Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dr. Aditya and the Clinic - Part 2

The following is the second half of a two part interview with Dr. Aditya Gait, a resident medical doctor and member of Ananda’s Kriya Yoga Community in the countryside outside of Pune, India. Dr. Aditya is also a Brahmachari member of the Ananda Renunciate Order.

J: There are good hospitals in both Pune and in Lavasa, but what sort of medical facilities are in the neighborhood of Ananda? Are there clinics nearby?

AG: There are small clinics in Pirangut, about 17 kilometers away, but they are quite expensive for the villagers and not at all up to the mark. Few doctors are available and they often give incomplete treatment. Two government dispensaries are in the area where we are staying but the villagers aren’t happy with their service and, again, the medicines are expensive.

I’m getting my medicines from a company in Gujarat that was started by a group who is consciously keeping prices low. Their medicines are at par with any drug company in the world but at only around one tenth the cost. I’m also trying to keep my consultation fees affordable for the villagers. They are twenty rupees only.

J: What sort of medical problems do you typically see in Watunde? What is the greatest need, locally?

AG: What you see mostly are the basic seasonal illnesses, asthma, and injuries. 60-70% of the ladies are deficient in iron and have anemia which leads to fatigue and pregnancy complications. Alcoholism is a problem but it takes time to gain people’s trust before it can be addressed. Malnutrition is not so common in the village but the tribal people who stay on the hilltop, some of them are malnourished.

In the long run, what will help most is better health education and reinforcement of things they already know but lack the initiative to do, such as better ways to cook food and how to grow healthier crops. They grow sugarcane as a cash crop but don’t grow spinach or other leafy, green vegetables. All of the villagers have cows but they don’t drink that milk. They sell it. We need to teach better hygiene also. The villagers know these things but are not putting them into practice.

J: Who typically comes to you now for medical attention?

AG: The people who now come are from the local villages (Watunde, Borde and Kharawade) and from the tribal village on the hilltop. The local village population is around thirteen hundred but only three to four hundred are staying at any one time. On any given day, eight to ten are ill. Last year I had medical camps in two nearby villages and got a very good response.

I’m sure if we build a real clinic with local people involved, I can reach maybe ten to fifteen villages in the vicinity. Almost all the villagers now have to go to Pirangut and that can be expensive for them.

J: Because you didn’t finish your residency, is there a problem with you operating a clinic and practicing medicine?

AG: I can serve as a General Practitioner but not as a Surgeon, but even as that, there are many surgical procedures I can do, especially in a life threatening situation or when in remote areas. When there is no one else to help, you have to do it. I do need a license to run a clinic and since I will also be the lab technician, I need a license for that too and in India, a special license is needed to run a chemist shop. Doctors don’t usually run chemist shops so I will need to explain the situation to see if they can give me that license. Those three things I need before I can run this clinic.

J: Because you are not from this area, have you been well received?

AG: Yes. I had that doubt too at first, but the villagers are happy. They see me as an outsider but when they also see that I am here to help them and my prices are very competitive, it immediately breaks that barrier. Being from an ashram also helps because they feel we are service oriented.
(Watunde Village at left)

You have to be absolutely selfless when serving in this way. There has to be no expectation that people should respect you because you are a doctor. In one of my rural clinics, someone came up to me and asked, “Where is your certificate? Where are you from? Why are you here? How much do you charge?” He was trying to intimidate me but in the end he shook my hand.

I was prepared for such things because I know that I am not from this part of the country. If you are absorbed in giving, you won’t have these problems. If you have expectations, things may go well for awhile but when something bad happens you will feel discouraged. You need patience. It takes time to build something and it takes time to build trust, but I could feel from day one that this is the right thing to do.

I’m learning to speak Marathi now which I only understood before but could not speak. Hopefully, by the time the clinic starts, I’ll at least be able to converse with the patients.

J: What comes next? What is your plan?

AG: If we can provide basic care and provide for some emergencies, I think that is what is needed now. With the container now here, setting it up is the next thing. Maybe in a few months we can have a lab for basic investigations and a place where people can come for urine and blood tests. I’d like a small procedure room and at the very least, a supply of medicines. I already have a basic surgical kit. Also, once we have a space, maybe visiting doctors can come.

Soon, we’ll run an electric wire from the community to the clinic and we are expecting solar panels from the USA. As you can see, we have a lot of space and there are no trees around the container so we can put up those panels to provide electricity for when the regular power goes out. A water tank and a composting toilet are also in the plan. Already we are planting a small garden.

J: That’s pretty ambitious. How are you able to fund it all?

AG: Up to now, it has been through donations, mostly from devotees in Pune. We have sent out mail seeking help in whatever form someone wants to offer it and have had a few replies. One devotee from America contributed a lot of surgical instruments, exactly the thing I needed.

I have kept prices very low, almost negligible, because I first must build a trust relationship with the local villagers. It isn’t my intention to make the clinic a profit-making business but I would like to see it grow and be financially stable to better serve people. Perhaps one day we can put it on enough of a healthy footing to attract more doctors and devotees who are in the healing professions.

In Maharasthra, we have the most health related NGO’s in rural areas in India, so a lot of doctors are service oriented in this part of the country. Many doctors want to serve but they find it difficult to take that initial step. I’ve also met doctors who are very keen on moving to our community but I can understand why, with families, they cannot abruptly leave everything to come here. I have to get things started first.

J: At the moment, what is your biggest need?

AG: Honestly, for now, I need money to get set up and started, to buy the medicines, and to bring in electricity, waterlines and utilities. Today we have one container, but in time and with peoples’ help, we could have a permanent building where specialists could sit. I don’t see why people someday would not come from Pirangut or even Lavasa to get treatment here because it would be holistic and nice.

(Watunde Village is located at the base of the big hill in the background of the photo above. See the same hill in the previous village photo. The Ananda community is 50 meters behind the photographer.)

J: What additional community projects are you working on, other than the clinic?

AG: A lot has happened in the last one and a half years. At the monastery right now, we are putting up solar panels so as to have electricity and, later on, for the clinic. Also, we are trying to get a solar pump ready to bring water up and are making a composting toilet and a shower house. We just finished our meditation space. Initially, I was working in the garden and was buying supplies in the city one day each week for the community kitchen but now others have taken over those tasks.

J: What does your family think of all this?

AG: They would be very happy if I came back home because my father has a clinic and he would be interested in having me help. They think I am just serving the rural areas and say, “Why don’t you see patients in the rural area over here?” But my aim is to serve Master’s work more than anything else. To be a channel in whatever way I can is the reason I am at Ananda. My mom is happy as she knows I am doing something good but my poor father doesn’t understand it at all. I love them and pray for them. I know Master will take of our souls.

J: What has been your greatest gain in this project?

AG: The immense satisfaction of serving: serving my guru, serving the local villagers, serving the ashram. Building a community and doing something for others to follow has brought me great satisfaction and contentment.

When Swamiji asked, “What do you think of a rural clinic?” I realized he didn’t want me to cut myself off from medicine. He was happy I had taken up this path but he also wanted me to serve. I’m happy to do so because I never disliked what I was doing before. It’s just that I like what I am doing now so much more. Swamiji asked me to do this thing and I know things will work out. This container seems so empty today but I have a strong belief that it is just the beginning for something much, much more.

If you would like to contribute to the clinic project in Watunde Village, please write to me at my regular anandaindia email address or at jayahelin@yahoo.com. I can put you in touch with Dr. Aditya, explain his needs, and clarify the options available to you.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dr. Aditya Gait and the Clinic - Part 1

Aditya Gait is a member of Ananda Sangha helping to build a “Kriya Yoga Community” in the countryside outside of Pune, India. He trained as a medical doctor before joining Ananda and is now beginning a medical clinic to serve the needs of local villagers and community members. Aditya is a brahmachari member of the Ananda Renunciate Order and, in addition to his medical service, is actively engaged in the development of Ananda’s retreat and residential community.

The following is Part One of a two part interview conducted with Aditya in early July, 2010. At that time, he had recently purchased a shipping container from Mumbai and had placed it on a small parcel of land adjacent to our community with the intention of converting it into a small clinic. In this first part of the interview, Aditya tells of his early interest in medicine and of his coming to Ananda. In the second part, he will speak of his plans for the clinic.

Jaya: For the past year, you have been working as a medical doctor with local villagers, traveling here and there to see patients. I see you have now bought a shipping container with plans to convert it into a small medical clinic. How is it going?

Aditya: Swamiji has asked me that exact same question, at least seven or eight times, since we first came to Pune. It’s practically his first question whenever he sees me. I’ve been answering, “It’s going well,” but when he last came, I told him, “Swamiji, so many things are going on. I’m unable to focus all my attention on the clinic though I have been seeing patients.” He said, “I understand, but it would be nice if you can do something with the clinic which at the same time does not take all your time.”

J: Have you always wanted to be a doctor?

A: Yes. I was always interested in general medicine but never in surgery. After my internship, I applied for residency training at a hospital in New Delhi known for its program in community medicine. They told me, “Those seats are full, but we have one seat in rural surgery.” It was a pilot program combining general surgery, orthopedics, obstetrics, and all of the surgical things needed by a rural doctor. I had never been particularly attracted to specializing in those subjects but when they put that tag “rural” in front of it, I was interested. My sister is a psychiatrist and my father is a military physician and I thought, “I will be the surgeon,” and we could all serve together.

J: What was it about rural medicine that attracted you?

A: When in medical school in Pune, I was aiming to be an oncologist or a neurologist, but when I went for my internship in New Delhi, I saw that most of my patients had come from the rural areas. That made me ponder, “Why are so many people coming from the rural areas? Instead, we should be going there.”

When someone was ill, the whole family would have to come into the city, often causing major complications because of the delay. I soon realized what was required and decided to serve in the rural areas. That didn’t go down well with my family but I was very content inside because I knew that if I was to serve as a doctor, this was the way it had to be.

J: Did you enjoy your service as a doctor as you had expected?

A: Yes, but when I saw patients I would think, “Why is this happening to them?” I would see people with chronic illnesses which had no cure and I would ponder about why it was so. In pediatric surgery, I saw small babies being operated upon and wondered, “Why is this happening to them?” It was hard to understand. You know, such difficult things are equally bad news for a doctor as for a patient.

I thought about karma and why things happen, but I couldn’t explain this to my patients in a way that would help them. Very few were receptive and once they are physically well, patients don’t come back. I found that disappointing because I wanted to give them so much more. Some days I was happy and some days wasn’t when unable to save somebody. Things eventually came to a point where I couldn’t go on like that.

All the while, I was desperately asking God for help and I eventually came to realize I needed to learn higher things than what I was then studying. I believed in prayer but I just didn’t know how it worked. I believed also in miracles like we read about in the lives of saints and I thought it would be good to learn those things too. But, who do you learn it from?

It was then that I read Autobiography of a Yogi. It answered almost all my questions. I was very certain Yogananda had been with me before. When he spoke of reincarnation, I thought, “He has been my guru!” From then on, I was always questioning and asking, “What does he want from me?”

J: Is that when you came to know about Ananda?

A: I came to know of Ananda just before starting my residency, and wrote a letter to Swamiji, telling him I was a doctor, of my interest in serving people and that I wanted to learn Kriya Yoga. I asked him to please tell me what I can do. I left my phone number and email address but didn’t hear back. When his reply didn’t come, I thought, “Master wants me to continue in medicine.” I thought this because I got my residency seat at the hospital under very miraculous conditions, I must say.

My application was already five months late and the seat was available only because somebody else had become ill and had left it. I was told, “Be at the hospital at nine o’clock in the morning and the head of the department will interview you.”

The next day, on my way to the hospital, I was entering the Delhi Metro when a beggar called out to me. I had only ten minutes but I thought I could give him two, so I said, “What’s your problem?” I could see he had rashes all over his hands and he was blind. He said, “Can you please tell me where the President of India sits? I have to meet him.” This was a surprising question but I could see he was completely stable and not insane. I said, “That’s a very unusual request. How are you going to meet him?” The fellow said, “He told me I can come see him at any time,” and he pulled out of his pocket a picture. There was the President, Mr. Kalam with that beggar! He had met him in Lucknow and the President had told him to come see him if he had any problem. I asked him what his problem was and he said he needed Rs.2500 because he had been ill and spent everything he had on the clinic and private hospitals. “I don’t have money. I have not eaten for two days and my family has not eaten, so today if he can give me some money, I can go back home.” His request was so simple. He would ask the President to give him some money.

That was the ninth day of Ram Nomi, so everything was closed. I thought, “If I leave him like this he will definitely not reach anywhere. Because I’m educated and a doctor, maybe the guards would let me get near the President’s office.”

Only the day before I had been reading in Swamiji’s book, The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita, the passage where Krishna says to Arjuna, “Oh Arjuna, as long as you think you can plan this and manage that, I will watch. But the day you offer your life completely to Me, I will take complete charge of it.”

I was so thrilled when I read that line and I was thinking how nice it would be if God takes all charge. So, I said to God, “I’m taking this course for You and I want to help this man for You. Because You have put him in front of me, You must take care of my interview. I’m going with him.” So I went with the beggar and it was a very long day. At the President’s office we had problems and didn’t meet Mr. Kalam. Then I took him to an NGO but they could not help. I took him to a charitable person who also could not help. In the end, I had to pay him what money I had. He needed Rs.2500 and I had only Rs.1600, so I gave him that much.

It was 3:30 in the afternoon when I left him and I was wondering what must have happened about the interview. I thought, “Let me go and check.” I reached the hospital and knocked at that surgeon’s office but nobody answered. I peeped in and his secretary was sitting there. “Mam, is Dr. Khanduri there?” “Please wait,” she said.

I was sitting outside and eventually saw him coming along the corridor. I thought he might scold me as I stood to meet him. I said, “Sir, I am Aditya. You asked me to come for the interview today.” “Oh my God!” he said, “I’m so sorry. I made you wait so long!” He hadn’t come to the hospital the whole day! I didn’t want to tell him the whole story so I just said, “It’s fine, sir.” He said, “I had to interview you. Anyway, you know what? You are the only person.” He asked for my mobile and called someone, “This is the only guy and he wants the seat.” I was through.

So the seat at the hospital was a precious gift and I didn’t want to leave it. I thought, “I should become a doctor. Maybe it’s not my good karma to meditate in this life,” but finally, things came to a point where I knew I wanted to heal people but not in that way.

J: Eventually, you decided to come to Ananda.

A: Yes, I finished one month short of two years in the residency program and then I came to the ashram. Obviously, my friends and family were not happy with me. They said, “It’s just one more year,” but I knew I had to come. Swamiji met me and said, “Do you have any questions?” I said, “No.” And he said, “Are you sure?” and I said “Yes.” And he said “Sure?” I thought, “There must be something,” and said, “Swamiji, I had this question a few days back when I was doing my residency. Everything was good. My teachers were good. My college was good. I was happy but I just felt it was incomplete so I came to seek God.” And he said, “Man’s highest responsibility is to find God and I think you have done the right thing by coming here.” I was so relieved, but the very next thing he said to me was, “What do you think of a rural clinic?” I had given up my stethoscope, my books, everything, but I said, “OK.” So this blue container is the result of all those things. I want to fill it back up with books and a stethoscope.

Part 2 of this interview will appear next week.