Finding my indian half

By Ruth Dawson

It was with very mixed feelings and low expectations that I was returning to India. I knew I really wanted – even needed? – to go, but I was carrying memories of how it had been when I was there as an 8 then 12 year old child. At that time the culture shock was overwhelming, the visits to relatives seemed endless, and in places there was such curiosity about seeing white people that it was quite intimidating. Not surprisingly, I hadn’t wanted to go back for several years after! I didn’t feel I had anything in common with the people, and as I grew up, I didn’t feel like my Indian side meant much to me. When I told people I was half-Indian they were always surprised and interested. I liked being a bit different, but it was more of a curiosity than anything else.

This trip totally changed my feelings. From the moment we arrived and saw the “Welcome to Dawsons” sign held by our driver in the airport, I felt really welcomed, at home, and loved every moment (well, almost!). On the minibus ride to our destination, I eagerly took in all the sights around me. Everything is so different from England – the colours, people, animals everywhere, little roadside shops, clothes, noises, trees, houses, smells. I felt deeply happy to be in India again at last.

Going as an adult was totally different, and India has changed for the better, making it easier. During our stay, I realised that for the first time in my life I didn’t just know I was half-Indian, I felt half-Indian – which was a big change for me.

It was my top priority to visit St Luke’s Leprosarium. Ever since training as an Occupational Therapist (OT) I have wanted to return there. My Uncle, Dr Jeyabalan’s approach is just like an OT, looking at the “whole” person – not just their medical problems – and trying to help his patients to integrate back into society via work-related training.

Our first week, spent at St Luke’s, and Nazareth, Dad’s home town, proved to be a very emotional and meaningful time for me. Uncle is a wonderful man who demonstrates Christ-like compassion, and humour, to all he meets. When I was with him the phrase “He went about doing good” kept coming into my mind, as it fits him so well. He could be earning a lot of money as a doctor in India, but has chosen not to, in order to help leprosy patients – the most stigmatised group of people in India.

He has been supported in his vocation by his wife, Chandra, also a doctor, who has worked tirelessly for years running her own single handed GP practice, in order to provide the necessary finance to educate and support their family. Their three girls are lovely people who have all become doctors, one working with leprosy patients. Uncle and Auntie have come to mean so much to me, and I have immense respect for them. They really do “walk the (Christian) walk”, whatever the personal cost.

It Was very sad to visit the wards and see some of the leprosy patients who didn’t get treatment early enough, and have lost fingers, toes, even limbs. Leprosy is curable, and leaves no effects if treated early. However, there is still a lot of education to do to get this message across, as leprosy is still surrounded in many myths and superstitions.

Spending time with the leprosy patients’ children, some of whom live at St Luke’s was very special. Like children everywhere, they crave attention and are full of fun. They work very hard compared with children in the UK, grateful for the chance that St Luke’s gives them to get an education, which their parents could never afford.

Our time in St Luke’s was too short. I always knew it would be, but I hadn’t been prepared for the strength of my emotions on leaving. I feel that I have left part of myself there, and I really want to go back, as soon as I can, this time hopefully using my skills to provide some practical help.

We spent the second week of our trip in Chennai, catching up with Dad’s sister and brothers, my cousins and their families, and various other relatives. I really enjoyed getting to know them – this time visiting relatives was not a chore. We also did a fair bit of retail therapy, which was great fun! However, St Luke’s was never far from our thoughts, and we bought quite a few things to sell to raise money on our return.

As I’m sure you can tell, this visit was truly life changing and I’m interested to see what the next chapter will be. After a morning with my Uncle we had signed up to funding a number of different projects and I said “There should be a new Indian proverb – No one’s pockets are safe when Uncle’s around!” His reply was “No one’s hearts are safe when Uncle’s around”. He’s right. No one can be untouched by his compassion for leprosy patients and their families. This is your advanced warning – he and Auntie are planning to visit the UK some time and I hope lots of you get to meet them – but watch out for your hearts!