Stuck In The Past

Dr.Mani at Annandal

Many years ago, as a freshly graduated doctor, I received my first posting order – as medical officer at a primary health center (PHC).

To get there, I was forced to take a five-and-half hour bus ride every weekend to a nearby town. Next morning, I would catch the only train passing by the village – an ancient old steam locomotive that only managed 35 kmph – when it was speeding! (Now I wish I’d been smart enough to grab a photo of it – but I didn’t, though you can see the over-crowded carriages above!)

The trip lasted 40 minutes. Sitting by the window would leave a thin layer of grime on my face, and gusts of black smoke stung my nostrils everytime the wind blew it into the compartment.

Since the train didn’t halt at the village (even through the track passed beside it), I’d alight a kilometer away – and either walk or hitch a ride on someone’s bicycle to reach the ‘hospital’.

There, in a gloomy, damp room I would see 100 to 150 patients every morning… in under 3 hours! A few were seriously ill. Most had chronic ailments needing prescription refills. And a fair number came out of curiosity – to see the ‘city doctor’ who was visiting their remote village!

No, this wasn’t in the dark ages. The year was 1990.

It was my first exposure to medical practice in the public sector – and was representative of what I’d see and experience over the next 15 years, until I quit to follow my dream and set up my non-profit project in the private sector.

Medical science was not stuck in the past. The practice of it in certain locations, and the distribution of these services to geographically remote places, however, was.

Barely 400 kilometers away, state-of-art medicine was practiced at standards that rival – even exceed – the best available in most developed nations. But Annandal village was stuck in the past.

It doesn’t happen with technology or science alone.

Sometimes, our attitude and mindset gets stuck in the past. When we should be looking ahead, we put our heads in the sand and remain caught up in obsolete paradigms. Where we should be proactive and forward-thinking, we let the past smother and imprison us.

In an era of the bullet train, we should be thinking about tele-portation and speed of light travel, not the horse-and-carriage system.

Cherish the old steam locomotive, by all means. Even feel nostalgic about the tang of burning coal in your nose, if you must.

But stay focused on the future. It’s the only part you can influence… and change.