By Dr. B. M. Hegde
Santa Clara (California), July 17, 2008: The four days, 3rd, 4th, 5th and the 6th July 2008, gave a festive look to the Santa Clara Convention Centre and the Hyatt Hotel, Santa Clara, in the Bay area overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean adjoining the city of San Francisco. The American Independence day, July the 4th, passed off unnoticed in all this fun and frolic. It was a great sight for the Gods really with the convention centre decked like any wedding hall back in India. Konkani men, women and children from all over the North American Continent, both Canada and the USA, were there in large numbers-one thousand five hundred to be precise! A sprinkling of Indian parents, in laws and cousins were there to add Indian flavour with the old world charm to the meet. One could see a good mix of the hoary Indian dresses with Kaanchipuram sarees decked in gold zari to the most modern American party dresses. While the women were in their gorgeous best, men wore more sober colours and the younger generation was, of course, in their modern Yankee style.
The gala opening ceremony was the best that I had enjoyed in years in any convention anywhere else in the world. The host committee, the Bay area Konkanas, had left no stone unturned to see that the gala opening ninety minutes' show was superb. Dominated by young kids and, of course, with a judicious mix of elders, the stage was not left vacant for more than a minute at any time in between the various items, all of whom were practised to near perfection.
Starting on the dot at 9 am with the Jagante call, the programme went like a precision clock work belying the age old Indian adage of IST (Indian Stretchable Time). The compeers did a good job too-neither too much nor too little-with just the right amount of spicy comments like the seasoning of Indian curries. The programme included ancient Indian dances, songs and drama, story telling in the old Konkani style clubbed with the recent American stage plays as well. Most, if not all, the programmes were in Konkani tongue with English translations for the locals. I was really amazed at the younger second generation Americans' fluency and accent of their mother tongue and was reassured that the great Indian culture is still alive among the second generation Konkani Americans.
The didactic lectures were kept to a minimum as it rightly should be. People gather here more for camaraderie and fun rather than to listen to long lectures. The men and women selected to lecture were the best they could get among their clan, nay even outside of it. The chief guest, who delivered a well thought out inspiring speech, was the Indian ace badminton star, Prakash Padukone. He inspired all American Konkanas of both sexes and all ages. The first key note speaker in the after lunch session was the ace banking leader of India, Mr. K.Vaman Kamath, the Chief of the largest private ICICI Bank. He was in his usual inimitable best when he spoke about the bullish trend in the future economic scenario vis-à-vis his bank's role in it and the special part that the immigrant Konkanas could play in India's growth. A good choice of the speaker and the topic indeed! He was followed by a beautiful lady in Jaya Row, a motivational Indian speaker, who goes round motivating people to live their lives according to the ancient Vedic wisdom. She gave a scintillating talk on our spiritual heritage which was very well received. This was followed by a witty talk by Dr. Sobel of Kaiser, an American psychiatrist. The coffee break then became a necessity!
The star of the day in the morning, however, in my opinion, was a young second generation American Konkana, Dr. Sumeet Bhat, a medical graduate just out of a good American medical school who, in the short spell after graduation seems to have set the Hudson River on fire in the medical world. He seems to have followed that beautiful poem:
"Two roads diverged in the woods, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference" -- Robert Frost
Instead of getting into his residency to earn money and become another American medical menace to society this boy took to the poorest of the poor in the world from Haiti to a village near Vittala in South Kanara District to look after their sick and infirm. I salute him. Poverty is the mother of all illnesses. The poor normally pay for their poverty with their lives! They die in large numbers due to every conceivable disease ranging from common cold to cancer unsung and unwept. He was a great inspiration for the younger generation in the audience to follow his grandmother's advice: "kushi ashile kari". If you love your work you can work 24/7 without distress is what Hans Selye, the stress guru taught the world.
Disease could be directly proportionate to the various risk factors that we are told to take care of but, is inversely proportionate to the resistance of the host. The latter is the deciding factor as to who gets sick. Host resistance is at its lowest among the poor as they do not get even a single meal a day in many parts of the world. While 39 million people suffering from AIDS seems to stir the conscience of the medical profession so much that they forget that there are more than 840 million people in this world suffering from malnutrition which makes them vulnerable to all killer diseases. Every day thousands of malnourished children die in India alone. More children in India die of NIDS (Nutritional Immune Deficiency Syndrome) than of AIDS! India has the dubious distinction of having the largest load of malnourished children, a total of 47 million while the whole of Sub Saharan Africa has only 42 million. He spoke so passionately about his mission in life-to do most good to most people most of the time. I could see that the boy had a mission coupled with a good vision too. He could see through many of the malignant myths in the business called medicine and decided to do something radical and useful. I only hope that his passion does not die down soon. May his tribe increase!
The following day was full of fun and frolic with Konkani idol and many other variety entertainment programmes. The interesting part, though, were the group meetings that one saw outside the Convention centre auditoria where people discussed various things ranging from their day today joys and sorrows to their matrimonial vows! I am sure that many of those were sorted out during the conference. The Banquet ended the day. The third day, especially the morning was fun again with some useful business transacted in the bargain. The third day ended with dinner and dance in the American style to the boot. It was all in all a great show, indeed.
The hosts did not forget that the way to a man's (or woman's) heart is through his stomach. The gastronomic feast was the best in any foreign conference that I had attended. Although the caterers were local Americans, the advisors, a Konkani couple running a restaurant in Bangalore, came all the way to give the whole food mela the much needed Konkani touch. Superb! is the word for the cuisine and the menu-very well thought out and executed by a select group of men and women who seem to have worked hard for twenty four months to put together this great feast! Baliga, the head, needs our congratulations as Indians are always grateful for what they get. Ingratitude is the greatest sin in our concept. Let us all say-thank you-for the wonderful feast with mouth watering Konkani dishes ranging from daali thove to kadgi gashi.
The previous day of the inaugural function there was a medical symposium at the adjoining Hyatt Hotel. I was one of the invited speakers along with a galaxy of American Konkani speakers in Jyothi Rau, the convener and an internist with Kaiser, Kamini Nayak, a family physician, Vivek, the great neurologist and Dr. Shenoy, the quiet urologist with another "real" white American "thought leader" to begin the day.
Although I am an honorary member of the Vishwa Konkani Sabha, thanks to Basti Vaman Shenoy, by birth I am a bunt from the same district that most Konkanis come from. My buddy, an old class mate in school in our village, Hiriadka, Pundalik Kini, is the back bone of the Bay Area Konkanas. A distinguished nuclear scientist in India, who was hired by Americans to build their earlier nuclear reactors, became a construction consultant in his new avatar for major American constructions including the recent enchanting new wing of the San Francisco airport. His EPC consultants are a leading firm in San Francisco which executes major projects all over the world, including India. He is to help build many new airports and other major infrastructural facilities in India soon. Pundalik had invited me to the convention and requested Jyothi Rau to ask me to speak at the medical meet. I must have been a misfit in the American medical scenario.
There is no free lunch! A conference of this magnitude needs money in tons. They spent a whopping sum of $ 560,000 of which almost $360,000 went for feeding people only. The hosts must have worked hard to collect all that money. The registration fee of $ 200 was only a drop in the ocean. While there were many donors, small and big, my class mate Pundalik must have been a major Platinum donor. He hosted me and my wife, in addition. We remain ever grateful for this wonderful experience with the Konkanas. The bonus was meeting many of my old students, after a lapse of several decades, with their balding heads and white beards and girls in their new role as mothers and mothers in law, nay even grannies! Old memories of their college days came back in a flash although I could not remember many of their names-would they diagnose Alzheimer's with their new American knowledge added?
North American Konkanas seem to be living by the dictates of the Isopanishad: "Thena thyakthena bhoonjithaha." Translated to English it means "to rejoice in giving." May their tribe also increase for the good of mankind. After all God gives and forgives but man gets and forgets! Let us play God in life to be happy and healthy too. My big THANK YOU to all of them in general and Pundalik in particular. Anna daatha sukhibhavaha!
Dr. B. M. Hegde MD, FRCP, FRCPE, FRCPG, FRCPI, FACC, FAMS, is presently the Chairman of State Health Society, Govt. of Bihar, India, Visiting Prof. Cardiology at The Middlesex Hospital Medical School - University of London, Affiliate Prof. of Human Health - Northern Colorado University, Visiting Prof. Indian Institute of Advanced Studies - Shimla, Retd. Vice Chancellor, MAHE University - Manipal. Prof Hedge regularly gives talks on AIR, Doordarshan, BBC and Zee TV, London.