Friday, September 14, 2012

Trip to Shodhgram - Day 5 - Part 1

Rose a little later today. Maybe I feel settled in :)  Talking of feeling settled, before I left Mumbai for this trip, my husband asked me with a glint of humour in his eyes - So are you planning to settle there"? And I said something like "If you come along I will".

Yesterday Kalindi, the statistician intern asked me "How do you like it here". I said  I'm loving it. But I really don't know how I would feel if I had to live here for a long time".  I then said "I know that if I had to, I would settle in and be happy, because it is my basic nature to adapt and settle anywhere". As I think about it, (even after a night's sleep), I guess today's answer is "My knowledge and expertise is about searching / referencing and some areas of research and writing. And I have family in the city. I would do my best to contribute to the section of society that needs me, by living with my family, in the city and travelling where I need to. BUT, if for some reasons of destiny I had to (or maybe choose to) live in Gadchiroli or any similar place, I would look at doing all I can to contribute in that surrounding and make a choice to be happy there".

As I said, that is today's answer. Life may bring changes in me that may change my answer someday. I dont know. Why worry about that anyway? :)

But I would like to add - I think all youngsters especially medicos, (those in the field of Community Medicine field - definitely, but all medicos for sure), should consider doing a stint here. Rural postings that you normally do, as I have understood seem like a farce (I maybe saying it wrongly; forgive me if I do) to many of you. Here you will see a planned and research cum service oriented program and get to work with as much professionalism as anywhere else. And the variety of people here in the SEARCH campus makes for stimulating discussions and interactions. Yes even IIT engineers and others are doing stuff here. I would even suggest - enrol in a NIRMAN program. It would be one of the best events in your life.

Trip to Shodhgram - Day 4

Again an early day. Up at 4.30 AM and did Yoga, Kriya and Meditation. And also a half hour walk. Felt wonderful. The place has been cool throughout. Soon after breakfast of yummy Sabudana Khichdi, did my first "Introduction to Literature Search" session for about nearly 20 people. And then today till the evening session at 4.30, I had the day to myself. So managed to catch up on emails (and the blog of course) and also spent some time planning specific examples and exercises for the evenign session. The 4.30 pm session had a slightly smaller attendance, as some people had work and could not get back. But the participants were supremely active and followed things with complete attention. During the day Kalindi, a statistician checked out some more stuff with me  and learned about some statistics tutorial site as well as critical appraisal sites. At the end she asked me "when are you coming back here?" That felt good :)

The evening prayer session had a relatively larger crowd. Several villagers were in for some residential training  so the campus was buzzing with people. It was also the birthday of one of the physiotherapists and was celebrated with an Aarti. Very beautiful!

I also got to hear that Dr Bang had written a book in Marathi (recently translated to Hindi too) about his reflections after his heart attack and angioplasty. One of the interns told me about it. It really seemed incredible that someone who lives in a surrounding like this with no pollution and with all the right habits should have had this. It finally boiled down to the stress that he went thru in setting up Shodhgram. The campus and the work may seem awesome to the visitor or anyone who works. But if one reflects on the absolute awesome responsibility that it carries it is no joke. I do hope that he and Dr Rani Bang have excellent health for several more years. Gadchiroli needs their leadership. And India needs the examples.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Trip to Shodhgram - Day 3 - Part 2

The afternoon, I had to myself. Most of it without an internet connection. I took some time off to show Mr Mahesh (Head of Research) the reference management tool Mendeley - He loved it and asked me if I would also show it to the rest of the team and I agreed. At about 5 PM I had a discussion with Dr Anand Bang, Dr Yogesh and all involved in any kind of research work. We had a discussion about what their information needs were and where they hit roadblocks. This was a prelude to my doing some sessions for them. We decided that we'd have at least three one hour sessions in the next two days and then do anything more as required. I then had a chat with the two young doctors over a cup of tea. Both of them having trained in the US were able to understand QMed's plans and problems and expressed great delight in our work.

The evening prayer session had its regular features. And then there was a small discussion on prayers. Dr Rani Bang shared that some time back Dr Abhay needed an angioplasty. And there were people who asked her how she believed in prayers when she should have a more scientific approach. She answered that it was because of group prayers everyday that SEARCH continued to function inspite of their absence. Food for thought!

Later at dinner I had some "question - answer" sessions (they asked; I answered :>) with a young doctor qualified from Sion hospital who now works here, couple of interns from TISS and later another young doctor who qualifed from Grant Medical College. I had a fairly intense discussion about libraries in Mumbai and India with the latter. It was great to see so much interest. Incidentally both young doctors seem to love being here in Shodhgram, working in the villages and doing research. This seemed to be exactly what Dr Bang mentioned during the panel discussion at Medicon 2012 earlier this year -when he said "Rural service should be properly channelised into a learning experience for medical students and young doctors"

As I finish writing this (offline, to be copy / pasted into the blog when the Internet is available tomorrow), I realize it is 10.20 PM. I did not nod off at 9.30. I feel wide awake and energized. Is it due to Anjanabai? Is it due to the discussions today? Or am I filled with the regular excitement of training sessions for tomorrow? I really don't know :)

Trip to Shodhgram - Day 3 - Part 1

Got up at 5 am all fresh. Well, considering that I had nearly 8 hours of sleep, I'd better have done that :) Managed a full hour of Yoga, Kriya and Meditation, something that I wish I could discipline myself to do everyday, but do not manage it :(. Am hoping that two more days here gets me into it.

Immediately after breakfast I set off with a team of four people from Save the Children Foundation for a village site visit - to a village called Bodhli - 5 km from here. We were taken by Dr Paranjpe - not a medical doctor, but an expert in IPR. What does he do here? He works in the area of scaling up various areas of SEARCH's activities. How did he land up here? A few years back he visited the place. And in a year's time came to work with Dr Bang - in his own words "doing anything he can for SEARCH".

We reached the village and went to the home of an Arogyadoot (translated - it means messenger of health and wellness) - Anjanabai. She has been trained by SEARCH to handle several health problems of the residents of the village and then specially for the Home Based New Born and Child Care program. She told us how she was selected. SEARCH being sensitive to local needs, first takes a consent from the village leaders and then the families concerned. This lady's mother in law registered her for the first level training, where they are assessed for suitability of the program. She later went through more rigorous training. She demonstrated with absolute confidence, using a doll, as to how she cleaned a baby within 30 seconds of birth and if there were birth asphyxia problems, how she did suctioning and used an ambu bag to help it breathe. She also showed us various records she kept. What was her education level? She had studied upto the 7th Std!

She then took us to the home of family where a young girl had delivered a baby a few days back. She gave us a brief demonstration of how she checked on the mother by asking her about her diet, sleep etc and also about the baby. Then she showed us how she weighed the baby and did an overall checking. All this is done on several days during the 28 day neonatal period when there is a maximum chance of infection and illness mainly due to the surroundings and overall low socioeconomic background.

There is lots more information about this in the SEARCH website about the models and successes. My feelings at the end of this visit can be summarised as:

a) The young mothers and neonates in Gadchiroli get far better care than their counterparts in urban areas (especially the urban poor) thanks to numerous visits by a trained healthcare worker.

b) And if only the people in the rural areas got the right kind of education and training, there are enormous capabilities all hidden in there. Anjanabai's poise and confidence and her obvious efficiency in the healthcare she provided was a clear indication of this.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Trip to Shodhgram - Day 2 - Evening

Trip to Shodhgram - Day 2 - Evening

Today's evening prayer session's focus (after the regular sessions) was on Acharya Vinoba Bhave as it happened to be his birth anniversary. Dr Bang spoke a little about his philosophies and specially about the last week of his life. Acharya Vinobaji apparently knew he was dying and he refused interventions because he had indications from the Lord above that he had done all that he was meant to do in this life. He explained that all of us tend to hold on to our bodies at any cost, but however we need to find the balance between doing what we should (medical care and more) and accepting that our lives do come to an end and we need to learn to let go. Something that is not too easy

After dinner at 8.15, I once again hit the sack at 9.30.

Trip to Shodhgram - Day 2

I expected to be up at 4 AM thanks to crashing at 9.30 PM. Surprisingly though I did wake up, I went back to sleep right away and managed a couple of snoozes of the alarm that I set for later. The sound of the rains had some magic lullaby that made me have some glorious sleep. The main sounds that one hears in the campus are the chirping of the birds. Occasionally a car or a bike vrooms around, but that is really rare.

Breakfast at 7.45 and then I was in the research dept by 8.30. The good news is that the Internet lines are back, and am finally connected back with the world :)
I guess I get a real time lesson on gratitude, after experiencing how the Internet connectivity keeps vanishing and reappearing with amazing regularity. How much we take for granted in a city like Mumbai!

Anyway - my day got kind of scheduled. A very brief visit to the library. Then an orientation session in the afternoon along with some others who are going through it too. And a preliminary sesson on searching in the early evening. In between I get to do what I want :)

At around 10.30 we were all invited to the main entrance of Shodhgram where there is the "Ma Danteshwari temple". SEARCH just got a new vehicle - Tavera - with support from the State Bank of India. Dr Abhay Bang performed a small pooja and broke a coconut. Dr Rani Bang thanked the SBI for their support and said that this would be mainly used for transport of patients with back pain. I was told that every event is celebrated with maximum participation from all here. Every birthday is celebrated with a mix of tradition and modern customs. The birthday girl or boy is made to sit and Dr Rani performs an Arti with a Pooja thali. And then people sing Happy Birthday. One more example of a small action feeding the passion?

At around 11 am I got to visit the library . The lady in charge was on leave and another gentleman received me. Again I was pleasantly surprised to see a computerized catalog and Issue-Return system, all created in house - by Mr Mahesh of the Research Dept. The collection in this library caters to an audience right from the children in the campus to all professionals. I discussed certain possibilities for further improvement he was happy to hear them. We decided to take these points up again when the librarian was back.  The library obviously warmed the heart of the librarian in me, but more importantly the fact that the people who looked after it, and the people responsible for SEARCH are constantly giving their minds to how a library should serve them!

Post lunch I got to listen to presentations on the Home Based Neonatal and Childcare model, along with a team of abuot 12 from another NGO - "Save the Children. The presentations were par excellence - one by Mr Tushar Khorgade and the second by Dr Anand Bang.

Tomorrow will be a field visit. I would be going with four members of the Save the Children Foundation and there will be two more groups. Waiting to experience this!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Part 2 - In Shodhgram - Day 1 - the evening hours

Ever since I reached here the mobile and Internet networks were down. The mobile got restored after a while, but apparently Airtel does not work here so I get a first hand experience of "not being wired" :). For the rest of my stay here - there will be no mobile connectivity for me

So I got some time to do all this blog catching up. (I did it all in Note pad and am copy pasting it now as I post)

At 6.45 PM there is a daily prayer-meditation-general-update session. People gather in the prayer room and first chant a few Marathi Shlokas from the Gitai and this is followed by one Bhajan. Then visitors / interns / fellows are introduced. Dr Bang told everyone about me and about medical librarianship. One person who visited Nagpur for some work was asked to share his experiences with all. An interesting thing that happened was that Dr Rani Bang mentioned that this was the second time in her life that she heard the name Vasumathi, the first being her mother's! Two other interns - Indian students from the US were also asked to speak about themselves.

Dinner was at and I actually crashed by 9.30 PM.

Day 1 Observations:
I strongly sensed the passion and purpose amongst all in the campus. The evening prayer session felt like the family of the olden times when there was prayer, meditation, music and bonding and sharing. I cannot help relate the two - I feel that the prayer session keeps feeding the sharing of passion and purpose.

Part 2 - In Shodhgram - Day 1 - next two plus hours

From about 2 pm, I had about some time with Mr Mahesh - head of research. He has a Masters in Statistics and showed me some presentations about the work. SEARCH has been doing for the last so many years. It was incredible seeing how they had data about infant mortality which was far higher than that projected by the government. Not just that - they maintain a census of a population of about 1 lakh people in the Gadchiroli villages, so that they have proper background data about all their health related issues. Mr Mahesh has also created an E-library of several paper documents and articles all by himself. He came across as someone who seemed as passionate about SEARCH as Dr Bang (and family). It is rare to have people like this in any set up, and I simply loved going through his presentations with him!

Then came the first of the moments that I was looking forward to. Some time with Dr Abhay Bang himself. I went to his room and the true host in him asked me if all arrangements were comfortable. I assured him I was fine. And then he asked me for my background and I quickly filled him in. We also discussed Medicon and his question was "Do those students really go ahead with research"? And I said "Well many seem definitely interested. But unless we and the system does something to nurture it, I am not sure how many would go ahead". He listened.

Now came his main question (I almost felt like it were a job interview :>). He asked  "Tell me Vasumathi, what made you come all the way here". I told him that in the last few years, I was constantly on the look out for the answer to the question "How do I make an impact with my skills and the collective skills in QMed". And that when I got to know about his work in the deeper parts of India where people needed healthcare, and where he actually managed awesome research outputs too, I felt the need to explore. I told him that I had come with an open agenda - to see what I could contribute and to see if I could learn to make an additional impact through QMed in more such areas.

I was rewarded with a big smile and Dr Abhay Bang said "It is rare that people get curious and then follow that curiosity. I am really happy that you did and that you have come here. Can we have some sessions for our interns with you? (I of course said an instant yes). And he said he would organize a field visit for me too! Wondering if I would get to meet Kajubai!

Part 2 - In Shodhgram - Day 1 - first two hours

Nagpur to Shodhgram turned out to be a nearly 3.5 hour cab ride. The cab turned into the main gate and reached a "Chowk" (where several small roads of Shodhgram campus converged). I got off the cab and found a helpful soul who directed me to my cottage. Since it was lunch time, I was escorted to the dining hall, where we had a simple and wholesome meal. I was introduced to Mr Venky who was going to be my guide for the rest of the day. He in turn introduced me to several youngsters who were doing an internship here. Some had a medical background, some were students of hospital adminstration. I gave them my background and sure enough within minutes we were chatting about literature searching and referencing. And to my delight they asked for sessions. I promised to do anything that I could in the next four days that I was going to be here.

Venky then took me on a tour of Shodhgram - a 45 acre campus. Tons of greenery and an artificial lake included. Aside from healthcare research they actually manage some organic farming and rain water harvesting. Talk of diversity! The campus overall is spick and span. The residents do a group cleaning activity twice a week.

I briefly got to meet Dr Bang who gave me a very warm welcome, and his younger son Amrit Bang who is a Computer engineer. Both were planning the next Nirman agenda. Then got to see the OPD and one of the in patient cottages (Read more ). Also briefly met two more doctors - Dr Atul Bang (older son of Dr Abhay & Dr Rani Bang) and Dr Yogesh who has returned to India after 10 years in the US. Both of them promised more time with me later to see how we could work together.

Trip to Shodhgram - Day 1

Part 1 - Mumbai to Shodhgram

(You are welcome to skip this and go straight on to "In Shodhgram". This post is simply a description of my travel to Shodhgram)

The alarm buzzed at 4.45 AM. The subconscious mind works wonders. Unlike many days when my hand automatically goes to the Snooze button on the mobile, today I was instantly awake. Will less than 4 hours sleep. Got to the airport thanks to my better half who not just doesn't complain, but actually loves dropping me and picking me up at unearthly hours :)

The flight was on time. I normally tend to doze off the moment the aircraft doors close. In fact I often wonder how people cannot sleep on flights. The subconscious mind worked again. I was wide awake throughout the flight. Landed in time, had a cab waiting for me thanks to the coordination efforts of Mr Tushar Khorgade of SEARCH. Rahul, the cab driver got me all comfortable and we hit the road and pretty soon the highway - a two lane one. The weather was decent and thanks to rains it was green, green and more green.

Talking of rains, the last week had news flashes about Nagpur Gadchiroli roads being cut off due to heavy rains. I had  checked with Tusharji last Friday and he assured me that I would not need to cancel my trip. We agreed that I'd recheck on Sun (yesterday) and once again it was an all clear signal. The roads were fine for the first hour apart from small stretches of wear and tear. After an hour we actually had some sunshine too. Somewhere the physical body dominated the subconscious mind. I managed some sleep in a bouncy cab. And finally reached Shodhgram at about 12 noon

Sunday, September 09, 2012


I started blogging years ago, but I guess I have averaged less than 0.5 blogs a year so far. Somehow while I enjoyed reading many, I never got down to maintaining my own.

I guess I need to make a pledge to start today. In the past week I have been egged by many students to blog. More so because I am off to Gadchiroli for a week tomorrow. I will be spending this week at Search, Shodhgram with Dr Abhay Bang, Dr Rani Bang and their team.I have been requested to blog my experiences there. So I thought - it is high time I shed my procrastinationand resurrect my blogging activity.

I also wanted to rename it. I could honestly never find creative names like Scepticemia and I did not want to use my name. Then I decided - since my posts would be mainly targeting my "student community" I would call it by the name they've given me - "Vasu Mam" :)

So - here is

Dear Student Friends - I hope you folks help me keep this alive. Thanks for being there for me! And yes, I promise to write every day from Gadchiroli. Maybe I should add - If my Photon USB Modem picks up signals there...