Givraj Sen is 19 and a good looking young man. And that’s important. The very first thing I
want you to know about Givraj is that he is handsome.
Because the second thing I’m going to tell you about him is that as a young boy he was severely burned.
It’s one thing to give statistics about our clinic; we served 154 people on Saturday and 144 people on Sunday, with these tests or those medications. But behind every number is a person. A real person who has a family, who is hungry sometimes and full sometimes. A person who laughs and cries. A person who celebrates and suffers. Givraj is one of those people and he has suffered a lot.
That night 16 years ago, when he was three years old, the cooking fire in the village of Kanai was larger than usual because of a celebration. Exactly what celebration doesn’t matter. It is overshadowed by what happened next. A woman aimed to enhance the fire with kerosene. Instead, she mistakenly poured a can of gasoline on the fire and it exploded. One small child was killed on the spot. Three were burned. Givraj is one of those children.
He was burned along the left side of his head, his ear was consumed, his neck, upper torso and arm were all burned. The little boy spent a month and a half in the hospital enduring many painful procedures. His arm began to contract and the doctors forced extension so that he would retain the use of it. Although he was very young he remembers every bit of that.
Givraj is a handsome man, remember that. He has enormous thoughtful eyes and an intense manner about him. If it wasn’t pointed out to me I would not have noticed that he was severely burned. His face was spared and the scars are a similar tone as his beautiful brown skin. His black hair covers the missing ear. Givraj comes from a caste of barbers. Barbers as far back as time. But Kinai is small and there is not so much barbering to be done and so Givraj also became a cook. Many people here have multiple jobs, trying to keep lentils in their family’s belly. An excellent cook, Givraj often works weddings and large events. The last couple days he has been working for us, cooking for the staff of our clinic and for us. Providing fresh hot food for visitors is an absolute cultural requirement. (Joan and I require separate meals because the local food is far too fiery for us.) Givraj has been cooking non-stop. I’m too busy eating and gawking to swallow the names of the dishes. The woman of the house, who’s been cooking for most of her 58 years has even learned a few tricks from the 19 year-old.
“Being Human,” reads Givraj’s shirt one day.
I love it.
“Does he know what the t-shirt says?” I ask.
“He knows it is English.”
Being Human is a brand started Salman Khan, one of the most successful actors of the Indian film industry. Being Human clothing items are sold in 15 countries and funds go to a charitable trust devoted to education and healthcare initiatives for the underprivileged in India.
Despite his injuries, Givraj has full functionality. Sort of. His hearing seems to be fine. His movements are okay. Thanks to good barbering his absent ear is not noticeable. But the skin on his neck has begun to tighten, impeding full and normal motion of his head. Mostly, Givraj is bothered by the absence his ear. I can’t help but think that he is approaching the age of marriage.
He would like plastic surgery to get a new ear.
How to go about that?
“If the government card won’t pay,” says Givraj, “I have money saved for this.”
Plastic surgery is far beyond the scope of our little clinic, but we can at least get him pointed in the right direction. We meet with the facilitator from the local NGO, who explains grafting and other possible treatments and gives Givraj the name of a plastic surgery center in Jaipur….about two-and-a-half hours away, depending upon how many cows are on the road. Mr. Rathore, who is coordinating logistics, agrees to take Givraj to Jaipur and accompany him to meetings. We try to make it very clear that this is not something that can happen quickly or at one time. (One man brought his blind son to our vision clinic and became quite angry that we couldn’t cure him, and NOW. “You call yourself a VISION CLINIC? Fix him. NOW.”)
Givraj seems to understand that. I hope he does. Like many people here who endure intense hardship, he never complains. The men in the line to see the general practitioner, suffer the intense pain of kidney stones move slowly but don’t protest. Every person, every pain is not a statistic, it represents an individual. And if we can do a little bit for a few people then that is a good thing.
I’m rooting through the box of glasses donated by Manhattan Beach vision, hoping to find another pair of sunglasses. Men get around by motorbike here and the sun and dust are brutal on even unscarred skin. I hold several pair up to the light. Darn. All have prescription lenses. Blessedly Givraj still has good vision. I’m sitting on the floor in front the battered box, looking at pair after pair and finally I find one.
The last pair of sunglasses goes to Givraj Sen.