One of the common questions that people ask me at my talks is how could i sustain my motivation through all these 25 years. People like to know if I have ever felt like giving up or if I felt defeated. The truth is – I have. There have been times when it all feels so hopeless. I have been frustrated by the slow pace of change and by the community’s lethargic responses, pained by societal support or the lack of it, angry at the different policies which seem to be more aligned with the Government rather than the people for whom they are meant, confused by my own aspirations and values and the inability to live by them all the time. How then does one get out of such circumstances? Has there been something that has helped me get out of these depressing moments? Well, I have tried re-living one particular incident that happened in late December 1987.
The times were indeed difficult. I was tired of traveling or walking each day from Beechanahalli to Brahmagiri. The only resource that I had was the measly 800 rupees that I received as stipend during my internship. Ramesh and Devaraj were in Ponnampet, helping out at the hospital. I was trying to set up the dispensary at Brahmagiri. The community was still suspicious and skeptical of my presence in the colony. I was already feeling that this experiment of trying to serve in the tribal areas would not work for me. I wanted to be accepted by the tribals and be relevant as a doctor for them.
One day, at around 6 in the evening, I heard that Madi, the 14-year-old daughter of Sanimadaiah was in labour. Sanimada was the chieftain of Sanimadanahadi and it was around 2 km away from where I lived. There was no road access to this colony and it had a total of 3 huts and 5 families living there. I had a leather doctors’ kit into which I loaded all instruments needed for conducting the labour. Obstetrics was my favorite subject in the medical college and I looked forward to establishing myself as the doctor amidst these tribals. It was already dark by the time I reached the colony and I took Sanimadiah’s permission to see his daughter. On examination, I realized that she was still in early labour and could possibly take another 12-15 hours to deliver. Worried about the wildlife around, I returned hastily telling myself that I could always return the next morning.
Early next morning, I enthusiastically set out to Sanimadanahadi. One the way, Puttamma of Elachikattehadi enquired where I was off to so early and told me that Madi had already delivered. While I was concerned about the well-being of the young mother and child, I could not hide my disappointment at not being able to conduct the delivery. I decided to go and check on them both. I thought I could atleast put some antibiotic drops into the newborn’s eyes and make sure that the umbilical stump was clean and taken care of.
I reached the small thatched dwelling at around 6.30 am or so. The sun was just then rising and I waited at the door asking Madi to bring the baby out and show it to me. Respect for the tribal tradition meant that I could not enter the hut without the permission of the woman of the family. Madi kept refusing to come out or show me the baby. After around 10 minutes of spirited negotiation, I found myself becoming restless, angry and frustrated. I told her that if she did not come out with the baby, I would forcibly enter the hut. It was then she implored that I not enter and her cry resonates in my ears even today. She burst out saying that she had soiled the only saree she had while delivering the previous night and had washed and put it to dry on the thatched roof. She was waiting for the sun to come up and dry the saree, so that she could wear it again.
Time stopped for me at that moment. Here I was, trying to force my acceptance of being a ‘qualified doctor’ on this community without realizing that the realities of everyday existence goes beyond mere disease and health care. After 40 years of independence, what did we as a country have to show to people like Madi? I felt shattered, outraged, sad and impotent – all at the same time. It was indeed ironical that in a country that worshipped ‘Goddesses’, we were yet to provide the very basic human necessities for young children like Madi. At a time when I could not yet reconcile to her being pregnant at age 14, this was indeed something that shook the very foundations of my faith in humanity. How could this be construed as just and humane? What could I do under such circumstances? It was then I resolved that as long as there existed children like Madi, my work would go on.
When I do have my self-doubts and internal crises, I ask myself if what I am going through is indeed on the same scale as what Madi had to go through on that day. And then, I find my problems and self-doubts pale in comparison and dissolve away. We at SVYM have to understand that our work will be complete only when people like Madi are empowered to face all the challenges they confront day after day, on their own. Once we have done that, we should quietly fade away. Till then, we cannot rest.
And now, for some glad tidings. This ‘child’ of Madi is now a young woman and had come to our Saragur Hospital recently to deliver her baby. It was indeed a very fulfilling moment for me!