When she was a wee girl Dr Kirtida Acharya was surrounded by family members who suffered from diabetes. She recalls seeing her mom inject herself with insulin. She saw her grandmother have a stroke.
Grandmother died eventually. So did her uncle from a heart attack. Her grandfather who also had diabetes could never walk properly; hobbling on a cane.
Little wonder, then, seeing diabetes ravage the family she studied medicine and became a diabetes specialist and an endocrinologist.
“Diabetes was an enemy I understood from childhood, and I wanted to fight it.” She is currently the national chairperson of diabetes in Kenya on top of being a lecturer at the University of Nairobi and running a diabetes and endocrine clinic at MP Shah Hospital.
Are you happy with your life currently?
Ah, difficult question. Life goals change. I think when I was a young girl I wanted a lot more, I had dreams and ambitions. Now that I'm older and wiser I think I'm content.
What did you want as a young girl?
To reach for the stars. They are still beyond my reach. [Chuckles]. I briefly toyed with the idea of being an astronaut but realised how lonely I would be up there considering I liked to talk and be heard.
I remember wanting to be a doctor, which I am today. I also wanted to be good at my work, which I think I am based on how happy my patients are with me.
I wanted to study and not stop. I'm still studying because there's no end to what you can learn. You can learn from anyone and everyone, not just professors.
I wanted to have children, which I have. I also wanted a dog. I have a golden retriever called Leo. I think I'm content.
Happy? Yes. And I like spreading that happiness. I've always believed happiness doesn't come from material things. It comes a lot from giving, and giving could be a hug.
Is there anything bigger in your life than being a doctor?
Oh yes. My family. I travel a lot, mostly for my work. I've always believed in living life to the fullest so sometimes I feel the 24-hour day is not enough.
Dancing is big for me. I do freestyle dancing, like in Bollywood movies but I also like western or eastern music. I'm a free spirit.
Are you a good dancer?
Well, I've won prizes. [Chuckles] You'll have to see me on the dance floor to judge. There is a Bollywood artist who is coming to Kenya soon so after this interview, I may enroll for that because I think the slots are few.
I've danced at performances in India and with some of the best choreographers. I used to do stage shows when I was younger.
I enjoy drama and acting. I love painting, it gives me peace of mind. I also enjoy cooking, I find it therapeutic. I try to come up with healthy and innovative recipes.
One of my retirement plans is to open a nice café or restaurant with a name like Guilt Free Desserts or something so my patients can enjoy and splurge.
I have a sweet tooth myself. I think I'm a doctor by mistake even though I enjoy my job.
What are you struggling with right now?
Cruelty in the world. All these wars. I can’t stand cruelty. When I go to the game parks I don't like watching a kill. I know it's the way of nature but I always sympathise with the animals that are being eaten.
So cruelty gets to me, otherwise, I tend to exist in my happy bubble. Some people call me a dreamer. I'm a Pisces, so yeah, I dream a lot.
I have this idea that I can make things better. I trust [people] too much. I’m also struggling with work-life balance because there is so much to do, but the days are so short and life even shorter.
How poetic. If you were to write a memoir, which chapter would you recommend to someone that would represent you and your life the best?
Wow. That’s very Interesting. [Pause] It’s difficult because it’s such a journey. [Pause] I think the chapter from when I was 25 years old. I left my household, my family and my siblings and got married while also doing a rigorous internship at Aga Khan Hospital.
As a new wife, I had night calls and all and didn’t know how to cook. Then my husband had to move to the UK and I had to follow him to a cold country, away from my parents and siblings.
All those changes in my life were very challenging considering I was a carefree girl. I had to adapt fast.
How did that work for a free spirit like you?
It took lots of adjustments. The free spirit had to be grounded. You're not going to write all that, are you?
Should I not? I think it’s harmless.
Yes, maybe it's a learning point for other brides- to-be. Truth is it's a very difficult moment in any ambitious young girl's life.
I don’t know if young girls now operate differently but I know I did a lot of learning then and I did it early.
Are you a good cook now?
I'm a very good cook. (Laughs) I had to learn very quickly. So what seemed like a chore then is a joy now because I learned. Sometimes when you're thrown in the deep end you become a very good swimmer.
What does your husband do?
He's a laparoscopic surgeon.
[Chuckles] My children would tell their teachers what their dad does and the teachers would ask, 'your father is a what doctor?'
A laparoscopic surgeon is a keyhole doctor. He accesses the body without making a large incision. He doesn’t leave scars, It's minimally invasive surgery which was new when we came back from the UK.
He’s very good at what he does. He worked with the man who discovered that type of surgery.
Being married to a fellow doctor, do you guys talk a lot about work?
No we don't. We decided right from day one that we will not be those people.
By the way, I believe in The Secret, but I didn't know about it until I read the book. That's what I've practiced all my life. Everything I ever imagined for myself I have gotten.
Spirituality, what space does it take in your life?
A big space. I am very spiritual. I'm also a holistic doctor. I know that many doctors believe in science more than spirituality but I strongly believe in the power of prayer.
I pray for my patients a lot. I meditate as and when I can. I find a lot of peace in prayer.
I’m Hindu but I went to Rome I prayed. I went to the Vatican. I have prayed in a mosque, and in a synagogue.
I don't want to talk about religion because it causes a lot of conflicts. I think connecting with a higher power is very important because it opens roadways and pathways in life.
As a freespirit, do you sometimes run into conflict seeing as you belong to a conservative community?
There are people - women mostly - who whisper about me, who judge me. But then some respect me.
I've reached a point where honestly I don't care as much because I have to be able to look in the mirror, face myself, have a goodnight's sleep and my conscience has to be clear.
Was it hard getting here?
Where you can look in the mirror?
It's a journey - and not an easy one. There are always people who will try and pull you down, they'll mock and ridicule you.
But I think you get tougher and wiser the higher you climb. Thankfully I don't think I've had ego coming in my way because I know there is a bigger picture to everything.
Gratitude has been a very big part of my life. There's been a lot of goodwill as well from people around me. I feel very blessed for what I have rather than what I don't have.
I owe a lot to my parents because they let me live my dreams and helped me with my studies. My dad was a pharmacist here at MP Shah Hospital and my mom was a social worker.
They live in the UK with my brother who is a robotic urologist there. My sister is a lawyer. My parents worked hard to get us here.
You have a flourishing medical practice here. Is money still important in this season of your life?
If I had focused on money from the beginning, I think I would have been a multi-billionaire but I didn't.
I don’t believe in money, I believe in good karma. You can't see karma, you can't buy karma, it's a bank balance spirituality up there.
When you do good you shouldn't expect anything back because then that's not good karma. I spent the early years of my career life setting up diabetes camps in Kenya, teaching younger doctors.
I went to questionable villages when I was pregnant with my daughter and people would ask me, 'what if you lose the baby?' My husband was very understanding, though.
I only opened my private practice because children had to go to school, and bills had to be paid.
I drive a very modest car, my students are driving bigger cars than me today, but it's okay. My contentment doesn't come from those things.