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.
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.
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.
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.