It’s hard to think that I have only known my fellow Aravind interns for less than a week—it feels like it has been so much longer. We’ve already had so many cool experiences together that I can’t really imagine spending my summer here with another group of people. We explored a huge array of sights in Delhi, and had a day trip out to Agra to see the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, before we settled into Madurai.
Being in Madurai has been a very different experience from what I am used to at home. I think all of us are thankful for our AC and fan-filled rooms, but the heat in India is definitely something that requires some acclimation. Madurai is not as hot as Delhi was (where, fun fact, it was not only the hottest it would be during the whole year, but was also historically breaking records for its heat waves) but it’s still a very different environment. Despite it all, we have not been slowed down in our sightseeing or our work. And that brings me to the reason why the title of this post addresses an elephant in the room.
Our group had one of the coolest experiences last night. We went to the Meenakshi Temple, which is world-renowned, in Madurai, and had the opportunity to take part in a puja. A puja, for those who do not know, is “the act of showing reverence to a god, a spirit, or another aspect of the divine through invocations, prayers, songs, and rituals”. We didn’t stumble upon any normal puja though; we were lucky enough to become a part of a huge puja that celebrated a holiday in the South Indian calendar. Our group was sitting peacefully and meditating in the corner, when all of a sudden, we heard lots of loud noise coming from a swarm of people running towards us with torches and a huge lit up brass idol. We decided to take part in this puja and started circling around the temple with this group. It was incredibly crowded and we had to run to keep up with the pace; people were pushing and shoving to get to the front but we weren’t sure why. Before we know it, we found ourselves ahead of everyone, and what do we see but an elephant at the head of this crowd within the temple. This elephant was the object of everyone’s attention, as he was considered to be holy and a good luck charm. It was incredible to see people united by a strong faith and belief, and the beauty of the Meenakshi temple certainly helped. This is a point where I want to say words do not do this experience justice—so if you see me when I come back to the states, please ask me to show you the video I was able to take of us being a part of the crowd!
Aside from the culture shock India has brought, I have also started to see why Aravind is such a respected and well-known institution. This place is even more amazing than I had imagined. Just coming into the hospital and seeing the visceral impact the institution has on the community is awe-inspiring. Our first day was orientation, and we were introduced to the three divisions of the hospital—the paid section, further divided into the inpatient and outpatient centers, and then the free hospital. We met with some faculty members and learned about how Aravind was born out of the pure vision its founder, fondly called “Dr. V”, had for the world. The vision and mission of Aravind is simple, and is consistently re-iterated around the premises—”to eliminate needless blindness by providing compassionate and high quality eye care for all”. We spent a large part of today seeing how Aravind is able to keep its costs low by manufacturing many of its devices and lenses on its own through its Aurolabs facilities. We were even able to see the vision centers Aravind established to reach deeper into the surrounding communities to make a difference.
This first week has made me even more excited for the next ones that follow. I can’t wait to see what Pondicherry, my next and final location, has in store for me. Until then!