At Aravind a high emphasis is put on excellence of surgery. Now most of us like to be good at what we do. We take pride in our work. Good performance leads to recognition from peers and others higher up in the company or organization. But Dr.V used to talk about not just being good or very good at what you do. He used to talk about training for perfection. And that very high standard of excellence was first and foremost placed internally – – training himself for perfection.
In the documentary, Infinite Vision, there is a beautiful scene where Dr.V is addressing the Harvard Divinity School. He talks about the faith that patients place in doctors. The film cuts to a beautiful old face – – wrinkled by age and poverty, dressed in a simple white sari, no blouse, she is shaking her head and gesturing at the doctor. You hear Dr.V’s voice-over “Now, here is this old lady. She puts so much faith in me…. So how can I train myself to perfection?”
I have seen the film hundreds of times. And every time it comes to this part I feel an inner stillness, a chill of being overawed. Most of us try and improve ourselves for a variety of reasons: to be better at what we do, to be better people, impress others, etc. It is driven from a fairly ‘me-centric’ approach. But here is this man (waving his arthritis-bent fingers in the air), trying to not just do a ‘good job’, but pushing for ‘perfection’ — and not for his ego or job-productivity, but because he feels driven to be of service to that old lady and millions of others like her.
The realization is of such thundering proportions that I can only do what the poet Mary Oliver urges us to do with life: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”
Working on this book provides so many opportunities to be astonished and, to be deeply grateful.