Today, our plans were scuppered for a meeting with the local Operation Smile volunteers, because it was too hot. Now, you might laugh at me for being a pansy, but it was really hot. So hot that the government declared a school holiday for the rest of the week, fearing for the safety of the kids. So instead, today was a free day in our schedule, which is already something that we are improvising.
So we decided that we would get a first person view of the entire process, without being chaperoned.
We reached the hospital to find a horrid smell floating around. It was a combination of baby poop and betadine. Not something you want around your lunch. We walked into the pre-op waiting rooms, to find something that looked less like a hospital and more like a crowded railway station. Muggy, crowded, almost oppressively hot. I saw entire families with a bunch of clothes on a single bed, waiting expectantly for their turn at the chance of leading a normal life, free of that stigma-causing cleft. And in the middle of all this chaos and the mess, all the nurses and doctors, the real heroes of the entire situation, working stoically, nay, enthusiastically and without pause.
They deserve all the applause they can receive.
The patients alternated between covering their faces and fanning themselves, a vivid illustration, if I may say, of the entire situation. One of the police officers standing guard over the scene told me that I needed to find the prettiest looking young boy with a cleft and follow him around till he is "repaired". In a manner, this callous attitude can be infectious. When you see so much human suffering, you get immune to it.
I don't want to do that. I do not want to traffic in human suffering. Due to growing up on a steady diet of left wing agit-prop writing, and studying under anti-imperialist, post-modern, post-colonial, neo-left wing atheist intellectuals/pseudo-intellectuals, I have a strongly cynical bent against do-gooders and people with altruistic motives. It is somewhat legitimate too. Do you legitimately think that all the colonists in Africa and Asia were cynical, jaded people who wanted to to screw over the people colonized? No, I think they legitimately believed that they were doing good. What they actually did was decided by the repercussions later.
In the same manner, poorly thought out charity and altruism just serves to irritate me. Like the people who will go to a third world country for a month, take Facebook pictures of them bathing lepers, and give like a few hundred dollars or euros, and call it good.
That is not charity, that is buying out your conscience or buying a ticket to heaven. That, in my mind, is callous and unwanted.
But in the midst of all the extremes, there is till a ray of hope. It is the way the entire team carries itself, with a sense of mission.
There is a drive, a certain urgency, behind each action, and a spring in each step. Why, you might ask? Because this is where it all happens. A transformative process. The doctors are witness to the miracles they engineer from their own hands everyday. And it has an effect on them. They, for they are the primary witnesses, and engineers of the entire process.
Just being around all these people who do so much to change lives, is the one thing that stops me from being jaded everyday. I was talking to a person who worked at GC4 in a non-medical capacity occasionally, and he said that after every mission, he looks at a normal kid and thinks there is something wrong with them. He said that it is because in the time of a mission, all he sees is horribly deformed children, and then they are gone. While that, in some horribly callous way, could be understandable, it is something I never want to be.
Which brings me back to what I am doing here and to the point of the Davis Peace Prize. As I said earlier, we got $10,000 for a project of our choice. Even though I might joke that in India, unless I buy a brand new SUV, $10,000 is hard to spend in a month, in the grander scheme of things, it is not a lot of money. We can not eradicate hunger from it, we can not get water and electricity to all the villages in the world, we can not make the entire world a better place with $10,000. It would need a lot more, and that is a prerogative of all the world's thinking and caring populace. It is enough money to make a small corner of the world a better place, but I was never really for inequitable distribution of wealth, and, legitimately speaking, me, as a 21-year old, should never have the power to decide what place to make better and what place to purposefully disregard. No. But it is an opportunity.
My high school, the United World College in India, taught me to be an agent of change. It did not teach me to become sole proprietor of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the entire UN humanitarian budget. I see myself as a fairly normal schmuck, who still has problems with waking up in the morning. And that will most probably never change. I will never be horribly rich, and will never wield power and influence on the scale that Kofi Annan or Barak Obama or Bill Gates wield. I will probably be a potter in Jammu. But will that dissuade me from trying to make a difference?
I see $10,000 as not a limit, or an opportunity, but as a number. I am restricted by that, and I have to make that number work for this project. In a similar manner, for most of my life I will be restricted by situations and compromises. But I hope that won't dissuade me from trying my utmost. I do have people to look up to now.
I see nurses who have spent 2 years living in India, helping treat children. I see doctors jet in from Sweden, USA, Australia, Egypt and India, sacrificing wages and comfort (Let us be serious, those people do make a lot of money for basically cutting you up and putting stuff in you or taking stuff out), just for a good cause. They are cognizant of the fact that while they might make a difference in a life or two, they will never eradicate the problem. But they keep on fighting the good fight.
As I write this, a Hindi lyric from a song comes to mind, “If you have a joyful fellow traveler, and your heart is full of joy, then people walking somewhere will never stop.” I figure that with a good cause, it is not the end that matters more, it is the process.
As a final thought, I give you something I learned in 5th grade Sanskrit, but never really understood until recently, as I saw an international team of doctors treating an Assamese boy named Stephen with a cleft palate, someone who they never knew and probably would never know or meet: For people of good character, the entire world is a family.
I hope this finds you well,
Rahul is a senior art major from Jammu, India.