There are many places in India which people consider to be a house of God. Temples, Mosques, Churches, and many other places of worship exist across the country but there is one place in Latur where you will find someone praying at any time of the day. A place where, for over 50 years, people have gone to ease their pains and a place where real miracles have happened. This place is Vivekanand Hospital.
I’ve been to Vivekanand hospital four times now (twice as a visitor and twice as a patient) so I’ve had the full hospital experience from both perspectives. I think the most special thing about Vivekanand hospital is the philosophy upon which it is built. The hospital was started in 1996 by 4 young doctors, one of whom was 2019 Padma Bushan winner Dr. Ashok Kukade. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Dr. Kukade (or Kukade Kaka as everyone calls him) and I’ve found his experiences to be truly inspiring. In his book, Kukade Kaka very succinctly summarises the motto of Vivekanand hospital:
We do not ask you, “What is your opinion or religion?”.
We ask you, “What is your suffering?”.
In an India that is divided by politics, religion, and wealth, Vivekanand hospital is a beautiful example of altruistic service to all stratas of society. It serves the rich and the poor irrespective of caste, faith or political alignment. Kukade Kaka, in his youth, had seen how the medical profession had been tarnished by selfishness. People chose to become doctors purely for financial gain due to the widespread and highly profitable private health sector in India. He also saw how government hospitals were failing due to corruption and apathy for patients. When the medical sector is nationalised, there is little incentive for fast and effective treatment. When the medical sector is privatised then there is no incentive to prevent disease – only to prey on the ill for financial gain.
In this lose-lose situation, Kukade Kaka saw that the only solution was a model built on trusteeship. This idea, first propounded by Mahatma Ghandi, is based on the idea that the rich are often willing to part with their wealth to help the poor. In theory, it may seem flawed but in practice, I’ve seen this model in work countless times throughout my trip. Today, Vivekanand hospital flourishes because the doctors accept only half their market worth in salary, because rich businessmen regularly donate to hospital projects, and because poor patients know they are getting the highest quality of service despite their socio-economic condition,
In Sanvedana, I’ve seen a microcosm of this world built on trusteeship. I’ve never once seen a teacher help a student pack or unpack their bags in Sanvedana, it seems to be an unspoken rule that able bodied children will help their disabled peers without them even having to ask. Students will help their friends up stairs and will push their friends’ wheelchairs for them with no expectations of getting something in return. Finally, what I saw in my first week has still stuck with me and continues to humble me, that older children in this school feed the younger ones with their own hands – with the same love as a mother or older sibling.
In the same way that a mother does not even consider what she will get in return for nurturing her child, these children do not think about the rewards for helping their friends in need. They are like family. In a world that is becoming increasingly polarised, our only hope of unity is if, like these children, we treat others like our family. It is the same wisdom that the greats have been passing on since the beginning of recorded history.
400 years ago, the great poet John Donne said: “No man is an Island”
2000 years ago, Jesus preached to his followers: “Love thy neighbour as thyself”
And if, today, you go to the Indian parliament, you will find that the entrance hall is engraved with one verse from chapter 6 of the Maha Upanishad written over 2600 years ago:
अयं बन्धुरयं नेति गणना लघुचेतसां उदारचरितानां तु वसुधैव कुटुम्बकं
which translates to
One is a relative, the other stranger,
say the small minded.
The entire world is a family,
live the magnanimous.
The final words, वसुधैव कुटुम्बकं (vasudeva kutumbhakam) which means “the entire world is a family” is in some ways the greatest motto that I’ve heard to unite the world and solve the crises that loom over us as a species.
This message throughout history has always been the same. Alone we are weak. Together we are strong. If the rich can help the needy and if we can treat each other as we would family, then we will have a united people, a united country, and a united world.
Of course it is much harder said than done to get those who are well off to help those who are not. At the start of this project, I found it difficult to describe what the Hindu concept of Sewa is. Now, I think Sewa is a form of worship. When one recognises the divine in other people, just as a mother sees the divine in her child, then helping them without selfishness becomes second nature. In some ways, it is a skill to see strangers as family or (if you are a Hindu) to recognise the divine within them, I guess such a skill can only be learnt in a house of God. Somewhere like Vivekanand hospital or Sanvedana.