Dr Sheela Nambiar in conversation with
Venkat Nilakantan underlines the essence of true style: personality, grit and staying power.
Dr Sheela Nambiar is preoccupied with a specific issue today: why gym wardrobe options for fuller figured people seem, largely, like an afterthought. The idea that some of us “roll into gym like we’ve jumped out of bed” makes her feel that we don’t appreciate the valuable time and effort we take to nurture our bodies through exercise. When we step on that treadmill, why can’t we celebrate the journey? I interrupt her: should I ever find myself on a treadmill, it is unlikely that celebration will be on my mind. She laughs, but only politely.
As a practising gynecologist, her primary concern is women’s health. The point she makes is that the role of the doctor must be more holistic, preventive. She quotes Edison, “The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” As the idea seeded more firmly, she got her certification as a fitness instructor in the US and set up gyms in Madras and Ooty.
“There’s never been a sense of ‘I’m a girl’ as a limitation. I think I sometimes force myself to think it, that I have to be a certain way, but it really hasn’t registered fully.
Being the eldest, I’ve always been made to feel like I can ‘manage’. My father has instilled in me the notion that I can handle things, no big deal“
After all, who best to understand the needs of the body, its upkeep and failings, than a doctor? And who best to keep it in its best shape possible than a qualified fitness trainer? Why not therefore, practise both? So she does.
Standing at a petite 5’1”, Sheela knows what she wants, and will fight to get it. Her classic, understated dress sense—tailored and elegant—coupled with her gentle and warm demeanor give little trace of how far she will go to prove a well founded point. Some years back, Sheela was involved in an incident with a local “rowdy” (for want of a better word), and despite his (supposedly connected) father threatening her, her family and her clinic staff, she stood her ground, ending the issue only after he apologised to her in court.
Her biggest outrage? The offender later claimed if he’d “known who she was, he wouldn’t have behaved as he did”. The idea that her nurses, her staff and any woman who were not “well known” were a higher perceived target for men like this made her pursue the incident relentlessly.
She attributes this dogged streak to her sartorially savvy, fiercely left-of-centre father—“he was self-made, had his own take on things and didn’t give a damn about ‘society’. He couldn’t be bothered with opinions that didn’t hold weight for him”.
Sheela is a true multitasker but also a ‘closer’. As we speak, she’s juggling her second book release, a clinic in Ooty, two gyms, her patients and fitness clients, all the while immaculately turned out from deep within.
I can only think of one well-worn phrase that sums her up: grace under pressure.
>> Next week: Fashioning an icon