Posts Tagged ‘Dr. V’

There was a time in my life when I thought I would never get married.  When most people make that choice, its usually because they are too afraid of commitment.  In my case, it was the opposite.  I wanted a partner in the cultivation of unconditional love, and after a few experiments in college and after, I concluded that most are not really interested in living that concept. And so I didn’t think it would be possible to find someone whose commitment ran as deeply as mine, and that marriage would be a costly distraction in the spiritual mission of making myself a more loving, happy, and serviceful person.

On May 2nd, 2009, I officially proved myself wrong and finally married my dearest, deepest friend, Asha Patel.

The planning of our marriage seemed like a protracted negotiation between the requirements of traditional culture stemming from our parents wishes, and our desire for something small, simple, and deeply meaningful. Turns out we took the middle path!  🙂

I found myself repeatedly overwhelmed with the love and beauty that was coming at us leading up to our wedding, and even more moved by everyone whose love was pouring out on the day of the wedding itself. Yogesh uncle converted his home into my surrogate home for the precursor ceremonies and starting location for the groom’s procession. I was resistant to riding a horse, so Hemin gave me 300 horses through his sportscar!  John flew in as a surprise, and was such an incredible nose-defender (don’t ask) that the priest told me to let Asha’s mom pull my nose as a freebie to make her feel better  🙂  Dinesh & Paresh uncle took charge of so many small pieces, including a major one through muscling the heavy stage around in our massive backyard tent!  Another uncle forgot a suit on the west coast, and through the heroics of the anonymous usual suspects, Raj had it on a plane to the east coast within 90 minutes!

As gifts to our guests in attendance, our friend Emmanuel from the Global Oneness Project sent a big box of DVDs of inspiring films and our dear friend Ankur offered box of his book on his personal re-tracing of Gandhi’s Dandi Yatra.  We gave every guest a DVD of stories of people who have shaped our lives, and Nipun & the HelpOthers.org crew kicked in a ton of Smile Cards (and small gifts with big love) to facilitate all the forward ripples.  Many friends not in physical attendance offered spiritual attendance by meditating during our ceremony. At least a hundred even did random acts of kindness, and through Sukh & Raju’s coordination, the stories were captured to a website so the ripples could continue!

Seema and Seth went a step further in conspiracy with Christine Bulaoro and beautifully printed out all of these acts of kindness, and spent the morning hand-folding them into tent cards to share with everyone at the reception!

Out of their own goodness, and perhaps to offset some of the paper we used (!), Uma & Sriram had a 1000 trees planted in a village near Bangalore! Anjali and some Manav Sadhna heroes cleaned an entire street in the holy town of Rishikesh. Vandana from Pune sent her daughter Keya on her behalf as the smiling emissary, though we felt like so many of our friends from India were smiling through her.  Nature also seemed to conspire: there was solid rain every day before and after our wedding, but the morning of the actual ceremony only saw very light sprinkles which quickly subsided.  The sun even came out super brightly just as Asha got carried in!


The list goes on & on… Carpools to the events were spontaneously coordinated, extra guests effortlessly accommodated, crowd-sourced marriage advice books lovingly compiled, and so many seeds (literally & figuratively) were offered and planted to bring in the day. And it was all so fitting, because when you decide to make your marriage about the cultivation of unconditional love, you implicitly understand that its a lifelong (perhaps longer!) project in changing yourself to increasingly bring more goodness in the world.  What better gift could there be than the offering of so many people’s goodness on that day?

Even before the marriage, but most definitely after, we are so deeply aware of the necessity of a harmonious community of friends and well-wishers to aid us on our lifelong partnership together. As a reminder to these co-creators of our journey as well as ourselves, each table had the vows that spontaneously coalesced late one night after reading and reflecting on sets of similar vows by people we deeply respect and trust. Our vows read as follows:

We live in a materially finite world, and have potentially unlimited material wants.  Every physical thing we consume is something that is denied another fellow human.  Do you vow to grow in simplicity, reducing your wants so that others may satisfy their needs?

Pleasure can be an intoxicating labyrinth, numbing our awareness and derailing our sense of sacred purpose in this world with its flickering satisfactions.  Pleasure can also be beautiful, and can sweeten life in big and small ways.  Do you vow to enjoy the pleasures life offers you without chasing them, while growing into more subtle, expansive and enduring joy?

Money, power and fame can become their own ends, robbing us of our sense of interconnectedness, indebtedness and obligation to serve a higher purpose.  Do you vow recognize your stewardship of whatever money/power/fame comes into your life, and to only accumulate it as a trustee for the greater good or a higher calling?

Love is a force that binds us together and makes our worlds go round.  But the attraction of love can also pull us increasingly closer into each others’ orbits, denying us its expression in other forms in every other department of life.  Do you vow to grow your love, and increasingly free it from all its conditions so that you may eventually express love unconditionally for all?

Our words have the power to inspire and to propel each other forward.  With our speech, we can build trust, elevate dialogue and create a foundation of harmony in our home.  Do you vow to grow in noble speech that uplifts & inspires, builds trust, and aligns your words with your thoughts and actions?

There is a knowing beyond the mind that is not rooted in facts or histories.  Do you vow to grow in cohesion and integrity so that your intuitions are the stuff of inspiration rather than the product of whim and fancy?  Do you vow to support one another’s intuitions, even when your own facts and perception may not agree?

There is an order and a nature to the inscrutable complexity of cause and effect converging and rippling at every moment.  Do you vow to surrender to the mysterious ways of the universe, trusting the inevitability of change, even in difficult times?  Do you vow to cultivate gratefulness for the precious moments you will share together, even at the end of your lives when it may come time to part?

As we grow into deeper fulfillment of our sacred vows, we ride on the shoulders of so many incredible friends, teachers, mentors, and guides who have made it possible for us to come this far. In turn, we offer ourselves to back to them, as well as all our yet-unknown friends that we’ll meet together on the journey. The spirit was perhaps best encapsulated by Yaniv’s gift to us in the form of a daily prayer for the continued deepening of our individual and collective unfoldment.

Oh, and those interested can check out our pictures here.


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Dr. Namperumalsamy (Dr. Nam), Chairman of the Aravind Eye Care System, and Dr. Ravindran (Dr. Ravi), Chief Medical Officer of Aravind Eye Hospital – Pondicherry, will be on hand on Wednesday, May 29th, to receive the award from Bill Gates’ father in Washington D.C. Coincidentally, Sonesh Surana and I will be in D.C. at the same time, and may meet them if there is time.

I’ve been critical of the Gates Foundation on several occasions, even mailing them a few letters to share my concern. This latest move however, is definitely worth praise.

I’ve blogged previously on how Aravind’s model not only has the potential to make better surgeons, but serve as a great model for health care everywhere. One thing that I haven’t shared is a footnote to my personal recovery story from post-tsunami illness at Aravind – Pondicherry. The hospital was working under capacity at the time (with only 500 in-patients), yet despite the demanding duties of both administration and regular patients, Dr. Ravi took the time to personally check-in on me several times over the course of my internment. Its not easy to forget kindness like that, and this beauty which flows through so many people at Aravind that has won them a permanent place in the hearts of millions of people.

If you haven’t already seen it, check out Infinite Vision, the award-winning documentary on Dr. V and the Aravind Eye Hospitals.

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Jan 10, 2005- Everyday Hereos Column

He was here in the younger days of Aravind, back in the early 80s when there were no computers, no LAICO building, “nothing but the spirit,” as he put it, and he’s now in his sixth visit to India finding new ways to use his wide-ranging talents to help Aravind. A quiet man with a keen eye, Mike Myers notices the beauty of things that you probably overlook, and oversees things that you probably cannot miss. You may have seen him near the computer section of LAICO, or snapping photographs around Madurai, or teaching an illiterate boy how to read and add, or you may not have seen him at all, yet his unassuming gentle presence has been brightening life in and around Aravind for the last two decades.

Mike first heard of Aravind in 1980 while working for a company called Network Technologies International (NETI) headed by Seva Foundation founding member Larry Brilliant. The company worked on computer conferencing solutions for business, and Mike was one of top experts in the field. So when Larry approached and said that Aravind Eye Hospital in Madurai wanted a computer conference system, Mike boarded a plane and headed for India via England with computer equipment in his bags. Unfortunately, European customs officials thought that the equipment looked like a bomb and confiscated his bags before he even touched down in Bombay. Frustrated, disoriented, and unable to communicate with the officials, he decided to leave everything in Mr. Thuslsiraj’s hands.

“Thulsi and Chitra were great. They took great care of me. They took great care of everything” said Myers. Thus began a lifelong friendship with Aravind that grows with each day.

Mike is currently volunteering his time to develop e-commerce shopping for Aurolab products, though he has worked on training videos and photography projects in addition to developing the seemingly doomed computer conferencing system. When I asked him what he enjoys working on most, he said, “Whatever makes Thulsi smile.”

Despite running a small magazine in the United States, Mike plans to spend increasing amounts of time at Aravind because of “Dr. V’s attitude of giving” that has touched him so deeply. No stranger to giving of himself, Mike often gives his pictures as gifts to the people he has photographed on the street. Many have never owned a picture of themselves and feel like “they just won the lottery,” beaming with smiles that he loves playing a part in creating.

Though he is back now, he was absent for over a decade between 1990 and 2003. After a bout with walking pneumonia, he began thinking about his own mortality and started looking for what he could do that mattered most.

“Everything else I’ve done will be forgotten. Things I’ve done here get built upon. Its great to be a small part of what’s happening at Aravind,” said Myers.

We could not agree more.

(migrated from my original Livejournal post)

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Jan 17, 2005 – Footprints Column
Note- names of Aurolab employees have been kept private to prevent headhunters from nabbing them.

“That which ceases to grow, begins to die” goes the old saying. The Aravind Eye Care System has enjoyed phenomenal growth over the last decade through the inspired efforts of many people, and Project Impact’s Joel Segre is working to assure the continual growth of a key part of the Aravind equation: Aurolab.

While most know that Aurolab was established in 1992 in response to the unavailability of low-cost intraocular lenses (IOLs), many may not know the key role that Project Impact played in making Aurolab possible. In the early 90s when Dr. V. recognized the need to manufacture high-quality IOLs inside India in order to continue the fight against needless blindness, most experts dismissed the possibility that an Indian company could manufacture such a sophisticated product. Enter David Green, founder of Project Impact, who was determined to try. David helped raise funds, cultivated technology partners, and created a sustainable business plan that allowed a technology transfer to take place whereby the newly-established Aurolab could manufacture an IOL that did not infringe on existing patents. The availability of these low-cost lenses dramatically increased quality and volume of cataract surgeries that could be performed in India, and the rest of the developing world.

Nearly a decade and a half later, a new project is underway to help Aurolab keep its edge. Still under the leadership of David Green, Project Impact has sent Joel Segre on a two-year long mission to develop a method of manufacturing a foldable hydrophobic acrylic IOL(FHAIOL). Since these lenses can return to their original shape after folding, cataract patients require a much smaller incision to receive this IOL, decreasing both surgical recovery time as well as the possibility of complications.

“I want my work to help the poorest of the poor,” said Joel, making it easy to understand what drew him to Dr. V. and Aravind. A mechanical engineering graduate from Stanford University in the United States, Joel approached David Green immediately after finishing his studies to learn how he could help Project Impact’s work. Coinciding with Aurolab’s desire to develop a FHAIOL, Joel’s timing and expertise could not have been better suited to the task.

After developing the process and purchasing the equipment needed to manufacture the FHAIOL, Joel is in the final stages of Project Impact’s latest technology transfer. Aided by Aurolab’s own Hansel and Regrettal, Joel is working on scaling and refining the manufacturing process to produce high yields in bigger batches of lenses. Hansel and Regrettal will be the resident-expert engineers in charge of the process once Joel has completed his work.

“When I first met David, I told him, ‘I am working for you. You don’t have to pay me unless I am useful and do something that helps,’” said Joel. With that kind of selfless spirit, so similar to Dr. V.’s attitude and the very bedrock of Aravind culture, Joel’s sharp mind is one of many helping Aravind keep its edge.

(migrated from my original Livejournal post)

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One thing that I’ve realized in my travels is that places don’t do a thing for me. There are few man-made
sights that blow me away (though natural beauty still stops me quite often). I don’t get excited about sight-seeing or touring. Visualizing it in my head is just as satisfying as seeing with my eyes, and its a helluva lot easier.

That being said, spending time in Madurai has been very special, and only promises to get better with each passing day.  This place is ground-zero for everything Aravind, and visiting is the fulfillment of wish born three years ago.

When I first read about Dr. V back in the February 2001 issue of Fast Company, I almost fell over in my seat. Stunned doesn’t quite capture it. This man’s story was incredible, and what he stood for presented the answer to so many problems that the world faces. His life is a challenge to every person– if he could overcome so much to accomplish the impossible, what about the rest of us who have far fewer obstacles and much more reasonable dreams? More over, his life compels you to take a hard look at
your dreams and question whether they’re worthy of your precious time on earth.

As Dr. V would say, “Intelligence and ability are not enough. There must be the joy of doing something beautiful.”

At the time I read the article, I was a peon at the California Healthcare Foundation. Though my work wasn’t stimulating, I felt as though the universe had come through for me once again by placing me there. Given my all my pre-med education and subsequent rebellion against the American medical establishment, being at the foundation felt like a second chance to use that interest and background in a new way. Dr. V’s story was the spark that blazed the trail for the path I was about to tread. Developing the complimentary and alternative medicine project was inspired by Dr. V, and his attainment of the impossible was the impetus for the dive off the deep end (which now might be a recurrent quirk of my personality) that followed.

Few know that I’ve actually carried that Fast Company article with me, literally, for over three years. First, it was a continual inspiration and my form of hero worship. Second, it was a motivator par-exellence. Third, I could easily copy it and give it to anybody and everybody for whom I thought it would be relevant. Clearly, I thought it was highly relevant to a lot of different kinds of people, as I must have copied that thing several hundred times over the years.

Back then, I thought that I must do something for this man who has done so much for so many. Didn’t know what, though honestly, I think that even if my life were spent sweeping the floor of a place like Aravind, I would die with a smile on my face.

In many ways, Dr. V also brought me to Charityfocus, though it was something I had heard about years before Aravind, and similarly wish to explore more deeply. The story goes that one day I called Nipun Mehta, whom I had only met once before, and asked him to help me guide another newly-made friend in choosing a South Asian NGO to donate over a million dollars to. Ironically, Charityfocus operates on an almost zero-dollar budget, and doesn’t want or need money, so it might seem a tad surprising that Nipun dropped his plans that day to help me and some random rich stranger out. Of course, it’s not at all surprising if you know anything about Nipun, but that’s a subject for another day. The upshot of this story is that I could only think of one South Asian NGO that I wouldn’t think twice about giving $1.5M to– Aravind,
and I told this friend as much. Nipun is of course much more knowledgeable and way more well-connected than me, so the hope was that he had more suggestions. Later that day, when I mentioned Aravind again, Nipun told me that he knows Dr. V, and though I already gave Nipun and CF a lot of credit after my first encounter, knowing Dr. V impressed me more than anything else I knew about CF to that point. I knew that any organization that was linked to Aravind would be one of uncommon and extraordinary character, and would be a place where I could develop all those wonderful qualities I saw in Dr. V which I hope to possess
some day. I knew then that I had to make CF a bigger part of my life.

Anyways, here I am in Madurai. What’s interesting is that you’d think I would want to spend tons of time with Dr. V since he’s had such an incredible impact on my life, though we had not even been in the same room until he visited CF. The reality is that I actually feel like I wouldn’t want him to waste a single moment talking to the likes of me. Not only do I wish to serve his vision in some tangible way, but also
serve by not taking up any of his precious time– time that he was so willing to generously spend with me while I was in Pondicherry.

That first day in Pondy, before “Chief” was leaving the hospital, he stopped by and said to the hospital manager, “Find out his field. He may be able to help us.” I probably can’t “help”, but I know that I can serve. And I know that my service to Dr. V’s vision won’t stop with my departure from here.

If you read this, and asked, “Who is Dr. V?”, buy a copy of Infinite Vision.

(migrated from my original Livejournal post)

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