By Nerissa Card
She probably knows more about you than you know about yourself, but how much do you know about the Nottingham Road woman who wields a stethoscope towards your chest when you are feeling peaky?
Not much? Read on…
Dr Ashika Dhulam grew up in Nigel on the East Rand. She finished school in 1992 and went on to study medicine at Wits University in Johannesburg.
It was during her time there that she met husband-to-be Vishal Chaggan, who was doing a BCom at Gauteng’s Midrand Campus, having grown up in Benoni.
The couple met through Ashika’s cousin, when Vishal drove them to a party. Her cousin wanted to spend time with her boyfriend, who she wasn’t allowed to see, so she asked Vishal to look after Ashika. “He says he is still looking after me,” she laughs, adding that they started dating about six months after their first meeting.
“We dated for about four years before getting married. I didn’t want to get married while studying and doing community service. I wanted that to be over.
“We got married the year after I finished studying and went to the UK, where we lived for three years. We wanted to travel and it seemed to us that it would be easier to travel Europe if we were based there.”
In between Ashika working as a doctor and Vishal working as an accountant for Lafarge, the pair travelled the length and breadth of the continent, but still spent much time apart.
“We were based in Leicester, but I moved around a lot. I worked in hospitals there, so I would stay at the hospital during the week and then come home at weekends.”
After three years they returned to Gauteng and Ashika took up a position at Tembisa Hospital. This was followed by stints at Coronation and Chris Hani Baragwanath hospitals.
“When we came back I was going to specialise in paediatrics, but we decided we wanted to start a family and I didn’t feel I had the time to do both. I was working 36-hour shifts as it was and we weren’t seeing each other, so I left and went into a GP practice.
Shortly thereafter, their daughter, Vahini, who is now 14, was born and, three years later, 11-year-old Parvan came bouncing into the world.
So how did they end up in Nottingham Road?
“We were looking at a school in Gauteng for Parvan, who has cranial facial stenosis, and saw a For Sale sign in a doctor’s practice across the road. It seemed like the perfect situation. We called, but that practice had been sold. However, the doctor who owned it said he had another practice for sale in Nottingham Road.
“I didn’t even know there was a place called Nottingham Road. My mom is originally from Pietermaritzburg, but we had only ever driven past the Midlands.”
Vishal and Ashika hotfooted it down to Notties one weekend to look at the practice and various schools for their special needs son.
They moved three months later.
By the time the couple got here, Vishal had had enough of being away from his family. Jobs at Vodacom and Postnet, then his own business, had taken their toll, so he joined Ashika in her practice.
“It was a new start for him and a blessing for me because I know nothing about business management. When we got here he did all the accounting and admin, and we had a woman who worked for us as a cleaner and interpreter for our Zulu patients.
“It was the first time in our lives that all four of us lived together. When we were in Gauteng Vishal was away on business regularly and Parvan lived with my mother Mondays to Thursdays.
“We now have a receptionist, so the practice doesn’t take up all his time. He is too over-qualified to be here and with his constantly busy mind I think he may want to do something else.”
Vishal still takes care of the business side of the practice and is tasked with “house-husbandly” roles like fetching and carrying the children from school.
Does he cook, too, I ask.
Ashika laughs: “When it is his turn to cook it’s takeaway burgers or pizzas.”
When it comes to holidays, the family snatches the odd weekend here and there.
“Because I wanted to build the practice I wanted to be available as much as I could. Also, I haven’t found a suitable locum yet, so we tend to spend most of our time here.”
I ask Ashika how easy it was to integrate into the community, being an Indian woman.
“No matter where you are it is not always easy, but a lot of people here have supported me from the beginning.
“It was also difficult initially knowing everyone outside work, but now it feels like we are part of the community, which is really nice. It’s easy to lose that in a big place. In the city I hardly ever saw patients outside work.”
And for Parvan, Clifton is the perfect environment.
“We don’t know how much he will achieve, but we want to give him as much as we can to equip him to be self-sustainable. I think this is a much better environment for him than the city, even though it’s easier to access specialised medical treatment there. He doesn’t fit into mainstream or very special needs, so Clifton is the right school for him.
“I think it is important for abled kids to deal with kids who have ‘issues’. If kids are exposed to children who are perceived as different and accept them then society at large learns to change its thinking, because it all starts with kids. At Clifton all the children are given equal opportunities to excel.”
Ashika and Vishal clearly feel their move to the Midlands was the right one for their family. They have just bought a house in Gowrie Village, further cementing themselves into the community they love.