Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Infinite vision and the questions that shaped Aravind Eye Care system

India is a land of paradoxes. On the one hand, we have sixty people losing sight in an eye camp and thirteen women losing life in a sterilization camp in the last two months. On the other hand, we have Aravind Eye Care system – overlooking 1000+ sight-restoring surgeries every day with world class quality standards, serving poor and rich with compassion, and in a financially self-sustainable way.

The canvass that Aravind covers is so vast that any narrative that tries to present Aravind story will be incomplete. But some are less incomplete than others. “Infinite Vision: How Aravind became the wold’s greatest business case for compassion” by Pavithra Mehta and Suchitra Shenoy is perhaps the least incomplete and lucidly written tale of Aravind, its founder Dr. Venkataswamy and many others who shaped the infinite vision. Here are two things that I found most interesting in the book.

1.      Questions behind the answers: If Aravind is the extraordinary answer, what were Dr. V’s questions? This is the core riddle the book aims to address. Through the personal journal Dr. V kept over the decades, the authors get a peek into the questions. “How to organize and build more hospitals like McDonald’s”. Reads a journal entry from 1980s. Notice that there is no question mark (?) at the end of the sentence, a peculiar characteristic of Dr. V’s writing. It is as though each question contains a seed of the answer. Another entry reads - “How was Buddha able to organize in those days a religion that millions follow. Who were the leaders. How were they shaped.” At Frankfort airport Dr. V watched a plane land and the process that followed and said to his friend, “This is how we should run our operating theatre.” In 1978, Dr. V visited 40,000 square-foot training facility at University of Michigan School of Medicine. After seeing the training centre, he mentioned to Dr. Suzanne Gilbert, “One day, I would like to have a centre like this one.” She was baffled by this remark of the Indian doctor who at that time ran an 11-bed eye clinic.

2.      Light behind the spirit: Dr. V was deeply influenced by the teachings of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. The spiritual quest got translated into questions like – How do I become a perfect instrument? (1980 journal entry). The book beautifully weaves the thread of Dr. V’s spiritual journey towards becoming a perfect instrument in the narrative. However, a question arises - What did it mean on a day-to-day basis to Dr. V? Following excerpt from a journal entry gives a glimpse:

You feel drawn to a patient because he’s from your village, known to you, and then you try to do your best for him. But at times, a patient is aggressive and demands some privileges. He says, “Could you see me first?” This upsets you, and with that feeling of annoyance you treat him. You are not able to disassociate him from his mental or emotional aggressiveness. … To do this [treat him well] you must bring into your own being silence, calmness, and quietude. It needs enormous practice to realize the experience of silence in you.

“This man’s spirituality wasn’t incidental to the story. It was what everything else hinged on,” says Prof. V. Kasturi Rangan of Harvard Business School who wrote the case on Aravind that became popular world over.

Personally, “Can spirituality be integrated in organizations?” is a question I have carried with me for some time now. The book gives a ray of hope. Kudos to Pavithra and Suchitra for bringing out such a wonderful story. Hope it reaches out to more people.

I would like to thank Mr. Thulsi for giving a copy of the book to me. He is playing a key role at Aravind in shaping the “Infinite vision” and inspiring many.

Book image source: flipkart.com. 


  1. It will be great for me to get an eye exam. I haven't had one in about 5 years. I haven't had any problems but, I still want to make sure that they are okay. How often should someone get an eye exam? http://www.familyvisionclinic.ca

  2. Question : Who is financing the projects...?

    1. Leone, From what I understand, the projects are self-financed. i.e. the paying patients subsidize the economically diadvantaged patients. Not tracked this aspect in the past years and don't know if that is changed.