At 71, Dr Kanwal Vilku, who braved the harsh winters of Antarctica for the longest time, is still busy working as a medical officer at Panjab University’s (PU) Bhai Ghanaiya Ji’s Institute of Health.
Though she officially retired as a chief medical officer from Central government service in 2007, neither has she stopped working, nor she has any plan to relax anytime soon.
“I like working. It keeps me active and happy. I would like to keep working until I can. But my daughter tells me I should stop now and look after my own health,” she says. Even at the time of vacations in PU, Dr Vilku sits in the health care and attend students who stay back in the hostel. “I am in the noblest profession. Why not serve till I can. Also here I am serving the children, so that makes the work more special,” she says.
Dr Vilku was working in Delhi in 1999, while her family stayed back there in Chandigarh. Frustrated at not getting any accommodation on rent being a single working woman in the capital, she randomly applied for the 19th Indian-Antarctic Scientific Expedition to Antarctica after seeing government’s circular. “I was told I was selected. We had to leave within three days I did not even have a passport. But everything worked out and there I was, standing on a ship for the first time in Cape Town, starting my journey to Antarctica at 51 years of age,” she says.
Dr Vilku remembers in Antarctica, she not only had to brave the harsh weather, but also the hostility of her male colleagues who were not comfortable with the company of a woman. After initial hurdles, things got fine and I spent 16 long months in the continent as the medical officer of the crew,” she added.
Another adventure she was a part of was serving in the Intelligence Bureau as a medical officer. She was posted in challenging terrains like Kashmir, Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh etc. She also served as a medical officer in Assam, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya. “Wherever I went, I served with compassion and that made even the challenging situations a cakewalk for me,” she said.
The expedition to Antarctica has changed her life. She returned to grand receptions, felicitations and honour and was awarded by the President of India. She got widely covered by the national press and television and appeared in the Limca Book of Records as the first Asian woman to have stayed in Antarctica on a long mission.
Apart from being a doctor, she is an artist too. “I studied fine arts for a brief period after completing my MBBS and MD,” says Dr Vilku.

Source: Times Of India, Tribune India.

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