photograph by Heather Simmons
Periodically, you meet a family that comes across as cohesive and genuinely happy, a family that lives their values, enabling their children to become accomplished in their own right. Such is the case for Drs. Manoj and Sunita Jain, and their children Sapna (19), Monika (17), and Rishab (12).
You might be familiar with Dr. Manoj Jain’s work. He is an infectious disease specialist and consultant for Baptist and Methodist hospitals, and serves as the medical director of quality improvement at Tennessee’s Quality Improvement Association, QSource, a nonprofit dedicated to improving hospital care and patient outcomes in Tennessee.
But he’s developed a more public presence in his popular newspaper column, where he opines on medicine and society, and writes about what needs to take place to improve healthcare for all. His columns appear regularly in The Commercial Appeal and The Washington Post. Jain says as a doctor, his goal is to help people “and newspapers reach a greater number of people. Their feedback helps motivate me.” In May, he was honored by Diversity Memphis for his contributions to the city (he is a former board member of the MK Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence), naming him a 2012 Humanitarian Award recipient. His wife, Sunita, works as physical medicine/rehab specialist at Baptist Germantown Rehabilitation.
Providing A Role Model
As the Jains gather in their den for our visit, I’m impressed with the gentle way they relate to one another. They joke about who tries to trump who during games of Monopoly, then welcome their college-aged daughter Sapna, who joins our conversation via Skype from her internship in Boston.
Family time is something the Jains make a priority, they tell me, no small feat when both hold demanding jobs as physicians. Each Wednesday night is family meeting time, when they all gather for prayer and meditation (also a daily ritual). The dinner hour is another important part of their day, and during the meal, they encourage lively discussions on current events and school activities.
The couple also instills service to others by making sure each child contributes to family life. At suppertime, that means helping with food prep, setting the table, chopping vegetables, and cleaning the kitchen afterwards. Even if a child has had a bad day, each is still expected to help, an act that often lifts his children out of the doldrums. “You can see their mood change because they complete their task to the satisfaction of others,” he says.
“I think of these things as life skills,” adds Sunita. “Our daughters can put meals together and the youngest can do laundry, which are things they’ll need to do later in life. If they do them here first, these won’t be stressors in their lives later.”
During the week, the television stays off, except for the evening news. But the Jains do encourage their children to have an online presence and each child tends a personal blog where they weigh in on world events or discuss activities going on in their lives. Monika, a junior at Lausanne, even contributes to The Commercial Appeal’s Faith in Memphis blog. Manoj looks over their writing and acts as an editor, suggesting ways to make their work stronger.
Reflective of homes in India, the Jains is designed around a central courtyard, a serene, manicured space visible from almost every room in the house. As we enter, I notice the sweet smell of jasmine, a fragrance that reminds the couple of home. Though India is a world away from their busy lives in Memphis, the Jains stay in touch with their homeland, and visit to keep their culture alive. Their families immigrated to the U.S. in pursuit of education and better opportunities, so their children are first-generation Americans. Both sets of grandparents remain close in their lives, and spend several months each year at their home.
Finally, the family emphasizes the importance of education, and have the children focus hard on their schoolwork. Such time is paying dividends. Rishab won the Lausanne Collegiate School’s spelling bee last year and went on to be among the Top 10 finalists in Shelby County. He was also a Gold Medal Winner on the National Spanish exam, and received the highest score in Tennessee. Sister Monika has received recognition for her excellence in Spanish, too, and her science presentations. And Sapna is excelling in her college years at Wellesley.
As for his own work, Jain often draws his topics from observations in his practice and personal life. One winter, he wrote about the H1N1 flu bug and the importance of hand-washing, pointing out how his own desire to remain bug-free — by avoiding physical contact with ailing family members — did ward off the bug for a time, but his experiment proved “lonesome.” It is admissions like these that bring a sense of humanity to his writing. Another benefit: “Going from doctor to patient has made me more sensitive to the needs of my patients,” notes Jain. At the end of each visit, he walks to the hand-sanitizer, a subtle reminder to himself to ask his patient if he or she has any further questions. In caring for others — and thinking about the ramifications for society as a whole — Manoj Jain works to leave the world a better place.