A tall lean man used to walk on this very road, every day at 8:00 AM sharp, no matter what season, no matter what his life situataion is. Not that anybody ever saw him fall sick or being disturbed or sad. Though, if his life story is looked at, anybody in his circumstances would be melancholic conveniently for a very long time. But no disease or negativity touched him for the 85 years he lived and even on the last day he carried out his noble profession of curing the diseased as he had sworn to do so more than fifty years ago while being awarded a doctor’s degree. He can be most humbly said to be ‘made of great’, my grandfather Dr. Balubhai Vashi.
His childhood was simple his father tried to support a family of four children from the mere earnings of his small farm. The era was pre-independence and irrigation facilities and state of farmers that hasn’t much improved yet. Balubhai though born in a poor family with no money even to pay school fees, almost denied education, saved only by his very bright mind and very strong intent, to rise above it all. He was raised as a farmer’s son to be one, any day that he had a holiday, he was supposed to help his father. His studies taking the last priority, yet not for Balubhai who would manage it all, rising early in the morning much before the world and studying by a kerosene lamp. He managed to finish high school in a local village school and with some scholarship for the best marks entered his dream place, a medical school. However, he was still a farmer and many a times when it rained too much he had to get back to his place and help his father remove it, to save the land. They couldn’t afford laborers. Yet he successfully became a doctor.
India was going through turbulent times then. Every man in a family harbored the same dream, of a free independent nation. The fever of it all caught Balubhai, who marched on the path led by Gandhi, that of Satyagraha. He embraced a Gandhian lifestyle, gave up everything “videshi”, a practice that he continued till the last day of his life in 2007. He would march with the satyagrahi, go for fasts and peacefully protest, leaving everything aside for the nations freedom and the dream was realized finally as he did one fine day on 15th August 1947 like many Indians breathed the fresh air of independence.
Yet Gandhiji then had given out a message of service to the society and what better than serving it through curing people of diseases. Balubhai had found that both his love for medicine and his mission for service lied on the same road, so he chose to settle down in Umbergaon taluka, which was to say in a few words only a jungle then. The people living had modest life with barely any development, not even electricity. People of all classes lived here, but were majorly uneducated and witchcraft was preferred over a doctor, hence no doctor ever landed up there. Balubhai chose the road less travelled, for his destination shone like a brilliant sun, distant yet powerful. He started practicing in the region and educating people about how medicines could cure magic and save lives. The best part that his patients miss today is that he never said “no” to anyone who ailed, be it a child in the remotest corner of that jungle with a snake bite and little hope. He would wander into the deep jungles, travel miles on foot for that one patient and treat him, despite his parents resorting to witch craft, as that he thought was the only way he could make people believe in his medicine and science. Balubhai didn’t rest there, he believed that the area could only develop if there were more like him and that could only happen if there were atleast some basic facilities, he therefore struggled for years to get electricity and that as he estimated begun the development of the area where people would now prefer to live, schools would begin and industries flourish giving many better employment and education, without having to leave their natural surroundings.
Balubhai Vashi was a good doctor but a great human being whom life challenged as if to test his will power and patience, as if to break him at each point. Marriages happened traditionally with parents choosing the bride and so he had no say, he a tall fair man with, colored eyes was married to a short dark woman, full of grit. It wasn’t easy to be the wife of a man who would not charge poor patients, and most of them were poor, bringing back home, nothing. Sometimes he would even give away his lunch to the poor diseased man who had travelled from far for free medicine who couldn’t even afford a meal. It was only when he sat down to eat at the end of a tiring day that he would realize he hadn’t eaten. Love then was very different from what we see now and expressed differently. Balubhai however found out that his wife could play the harmonium (which was considered derogatory then, as only people from lower class of society played music) and gifted her on eon their fourth anniversary. However life mocked him again when his wife was detected with leukemia soon after. The only cure was blood transfusion regularly and a severe hospitalization and chemotherapy. Balubhai was advised by all his relatives to leave her and marry again, for he was young and there were four children to look after, plus he was already famous as a great doctor. He just didn’t pay heed to them but turn a machine that was focused on providing for his children and ensuring his wife gets the best medical care. He barely slept for a few hours and went about his duties with a smile. He did lose his wife to cancer but fought for 10 years, a feat that doctors at Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai, thought beyond reach. He then lived like an ascetic ensuring good life for his children and serving people even on the last day of his life.
The best part about Balubhai was not that he managed to be the best doctor this part of Guarat has seen despite being a poor farmers son. Not because served his wife, wore khadi all his life or fought for independence. Not even that he brought medicine over blind-beliefs to people and educated them, not that he settled in a jungle and went to visit patients at all hours in the deepest corners. It was because he smiled and faced life's most ugly cruel practical jokes. He armed with grit and determination fought, didn’t brood, sulk like most of us today over small matters, he faced it with a smile. When his wife died and his closest relative sensing his suffering said “Why is it you that God always tests, when you only work to serve?”,Balubhai simply responded “God gives it to those who he thinks can take it afterall.” Belonging to an era where we see very young people getting depressed over mere breakups or committing suicide for not scoring in an exam, I think my grandfather Balubhai Vashi’s life is a live example of what one can accomplish by standing up to it with grit. He is “made of great” and continues to live as an inspiration within me.
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