Every day India is making news internationally. No more a sleeping giant, the ‘big elephant’ is said to have stirred and is now moving at a pace that is shaking international commerce and trade, demography and technology, and now there is no stopping it. The USA calls India a strategic partner and recently went out of the way to lift a three-decade long nuclear trade isolation with her. This month, India’s ‘Chandrayan’ is likely to soar into the skies for her first unmanned moon mission costing $3.8 billion. Today, nearly a 100 of the Fortune 500 companies have their operations and offices in India, and every now and then one reads about an Indian multinational company gobbling up a foreign corporate giant
And why are everybody’s eyes on India? It is the world’s largest democracy; its GDP is likely to touch 1 $ trillion by 2011; it will overtake China with the highest working population in the world (700 million) in another 30 years; the high intelligence quotient of its people, (4 out of every 10 scientists in NASA, and 38% of doctors in the USA are of Indian origin); its diverse and all-inclusive culture; its English-speaking youth; and so on. Much of the recent media hype about India’s so-called progress indicates that India and Indians are shining. Correct? True! There are four Indians in the Forbes 10 super-rich and India has 53 billionaires – the highest in Asia.
But what is also true is that 35 out of every 100 citizens in India earn Rs. 10 (less than one-fourth of a dollar) a day! And almost 77% of Indians earn just about half a dollar a day. Similarly, 4 out of every 10 people in India do not know how to read or write. The scene is especially pathetic when we look at the health scenario. Even as multi-specialty hospitals are mushrooming in metros and upcoming big cities, and medical tourism (with a promise of 50-100 billion rupees of additional revenue) is increasingly been seen as the way to go by the Government. What is often conveniently and callously overlooked in the process is how can more than 70% of India which does not earn even Rs. 20 a day afford to consult a doctor, let alone undergo any procedure/operation, when the fees for one visit might equal a person’s entire month’s salary.
A news report in The Guardian on September 29, 2008 says that a new four-in-one drug which could halve deaths from heart attacks and strokes, could not go into clinical trails until now, though it was ready 6-8 years ago. The startling reason behind it is that the drugs it contains are very cheap! It could be marketed for as little as $1 month, and therefore, no pharmaceutical company was interested. No corporate body spared a thought on the immense benefits it could do for the poor in the under-developed and developing countries. Read our feature “The Pull of Mammon Vs. the Power of Morality” and you will get an inkling of what goes on inside the corporate corridors of pharmaceutical companies and where lies the remedy.
In India, even now 70 of every 1000 children born in the rural areas do not live to see a single day. And 30 per cent of all infants weigh less than 2.5 kilograms, which is the World Health Organization’s cut-off level to determine low birth weight with a lower chance of survival. In the state of Andhra Pradesh today, there are only 13 doctors and 9 beds for every 1,00,000 villagers. A farmer has to travel a minimum of 10 kilometres to spot a government hospital. There are Primary Health Centers (PHCs) at more accessible distances, but the less said about them, the better. The doctors’ visit to these clinics are as unpredictable as rains in the summer, and even when they come, there are either no medicines or no supporting infrastructure. To further compound this problem, is the poor level of health awareness among the villagers, thanks to years of harmful superstitious beliefs and practices.
If this is the situation in rural Andhra Pradesh even now, after 60 years of India’s self-governance, imagine the situation 50 years ago in Puttaparthi, then an obscure hamlet in one of the most arid and dreary districts of this State. No wonder providing proper healthcare to the poorest of the poor was Bhagavan Baba’s very first welfare project.
As early as in November 1954, Swami laid the foundation stone for the first free Hospital – the Sri Sathya Sai General Hospital in Puttaparthi. On that occasion He said, “Be it rich or poor, educated or illiterate, pious or immoral, all are subject to disease, and therefore, everyone should be treated with love and affection. And to set an example Madhava (God) Himself does manava-seva (service to fellowmen), so that man too can do likewise and thereby earn the Grace of God.” “Service” and “Grace” – these two words actually sum up the story of this unique General Hospital, as you will realise when you read our cover story “Where Love Greets You and Grace Cures…”
If love can heal and grace can cure, then why go to the hospitals? This is exactly how people questioned even then, and Swami answered this in a beautiful discourse on the fourth Annual Day of this Hospital, saying, “Some of you ask why should there be a Hospital at all, here! Why should Baba not cure diseases by His Will? Well, for one thing, this Hospital is not My only Hospital... In fact, all hospitals everywhere are Mine… all who call out for succor, in whatever language or clime, from hospitals or homes, are Mine… Do not confine Me to these few acres around Prasanthi Nilayam…. You should remember another aspect. The Hospital serves to increase faith, to demonstrate Divinity and to remove doubt…. Besides, there are many who are hungry for medical treatment and they are satisfied only if drugs are given and injections administered. Their faith in Grace is not yet strong. So, a hospital is required…”
Therefore, the mission of the Hospital is myriad and profound. Yes, treating the poor patients of their maladies is one of the main goals of the Hospital, but not the primary objective. It is true that currently more than 1,50,000 patients walk into the Out Patient departments of this Hospital every year and out of this about 60% are women; similarly, nearly 2500 babies are delivered annually, which averages out to 6 to 7 births per day; but more than healing their ailments and ensuring their good physical health, what the Hospital has done to the emotional and spiritual make-up of their beings is what is more significant.
Read the story of Shiekh Jainabi, a poor Muslim lady, who has been coming to this Hospital for decades for ailments, big and small, for her own and her entire family. She says, “What draws us here is the concern and care shown by these doctors… they not only treat us… they also teach us to love God and have faith; for me, there is no difference between Sai and Allah… I cannot do a thing without uttering His name.” Or, the tale of another very poor elderly lady Lakshmi, a widow deserted by her children, who breaks down when asked about her feelings about the Hospital and says, “But for this Hospital, I would have died 30 years ago… as long as this Hospital is there, I am not concerned about my health… I pray to Swami, I have faith, I live because of the energy He gives me…” Or, the story of Vishwa Karma, another remarkably cured patient who says, “I do not know what the doctor has done… all I know is that this doctor has given me Love which nobody elsewhere gave me even when I went broke paying the hospital bills…Now, I have faith in God, in Baba.” The cover story of this issue, which is in two parts, contains many such touching stories and every account invariably ends with ‘faith’ and ‘love’.
In fact, in this issue, we have a bumper of such stories as the Healing Touch section too has two accounts, instead of the usual one, of patients whose lives have been transformed after stepping into the portals of the Super Specialty Hospitals in Puttaparthi and Whitefield, Bangalore. While Bhagavan Baba is not only the sole inspiration, but also in the truest sense, the Sole Doer of these Medical Marvels of Healing, what is fascinating and really intriguing is the way this happens.
Ask any doctor in the General Hospital, “How does it feel working here?” And he or she will say, “It is very fulfilling working here… we are a big family… it feels like a home, we have all come here for loving service and we know we are only instruments, Swami is the real Doctor.” Imagine, if every doctor and nurse, volunteer and helper feels this way and offers his/her service? That is the reason why everyone feels that the General Hospital is not a Hospital, but a ‘House of God’. It is this very special ambience which makes this Hospital so special, not only the fact that it is serving thousands of patients everyday absolutely free of charge.
Now, can we have more such Hospitals which India needs so desperately? Is the model replicable? Well, Swami has said it is. Since He is not limited to the five feet four inches physical frame that we behold and enjoy, but is all-pervasive, it is definitely possible. But what is needed is faith in God and the passion to serve. Clearly, it is not a utopian idea. Twenty years ago, one would have said that running a completely free Super Specialty Hospital was an impossible idea. So, we have to begin by believing in ourselves and trusting God, and then take our first step. We need to think less about ourselves and think more about others. We need to ensure that we become a conduit through which His energy and His love flows. Nothing then is impossible.
Let us pledge to touch each others’ lives as much as He has touched ours!