Four Weeks’ Worth of Lessons

Robert SmithKing’s College London


I have had the privilege to be in India for the past four weeks. This is my third time travelling to India, now surmounting to about 6 months of my life in total, and I can attest that each time my global perspective and understanding of the self is enhanced. Throughout the past four weeks I have done a mixture of dissertation research, travelling and work for the Tata Social Internship at the Tata Medical Center, Kolkata, a hospital specialising in cancer care. I’d like to highlight two things that I think are relevant to my own enhanced understanding of India and global relations — lessons that I have learned on a very strange journey indeed.

On a characteristic rainy evening as I sat in the Tata Guest House, I was in discussion with a paediatric psycho-oncologist from West Bengal regarding cultural psychology and anthropology, a discussion that I should not have been having past 9PM, yet, nevertheless.

Our conclusion to the discussion found that “they” — people outside of India — view the country as a mystical place. We found this conclusion in response to the common stereotypes that are applied to India including mass population, bureaucratic inefficiency and a culture that is often observed for its beauty, yet rarely respected for its global contribution.

The message, and what I would like to pass along, is that, in light of the stereotypes that are both real and unreal in many ways, there is a plethora of further substance that goes without notice in India that demands respect due to its resilience and notable contribution to the global economy. Our conclusion was in many ways a response to the condescending view of the global north to the global south.

For my second lesson, it is clear that cancer is empirically the largest burden on India’s health care infrastructure. However, many patients go without care due to financial and geographic accessibility reasons. This is a larger testament to the history of India’s health care infrastructure being originally built for British sailors. What is missing in this health care economy is equitable access to care for the common Indian man. The physician alone is often exclusively responsible for the patient, stuck battling against economic and bureaucratic infrastructures. Without launching an argument in this reflection, I would encourage you to consider what might cause this.

I hope that you have found this reflection to be thought provoking.