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Whoever Heard?

Aug 6, 2005

We walked into Dr V's office today after returning from a short trip to Aravind Tirunelveli. He was sitting at his desk and the first thing I noticed was the new flatscreen computer on the side. "New screen Thatha?" I ask and he says, smiling "Yes, Yes- you have to pay two rupees to look at it." :-) Technology makes this man so happy it makes me laugh and wonder all over again at his boundless energy and enthusiasm, his boyish capacity for looking forward. An octagenarian who, as Suchi put it- makes fifty-year plans. For his institute, his community, his country and world (whoever heard?).

The screensaver is a brightly coloured animation of some sort of island paradise. waterfalls and bright-hued curled-petalled flowers with butterflies fluttering in slow-motion across the way. "You see this place," says Thatha, "It's the island of Pohn pei" (whoever heard?) He waves in the direction of the world map framed on his wall, "See it's over there. In the Pacific Ocean." Suchi walks over to the map, "Micronesia?" she asks tentatively. "No," says Thatha, "The Federated States of Micronesia". Standing by his computer I press a random key. The screensaver disappears and I am looking at an online page of the Encarta encycopaedia. He's been reading up on Pohn pei. Someone put up that screensaver for him so of course he needed to know all about it. He loves knowing exactly where places are. The first time someone showed him how to pull up maps using Google he was so excited that he had me spend the entire afternoon with him looking up all the different small cities and towns he'd ever been to. Not too long ago an overseas resident at Aravind walked in to meet him they got to chatting and it came up that the young doctor had a Croatian wife. All talk about eye care delivery came to a stand still while Dr V pulled out an atlas and hunted for Croatia. And only after he found it (not in the atlas but online) did the conversation resume.

Every time I walk towards his office there's this moment of suspense before I turn through the door. A moment when I wonder- "What Is He Up To Now?"
Because it's always a surprise. On one day he's reading up on an Alaskan Telemedicine project for the Eskimos (We need something like this one to reach our villages) on another day he's looking up pictures of the temples at Tanjore (Institutions need to be build like temples he says, the vision of one ruler carried out by generations of builders and built not to be owned by any single person but used by the community). One day he's reading Sri Aurobindo's Letters to his Disciples, another day he's carefully taking down quotes from "Savitri" (You have to keep reading and keep reading even if you don't understand and then one day a few lines will suddenly become clear). Sometimes you'll find him looking at photographs of the streets of San Francisco (One day all the houses in Vadamalapuram (his native village) will look like this) And sometimes he is sitting at his desk, eyes closed, his glasses still on his nose, chin resting on his chest, dozing but so lightly that a second after you walk in his eyes fly open and he chuckles, "Sometimes I get sleepy."

:-) Even asleep you know this is one soul who's more Awake than many of us will ever be. One who can tell you in a split second how many eye surgeries were performed last year across the whole of India, what year the temple of Madurai was built in, how telemedicine can serve Eskimos and rural Indians and where exactly Pohn pei (part of The Federated States of Micronesia-) is.

(Whoever heard?)

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