An Unforgettable Journey

The most common reaction of laymen is that of raised eyebrows when you announce that you have a degree from the west. Having been through various such acquaintances, I was shocked when a colleague of mine, at a new course I was pursing, remarked ‘what’s there in a foreign country, when there is so much to learn from your own?’ His statement got the better of me and I made sure to avoid all kinds of interaction with him during the rest of the period.

Recently, I got an opportunity to visit one of the better known slums of the state. The first visit was a stroll around the places, amidst the homes and the shops and small interactions with the residents. The scenario left me speechless.

I am constantly shopping and wondering whether to buy a Fischer price or a funskool toy to my 1 ½ year old son to play.

During my stroll in the slum, I meet a group of kids, the same age of my son playing with shredded pieces of aluminum utensils, rubber and bricks.

One of my favorite role in life is that of an architect. Since time unknown I have been planning a dream home built on acres of land, with separate rooms to fulfill my fetish for foot wear and handbags, a lovely swimming pool, a garden with exotic flowers and fruits, a customized library, a minimum of a spa and a sauna and an additional home with a beach view for the retired days.

I met few families who lived underneath the steps, in the darkest corners, places where not more than 2 could fit at once. Their dining room, the kitchen, the bedroom all had to fit in that small place.

A few specks of dirt on hands I waste no time to visit the wash, I take umpteen number of baths to ward of the sweat in the summers and I met kids who did not remember the last time they had a decent bath.

My son by the age of 15, would have studied in a high profile school, would have blindly followed all the fashion trends and would be a charismatic teenager raring to run ahead in life. I met a young boy aged 15 yrs, who had done basic schooling, was a drug addict, a chain smoker, an alcoholic and was recently beaten up by the local police. He had no plans for his future and was not sure what he would do or be in life.

When I walk into a hotel with all the mouth watering, diverse cuisines, I never look at the prices because I am confident I can afford anything. I conversed with a little girl 9 yrs old and here goes the conversation

Me: Hi, what’s Ur name?

Little girl: Hi, I’m……

Me: Did you have breakfast?

Little girl: Yes

Me: good, do you go to school?

Little girl: No, I’m at home. I clean and take care of the house

Me: Will you come with me?

Little girl: will you give me food to eat?

Me: Sure, What did you eat today morning?

Little girl: I ate rice and that was yday morning

I called up that young gentleman, whom I had not spoken for a year, apologized for my folly.

I accepted that the best lessons will be the ones that my own country will teach me .

*** Under the fans, constantly clicking keys, I thought I was changing the world, until I met a bunch of lovely women who amidst dust, scorching sun and fearless dogs, walked from one home to the other collecting information for me to work upon.

Thank you Anthu, Sujatha, Saraswathi and Leelavathi. Our job is minuscule when compared to yours.

Thank you Roopa, for heading the team in the right direction.

Congrats Thriveni, your team is doing a fantastic job.

And finally thank you Munna for persuading me to come to field, I would love to visit the field more often. For me, it was a truly humbling experience.

NB: Munna, Anthu, Sujatha, Saraswathi and Leelavathi are field staff of the urban health team at IPH, Bangalore. Roopa and Thriveni are faculty of IPH, Bangalore.