Fighter Dr Surya Bali: "I walked 11 km to school barefoot"

SURYA BALI is the first person in his family to complete matriculation. Belonging to Gond tribal community, Surya went on to become the first doctor in Bairili Gaon, an obscure village at Jaunpur, UP.  Alongside teaching, he focused on full-fledged research to improve quality and reduction in the cost of health care. Today, he serves social and economically deperived sections of society. His thoughts were well-received by all – he got National Memorial Award by AIIMS for best research and was chosen as Who is Who in World for the year 2010. Read his heart-wrenching story...

 Surya (middle) with classmates at University of Florida

like Holi, Diwali exuded hope in the eyes of Surya’s family to earn a bit more. “In the midst of celebration, I used to carry a thali (plate) around the village for food,” says Surya Bali, son of bonded labourers. This slavery bothered his father, who got frustrated and fled the village. Until he came back from exile, the family survived on the mother’s meagre income for a whole decade. She served as a maid to upper caste families – cooked food, moped floors and drew water from well.

 “I used to pluck fruits and exchange it for books from city dwellers” 

Social boycott
He attended the Kanarval School, a primary school in his village. Although primary education was free, buying books was tough. “I used to pluck berries, gooseberries, fruits, and exchange it for books from city dwellers,” he shares. What was worse was the perpetual taunts of some of his teachers like “You should do what your parents are doing,” “What are you going to achieve by studying?” etc. Surya never gave up. “Every insult goaded me to prove them wrong,” he asserts. "I realised early that only education can change the condition of my family,” he said.


 Examining a child in the slums

Unending walk to school
Tired of abuses of Panditji (Priest), the owner of his primary school, he shifted to a middle school in Sarsi, faraway from his village. “I walked 11 kilometres to school barefoot. The villagers laughed at me. For them it was insane to walk so far to study.” How did Surya manage middle school tuition fee and books? Post school, he filled his time repairing cycle puncture. He was an absentee during monsoons – “I had just two sets of clothes. Heavy rains spoiled my dress.” He was on cloud nine when he achieved first rank in class 8. The first flush of success  only kindled the fire in him.

Chasing his dreams   
What made him turn doctor today? He was only 7 when his younger brother died of medical negligence. He can’t erase the memory of his helpless mother longing for medical treatment. After 10+2, he ran pillar to post to finance his education. All doors were  closed! This rebellious 17-year-old ran away from village. After  a series of misadventures, he gave a call to his brother only to find that he has put together a sum of Rs. 3000 for his admissions.

Darkness before dawn

Unfortunately, that money turned out to be inadequate. It just about paid for the coaching centre fee. When money ran out Surya almost gave up the dream of earning a medical degree to join a BSc course from Benares Hindu University. But angels do exist. In his case, the kindly warden, impressed by his hard work extended support. He granted Surya  free hostel facility and paid Rs. 500 for PMT form. He cracked it and  got admission at Motilal Nehru Medical College, Allahabad.

 Flanked by his parents

Life in MBBS college
His presence was again odd in the class. “I was an absolute misfit in the class. Most  students made fun of my few ill fitting clothes which I wore repeatedly”, he says. Financial back-up was getting thinner – he couldn’t call for help anymore. He was restless. So  he decided to explore a long forgotten hidden talent. He could write. He used to write poems,  short stories, and he could communicate.

So to meet his expenses, he started writing poems and articles for newspapers, magazines. He got a chance from All India Radio to present shows. And, of course, the money earned could help him barely meet expenses. So  he borrowed from friends and spent long hours in the library. Finally, he aced MBBS.

It was an unusual feeling when he got his MD stipend, a princly sum of Rs. 15,000. “It was the first time in my life I saw a bunch of notes .” But then life took a turn for the better. He earned IFP fellowship to acquire Master’s in Health Management (MHM) at University of Florida.

Spreading community service  
Surya has a very  critical view about his dream profession. “It should be totally service-based without any intention of minting money. But I hardly see any doctors think about the community.” He started his own NGO called Global Health Development Mission. He translated scientific writings of diseases in local languages (Bhojpuri, Awadhi), composed songs, poems on diseases like Cholera, AIDS.

He strongly feels, “If you tell public something through music – they will not only learn but will enjoy.” Currently, he is the faculty of the same college where students mocked him badly. He does treat  the needy patients from his village at his medical college-cum-hospital. “My village still lacks proper facilities. I plan to build good health care centres in future,” he concludes. 


First Published on : 31-07-2013