The never-before-told story of six intrepid Kentucky nuns, their journey to build a hospital in the poorest state in India, and the Indian nurses whose lives would never be the same. New York Times editor Jyoti Thottam’s mother was part of an extraordinary group of Indian women. Born in 1946, a time when few women dared to leave their house without the protection of a man, she left home by herself at just fifteen years old and traveled to Bihar—an impoverished and isolated state in northern India that had been one of the bloodiest regions of Partition—in order to train to be a nurse under the tutelage of the determined and resourceful Appalachian nuns who ran Nazareth Hospital. Like Thottam’s mother’s journey, the hospital was a radical undertaking: it was run almost entirely by women, who insisted on giving the highest possible standard of care to everyone who walked through its doors, regardless of caste or religion. Fascinated by her mother’s story, Thottam set out to discover the full story of Nazareth Hospital, which had been established in 1947 by six nuns from Kentucky. With no knowledge of Hindi, and the awareness that they would likely never see their families again, the sisters had traveled to the small town of Mokama determined to live up to the pioneer spirit of their order, founded in the rough hills of the Kentucky frontier. A year later, they opened the doors of the hospital; soon they began taking in young Indian women as nursing students, offering them an opportunity that would change their lives. One of those women, of course, was Thottam’s mother.
In Sisters of Mokama, Thottam draws upon twenty years’ worth of research to tell this inspiring story for the first time. She brings to life the hopes, struggles, and accomplishments of these ordinary women—both American and Indian—who succeeded against the odds during the tumult and trauma of the years after World War II and Partition. Pain and loss were everywhere for the women of that time, but the collapse of the old orders provided the women of Nazareth Hospital with an opening—a chance to create for themselves lives that would never have been possible otherwise.