Ganiyari Days

I live in a part of our country that people often refer to as “Bharat” as opposed to “India”, so called because it is completely different from the country we are used to seeing around us, on TV , in magazines, and which our friends and we inhabit.

I write this from Chhattisgarh, where I live and work. Along with several colleagues, I am part of a non-profit organization that provides health care for a largely tribal and Dalit population.

Last year we had two TAS (Tata Administrative Service) managers posted with us for a month, as part of their internship. Both are extremely bright and professional young men in their early twenties, one of whom has lived all his life in Mumbai, the other in Pune. One is an IIT graduate, the other a commerce graduate with a management degree. I had many interesting discussions with them when they were here.

Since our small hospital is located in a village called Ganiyari 20 km outside the town of Bilaspur, our power supply is from the rural grid. This means lengthy (upto 18 hours sometimes) power cuts in the summer, or a voltage which is too low to rotate a ceiling fan. We perspired in near 50 deg temperatures, as we could only run the generator for the laboratory and the operation theatre. Even so, the generator had to be stopped every few hours to allow it to cool off! We tried to work, being careful not to let the sweat drip onto the laptops or computers, at least as long at the battery or the inverters lasted.
We had no internet access on our campus, but you could get mobile BSNL coverage if you stood under the neem tree near the first gate, and faced east. A year has seen tremendous progress: we now have BSNL, Idea and Airtel networks that often work not only under the neem tree but elsewhere as well. And when the telephone works too, we can even get access to the net!

In the evenings, a favourite haunt of theirs was what we affectionately call “downtown Ganiyari” – a collection of a few shops, the main attraction being a hotel that sells hot tea and excellent samosas and vadas. After work we would make our way there by torchlight, the village in pitch darkness, the silence broken only by the bark of a dog, or the put-putting of the generator that lit the ward, the corridors of the hospital, and the OT where the surgeon worked late.

As we drove back at night into Bilaspur where we live, the lights in the town blinded us, though Bilaspur is modestly lit and has none of the glitter and shine of billboards one sees in metros. We returned to electricity, running water, and joy of joys – internet access – till we went back to Ganiyari the next morning.

What did the interns do there for a month, and what did they find? That, my friends, is another story.

Ramani Atkuri

She is a public health physician who has worked for over the past 20 years in rural central India in Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, with tribal and other disadvantaged people. In addition to providing patient care, she trains traditional birth attendants, health workers, nurses and other health personnel. She enjoys teaching and empowering others with knowledge and skills, demystifying medicine. She feels that health is an immensely political issue, and that medical care is a very small part of health care. She likes to share her experiences and reflections and involve others in the issue of growing inequity in our country especially related to health and the determinants of health. She enjoys reading, writing, and walking.

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