Mother’s Day is celebrated on various days in many parts of the world, most commonly in March or May. In most countries including India, Mother’s Day is celebrated every year on the second Sunday of May. This year, Mother’s Day coincides with International Nurses Day, which is also celebrated each year on May 12 to mark the birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale (12 May 1820 – 13 August 1910), a legend in her own lifetime, who was known as the ‘Lady with the Lamp,’ and the contributions of nurses to society. Who can ‘Mother’ a patient better than a dedicated ‘Nurse’ ? asks by Dr. Veena Bharathi, an alumnus of Mysore Medical College, in this article published to commemorate Mysuru’s own legendary Hilda Baker, the Florence Nightingale from England who served in Mission Hospital. —Ed
“Devotion to Duty is not a Sacrifice, it is a Justification of your Existence in this Life.”
By Dr. Veena Bharathi
On May 9, 2000, when Sister Hilda Baker, who had served the Mission Hospital, Mysore, for nearly three decades, as the Nursing Superintendent, died at the ripe age of 85 years, it was as though the entire Mysore was weeping, when thunder, lightning and continuous downpour coincided with the funeral procession of Sister Hilda, with people from all walks of life paying a tribute.
“How you live your life is important and not your religion!” was the words which Sister Hilda used to tell the other Sisters, during the CSI (Church of South India) biennial retreats !
Hilda Baker’s life somehow is associated with the two World Wars. She was born in 1914 at Wakefield in England, during the time of First World War. By the time of World War-II in 1939, Hilda Baker had already got qualified as a nurse, and was working at an Infirmary in Leeds and later on, at several Hospitals in England. Though Hilda’s father had wanted her to become a doctor or a teacher, the young Hilda was passionate about the Nursing Profession and had made up her mind to serve the people of an under-privileged country !
“During the World War-II, when Sister Hilda Baker was working at a major hospital in England, whenever there was a missile alarm, she would rush to carry bunches of new-born babies and would go to the underground shelter, praying for their safety!” Allen Crammer, who hailed from Southampton and who had been Sister Hilda’s associate and caretaker in Mysore, had told this writer during an interview in 2000.
As per the “Methodist Missionary Society’s” norms, Sister Hilda Baker, who was given the choice of either serving at South Africa or India, chose India as her destination. Hilda Baker started her journey to India in 1947, just before India’s Independence and Partition.
Dr. Stephen (who was the Medical Superintendent of the Mission Hospital, Mysore, from 1936 to 1967) had told this writer: “Sister Hilda Baker, after working for about four years at the Mission Hospital, Hassan, joined the Mission Hospital (The Holdsworth Memorial Hospital), Mysore, as Superintendent and Principal of School of Nursing.” According to Dr. Stephen, Sister Hilda Baker used to dedicatedly teach the Nursing students, take them around the wards and discuss with the young nurses, what best they could do to reduce the misery of the patients. Though Hilda Baker herself was known for her discipline and rectitude, she never used to shout at any of the staff or patients and their relatives. Instead, Hilda Baker herself had got reprimanded by Dr. Stephen when she had silently assembled the night duty nurses at 1.30 am for an early morning prayer ! Dr. Stephen had in fact warned Hilda Baker: “Hilda, this is no time for prayer, the nurses do need some breathing space, they are not as energetic as you are!”
Sister Hilda Baker joined the Sisters’ Order in 1955, through CSI (Church of South India), Bangalore. To the meetings and the retreats, Hilda Baker would take her ‘glove puppet doll’, which she had named ‘Jimmy.’ She used to wear the glove puppet on her right wrist and palm and would speak her mind through finger movements and divine, soulful voice !
While working at ‘The Holdsworth Memorial Hospital’, Mysore, Sister Hilda Baker, quite often got to interact with the members of the Royal Family of Mysore, who used to come for routine medical check ups. Thus, Sister Hilda developed a great rapport with the first family of Mysore. The members of the Royal Family often used to go hunting at H.D. Kote’s thick forests. On one such occasion, when Sister Hilda accompanied the members of the Mysore Royal Family to H.D. Kote, her vision and mission took a new dimension. She saw the poor villagers of H.D. Kote, with substandard living conditions and decided to take up ‘The Village Welfare Work’ at Jakkahalli, Dasahalli and Dattahalla villages of H.D. Kote.
Soon after her retirement in 1970 at the Mission Hospital, Mysore, Hilda Baker started commuting from Mysore to H.D. Kote. She also purchased eight acres of land in H.D. Kote and started a crèche for the children of village women, who worked in the fields.
Hilda Baker was appointed as the Chairperson of “Water Development and Adult Literacy Project” of Dattahalla village of H.D. Kote, for which funds were provided by ‘The World Vision International of California’ and from the money sanctioned for the same under the Central Government’s Five Year Plan.
Pothan of CSI, Bangalore, had recalled in 2000: “Sister Hilda Baker always insisted on conducting ‘adult literacy classes’ in Kannada language. She herself was very proficient in Kannada. Sister Hilda was in fact a true Indian in her spirit of service to people and also in her dress code. Most of the time, she would wear a white sari with a small blue border, till she became wheel chair bound in 1990, due to a fracture of hip bone and knee joint problem.”
Sister Hilda had also nursed a child by name Rathni, who had got afflicted with multiple health problems, by spending money from her own pocket, to get Rathni the best of the treatment. In fact, the doctors had told her: “Sister Hilda, are you mad? This child Rathni is going to die any moment!” But Hilda Baker refused to give up nursing and spending on Rathni and today at 62 years, Rathni is still alive !
Sister Hilda was awarded the prestigious ‘Jean Harris Award’ by the Rotary International, Illinois, USA. She was also awarded “The International Woman of the Year” award in the year 2000, which was commemorated by “The International Biographical Centre,” Cambridge.
In the year 1997, “a Golden Jubilee celebration” was conducted at the Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore to honour Hilda Baker’s fifty years of selfless service in the field of nursing and social welfare activities [she had received messages of congratulation from dignitaries like Karnataka Governor Khurshed Alam Khan, Chief Minister J.H. Patel and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, at that time].
Says Sister Sujatha of CSI, Mysore: “Ever since my boarding school days, within the premises of the CSI, Mysore, I had watched the dedicated, spirited work by Sister Hilda Baker. I have also worked with her from 1991 to 2000 (till her demise) for her village welfare activities in H.D. Kote. Hilda Baker has willed her 8 acres of land in H.D. Kote to the CSI. Part of the donated land is being used for community services, as per Sister Hilda Baker’s wishes.” As Sister Hilda, who was conscious and communicative till her last breath, handed over her silver chain with a Cross to Dr. Stephen and her pneumonia-affected lungs finally collapsed. As per the norm, the chain with the Cross was returned to the coffin, after Hilda’s demise.
Sister Hilda Baker’s Jimmy doll and the bicycle which she had shipped from England have found a place in Jaganmohan Palace Museum in Mysore. Her domestic help Lalitha and her caretaker Allen Crammer probably had to learn to live with the pleasant memories of the noble woman who always believed that “Devotion to Duty is not a Sacrifice, it is a Justification of your Existence in this Life.”
[Source: The interviews which this writer had conducted in the year 2000, after Hilda’s demise, as part of the research to profile the noble soul for a publication. Inputs from Dr. Stephen, Allen Crammer and Pothan (all late) and Sister Sujatha, presently the Vice-President of CSI – Karnataka Southern Diocese].