Lead Kindly Light!

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Heard this Zen story while listening to a spiritual discourse online recently. A blind monk was on a pilgrimage. It was getting dark. Seeing him walking in darkness, a noble-hearted man came forward and offered him an oil lamp. ‘I am blind, carrying this lamp is not going to be of any help to me’, said the monk. ‘May be’, said the man, ‘but it will help others to see you and save you from being hit by someone as you walk in darkness’. The monk was convinced, he accepted the lamp and continued his journey. After a while, someone banged into him and he fell on the ground. ‘Sorry, it was too dark. I didn’t see you walking against me’, said the one who knocked him down. The monk asked, ‘didn’t you see the lamp I am carrying? ‘Your lamp was probably blown off in the wind’, he said stretching out his hand to help the monk get up.

‘Someone else’s light will not lead us in our spiritual journey. Our inner light alone can help us progress in it’, concluded the preacher.

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“Lead, kindly light, amid the encircling gloom,
lead thou me on;
the night is dark, and I am far from home;
lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
the distant scene; one step enough for me.”

-Cardinal Newman

A stroll down memory lane!

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Last week I had an opportunity to welcome a group of third semester MSW students from Kristu Jayanti College, Bangalore; my alma mater, at my office. They had come for an exposure visit. We oriented them on the National AIDS Control Programme and the work we do. It was a great experience and took me for a stroll down memory lane.

Ten years back, around this time, I was a first semester MSW student at KJC. Our professors used to take us for exposure visits to various organisations working in the social/development sector. We also visited few care homes for People Living with HIV (PLHIV) during those days. It was my first exposure to such an environment and the sufferings of people infected by the virus and progressed to AIDS. Most of them were critically ill and at the final stages of their life. Those were the times we were losing so many lives at their most productive age to HIV. Though treatment was available in the private sector, it was not affordable to most of the affected populations. NACO had just started a treatment programme in 2004 at a few government hospitals in the country and it was being scaled up. However, all those who were in need of treatment were unable to access it due to the distance to such facilities, financial crisis, lack of awareness, and lot of other issues. Getting a positive HIV report was still treated as a death warrant and we came across many PLHIV waiting for their last moments at NACO-supported hospices/end-care homes. Those co-infected with TB were kept in isolation. As the treatment programme expanded and started showing positive results, these end-care homes evolved as centres that supported treatment literacy, adherence and retention.

After completing MSW and working in Bangalore for some time, I joined the National AIDS Control Organisation in Delhi in 2009 and became part of the team that handles treatment, care and support for PLHIV. While visiting the care centres during college days and interacting with the people who suffered, never in my wildest dreams I thought that I would be part of the mission to provide solutions to their afflictions in the future.

The last ten years have seen sea changes in India’s response to HIV/AIDS. Treatment facilities have been scaled up. Our mission was to ensure at least one facility in every district in the country to provide treatment services. More than 500 treatment centres have been established. By December 2016, the national programme aims to put a million PLHIV on treatment. End-care homes have become part of history. They became Community Care Centres during the third phase of National AIDS Control Programme providing treatment support and evolved as Care and Support Centres during the fourth phase, taking care of the holistic and comprehensive care and support needs of PLHIV. HIV related morbidity and mortality have come down, with treatment people started living longer and healthier lives and HIV has finally become a manageable health issue.

And, being part of this journey is, of course, a matter of pride!

How much do we care?

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Sometimes people surprise us with exceptional gestures of care and concern. Someone in my family has been going through a chronic illness for quite some time. We tried most of the treatment options that came our way but nothing worked. Recently, during a meeting, I happened to meet a doctor who heads an organisation. We know each other for quite some time. During a casual conversation with him during the lunch break, I shared our struggles with him since he is from medical background. He told me about similar issues his brother had faced and how he was cured. He promised to link me with a centre that provides the kind of treatment which worked for his brother. A few days later, when I logged into my email account, there was this message from his side, “Dear Vipin, we are keeping you in our prayers. As promised, sharing the details”.

You might think what is so special about it. This is something we all do for our friends. This is so special because he himself is going through one of the most difficult phases in his life as his spouse has been recently diagnosed with a life-threatening disease and undergoing treatment. Still, he had time to think about someone else and let him know that he really cares.

 

There is always time to love,

Time to stop and listen,

Time to pray for someone,

Time to lend a helping hand.

It is these little things that make life worth living.

My Experiments with Minimalism

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I read an article on Minimalism in the Time of India recently. Minimalism is a lifestyle philosophy that advocates decluttering your life and making every purchase a conscious decision. The idea of a less-materialistic life is very close to my heart. After leaving my home at the age of fifteen, I moved from one place to the other like a gypsy for more than a decade with all my possessions in just one suitcase. Believing in the policy of ‘less luggage, more comfort’ I ensured that I did not have to go for an extra bag to keep all my stuff.

I still remember those days I started living with my wife in a small two-room apartment in Delhi. The only furniture we had for more than one year were a cot, a fiber table and two chairs. There were a few utensils in the kitchen. Our clothes did not occupy more than a quarter of the wardrobe that was permanently fixed in the bedroom. In fact, those days we had a lot of space for love and life.

Over the years, as the family grew, I had to move to a bigger house. More furniture, home appliances and dress materials started eating up our little space in one of the biggest metropolis in the world. At that stage, I realised that it would be difficult to preach the gospel of minimalism to my family and decided to keep it as a personal affair. I started giving away a lot of my dresses and kept just five pairs of formal dress for office in addition to two denims and 3-4 T-shirts for casual use. I don’t keep more than a pair of formal shoes and slippers at any point of time. I possess no car, no two-wheeler and not even a bicycle. I am happy with the public transport. Whenever there is a dire need, I go for an Uber or Ola. I don’t even own a house or some land. There has always been a roof over my head and I am more than happy about it. The only thing I am finding it difficult to part with are the books I have collected over the years.

The first electronic gadget I bought was a mobile phone with the basic functions of calling and texting sometime during 2006. A couple of years later, my sponsors gifted me an HP laptop when they visited me in Bangalore. In 2011, my friends surprised me presenting a 12 MP SONI Digital Camera on the occasion of my wedding. Except for changing my phone two-three times till now, I never spent money on any expensive gadgets. The laptop and camera have become almost defunct as my son grew up trying his little hands at them. I decided not to replace them with brand-new ones. I stopped carrying a laptop from office while on official travel and learnt to move around and manage all my work with a Samsung Smartphone. The ultimate realisation is that we really don’t require all that we find in the market. Without all that life can still be easier and meaningful.

Nowadays, at least once in three months, I spend some time with my wife to check our kitchen, wardrobe and other storage spaces to take out and dispose of all those stuff we don’t require or not likely to use any more. Some time back, we thought of getting one more wardrobe but now we have learnt to manage with the only one we have. Also, we decided not to make shopping a hobby or stress buster, every purchase is now a conscious decision. Still, I won’t encourage all of you to follow us as it will further slow down our already ailing economies. Ha ha!

(Get your minimalism lessons from Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up)