Arun Vaidya

Through his deeds, Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy (known as Dr. V) has everlastingly demonstrated to the skeptics and the pessimists of the world that the greatness of a pursuit is not constrained by its humble beginning or the overwhelming odds against it. He became the exemplary legend of our time and an inspiring beacon of the simple but timeless message of Florence Nightingale who had defied all odds against her undertaking and willingly sacrificed herself for the cause she believed in:

“So never lose an opportunity of urging a practical beginning, however small, for it is
wonderful how often in such matters the mustard-seed germinates and roots itself.”
In 20th Century, Mother Teresa was an idol of humanity across the world. She exemplified universal compassion and service to the destitutes with humility and love. Her guiding principle was: “We cannot do great things, only little things with great love.”

How natural it seems that Dr. V did everything about his mission at Aravind Eye Care System with boundless love and he was indeed in tune with the view of Mother Teresa.

In the annals of care for the blind Hellen Keller became the inspiring pioneer and it was her belief that,

“I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something;
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

She personified the indomitable spirit that opened the eyes of the world to see the ray of hope for those who were blind and plunged in the dark world of gloom. Dr. V made Hellen Keller’s belief as his mantra of pursuit.

Indeed, our world is a better place thanks to the precious and pious contributions of the likes of Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, Hellen Keller and Dr. V. They are some of the real sages of humanity and through the everlasting value of their work; they silently remind us of the ancient Vedic wisdom of India referenced in Epic Mahabharata: 

“By the Truth the sages lead the sun; by askesis the saints uphold the earth; the past, present and future find their refuge in the saints.”

Dr. Pararajasegram of Prevention of Blindness and Deafness, World Health Organization, Switzerland puts it in perspective for us:

“Dr. V. who more than anyone else has revolutionized the concept of high volume, high quality cataract surgery and eye care, in general, at an affordable price to cater to the large unmet need in our countries.
The spirit of Divinity that has permeated the development and growth of the Aravind Hospitals springs from Dr. V’s deep faith in the Divine and the potential that it unfolds for human progress. Dr. V’s life embodies what Sri Aurobindo said:
‘The value of our action lies not so much in their apparent nature and outward result, as in their help towards the growth of the Divine within us.’”

Dr. V derived his inspiration through Sri Aurobindo’s teaching. His guiding mantra was Sri Aurobindo’s message: “If work is approached from a spiritual perspective, then it becomes divine work. If in your actions, you allow the divine force to flow through you, you will accomplish things far greater than you might have imagined.” At Aravind Eye Care System, Dr. V used to advocate, “Spirituality allows the divine force to work through each of us for a greater good.” When LAICO – Lions Aravind Institute of Community Ophthalmology was created, Dr. V had expressed, “The idea for the institute was that it would be an opportunity for us to bring about the happy marriage between spiritual consciousness and modern technology – that is the challenge we face today.” Today, AECS is the largest provider of eye care services and trainer of ophthalmic personnel in the world. However, it all began with a humble beginning in 1976 with an 11-Bed Eye Clinic in Madurai where the pioneering spiritual-action-business model was instituted. From the inception, 60% of patient-service is rendered without fees with compassionate high-quality care.

According to Dr. V, “Our effort is to make Aravind Eye Care System an instrument of the Divine Will. We strive to forget our limitations and work with the direction of the Divine Will, not in a vain superficial way but higher level of consciousness. Then one is able to work with the great confidence that comes only with that faith and realisation that we are all part of the spiritual capacity or spiritual power. It is then that all of nature works with you. You don’t feel that you are a superior being but you are an instrument in the hands of a higher force and it is in that spirit that we meet our day to day struggles and successes.” Dr. V’s life and his work is a saga of his sincere spiritual pursuit. He is shining example for us to follow. He exemplifies the Mother’s guiding light, “To express our gratitude to Sri Aurobindo we can do nothing better than to be a living demonstration of his teaching.”

Aside from notable accolades and awards from around the world, Dr. V received heart-felt affections and admirations, such as a tribute to him by the President of India, His Excellency Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. The President penned, recited, and dedicated the following poem at the inauguration of Dr. V’s fifth Aravind hospital in Pondicherry (Punducherry) in 2003:

“You gave light to blind eyes and
Nature’s beauty entered the soul,
The Mind blossomed,
And faith was born
Believing in service to mankind.
O bringer of light
Hero of action—
Long may you live!”

It is not surprising that the President regarded his esteemed friend Dr. V as “A Hero of Action”. This is a timeless tribute and it represents the deep admiration of millions around the world who were privileged and fortunate to have come in the sphere of Dr. V’s universal persona. I had the good fortune to be one of such millions.

My encounter with Dr. V has led me to ponder at times, “What is the real measure of a man?”

I am sure we all can agree that it is not the possessions he has amassed, and not even the glory he attained. After all, they are but transient. I wonder, if it could be the work he did and the things he contributed as they represent something noble and worthwhile in making this world a better place. That may be so due to its enduring value. However, if in a transforming manner he loved us such that even when he is gone he still inspires us and makes us feel that we are with him and his impossible Dream lives in us and through us then he relives evermore in those who love him and are in unison with his ideal. This is his immortality of being and his great Dream as his great Dream manifests as a blissful perpetual reality with constant rejuvenation and relevance. Isn’t this a man’s everlasting true measure?

Published in Sri Aurobindo’s Action – February 2011, pp 10-11