Peabody performs at Chitrakoot on August 11. Picture courtesy: Help Me See
Aug. 19: A district town in poverty-stricken Bundelkhand is not where you would expect strains of western classical or jazz to waft out of a public place. Least of all a hospital ward.
But that’s what is happening at the Sadguru Netra Chikitsalaya in Chitrakoot, 350km from Lucknow, ever since Grammy-winning New York violinist Paul Peabody arrived on a three-day visit earlier this month.
It’s unusual that Peabody, who earned global fame with his performance for Titanic, would choose to visit a remote, rocky terrain teeming with bandit dens during an India trip. What swung it for Chitrakoot was that the town is poised to become one of the frontlines in NGOs’ battle against blindness in the country.
Peabody, 56, had been brought to India by Helpage India and the New York-based Help Me See to hold concerts and raise funds for free cataract operations for the poor. So, Chitrakoot slipped into his itinerary along with New Delhi, Agra and Varanasi.
The violinist arrived on August 9 and stayed till August 12 morning, performing with Indian instrumentalists at the Jankikund of the Raghuveer Mandir on each of the three evenings he spent in the town. But every morning and afternoon, he would turn up at the Chikitsalaya, sit in a corridor and play for the patients.
Hardly anyone had heard of Peabody in Chitrakoot till then, though “some of the educated people” may have vaguely heard about Titanic, hospital authorities said. Today, virtually everyone in the town knows about “the American saheb with the violin”.
“During his three performances at the Mandir, he developed an unusual connection with the local people. When he played in the hospital, he brought tears of joy to the patients’ eyes,” Venkatraman, director of programmes and field operations with Help Me See, told The Telegraph over the phone.
So, every morning now, the hospital plays CDs of Peabody’s performance in the corridors and even in the operation theatre during surgery.
“Paul’s Titanic symphony refuses to stop here in the hospital corridors. It has lifted the mood even of the depressed patients here,” Dr L.K. Tripathi, a surgeon at the eye hospital, said.
Hospital authorities confessed they had never before thought of playing music in the wards or operating room though they knew that studies had suggested that music can reduce stress and anxiety and distract patients recovering from surgery and pain. “We’ll continue playing the CDs for sometime,” Venkatraman said.
A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Cardiothoracic Surgery even suggested that music can reduce the rate of rejection of heart transplants in mice. The study by Japanese researchers indicated that opera and classical music influenced the immune system through the spleen and prolonged the survival time of the transplants in the mice compared to single frequency notes. BioMed Central, the journal’s publisher, said in a media release that it was not clear how music had this effect on the immune system.
Peabody performed in Delhi on August 5. He had said there: “I have performed at Agra and Varanasi and will soon be travelling to Chitrakoot. A school has been set up for 1,400 visually impaired children there.”
His concerts in Chitrakoot, sponsored by corporate houses, were free for the audience.
The Chikitsalaya, a 354-bed super-speciality eye hospital, plans to open a centre where 1,500 local doctors will be trained in cataract surgery so they can operate at rural eye camps.
“Once the training centre is opened, 15,000 patients will get back their vision,” Venkataraman said. Doctors estimate there are 12 million visually impaired people in India, over 60 per cent of them patients of cataract.
“Restoring sight is like giving someone a whole new world of colour, light and, most of all, hope. This cause is too close to my heart,” Peabody had told the audience before playing the Titanic score to the accompaniment of the tabla during his three-hour concert on August 11 night.
Peabody has worked with Michael Jackson and Madonna and is said to have recorded music for over 90 movies including Walt Disney films and the Coen Brothers’ Fargo. He had performed in New Delhi during the 2010 Commonwealth Games too.