NEW YORK – ‘It Takes A Village’ – Visions of Rural India’ – an exhibition of more than 20 photographs taken by New York-based photographer Seth Kessler in 2016, at pop-up medical clinics in villages in Gujarat run by some volunteer Indian American doctors, opened at the Forest to Shore Gallery (FTS) in Stratford, CT, on November 9, 2019.
The exhibition, which will run through the year, is in partnership with ‘Yatra: The Documentary,’ a film in-production, directed by Matt Alesevich, a Stratford native. The film focuses on some Indian American volunteer physicians who have made several trips this decade to help the underprivileged and sick in rural parts of India.
The ‘Yatra’ itself started in response to the devastating 2001 earthquake, in Gujarat. Since then hundreds of volunteers – from pediatricians to oncologists; planners to translators – have joined the cause over the years, according to the film’s website, created by Alesevich.
The founders of the initiative to take volunteer Indian American physicians to India is an Indian American husband-wife duo from Ohio, Ramesh Shah and Jaya Shah.
Cleveland International Hall of Fame inductee Jaya Shah is a retired pediatrician who started practicing in Cleveland in 1973. Born in Gujarat, she was raised in Uganda and Kenya and holds an MBBS from Bombay University. Outside the Yatra, she has volunteered on medical missions in the US, Uganda, Kenya, Haiti, Guyana, Ecuador, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, according to her bio on the documentary film’s website.
Ramesh Shah handles the Yatra’s administrative, PR and fundraising duties. Originally from Gujarat, he is an active member of the Rotary Club of Cleveland and a recipient of the 2014 Sewa International Lifetime Achievement Award for Exceptional Service and Volunteerism.
Some of the other physicians involved in the cause include Gita Gidwani, who served as a gynecologist at the Cleveland Clinic for over 30 years before retiring in 2010. In 1976 she became the hospital’s first female in the Division of Surgery, and in 1986, she co-founded the North American Society of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology.
Among the volunteers is Dr. Murthy Vuppala, a native of Chodavaram, a village south of the Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh, who completed his residency at Chicago’s Cook County Hospital in 1978 and operated a private pediatric practice in Cleveland from 1979 until his retirement.
Dr. Saroj Mahalaha is a retired obstetrician and gynecologist who delivered thousands of babies serving Cleveland’s Fairview General Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic from 1979 to 2014. Originally from Uttar Pradesh, she is the former president of the Association of Indian Physicians of Northern Ohio (AIPNO) and current co-chair of the Medical Yatra Committee.
Alesevich, who has been on three medical missions to India, told Yale Daily News this week that the photographs in the exhibition reflect the lives of the patients and residents of Gujarat, rather than doctors on the mission.
Kessler was also quoted as saying in the report that while selecting pictures for the gallery, he and Alesevich looked at both the aesthetic quality of an image and whether the image could tell a story.
“We didn’t want this display to show poor people as struggling and needy, because that’s not who they were,” Kessler said. “We wanted to capture [the people] in a realistic manner and use photos that show a breadth of emotion and paint a picture of what Gujarat is.”
The documentary is being made at an opportune moment, as the retired Indian American doctors seek to pass their project onto a younger generation, Alesevich told Yale Daily News.
Ankita Modi, a pediatrician in Charlotte, North Carolina, was quoted as saying that Alesevich’s project was “incredible.” She said she is grateful that Alesevich has taken interest and valued what the doctors are doing.
“People often assume that treating patients in these rural and tribal regions of India is sad and depressing,” Modi was quoted as saying by the News. “In fact, I am inspired and motivated because the people I have met are resilient and content.”
INDIAN HUMOR ON BROADWAY
A quartet of Indian-origin standups, Amit Tandon, Sanjay Manaktala, Tushar Singh and Arun Govada, performed and regaled an almost full house at Carolines on Broadway, earlier this month.
The act was part of the New York Comedy Festival (NYCF), under the banner of ‘Made in India’.
All four comedians gave a highly enjoyable and creditable performance. They had the audience in splits with their riffs on the experience of being Indian, and how the world sees the Indian community. Manaktala, based in Bengaluru, was a stand-out with his hilarious banter with some members of the crowd.
The festival also saw top draw Indian comedian Vir Das performing at the Town Hall.
Over 200 comedians, late-night hosts and podcast stars performed in more than 100 shows at the city’s most prestigious venues, at the festival. It included the South African Trevor Noah, host of the Daily Show, who will visit India next year, to entertain audiences there with his ‘Loud & Clear Tour’ to Delhi and Mumbai in April.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, News India Times. Email him: firstname.lastname@example.org Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)