The Children of Vaidyagrama

All my life I’ve heard the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” but I’ve never seen it actually happening before now. Vaidyagrama means “healing village,” and it acts like one. With the ebb and flow of patients adding an element of constant evolution, the sense of community here is strong nonetheless. Many of the staff live right here on the property, while the rest live nearby. In time, Vaidyagrama will be entirely self-supporting, and already it hosts its own power source, cows, vegetable gardens, herb gardens, and a variety of staff who seem able to resolve most problems that arise.

For those staff who live here, there is no separation between home life and work life so their children simply walk in and out of their work routines. Every child here always has an adult’s watchful eye on him or her, regardless of where the child is – and as often as not, it is not a parent’s eye. It was a great blessing to feel we had become some of those watchful adults for these children during our class time, taking our place within the web of protection and love that holds them safe.

Alvin and his mother, Lavanya

At age one-and-a-half, Alvin is the youngest child we’ve known here. His mother was here for a month training as a therapist, and she moved back to Bangalore recently. I miss seeing his perpetually grinning face. He may have been the most consistently happy child I’ve ever seen.

Afreena, around age 4, is almost all arms and legs, and we never see her wear the same outfit twice. We often saw her during meal time, coming in to our classroom when her mother would help bring in the food. She would make the most amazing expressions – her eyes are enormous, and she uses them to good theatric effect. She would roll them around and look at us pointedly out of the corners of her eyes while she turned her body away and then would burst out laughing.


Then there are the two brothers Ponoose and Motoose, who are second-cousins of Afreena. The eyes definitely run in the family. I’m guessing they are about age 4 and 6, and their mother, like Afreena’s, is one of the therapists. They live in a nearby village, so we only see them on occasion when school is on holiday and then they spend the day in our midst.

Now there is another pair of brothers, Vishnu and Keeshor, who moved here with their mother from a nearby village right before we finished classes. They are age 5 and 7. As Dr. Ramdas put it, “Their father is no longer alive, so now they live here and we take care of them.” Their mother is a housekeeper who is training to be a therapist. From the vantage point of my porch, I can see their ramblings throughout the day, as they chase down the wild puppies that were born in a shed a few weeks ago, or playing drums on overturned buckets in the yard, or finding a plastic-covered mound of dirt to slide down.

Vishnu and Keeshor


Rithwick and Rtu-parna

Of course, the children we have gotten to know the best during our time here are Dr. Ramdas’ two kids. Rtu-parna turned 2 in January, and Rithwick just started 10th grade. Their age difference contributes to the charming connection we get to watch between them. Emily was looking through the photos on Rithwick’s camera the other day and she said nearly all were photos of Rtu.

Rtu often spends much of the day with her father, going on patient rounds with him or sitting in his lap during our classes. She is picking up English like a sponge, intoning “Inhale… Exhale…” exactly like her father does in prayers. She also has the daily patient assessment routine down, carefully placing her fingers on your wrist to take your pulse, and then placing her finger below the eye to pull down the lower lid to look at the conjunctiva, and finally sticking out her tongue to encourage you to stick out yours for her examination. It’s no mystery how something like being a doctor gets passed down to the next generation around here.

We joke that Rtu’s feet never touch the ground…

A moment on stage to receive a gift from Madame President.

At one of our cooking lessons with Lima

Shopping for vegetables with Lima and Lynn

At the new car puja outside Guruvayur Temple

Now that I am in treatment, it is a highlight of my day when Rtu comes by for a visit. Sometimes she’ll stay after her father leaves, and we’ll have a good chat. It’s amazing what you can communicate when you don’t speak the same language.


15 thoughts on “The Children of Vaidyagrama

  1. Sally says:

    Oh dear Ivy. What beautiful children. I saw Ginger’s comments here (hi Ginger) and think I remember her saying that if we all could have gone to Paideia we would have needed to spend much less money on therapy. Perhaps the same is true for children who are part of the vaidyarama village. I know your leave taking must be so hard – transitions often are – as you leave your vaidyagrama family and return home to us. I am thinking of you as you travel and wishing you traveling mercies. So sad that I am not in Atlanta to see you set your feet back on Georgia soil in the same spot I saw you leave six short/long months ago. Welcome home, sweet “girl.”

    • ivyingram says:

      Thanks Sally! I am anticipating this transition being less than traumatic because i am bringing so much back with me in my heart and in new routines and practices – AND I plan to return often! But it will be a big change of scenery, that’s for sure… I will miss so much that I have grown to love at Vaidyagrama. I am sorry you won’t be in Atlanta too – although what’s better than summer in Montana? I’m NOT sorry you’ll be enjoying summer camp with Q. Love to you all!

  2. pamalama says:

    beautiful children all. i love the boys playing on the mound and little big eyed ponoose and Rtu and her big brother…and i especially love Rtu never touching the ground but able to make the rounds with her dad…. …thank you yet again ivy for all you have shared these past six months- you have expanded and deepened my world -it does take a village. love , psi

    • ivyingram says:

      Me too! I think the U.S. is starting to see an urban movement towards more of a village orientation in many inner city neighborhoods, with more bike-riding, back yard farming, composting, etc. I’m ready to get my hands dirty!

  3. Melissa Millard says:

    Oh Ivy,
    Seeing these pictures of those precious children shows such a sweet side of your life there. They are so beautiful. And in a short time, that will be a little curly haired blond niece in your arms – and then her brother!! I couldn’t imagine that you could ever be a better auntie, but the things you have learned will bless those babies – and all the rest of us!

  4. virginia ellenberg says:

    so much love in handling, in being present…children there are fortunate to be a part of something bigger than they are. don’t we all long for that very feeling! india like italy maybe shares the value of children in every day life. you will be a great gift to musie and mars when you live with them…are a part of their village.

    • ivyingram says:

      I agree, that sense of being part of something larger gives so much grounding and sense of belonging somewhere. I am sure there can be a flip side to that, if you are not thrilled about what you are a part of and you did not get to choose it, but I do think it’s a great thing to be raised with. I think there is a growing movement in the urban US to create more “villages” in the sense of neighborhood identity and looking out for your neighbors. I suspect in the rural parts of the US it remains a part of the fabric of daily living to a much greater degree.

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