January in India & Bangladesh

Last month was another one of my annual visits to India and Bangladesh to look into our schools, rural development projects and micro credit schemes.

School Visit

Visiting our schools enables us to meet the children, assess their progress and arrange ongoing scholarship support. Above all we emphasize and encourage their focus on the goal of higher studies leading to meaningful self-reliance.

In Bangladesh I visited a non-governmental primary school near the sprawling city of Khulna. Khulna was my ancestral hometown in the 60s before we emigrated to Kolkata.

The school of 202 children, divided amongst five classes, has been run by 3 female teachers and a headmaster since 1986. All with miniscule financial help from the City Municipality.

Teachers receive salaries one-tenth of government school teachers, yet they love the students and show an exemplary dedication to teaching.

I assessed their needs of enhancing teachers’ salaries, hot lunches or snacks and school uniforms. Once the legal logistics of money transfer through another existing NGO are cleared, we’ll start channeling help to them.

Another School and a town City

After taking the the opportunity to visit my old St Joseph’s school with some friends I ventured through a radically changed Khulna.

Gone are those bucolic sparsely populated streets with flowering trees, ponds and playing grounds. Unrelenting development has erased and demolished almost all the old structures, now replaced with high-rises and wide paved streets.

Our House

My geographic sense was totally confused. I was almost on the verge of tears not being able to locate our ancestral home; suddenly I found the house where I was born and spent my childhood.

All the neighboring houses have been replaced leaving only our dilapidated house standing in vigil for my return. The neighbors helped me get in through the back door to the large courtyard where we had papaya and a tall flowering Shefali tree. Our small chicken coup was still standing.

Tears welled up in my eyes as I walked out unnoticed. I whispered,

“Sorry my friend that we deserted you. But we both are the victims of religio-political strifes like millions of others. At least you waited for our final reunion. I love you my beautiful birthplace.”

Unoccupied and falling apart from neglect, I found my long lost Taj Mahal.

– Sakti Das, 2010.

  • The remainder of Dr Das’ trip included surgeries in rural Guajrat where he was also able to add his O+ mark to an 11,111-strong petition battling an industrialist and Government to stop a cement works displacing 55,000 farmers, 15 villages and inflicting untold damage to livelihoods and environment – sadly, not uncommon in our ‘modern’ India…

    He was also able to meet Baber Ali, the young headmaster we blogged about last month – very much impressed by this now-18yo, he’ll be keeping in touch to see how Baber can be helped.

Namaste Bangladesh

Trip report from Josephine…

Namaste, a simple greeting with a profound meaning: “bow down to the supreme-being within.”

It resonates perfectly with the reason we are in Bangladesh, acknowledging the supreme-being within our patients and a belief that each of us has the divine right to receive good medical care.

For 4 years, Uncle Sakti has traveled to the remote LAMB hospital, this being my second trip, I am again struck by the need for urologists in the area.

Josephine H Tamola, Sakti Das & Tina SasakiWe were accompanied by Dr. Ganesh Gopalakrishnan, the premier reconstructive surgeon in India, Tina Sasaki, a general surgery resident from Alameda County Medical Center, and Dr. Preman, a UK anesthesiologist.

The patients have been waiting a year for our team to arrive, having traveled long distances for surgery or just a clinical consultation. With help from our LAMB colleagues, we tackled complex urological surgeries such as vesicovaginal fistulas, urethral strictures and hypospadias.

Urological conditions significantly impact quality of life. Women with vesicovaginal fistulas are ostracized from society because of the constant leakage of urine. Urinary obstruction from stricture disease results in prolonged catherization and severe morbidity. These conditions occur in young men and women with no other comorbidities – patients suffer for decades with these problems.

Surgery has changed patients’ quality of life, allowing them to shed the social stigma associated with their urological condition. I feel truly privileged to have the trust of my patients and I am blessed to offer my service.

This brings me back to the greeting namaste. Our work here in Bangladesh made me serve and prostrate to the supreme-being in my patients, allowing that supreme-being to manifest its full potential.

Insha’Allah I shall return to the enchanting land of Bangladesh to serve the wonderful people here.

Photo: Josephine H Tamola – Sakti Das – Tina Sasaki

My annual pilgrimage to the land of my ancestors

Bangladesh, a land of lush verdant fields resplendent with abundant crops, rivers and waterways crowded with Rui, Katla, Hilsa, all kinds of delectable fishes, even the memories make you salivate and crave with desire.

I imagine the boats gliding over the gentle shimmering water transporting or fishing and the boatmen singing with the backdrop of setting sun at the dusk. Nostalgia makes me ache.

This beautiful nation of millions of warm, cordial and naïve people is on the verge of oblivion.

Global warming is creating havoc, gradually submerging Bangladesh from rising water table, destroying the flora and fauna of the Sunderbans, displacing and drowning people from cyclones and flood.

FlickrThis is a unique example of the nonchalant disregard of our developed world to the plight of humanity at the other end of the world.

It is a mayhem resulting from our actions.

It is a shameful example of how we are striving to maintain our style of living and our extravagant quality of life at the cost of drowning Bangladesh through abysmal climate change.

Yes, Bangladesh can and will survive by its own moral and intellectual strength, but each one of us should nudge ourselves up from complacency and help reverse the calamity that is our doing, our responsibility.

Let us work from individual actions to concerted political pressures to save Bangladesh, my beautiful Bangladesh, my golden Bangladesh.


– Sakti Das, 2009.

  • Dr Das will have a post about his trip and work on the medical mission in Bangladesh when he gets back – or he might even blog on the road!

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