A Conversation with Manisha Israni

Manisha Israni
Assistant Clinical Professor

Manisha Israni

Well, the Rapture came and went. Did you have a plan for the end of the world? What is Rapture for you?

I did have plans for that day but it wasn’t because I thought it potentially could be my last day on earth. I think that it provided us with a convenient excuse to celebrate like it would be though. I actually had not heard of it until a few days before so I can’t really tell you what the Rapture” is. Rapture to me is something that you experience as a result of having experienced all other life cycles and passions, when you can truly feel happiness without fear of losing it.

Your name, Manisha, is the Hindu goddess of the mind and symbolizes intelligence and desire. Are you well named?

I want to say yes. It is really “the one who fulfills the desires of the mind” and is a bit more complex a definition. It is not a common name in the region where I’m from, Sindh, which is an area that was lost to Pakistan after the partition. I believe my name shows the values of my parents and the focus of my upbringing. I hope, so far, I’ve done justice to the name my parents have given me. It’s a work in progress.

Where were you born? What are some of your most fragrant memories of that place?

I was born in Bombay, which is now called Mumbai after the goddess, Mumba. Strangely, I miss both the good smells and the bad smells! I miss the smell of fresh bread when I visited my great aunt, and I actually also miss the smell of the local trashcan! It wasn’t pleasant but familiar and associated with the sights and sounds of the area where I grew up. Memories of food-definitely the smells of burning butter, chutney, spices, and roadside food. My favorite is pani puri, thin-walled puffballs stuffed with lentils and dipped in spicy water.

When you first came to the US from Mumbai, what treasured or symbolic possession did you first pack, and what is its significance?

The first thing that I packed was a red shoebox where I had mementos that connected me to my past, like pictures of growing up in different countries like Oman where I went to grade school, and things like my brother’s pet snake’s molted skin! I don’t see it often but I still have that red box when I feel the need to reminisce.

Describe the perfect weekend. Are you an action hero or a couch potato?

I’m definitely not a couch potato. I will pack as much as I can into weekends. I love dancing so that is how I recharge. I’ll dance to almost any music but my favorite is, of course, Bollywood. It’s the endorphins, some people get it in gyms, I go dancing.

What recipe might you contribute to a DHM cookbook?

I don’t cook at all so I don’t have any recipes on hand. If I could share one dish, it would be my mother’s recipe for Sai Bhaaji, a specialty of Sindh that is not available in Indian restaurants. It is made of spinach and lentils with different spices and no one makes it better than my mom. Of course, I could be a little biased.

What was the last conversation you had that caused you to rethink something you once believed?

That would be a recent conversation I had with a friend about eating meat. I come from a religion that endorses being a vegetarian, Hinduism. I’ve tried being vegetarian several times, although unsuccessfully. Meat is too tasty. My friend argues that animal carnivores don’t decide what they will hunt and therefore kill that day, but humans do. To choose what dies, he feels, is the problem and is what convinced him to become a vegetarian. His explanation stuck with me and I am still wondering about it. We do make our decisions based on choice. However, I had a burger for lunch.

Who are the most influential people in your life? What qualities do you value in them?

My parents, because they had the courage to defy social norms in order for me to thrive and reach my potential. The other person is my partner. She’s a fighter and unapologetically passionate about causes she believes in. She’s also very loving and honest, and makes me feel comfortable in my own skin.

Are there things that you occasionally find yourself doing or saying now that you once swore you would never, ever, do?

I never thought that I would ever like cats. I had wanted to become a veterinarian but chose not to because I hated cats and did not trust myself to care for them. But a feral cat has adopted us and has changed my mind by her mind-numbing cuteness. I find myself cutting my evening outings short to spend time with Sally.

What natural gifts or talents would you like to have that you don’t possess now?

A little creativity. I’m not artistic and wish I were more so. Hopefully whatever talents I lack, I can learn once I have some time.

How would you describe yourself at this point in your life? Is it a good place?

It is a great place, but it is a period of adjustment. I am definitely grounded but not completely, and that’s a good thing. There’s growth in that. I know better what I want in my career but also have a very sound personal life to bounce off of and you can only thrive in each if you have the support of the other. I’m happy and excited to know where I might go from here.

Thank you, Manisha.

- by Oralia Schatzman

View Manisha's professional bio | See previous faculty interviews