“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard”

I have been back home in the United States for a couple weeks now and have had time to reflect on my time in Pondicherry.  I cannot help but be thankful for the opportunity, the experiences, and the memories that I will carry with me forever.  I amuse myself thinking how easily I integrated into South Indian culture and the Aravind community.  Whether through the food, culture, or language, everyone at Aravind was determined to have us fit in and ultimately feel loved.  The list of people I am thankful for extends far too long to go through completely; please do not mistake the absence of your name here for being unappreciated or forgotten.

To Chitra, Revathi, Lakshmi, Priya, Paravati, and all the other Glaucoma/Surgical MLOPs—thank you for putting up with me, the random Non-Resident Indian girl from America that messed with your work flow for 10 weeks.  Thank you for teaching me a little bit of Tamil so that I could communicate with patients a little easier and impress my family.  For realizing that I too, like you all, am only 20 years old (though that did not stop some of you from asking why I wasn’t actively looking for a husband).  Thank you for answering my silly questions by always starting with a laugh to put me at ease; for dropping your work to come help me with my mine whenever I asked. For letting me sit in the corner chair and just observe your work.  For telling me about your lives, your families, and sharing personal stories and for asking me about mine. For treating me like another sister in the hospital.

To Ponneshwari Sister—words don’t do justice to the love and patience you bestowed on me.  Indulging me with eight or more wake up calls in the morning, to reminding me to come eat lunch, to being woken in the middle of the night multiple times when I locked myself out of the Guest House; you took care of me beyond what your age required.  I am so thankful for the cooking lessons, for making my hair fragrant with typical jasmine flowers every morning, for letting me practice mendhi patterns on your hand, keying me in to the latest Tamil movies/songs, for teaching me to make a garland, and so much more.  You made me feel at home and a part of the Aravind “sisterhood”—whether it was inviting me to the wedding of a fellow sister or even just introducing me to different people when I visited the Women’s Hostel. You went above and beyond your role on so many occasions including the times as you made sure I was fed (maybe too often!) and getting enough sleep so that I never got sick.

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To the Venkatesh family—thank you a million times for accepting me into the Aravind family within a blink of an eye.  Dr. Veena, you always made sure things were up to par and that I was happy.  When I needed a bag fixed, wanted stationery printed, passport photos taken and other small items done, you carried out the task often without me even asking for help.  All it took was an off-hand remark to a nurse in your presence,  and within days, without further mention,  it was taken care of.  I can still taste the amazing paneer dish Dharshini convinced you to make for me.  Speaking of Dharshini, I so appreciate the friendship you allowed us to enjoy.  You travelled far and near, on sightseeing excursions as well as haircut adventures.  You indulged my need to shop for baubles and trinkets.  You didn’t laugh when I insisted on wearing an anklet on only one foot.  I am awed by the fact you are five years younger than me because your maturity speaks volumes.  I hope you to come visit me in the States so I can reciprocate your kindness.  And finally, to Dr. Venkatesh, thank you for your guidance and support over the summer.  Not only were you a supervisor  and mentor, but you became a role model.  You allowed us carte blanche to the inner workings of the hospital, teaching programs, and clinical practice.  You encouraged us to learn and work, but also to go out and explore Pondy and beyond.  I thank you for getting me involved in innovative projects, and I truly hope to see you at ARVO next year.

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To Dr. Swati— you have more in common with my mother than just a name.  I am so happy I can now call you Swati “Masi”.  From the day we stepped onto Aravind’s campus you did nothing but extol love and caring, even if it meant working past your shift or staying up late after a long day in the clinic.  You are one of the purest souls I have ever met and truly embody the vision and mission that Aravind represents.  I am so thankful that you were a part of my life even if only for a summer.  The selfless way you accompanied me to shop for clothes and nose rings, shared restaurant outings, and salon tips, will never be forgotten.  The best was when you invited us for “pani-puri” the day after hearing that it was my favorite Indian food.  You lent a shoulder and attentive ear when I felt homesick or overwhelmed, but you also confided in me when you were nervous about an upcoming project, surgery, and even the impending Italy trip.  You became the mother I needed while I was in Pondicherry and for that I will forever be grateful.  I do hope to see you next year when you visit Michigan, but regardless please know you will always have a home in the states.

And finally, to Nimay—-well, we survived 10 weeks together (much to many people’s surprise!) I don’t think either of us expected the summer to pan out the way it did—we thought there would be lots of other students the same way it was in Madurai, but instead we found that we had been shipped off to a small city with only one colleague for the duration.  Looking back, our friends may have actually be right….our summer sounds like the storyline of a cliched rom-com (and I know how much you appreciate those).  I realize the hardships of our situation: few to no other students (but a shoutout to Rohan and Nazli), few English speakers, and general uncertainty of work expectations, forced us to quickly become friends.  I know I didn’t said it enough while we were there, but I honestly appreciated you so much.  Your calm demeanor, easy going nature, and ability to remove lizards/cockroaches made the austerity of India bearable.  Your company added to my comfort, happiness, and safety!  Whether it was carrying my obscenely large bag onto the overnight bus, following me into random temples as I curiously watched the locals interact, accompanying me for lungi shopping, or just sharing the grandeur of the Guest House terrace—there is no person I would have rather spent time with.  Our friendship which stemmed from necessity, is now rooted in indelible memories, camaraderie, and respect.  I now confidently call you a friend by choice.

There aren’t enough words or time to express the gratitude I have to CASI for granting me a most incredible opportunity to spend my summer at Aravind Eye Care System in Pondicherry.  It has influenced me on many levels.  I encourage everyone to visit this charming part of the world if ever the chance arises.  I know I certainly hope to return.

Until next time!

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About Bela Parekh

Class of 2018, Life Sciences and Management Program dual degree student, studying Biological Basis of Behavior and Finance/Healthcare Management. Intern at Aravind Eye Care Systems in Pondicherry, India. Summer 2016.