Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai is such an illuminating example of selfless service, courage, vision and astounding efficiency that it has few parallels on the planet. The amazing story of its founder, the celebrated but ever so humble Dr Govindappa Venkataswamy and his dedicated team has been aptly chronicled in a book titled “Infinite Vision” which was recommended to me by someone I truly respect recently.
Renowned doctors and achievers from across the world have lauded effusively the 3 decade long story of high quality eye care that Aravind Hospital offers to the needy. A mind boggling 35 million patients, and more, have been treated at the hospital and over 5 million surgeries have been performed, most of them free!
Former President of India Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam said, ‘In the Aravind experience I see the path that we need to take – a transformation of life into a powerful instrument of right action.’ A case study on Aravind has been recommended to students of Harvard Business School too.
What emerges palpably from the saga of Dr V, the name by which the founder is known, is that a life lived for others is what each of us should try to emulate in our own little ways. Many of us have started thinking about the need to help others only in recent years. Most of those who grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s were rather self-oriented and could only think of their own careers, and their own families. But many of today’s younger generation have started working in the NGO sector and are thinking of others far more than we did. I have encountered several youngsters who have taken 2 years off from their fledgling and budding careers to work for “Youth Alliance” or ”Teach for India” to spend time serving those in need.
My daughter Spriha recently started her career and works in the social sector. She was delighted to be on the ‘Jagriti Yatra’, an all India train journey that is specially chartered for 500 young professionals annually. One of the iconic Indian institutions that the Yatra touches along the way is the Aravind Eye Hospital. Spriha has fond memories of her visit and reverentially recollects how Dr V’s passion to serve humankind has been transformed into an altar of kindness and brilliance.
My wife and I marvel at Spriha’s zealous levels of concern for those whom fate has placed in disadvantageous positions. We wish we could have been like her when we were younger.
Actually there are many religious and social organisations doing amazing work throughout the country. In North India too we find inspiring examples of charity and a sense of giving. But many of them could learn more from landmark projects like Aravind.
Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and even the late blooming philanthropic instinct in Amazon owner Jeff Bezos, have ensured that sizeable sums have been set aside for charitable activities across the world. Their examples should spur Indian CEOs to do likewise and not wait for the provisions of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Act to catch up with them. But perhaps the materialistic rat-race has prevented hordes of successful people from donating to the larger humanitarian cause.
Mother Teresa famously said, “Do things for people not because of who they are, or what they can do in return, but because of who YOU are!”
A seemingly inane advertisement highlighting the repair services of a popular TV brand recently brought tears to the eyes of thousands. The repair man is shown arriving at the destination from where the complaint emanated only to find that all the young residents including the coordinator are blind. They simply wanted to tune in to a popular music show and listen to one of their own friends participate in the search for talented singers!
Empathy is not something that comes easily to all of us, but when it does, it can touch the hearts of even the most hardened of individuals. After all, as Kathy Calvin put it so admirably, “Giving is not about making a donation, it is about making a difference.”
Let us gear up to make sure that difference happens in the years to come.