Many people have asked me how the indigenous tribals received us when we first came to H.D.Kote. What were their reactions to our presence? What were the problems that we faced? And many such related questions…
Life was indeed difficult when we first came to Brahmagiri in August 1988. The energy and motivation levels were high and we were excited by the novelty of living in an alien land amidst people we did not know. More than our ability to cope and adapt, it was the warmth and hospitable nature of the soft and gentle tribals that must have given us the strength to bear with the demands of the new environment. The romance of living amidst these simple forest dwellers seemed to distract us enough that we did not notice any hardships. Everything was fun and a learning experience.
This did not mean that the tribals welcomed and accepted us with open arms. They saw us with suspicion and wondered why urban-bred, young doctors would come and live amidst them. Some even opined that we were not really qualified doctors and were just masquerading as such. Others felt that we must be funded from some ‘foreign’ organization and we would go away when the funds dried up. Once the initial excitement died down, reality sunk in pretty fast. We had no toilet, water had to be brought from a distant tube well, our culinary skills was not worth writing about and we soon ran out of our meager monthly stipends. Commute from Beechanahalli to Brahmagiri was a challenge everyday. Most importantly, the local tribals did not take us seriously and were wary of us. Only a few like Naganna risked befriending us.
Devaraj and Ramesh had left to Ponnampet and it was turning to be both fatiguing and depressing for me. On one side, I could not lose face and return to Mysore as that meant accepting failure. On the other, I was not able to cope nor was feeling wanted by the people. It was just then that a couple of incidents happened that fortunately worked in our favour.
It was around mid-day. I had just reached Brahmagiri and was talking to the contractor whom the Zilla Parishad had entrusted the responsibility of building a toilet for us. A lady rushed in carrying the limp body of a 6-month old baby. She was apparently washing clothes near a tube well and had a large vessel of water filled up beside her. The baby had accidentally toppled from the washing platform (on which it was lying) into the vessel and had drowned. It was 2 or 3 minutes since this had happened and the mother had seen me walk by. Though I had no real medication or equipment, I immediately did a CPR on the baby and lo and behold, the child pulled through! This was not only a moment of success for me and my knowledge but also (more importantly) sent a message to the people that I was a doctor who could actually do some doctoring and save lives too. Later in the day, the baby’s father Kusanna (whom we later trained as a mason) came up to me with the village elders and thanked me for having saved his baby boy.
I will share the second incident in my next post.