well with the boss — this is easier said than done. It might even count as brave, for some. But Rohini tells us, necessity demanded she start practising early.
What would you do if your final exam while studying for MBBS was scheduled for the same date as your national sailing championship? This then-aspiring doctor took her conundrum to the dean of Chengalpattu Government Medical College. “He asked to meet my parents,” she recalls, expecting to be in trouble or at the very least, face a long lecture about life choices.
Instead, he gave her his blessing to skip the exam!
“My mother nearly fell off her chair,” she recalls, going back to that day. “He sat my parents down and told them: ‘You should be very proud of your daughter. One doesn’t often get the opportunity to represent the country. She can study any time.’”
Had she not asked, Rohini points out emphatically, she never would have known there was an option to write the same exam six months later. “Between the sailing and my exams, this is why it took me nine years, instead of four, to get my medical degree,” she shares with a laugh.
Manning a sail boat is a lot like handling a tense hospital room. The winds might be blowing against your favour where you five boats coming at you — similar to the screaming, blood and craziness you might find while on duty attending to an accident case. You need to find order in the chaos, be quick on your feet and focus. Being a sailor has taught me to be a better doctor.
— Rohini Rau
Laughter is the best medicine
It’s been well worth the wait, however. This senior resident’s tiny patients will certainly attest to this — given she has since become India’s first doctor certified to be a medical clown. After all, how often does a cancer patient get help with pain relief that has nothing to do with a prescription?
What primed her for this experience is largely her background in theatre, thanks to mother Aysha (who started Little Theatre when Rohini was five) and ever since, she has acted in 15 plays. “Theatre gave me so much confidence in those early years,” she shares. It seemed only natural that with her novel skillset of physician-meets-performer that her mother would pass on the mantle of the theatre company’s Centre for Creative Therapy at the Children’s Government Hospital in Egmore to Rohini. The initiative, which began earlier this year, currently has over 50 volunteers assisting kids aged five to 12 years in their treatment — with therapies ranging from music and dance to expressive arts, storytelling and even graffiti. To grow and stay sustainable, Rohini tells us, “We have allocated a budget to pay those who lend us their services from next month.”
Body, mind and soul
If all of this isn’t mind-blowing already, we discover that Rohini’s fitness regimen at F45 Training has led to a new collaboration that she says “will combine workouts and mental health”. The project that is planned as a slew of fitness studios, called Monday Monk is planned to kick off in Chennai in the coming weeks. This is alongside partners Deepthi Akki, a franchise owner of F45 and Kunal Rajput, a Nike Fitness Trainer.
As for how Rohini's manages her own mental health amidst her marathon of projects and patients — her mantra is to go with the flow and not overthink it. “One step at a time...
Love boats & seasickness
Date nights for Rohini and her actor and theatre-director husband Krishna Kumar aka KK, have not been easy to plan, given their drastically different schedules. She tells us, last year, which was a rollercoaster ride of medical opportunities, taking her to Tanzania, Ethiopia, Angola and Nepal — all in the five first months — put a strain on their marriage. “You know what it’s like if you don’t talk for even a day? It changes the equation and feels a bit off. Now add to that long-distance and different time zones... and coming back after five months — and going, who are you?” she explains, in jest.
So this year, ‘priority’ has been her buzzword. And finding creative ways to work quality time with her better half into the mix, has been right on top. “I think, working together on a project you are passionate about is a big one — together we are training 32 students at an acting school in Korea to be medical clowns this week,” she tells us with excitement.
But for the most part, romance for this couple is being conscious about doing more of what the other loves to do. Even if that means your wife is a sailing champion and you get seasick!
• We watch a lot of horror together. Currently, we are bingeing on Marianne on Netflix.
• Sharing animal memes cracks us both up!
• I love to sail, but he gets seasick. So I stay in the boat and he jumps in the water — and we enjoy the best of both worlds.