Updated: Sep 11, 2020
Today's episode of the Finding Fertile Ground Podcast: Stories of Grit, Resilience, and Connection features Dr. Daivati Bharadvaj, who overcame bullying in her teen years to reclaim her power and her Indian heritage. Listen to my interview with Daivati here.
Daivati’s parents arrived in the United States with $24 and four-year-old Daivati. She missed her family in India but has fond memories of her childhood, helping her dad in the garden and her mom in the kitchen.
Even though her parents both were professionals and highly educated, they had to start at the bottom when they moved to the United States. Her dad was a mechanical engineer, but he had to start as a draftsman...and her mom had a master’s in economics but had to work at McDonald’s in spite of being a vegetarian.
When she was a teenager, Daivati’s family moved to the Jersey Shore, in a much less diverse community. At the tender age of 13, Daivati experienced bullying, name calling, and a racist attack by a gang of boys. It made her question her value and beauty, and it also made her feel embarrassed of her family, brown skin, and Indian heritage.
Somehow Daivati found the grit and strength to sign up for her school talent show and perform an Indian dance before the whole school. She reclaimed her Indian identity and became proud of her heritage.
She recalls, “This is for me, and this is for my people, and for my culture...I danced for both countries that I had so much love for.”
Daivati explains, “To belong in this country, you have to create your own sense of belonging and prove your right to be here...so I was saying, ‘Here I am, get used to it.’”
In high school she fell in love with jazz, and Daivati says John Coltrane saved her life. She threw herself into music and dance, and she declared to the band director that he must teach her how to play the sax!
Daivati became a naturopathic physician, and she shares her thoughts on COVID-19 and the way it’s affecting the world and her own patients. She met her husband online, and now they are expecting their first child in August.
I asked her what it was like to be pregnant during COVID-19, and she said it can be a little bit lonely. She can’t get together with friends for belly rubs, for example. But at the same time she is thrilled to be pregnant after being told it would probably not happen. She wants to sing out from the top of a mountain in her own “Sound of Music” moment!
She’s deeply inspired by her parents, who taught her and her brother to spend time with people who can teach them something and show them how to be better human beings. Daivati says her parents are “so full of love and joy and a deep sense of connection with others,” and they make other people feel like they are part of the family.
She admires her parents for “the courage it took to come here because they thought it would be a better life for themselves and their kids...nothing they experienced has ever made them bitter or resentful or dark. They kept that shine...that’s the spark that inspires me every day.”
I got the honor of meeting Daivati’s parents last fall, and I agree with her sentiments. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Daivati better during this interview, and I’m excited to welcome her little one.
You can reach Daivati through her website, Alive and Well Healing Arts, or on LinkedIn or Facebook. Listen to the podcast on your favorite podcast channel or online here, or read the transcript below.
On the next episode I interview Rabbi Debra Kolodny, a veteran of social justice movements and a bisexual rights activist who brings a spiritual perspective to their work. They currently serve as the spiritual leader of Portland’s UnShul and executive director of Portland United Against Hate. They have been out on the streets many nights recently. They also launched the Portland Spirit Led Justice Alliance to support, expand, and amplify the contribution of spiritual leaders and communities in justice campaigns.
Marie: Welcome to the Finding Fertile Ground Podcast where I discover stories of grit, resilience and connection. I'm your host, Marie G-G. And this podcast is brought to you by Fertile Ground Communications. We help organizations and people discover what makes them special and help them share that with the world. Look us up on fertilegroundcommunications.com. My guest today is Daivati Bharadvaj. I met Daivati online in the Nasty Women Get Sh&t Done Facebook group and we finally got to meet in person last fall at Voices from the Margins, the event I coordinated at which Olive Bukuru Kabura spoke...she was the very first guest on my podcast a few weeks ago. Daivati is an Indian immigrant who experienced a traumatic incident at age 13. But she rose above that to reclaim her Indian heritage. Now she's a naturopath in Portland and is expecting her first child during COVID-19. Good morning, Daivati. How are you doing?
Daivati: I'm doing pretty well. Yeah. ready to start the week ahead, I guess.
Marie: Yeah. So tell me about how COVID-19 has affected you and your life.
Daivati: It's been a pretty eventful time. For me being a healthcare provider and a primary care physician working in private practice, it was a big hit at first, a broad pivot from being able to go to the clinic every day and see patients in person to switching to telemedicine and not really knowing how to do that and I'm horrible at IT. So for me, it was a lot of, you know, technical glitches and I got to the point of wanting to throw my computer out the window one day and but you know, we stuck it out and it was it was okay.
But it was a lot for my patients to take on too. And I think the uncertainty of this virus and this pandemic, the lack of knowledge around it, we're still learning so much every day, right. And we're still relearning or changing what we learned. So I think that in general, what I see in my practice is it's brought out a lot of fear and anxiety and to a large degree depression in a lot of my patients and so just sort of not just pivoting in terms of the telemedicine, but also pivoting in terms of how to provide care from a distance and how to be a lot of the spiritual, emotional, and mental support that people need. All the while, you know, processing all the information and digesting all the science every day and keeping up with the articles and information and research. I don't know that I've given myself enough time to process all of it, to be honest, taking it you know, one day one week at a time.
Marie: Are you still doing telemedicine mostly?
Daivait: I'm doing a hybrid of both. We we've been reopening gently at the clinic the past few weeks, and so we've kind of redesigned new protocols, switched a whole lot of things. In terms of our office space in furniture and disinfecting procedures and things like that, so I'm seeing both. I still go in most days of the week and I see some people in person and then the rest through telemedicine as much as possible. We're still offering telemedicine just for everyone's safety. If they don't need to come in, we can still do a virtual consult. Yeah, so I but I have to say I feel very fortunate because even though I feel the heartbreak around the world and the suffering all around us, I myself haven't personally been excessively affected by this pandemic. To the extent that I'm fortunate, you know, my husband and I are healthy, our families are healthy, we have a roof over our heads, we're safe, we can eat good quality foods and take care of ourselves and go for walks and things like this. And I know a lot of people can't so you know, I feel it definitely has brought out the injustice and unfairness of things in the world. Because those who have continue to have and those who do not have suffer the most. And that seems to be historically true. Every time something happened, and we're seeing it again now. And for me, the level of injustice and how this whole pandemic has played out is just crushing to my soul. It just highlights all the inequities that were already present and bring some more to the surface. And it makes me seriously think about how do we change that.
And to that extent, I've joined a few organizations that are working to talk about those kinds of questions and challenges. I don't know that we have any simple answers, but it's going to require huge structural shifts in terms of culturally how we think about each other. And then a lot of the social determinants of health and how do we bring access to not just medical care, but quality food and clean water and clean air and reliable housing, and all these other things to the people who are most vulnerable right now?
And then there's climate change in the way that climate change is affecting the most vulnerable in our world. It's overwhelming. Yeah.
Marie: Do you think that you're approaching COVID-19 differently than a traditional doctor or like as a naturopath? Do you have different perspectives on it at all?
Daivati: Oh, you know, I'm not sure how allopathic medical doctors are approaching it, I would say as the naturopathic physician, the main differences are we're looking at it from a more holistic perspective in terms of treating each person individually as a unique human being that they are and really digging deeper to the root causes, issues and their health issues. We probably take a more broader perspective in terms of understanding their environment and their community, you know, their life at home and what things are accessible to them and what's not.
And I think this idea that there's no real separation between mental emotional and physical health, right, it's all part of one big sphere of how we look at each human being. So, in that sense, I think naturopathy has a more wholesome feel to it, which is what drew me to it in the first place. And, and also, I mean, a lot of my approach with my patients, especially around pandemics and COVID-19, right now has been to strengthen immunity and optimize their health so that...we can't know who's going to be infected or who's going to acquire the disease and who's going to fall sick and how they'll overcome it or not. But what we do know is that there are certain things like good nutrition and hygiene and support for immunity that helps people either prevent, you know, getting the disease or if they do get hit, hopefully they won't get hit as hard and they'll be able to recover more quickly.
Marie: Let's look back to your childhood. Tell our listeners about where you grew up and what your childhood was like and more about your back your back story.
Daivati: My childhood was pretty eventful. Well, so I was born in India, in the state of Gujarat. And I have very few memories at that early age. But I do remember funny things like my great grandmother used to sing these traditional old, old Indian folk songs all in Gujrati. And she was like an encyclopedia of knowledge of culture and songs and music, and she never wrote anything down. It was all passed by through oral tradition. So she would just sing song after song after song and my very first word that I learned wasn't mom or dad or anything like that. It was biju, which means another one, another one.
Marie: Wonderful story. I love that.
Daivati: So she would sing a song and I would pretend to fall asleep and then the minute the song would be over, I'd pop open my eyes wide open and say, will you sing me another one? Another one.
Marie: Is that your first memory?
Daivati: That's one of my first memories. She had so much patience...she would just sing and sing and sing...and sadly, no one really recorded her songs. So we've tried to go back and find them and you can't really find them on the internet or anything like this. So I'm not sure where those songs will be at this point, but that was one of my earliest memories.
Yeah, I remember my aunts and uncles and cousins and I remember funny things like, you know, drinking warm cardamom milk from actual buffalos. And it was just delicious. Just strange things. Like, I remember there was a park that my cousins used to play in like a little playground, and we would have races and running against each other and stuff as toddlers.
But, you know, the big part about my childhood was that when I was four years old, my family immigrated to the United States, and we lived in New Jersey, and we lived in a pretty diverse small city. And that was actually a very exciting time for me; I made a lot of friends and different cultures. I learned to say, you know, poopy words in different languages. And you know, I mean, I grew up with all the stuff like Solid Gold on TV and I would dance along with that. And I would sing, you know, Michael Jackson and Madonna songs. I was truly an American in a lot of ways at such a young age, even as an immigrant, and even for someone learning English for the first time, which was really hard, especially at four years old. So that was kind of an earlier start to my childhood.
And then what happened next, well, we moved again to the Jersey Shore, and I was 13 years old. And that was kind of a darker side to my childhood. We moved to a town that was all white, and we were the only sort of non-white family at least that I knew of. Anyway, that was the first time in my life I ever realized that I was somebody who is different and didn't belong. And I saw myself as this brown person, this alien. So there was a lot of bullying.
There was a lot of mockery and hatred and I think a lot of that stems from ignorance and ignorance leads to fear. And then when you're fearful of something or someone you don't like them, and you want them to be gone so I definitely got that message loud and clear by a lot of different small and big ways. I guess the biggest things that stand out in my memory are you know, being bullied by other girls in school in the gym locker room, being given a razor to shave my legs, and just being thought of as being this disgusting person because I wasn't light or blonde or you know, pretty and that really shaped me at age 13.
When you know you're at a stage in life, that you're just starting to understand what it's like to be a woman that transition from being a girl to a young woman and not knowing what's going on with your body and then to feel that you're just ugly. That was really hard. It was a small thing, but it landed in my heart in a big way. And the other thing that stands out to me is I was assaulted one day walking home from school by a group of boys who groped my body and said some really horrible things and I just remember freezing in that moment, unable to breathe or fight back and not knowing what was going to come next. And again feeling like not only did I not belong, but I was inferior and I was weak. And somehow I deserved that or somehow I guess I yeah, I don't know how to finish that sentence. It was it was extremely scary but also it was like I had not an out of body experience. I was lifted away maybe as a form of self-protection and just waited it out and then eventually all that ended and that changed something internally for me in the sense that it broke my innocence a little bit and I no longer saw America as the you know, multicultural melting pot of love and acceptance, you know, cultural celebration, it was more like if you're not white, you don't get to be here and you don't get to live and you don't get to thrive. It was really heartbreaking for me to realize that and and it also taught me shame for the first time in my life. And I became ashamed of my own culture and my background, my people, including my own family. I didn't want to be seen with them. I didn't even want to be seen myself.
And I had learned around that time that there was a terrorist group, not too far from us, but far enough away that we were safe from it, I guess. But it was a group of white terrorists who had attacked Indian people. And they were called the Dot Busters, because they would attack people wearing bindis on their foreheads. They would beat them into a coma and sometimes to death. And there were I think, 58 cases in the ‘80s and into the ‘90s. And almost none of the attackers were charged. There was no accountability. There was no punishment and it as it turned out, because, you know, even though people went to the police, they tried to report these hate crimes but were never taken seriously. They were never really believed and nothing was ever done. So a group of them got together on their own and fought back. And I remember that so clearly at the time, because when I was, you know, 13-14, I remember thinking, you know what, no one's going to believe me either. And I don't want to make anyone else worry or fight my own battles.
I knew the teachers at school weren't on my side, there were no other students in school on my side, there was no one I could go to. So if I wanted to survive, I had to fight back, just like these other people did. And I didn't know at first how that would be. And I hadn't really even thought about it. I just knew that survival mode kicked in for me, and then one day, so you know, at the time, or for a few years by that point, I'd been learning classical Indian dance, and it was really fun. I loved it. It was very challenging, but it was also really expressive. And so you know, one day there was a talent show announced at my school and I signed up to participate and do Indian dance and I have no idea what was in my brain that day. I don't know if it was bravery or what.
It was like, yes. It was like you're fighting back. Yeah, right. Like the people fighting the dot busters.
Marie: Wow. That's amazing.
Daivati: It was sort of like my moment to say, No, this is who I am. And I'm not down anymore. So yeah, it probably was my fight back. And you know, I performed on the stage, I got dressed up in a sari, you know, tied up my hair and had jewelry on and I put on my bindi, right in the middle of my forehead, and I got on stage and I was so nervous and the whole dance was a blur. I don't know what I did. I don't remember if I danced or what? I just danced and I could feel once I started moving, and the music was on and lights are on. I just felt like this is for me, and this is for my people. And this is for my culture. And I actually I started to feel proud again. About being Indian, but also about being American because this is part of what America is about, at least for me, it was. And I danced for both countries that I had some love for. And when it was over, I was still so nervous. I just ran off the stage. And then the one of the directors came after me and said, you’ve got to get back on that stage. You have a standing ovation.
I couldn't believe it. And I was too timid to get back on that stage. But that whole experience changed something in me and it changed something in almost everybody else around me and I realized that anyone who wants to belong in this country, you have to create your own sense of belonging. You have to prove your right to be here and I guess for a 13 year old or 14 year old that I was at the time that was my way of doing it. That was my way of announcing my birth into here I am. Get used to it.
Marie: The boys that attacked you. Did they go to your school? Did you have to see them?
Daivati: Yeah, I don't know if they were in the audience, I just would try to keep some distance. I never, I never directly challenged them or confronted them about it. I never reported anything. I just kind of found my way to protect myself and hold my head up high and do what I needed to do.
Marie: You had some sort of inner strength that was keeping you going, obviously,
Daivati: Yes. And I have to credit my family for that because the love that I had from them and have for them, that's what gave me that strength. I felt so deeply cared for and embraced and cherished by my whole family that I knew deep down inside. I knew even if I never told them or even if they wouldn't be able to do anything about it. They were still there for me. I knew that without a doubt. That's what built that inner confidence, I think and that sense of courage to even put my name down on the list of performers.
Marie: Did you have siblings?
Daivati: Yes, I have a younger brother and I don't actually know what his experience was like. But I think, because he started much younger in that school district, I think there were probably a couple other students of color in his cohort, so I'm not sure. I mean, he seemed to have an easier time with things. He had a group of friends and he was thriving in school.
Marie: And so what about in high school? What was that like?
Daivati: Oh, high school was a little better. And I think by that point, I had, you know, I had made some friends and I had decided I had fallen in love with jazz and oh, yes, that was my thing. And it was really weird because everybody else was listening to the pop, you know, 80s and 90s stuff and I wasn't really into it that much anymore. I was more into stuff that was maybe a generation or two ago. I remember back then, you know, you would go to the music store in the mall and buy audio cassettes. I went to the store one day and I was in the, you know, Gershwin aisle. And, there was this lovely older couple, you know, a senior couple, and the man just looked at me, he said, Aren't you in the wrong generation?
Marie: Oh my gosh, who are your favorite jazz musicians?
Daivati: Oh, I love John Coltrane, John Coltrane in a way saved my life. Because the time that all of this was going on, it wasn’t just dance, but it was also music that I threw myself into. And I listened to a variety of different things. But there was just something about the way he played saxophone, that the emotion and the intensity and this sort of bittersweetness about it, like he was, I don't know, crying out for something in his music. And I felt that same level of expression and myself that I couldn't articulate, but it was this wailing. At the same time, this rebirth and his music that I could feel, and I could never articulate any of this at that age. But I just knew that that was the stuff that resonated with me.
So I wanted to be like John Coltrane and I decided that I wanted to learn to play saxophone. So I went to the band director one day and I said, I want you to teach me how to play saxophone. And he said, okay. And he said, well, you know, there's a store that you can buy us instruments from. But if you want to get one I will teach you and I think he was maybe blowing me off or maybe not sure that