After any major catastrophe, there is a rush of concern and its
byproducts to the affected region. Often times, the aid surpasses
the scope of the trouble. Such was the case with this disaster
less than 48 hours after the main event. Upon my visit to the
second worst affected area in Tamil Nadu (Cuddalore), it was clear
that it was well within the capacity of not just local organizations,
but also the local populace, to more than adequately deal with those
affected. India is a HUGE country with an even bigger population.
While there certainly was a deficit of efficiency and organization in
the way relief was being carried out, there was no shortage
After September 11th, resources and energy were diverted from
many worthwhile things to deal with terrorism and its derivatives.
Much of this diversion turned out to be wasteful in the long run,
as it achieves very marginal improvements in security at incredible
costs, to the detriment of many higher-return investments. Such was
the case with my fledging project out of the School of Public Health
at UCLA. For those that don’t know, the project consisted of a
literature review of research published on effective modalities of
complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM), followed by a policy study
aimed at understanding the barriers for integration of effective CAM
into mainstream medicine. The funding foundation’s priorities shifted
after 9/11, presumably to fund things related to bioterror, but also
in anticipation of their securities-based endowment shrinking in the
wake of a plummeting stock market.
Since my project was a casualty of the last big ‘disaster’, I have
decided to keep my focus on the projects that brought me to India in
the first place, and allow others to deal with the tsunami.
This disaster *did* change things. In Pondicherry, I spent some time
structuring the film I am making about SMILE. It was immediately clear
that the film had to be re-structured around SMILE’s emergency services,
as those were so key to the first-tier aid in and around Chennai. The
disaster also frames the film around a very memorable event for the world,
making the subject matter all the more relevant and engaging.
Before the tsunami, I discovered that the project with Stanford
had to take a different direction. I’ll write more about that when
I catch up on my blog, but what the tsunami did was make it tougher
to get back on track with that project. One of our key contacts is
the head of the 3rd largest pharmaceutical company in India, and he
has been working hard providing emergency medical aid to
not just, India, but other parts of Asia. Another contact, thanks
to resourceful Aditya and his well-connected dad, is a member of the
cabinet of the government of Tamil Nadu. He’s probably also quite busy
with tsunami related stuff.
What exactly I would be doing for Aravind Eye Hospitals was never set,
but the tentative idea back in Oct-Nov was to do something to help
Pavi with the sequel to Infinite Vision. That is a gi-normous project,
and so I’m taking a stab at sprucing up the website, as well as finding
a smaller scope film (3-5 minutes) that would be useful and fun to make.
In the meantime, I’ve spent the last 3 days putting some elbow-grease
into a project between U.C. Berkeley, Aravind Eye Hospitals, and MSSRF.
Sonesh and his brilliant labmates at Cal developed a way to extend the
range of 802.11b (the common wireless network protocol) to about 30 km
as opposed to the 30 ft that it usually spans. There’s a powerful
application in telemedicine for Aravind Eye Hospitals, both in remote
diagnosis, and also in the connectivity of medical kiosks in the villages
around a hospital, such that the population is better served. MSSRF
has already connected a network of villages wirelessly with something
other than 802.11b, and this project aims at linking MSSRF’s villages
to the Pondicherry hospital, as well as establishing a new link between
the Theni hospital and its Ambasam satellite office.
On that front, I’m happy to report SUCCESS!! After hopping between
high points for days with telescopes, binoculars,
compasses, GPS units, laptops, and antennas, we achieved a strong signal
from about 8km away. Made our way back to Madurai by bus, to be greeted
by more people from the Berkeley team who just flew in from Chennai, as well
as Aditya who has returned to complete work on his film for Aravind’s
On the light side, heard some novel pronunciations of the word “tsunami”.
Aditya’s driver calls it a “tee sunami” while a certain unnamed official
calls it a “soonani” but the funniest was a police officer who thought
it was called a “toofani” — apparently thinking it was a Hindi word
and botching the pronunciation of that too!