There is a running joke among the staff in the operation theatre (where I spend 90% of my time and hence have more friends!) that I spend more time in the train than in the hospital! While that is not strictly accurate, I realise that in the last year, I have done far more travelling than I would have liked to or expected. And it's been fun - for the most part. Of course, travelling by Indian Railways is always an experience, especially in the heat of summer. I am still recovering from the amount of fluid, salt and energy that was melted off me in the last 24 hours! But the joys of reaching my destination very soon cause whatever discomfort I may have felt on the way to recede into the recesses of my mind, where it remains, if at all, merely a distant memory. And this time is no different. Seeing my brother and his wife is of course my greatest pleasure and the reason for the trip. But in Orissa there is much more. Meeting old friends from Bisamcuttack, the mission hospital where my brother is working and where I spent 10 days some years ago, as part of a trip with medical students from Vellore, is another great joy. And while Meghalaya has blessed me greatly with its beauty, Orissa is no different. The engaging beauty of the flowing green plains surrounded by the majestic, yet brooding hills fills my soul with peace and pleasure as it dances to the beautiful melody of nature. No tiredness can remain when confronted by such energising beauty. Every time I travel, I am amazed at the beauty of this great land - every corner has something different and unique that thrills my soul and makes all the effort worthwhile.
And in Orissa, there is another dimension to this beauty. There is the knowledge that hidden behind the beauty of God's creation is the sad story of man's destructive intervention. A story of greed, exploitation and selfishness that have been the trademarks of human involvement throughout the centuries. In more 'advanced' places, these stories are sweetened and diluted by many sops that masquerade as 'reservation'. But here and in many such places in our country, the stark truth is clear to see by anyone who desires to look. Poverty in the extreme, basic health problems of the highest magnitude, illiteracy and starvation are all facts of life here. They are all just below the surface and if your eyes are even half open, you cannot miss them. The all-too-familiar tale of honest, innocent people being hoodwinked and exploited by the 'educated' outsiders. Not to mention the beautiful land (and many of its inhabitants) being despoiled in the name of 'development'.
Much has been said about this in many fora and I will say no more here. But I will salute my friends who work in this area of extreme need. Where even basic health care is unavailable at any other centre for a radius of 300 kilometers. Where every day, they work long hours to care for people who would otherwise have died. Literally. Where the community health department has made a significant difference in the lives of the local people by innovative and community-driven endeavours. And where, inspite of all the stress of a busy life, there is great fufillment and peace for all involved in the work. A fact that is written clearly on all the faces and is easy to read by someone from outside, like me. I salute the men and women thoughout this nation who have made what the rest of us would consider 'sacrifices' in order to lend a helping hand to down-trodden people whom the rest of the world tries to forget. And pray that there will be more like them who are willing to tread the road less travelled and be the change this country needs.
P.S. As Amy has our camera, I have 'borrowed' some pictures from Dr. Viju John, a paediatric surgeon who works in another hospital near here - Asha Kiran Hospital in Lamptaput.