Wednesday, February 01, 2006

real life hero of swades

Ashutosh Gowarikar’s protagonist Mohan Bhargava arrived in India last year after being 12 years in USA to light a bulb in a remote village. The character was fictional but derived from few real life men who gave up their satisfying career, comfortable lifestyle in western world to make a visible difference by application of their skills to their country. After seeing the movie, comments ranged from ‘Highly improbable story’ to ‘who wouldn’t come back to India if you find lithesome, gorgeous woman in countryside’. Some of them did term the act as ‘inspirational’ and some consigned as a senseless desperation act smitten by patriotism only to rue the decision forever.

One such real Mohan Bhargava arrived in India in 1975 and went onto create a top class institute that continues to benefit thousands of poor Indians and hundreds of Africans who had given their hope to live a healthy life after losing both Kidneys. This man is Prof. H. L. Trivedi – a renowned transplant physician and now Director of Institute of Kidney Diseases at Ahmedabad. He has narrated his life story in a published autobiography ‘Tryst with Destiny’.

This autobiographical life journey takes off from his early days at dusty village of Saurashtra with stopover at BJ Medical College in Ahmedabad and Cleveland Clinic where he works under inventor of Dialysis machine ‘ Willem Kolf ‘ to a final destination at McMaster university in Canada whom he considers a ‘Mecca of Medicine’. Return journey back home starts with a hope and vision of providing most modern medical treatment to commoners in India at affordable price but hope stumbles upon one speed-breaker to another. First surprise of modern India comes with corrupt customs officer who asks for a ‘just and decent’ bribe to clear his belongings from customs. Lethargic government bureaucracies coupled with snob mentality oriented people under tutelage of corrupt government ministers almost bring his enthusiasm to a grinding halt. Sliver lining to this entire imbroglio is an effort of a sincere IAS officer and his old patients who stretch themselves to help this weird man to achieve his crazy dreams. It’s remarkable saga of accomplishing his dream despite all these obstacles.

Hilarious yet realistic is the description of lifestyle of ‘professor of medicine at university hospital‘ – office chamber is nothing but a wooden desk with coffee marks imprinted on it and the broken arm chair , campus home – a government dilapidated stinking ground floor place infested with mosquitoes and cockroaches. His narration of his struggle to bring sense of ‘kicking and alive attitude’ with people and the institute that was created to bring life into suffering patients is gripping. He is candid enough to confess his vacillating mindset prevailing then that swung like a pendulum from thought on abandoning everything and taking next flight to Canada to another one that kept on egging him to maintain his resolve and self-belief. His persistence with people in inculcating impeccable American work ethics, corruption free environ and compassionate understanding of poor and needy patients is indeed commendable. It is remarkable that a humble upbringing from a village teacher’s family that instilled moral values and sense of sacrifice towards family and the home country played as much important role as American way of efficient, competitive, ethical work management. He acknowledges that he would not have been what he is today without the these two environs – one rustic life with basic minimum things for survival and other surfeit economy that keeps on raising the bar of excellence.

His interaction with then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi illustrated in verbatim gives readers an unusual insight of the passion this great lady had in making India a model of technological excellence. Intense interaction with Acharya Kriplani brings the purity of incorruptible character of this sage and his subsequent illusion of seeing India deviating from the path that he had envisaged. In contrast to these two individuals, is the behavior of some of the politicians who have no qualms in subverting national interest for the benefit of popular votes. Dark deeds of political hooligans and power brokers who try to ‘fix’ him to ruin his very image in the society bring shivers and disgust to the readers yet highlight the dangers that lie ahead of the people that are consumed with missionary goals. These chapters reflect the grit and determination of a person who is ready to take odds to succeed in his endeavor.

Few of the chapters deal with basics of organ transplantation, pros, and cons of different health care delivery models and management of medical institute. These chapters could be insipid to non-medical readers.

This year, his dream project that started from ‘coffee marked table and broken chair’ has completed 25 years and is proudly and fondly referred as IKD - the leading Kidney transplant center in India. This autobiography was written in 1996 and does not cover the new standards that he has set in subsequent years. His mission to make affordable Kidney transplant has fructified but now he is on another mission of making transplant patients not dependable on expensive immunosuppressive drugs that is forever burden on his patients. His search for this panacea has made him develop newer methods of ‘tolerance’ for donor organ acceptance and embark on setting up an ultramodern embryonic stem cell transplantation laboratory - perhaps first one in India.

When I was with him in small hotel in Kampala-Uganda, a person who worked as a barber came and touched his feet. He could not believe that a man who saved his life in Ahmedabad could be in Kampala. He called up the hospital to verify if this was really that man. In Nairobi, within a day, news spread by word of mouth about his arrival in Kenya; all his patients gathered and felicitated him for his noble work. Today, there are many Nigerians, Tanzanians in addition to Kenyan and Ugandans are flocking to his center to get a new lease of life. Today many world-renowned professors in organ transplantation and Rolf M. Zinkernagel Noble Laureate for medicine in 1996 visit his institute. African governments are keen to use his expertise to set up a center in their country on a model that of IKD.

It defies my logic when nephrology fraternity in India does not take cognizance of his efforts nor state political leaders consider him worthy enough to accord even Padmashri. This question also haunts many westerners who often ask him “Your work looks so promising and extremely beneficial to developing countries, why is it that your country doesn’t take notice of your work? “ Prof.Trivedi just smiles and carries on with his mission"!


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