Pavi Mehta and Suchi Shenoy have just published an outrageous book, Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion. These are two women not usually given to prevarication;* but the inventiveness, thoroughness, and depth of their deceit in Infinite Vision is really quite breathtaking.
The book makes the following absurd claims:
1. That a doctor hailing from a tiny, rural village in South India, whose hands were so badly gnarled with rheumatoid arthritis he had to specially train himself to hold surgical implements, became perhaps the most important eye surgeon in history.
2. That this man, Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy, following his retirement from government service, started an eleven-bed eye clinic, called Aravind, which grew within his lifetime to become the largest eye-care hospital system in the world.
3. That Dr. V and his Aravind colleagues revolutionized cataract surgery, allowing massive numbers of patients suffering from the leading cause of needless blindness to have their sight restored.
4. That ophthalmology residents from the leading medical institutions in Europe and the United States come in droves to train at Aravind, and that Aravind openly and actively teaches its methods to administrators of public and private health care from around the developed and developing world.
5. That, in order to make cataract surgery affordable to the world’s poor, Aravind developed world-class manufacturing capability to deliver intraocular replacement lenses and other surgical supplies at a tiny fraction of the cost at which they were available from American and European manufacturers.
6. That Aravind operates an extensive, well-coordinated mobile outreach program to ensure that its services reach into the poorest districts and most remote villages.
7. That Aravind is the subject of a famous case study at Harvard Business School.
8. That Aravind sees more than 7,500 patients a day and performs more than 300,000 sight-restoring surgeries each year.
Finally, in a coup de grace of imaginary thinking, the book makes the preposterous claim that Aravind provides two-thirds of its services absolutely free-of-charge.
Ms. Mehta and Ms. Shennoy neglect to mention that the Aravind doctors ride unicorns to work; but, otherwise, they seem to have covered every fantastical angle imaginable. As with James Frye’s infamous A Million Little Pieces, an elaborate fraud has been perpetrated on the book-reading public. It is, perhaps, a mitigating factor that little of the public actually reads books.
The Aravind story is an interesting tale, even if one must suspend disbelief to get into some of the characters. It could probably also benefit from a more conventional trope (e.g., a love story, a double-cross, or a gruesome murder) to drive the plot in place of the incessant examples of compassion, brilliance, creative problem-solving, and do-gooding; but this may be quibbling. The only real shame is that the publishers somehow saw fit to pass-off this compelling fantasy as non-fiction.
* Okay, Ms. Mehta is not above white-lies, tall tales, and the occasional whopper; but Ms. Shenoy is a relatively straight-shooter.
UPDATE and CORRECTION
Holy crap! It turns-out this Aravind stuff is all true! Who knew?
You really must read this book. The story of Dr. V and Aravind is one of the most magical, heroic, and inspiring you will ever read. The people who fill the pages of this important volume are some of my favorite in the world — as are the authors. Infinite Vision is available through Amazon in soft-cover and Kindle versions.
And if you’ve overcome incredulity regarding the astonishing accomplishments of Dr. V and his Aravind team over the last three decades, you are probably ready for this unusual news: the authors are donating their royalties from sales of the book to the Aravind Eye Hospitals.
Maybe I didn’t make myself clear enough above. Buy it. Now.