Once Upon a Time in India - Kit Roberts Johnson

Once Upon a Time in India

A real meditation teacher is known by her good works. If you read my book, Frozen Voices, you know that I started meditating in 1989. A new world opened to me and in appreciation, I wanted to give back. Therefore, in 1993, I became a room control nurse in the Tansa Valley, one of the poorest regions of India. Before I left Anchorage, I had my hair cut off, mostly because I didn’t know what my living conditions would be and I didn’t want to fuss with it. But it is also a practice that Swami’s undertake when they are being initiated. I would soon find out the reason for my initiation.

Alone, I traveled from Anchorage, to LA, and to India. When I arrived in Bombay, as it was known then, I somehow found a taxi to my hotel. “We don’t have any rooms left for the price of your reservation,” said the desk clerk.

Oh great, I thought, now what am I going to do?

“So, we are giving you the deluxe suite at no extra charge. Here is your key. It is the corner suite on the second floor, over there,” he pointed up to the ceiling in the direction of my room.

The room was beautiful. Two walls had large windows with velvet drapes hanging to the floor. I looked out over the town, which was bustling at dinner time. The sizable room had everything in it. A sofa and chairs, coffee and end tables with lamps, a dining table and chairs, a desk, and a large four-poster bed with a canopy. Everything was made of wood and carved as well. What a blessing. Too bad I couldn’t stay longer. I had to catch a bus to the town of Ganeshpuri first thing in the morning.

The bus ride was a bit like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland. There were many near misses, inching by other busses on the narrow dirt roads, and lots of horn honking. As we got farther out of town, the landscape turned to flat, dry, dirt and dead grasses. Occasionally, we passed a scraggly tree. Then as we approached Ganeshpuri, a jungle appeared.

I arrived at Gurudev Siddha Peeth, the ashram I would be staying in for the next two weeks. It was very nice with large, landscaped grounds. It had two-story dorm rooms, a dining building, and covered outdoor halls, which were used for meditation, talks, and chanting. They were spotlessly clean and comfortable. As the first (and last) ashram I ever saw in India, I was impressed.

I soon met the people I would be working with and got my assignment: the room control nurse. My mother was a nurse. I wished I could have called her to find out what that was. There was no such thing as a cell phone then, and I certainly wasn’t going to call her long-distance. But my supervisor quickly gave me my duties. The job turned out to be perfect for me. I got to be in the only air-conditioned room for the numerous surgeries that would be taking place over the next ten days. Coming from Anchorage, I wasn’t used to the heat. Even though it was January, it was hot to me.

I helped to clean out a machine shop that would become the surgery center. I watched as 19 huge tents were put up, creating an 1,800-bed hospital, to house the patients that would be coming.

Everyone who participated in this undertaking volunteered. They came from 28 countries. Over a 10-day period, 1,320 people received the priceless gift of sight, through high-tech cataract surgery. I had the privilege of opening the door for them to enter the surgery and securing an orderly take them to their surgeon. Nine doctors, six of them Indian, and three of them American, worked for free.

We were all together in one, open room. Out of respect, I didn’t watch the people while they were getting their surgery. But one day, my eyes focused on one man’s bare feet, which were aimed in my direction. They were like shoe leather. I glanced around the room and saw that everyone was the same. I was being initiated into the disparity between nations and peoples. The rich and the poor. I had already seen it in Alaska in the villages, but by comparison, these people had it much worse.

Most of the people received one intraocular lens. An exception was made for a twenty-five-year-old woman. She lost her sight at the age of twenty and her husband told her she was now a burden to him. He left her and their infant daughter with no means of support. She returned to her parents’ home and became a burden to them.

Five years had passed when a volunteer from Prasad Chikitsa, which means “Light of the Eye,” told her about the screening for the surgery that would take place in a nearby town. She received the surgery on both of her eyes. Now she could see her daughter, who had grown to five years old. Now she could be of use, because now she could help with the work.

Cataracts were prevalent in India because of a lack of certain vitamins, such as Vitamin A, and sun exposure without the protection of sunglasses. But they are prevalent in America as we age. We are lucky that Medicare will pay for the cost of the surgery, which is out of reach for most people in India. Now, after 31 years, it’s time for me to get my cataracts removed.

Still in my scrubs, I’m looking over data from the day’s work. I kept track of the number of patients that were seen by each doctor, for each of the ten days. They remarked that they had never performed surgery on so many patients in such a short amount of time.

Prasad Chikitsa is now celebrating the anniversary of 30 years. Not only do they perform eye surgery, but they have also expanded into a mobile hospital, a family health center, women’s self-help, sanitation, water access, agricultural programs, and dentistry for children in America and Mexico.

I have been making a monthly contribution to Prasad Chitkitsa for years. If you are interested in contributing or volunteering, contact them at, http://www.prasad.org

One of the doctors gave me two cataracts, stained with betadine. This is what they look like now, thirty years later. I wonder what mine will look like? I’ll find out the end of May 2024.


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