EXPERIENCES FROM INDIA
January 5, 2004
On my most recent visit to the land of my ancestor's, India, I witnessed first hand the horrors of a third world Indian emergency hospital ward and the pain and suffering entombed within the walls of that hospital. To witness something with one's own eyes has an impact on the human mind the way in which the words from the mouth of another describing the event can never have. I will therefore try to the best of my capabilities in the following passages to be your eyes and attempt to describe what I saw and why, within the midst of all the suffering that I witnessed, there is a fundamental and important message for us all.
"When a man begins to understand himself he begins to live. When he begins to live he begins to understand his fellow men."
--- Norvin Mcgranahan
"Return to the root and you will find the meaning."
On the day in question my relatives had been involved in a serious car accident. They had been admitted to the local main hospital that caters for over at least a half a million people or more. I had just arrived in India on a direct flight from the UK and made my way directly to the hospital from Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. The journey from New Delhi to the hospital was up to six hours in total. It was the longest six hours that I can ever remember in the anticipation of what lay ahead of me.
When I eventually arrived at the hospital a group of women wailing, crying and shouting out aloud naihe, naihe, naihe (no, no, no) in a state of extreme hysteria and shock, each one on the verge of fainting, sweat pouring from their foreheads were being helped out of the hospital into a waiting car. One of their family members had just died. Such scenes began the process of weakening my heart. I prayed in the back of my mind that this was not an indication of things to come.
I apprehensively entered the hospital and was shocked by the sheer number of sick patients and the vast size of the hospital. Each face I looked at seemed to be in some sort of pain and a blank and unemotional stare seemed to add to the aura of misery that hovered around them. The smell of disinfectant hovered in the hospital air around me and the smell of suffering clung to my clothes like an eagle clings to its prey.
As I entered the ward in which my relatives were, I approached the bed of my cousin brother. His jaw had just been operated on, it had snapped in half, on the left side of his face during the car accident. His mouth was completely wired up in order to hold his jaw in place, which now also had a metal plate, screwed into it. His chest was covered in scars and stitches from where glass had been removed, as a result of the windscreen of the car shattering on impact. He was obviously in extreme pain.
On seeing me, after a period of six years, he attempted to get up. I indicated to him to keep still and not attempt to get up. He then held my hand tightly as if to say thank you for coming. He looked at me and then cried. A tear rolled down from my eye but I managed to hold back the tears turning my head away from him, looking up towards the ceiling and taking a deep breath. My uncle had split his head open and required twenty-eight stitches, his ribs had been broken and his chest was also covered in scars as a result of the broken glass being removed from his chest. They were lucky to be alive.
The sight of the pain and helpfulness of my family had already put me in a state of mental shock. When you see your own family in extreme pain and hovering between life and death, it seems to put our own lives into clear perspective between what is and what is not important in our lives. At that moment our lives despite the arguments of the past seems to embrace their lives. A bond develops which previously had not been apparent or that it had been apparent but we were too afraid to show our feelings for fear of ridicule or rejection. It is a shame that it is only at times such as these that such bonds develop when we have a whole life-time in our every day lives to realise that such bonds are what makes us as one with those that are dear to us.
As I looked around me I saw people of all ages in different states of pain and in many cases sheer despair on the hospital beds around me. Many had relatives and loved ones by their sides embracing their hands in an attempt to relieve them of their pain. Others lay on their hospital bed with no one beside them except pain as their companion. A look of despair and defeat embraced their faces. There were individuals whose whole bodies were burnt from head to toe crying out in agony to be relieved of their pain or indeed their life. A woman who had just been brought in earlier yelling and screaming as a result of her entire body being burnt and bleeding had died in front of my eyes only a few yards away from where I was standing. Her cries had pierced my body like an arrow from an archer's bow and disturbed me greatly. The cries of those around me added further to the atmosphere of grief and pain around me. The air around me felt as if it was choking on its own tears.
There was a small child clutching his father's hand in agony with the side of his face missing - a doctor quickly saw to him. I later plucked up the courage to ask his father what had happened, he told me that his child had caught his face in an agricultural shredding machine, tears rolled down his face as he knew that his child would never be the same again. A few weeks later I met this man and his child on another visit to the hospital whilst accompanying my cousin for a check up on his broken jaw. The child's face had been bandaged but it soon became apparent that his father would not be able to afford the operation to correct his child's face out of sheer poverty. It was a moment of great tragedy and of extreme pain as I watched both father and child leave the hospital with his father's tears rolling down his face.
The hand that embraced the child was now a hand that also embraced a barren sea of broken dreams. There are many like these who have the same stories of pain and suffering within the third world. It was a defining moment in my life.
The vast majority of people within that ward and the entire hospital were people who were poor and people who had already been existing within a life of pain and suffering. My relatives had been moved to a private room at the insistence of my father, which seemed a million miles away from the pain of suffering around me, with every convenience catered for. It did not seem just that just because we could afford to pay for a private room that I should now be oblivious the pains of the people around me. Each day I witnessed something new, life was constantly teaching me new lessons and with each lesson my thought and my sanity was being affected. I stayed by my cousin and my uncle's bedside for nearly two weeks along with my father and his sister.
The sequence of events that I had experienced since arriving in India had put me on a journey of thought. A variety of questions rolled around inside my mind, which I now tried to battle with and constantly attempted to resolve. On my regular daily walks around the vast hospital I would continue to witness varying degrees of pain and death and life portraying itself in its most savage form.
I could not merely sit idle in the hospital and accept that everything I witnessed is merely a part of how life is. I began again to question how an individual should attempt to combat pain within his life and of those around us who are less fortunate than ourselves. I began to compare the comfort of the lives we lead in the west, which was in sharp contrast to the lives of the poor and those thousands I saw in my time in hospital.
We should be content with what luxuries we have within our lives and the comfortable existence, which we take for, granted on a daily basis here in the west. Do not aspire for a life of wealth but for a life of understanding. Understand the pains of those around you. We have everything that we need within our lives, yet we continually desire more. The direction that our lives take depends on the direction in which we look within our lives.
Do not look away from those who are suffering, attempt to understand their suffering and if possible through any means attempt to comfort and alleviate them. Life can never be defined by wealth; the essence of who you are as a person defines your life. Your true wealth is your understanding of your own life, there can be no greater treasure. We must give purpose to our existence, to who we are and assist those that are less fortunate than ourselves with the wealth that we have. We in the west where the vast majority of the world's wealth is monopolised should use that wealth in alleviating the pains of those who are less fortunate than ourselves.
Our lives are governed by time; do not waste this sacred time in accumulating wealth and greed and therefore being oblivious to the pains within this world. If we wish to be part of humanity we must also be part of its pains. We must experience one in order to experience the other.
I believe that until we do not experience pain within our lives we will never be in a position to understand the pain of those around us. We must experience it, we must suffer through it and only then will we understand that wealth is insignificant if it is not used to alleviate the pains of our fellow humans. I believe that we become so engrossed in our own small worlds that we believe that our problems are so vast that there can be no one with problems greater than ours.
What right does life have to deny the father and child I saw of the operation that was needed in order to perform surgery on his face? Why does everything in this life have to be defined in figures and numbers? Whatever happened to civilisation - it's a good idea if it ever started! He did not ask to be born into poverty and he did not ask for his child to suffer in the way in which he now undoubtedly will.
I write this with great anger, rage and intensity. A great fire has developed within the depths of my soul after the events and suffering, I witnessed in that hospital. I cannot douse its flames with half measures and promises that things will one day get better, because they won't until we begin to truly understand the pains of those around us. I refuse to look away. Maybe I am not writing with an objective mind but there are times when objectivity has to be sacrificed for the truth. .
If we can spend millions of dollars and pounds on weapons of mass destruction which are truly detrimental to humanity at large, waste millions on military hardware which has an aim - to destroy human life - why can we not have the courage, insight, determination and foresight to alleviate the poverty that lives amongst us? Surely such a goal is more worthwhile?
This is the message amidst the suffering that I have described above, which is to merely understand, or attempt to understand and not be blind to the suffering of others. Do not look away for one day in your hour of need and pain others will also look away! Use your wealth responsibly and for a greater cause than your own luxuries.
My heart wept during those two weeks and my mind was pierced like never before at the images of suffering that continue to haunt me. My soul embraced the tears of those around me like a mother tenderly embraces her newborn child. I found no comfort, for my soul was also in pain during my period in that hospital. I wept not only for those around me but also for those that continue to be blind to the suffering within this world.
I stood and I stared into its dark and unemotional eyes and witnessed death. I listened to the cries of pain as they pierced through my body like a dagger through the heart of a child and I saw suffering in its most morbid form. This experience has changed me and continues to change me. Never again will I aspire for more when I already have enough.
--- Copyright © 2003 Naresh Jhali