Ramayana reimagined: The novel that sees Surpanakha a happy woman

Telugu writer Volga’s ‘The Liberation of Sita’ is definitely not the standard version of the epic.

“How did you come out of such sorrow, Surpanakha?”

“It was hard. It was hard finding the real meaning of beauty. I was so proud of my beauty. You don’t know how much I adored my nose. The sharp noses of you, Aryans, looked strange to me. There’s beauty in strangeness, too, of course. My nose was neither sharp nor flat. It was, I thought, exactly how Eshwar must have conceived the perfect nose in the beginning of Creation. I was so proud of my nose! I used to adorn it with yellow and white wild flowers which shone like stars on either side.

“When my lovers tenderly kissed the tip of my nose, it used to arouse me.

“No one except I will understand what it meant to lose such a nose. I endured all that misery. I endured the burden of all those perverted thoughts that arose out of my disfigurement. Sometimes I felt like disfiguring everyone, everything.

“To come out of that spitefulness, to love beauty once again, to understand the essence of form and formlessness – I had to wage a huge battle against myself. My only collaborator in that battle was this infinite nature.

“I struggled a lot to grasp that there is no difference between beauty and ugliness in nature. I observed many living creatures and understood that movement and stillness are one and the same. I discovered the secrets of colours. I had no guru in this matter. I pursued it on my own. I searched every particle in nature, and in the course of that search, my own vision has changed. Everything began to look beautiful to my eyes. I, who hated everything including myself, began to love everything including myself.

“To recognise that the response evoked in me by a little bird, which had been pecked and displumed by its fellow birds, was a feeling at once of love and beauty, and to seize that response and understand its meaning– the effort I made to achieve all this was extraordinary.

“Gradually I learned to love my hands. I learned how to create, work and serve with those hands. It took more than ten years for all this to happen. After ten years of rigorous practice and hard work bore fruit, I began growing this garden.”

Surpanakha unravelled before Sita the beauty and truth of her life’s journey.

“How beautiful you are, Surpanakha! How does it matter whether any man appreciates your beauty or not,” Sita’s voice choked.

Surpanakha’s trial was no less than the trial by fire that I had to go through—Sita thought and it brought tears to her eyes.

But Surpanakha laughed, beautifully, joyously.

“Why? Don’t men have eyes? Don’t they have a heart? I’m not talking about men who only know how to disfigure and to hate the disfigured.”

“You mean...” Sita did not complete the sentence but its meaning was clear.

“Your guess is correct, Sita. I found the companionship of a man. There is a man who could own for a while the beauty that flows into nature through my hands and could surrender himself to me.” So saying Surpanakha called out, “Sudhira!”

A strong, well-built man, who perfectly fit the description of his name, appeared.

“This is Sita.’

Sudhira greeted Sita respectfully, with folded hands.

“I just called you to introduce you to Sita.’

At this, Sudhira turned back and left. In that moment’s interaction, Sita could see that there was between them a relationship which she had not seen before between any man and woman.

“You’ve made your life a success, haven’t you?” Sita asked.

“I’ve realised that the meaning of success for a woman does not lie in her relationship with a man. Only after that realisation, did I find this man’s companionship.”

Sita intently listened to Surpanakha’s words. There was a rare wisdom and dignity in her words. One felt like listening to her again and again.

“Sita – what about you?’

“I find fulfillment in bringing up my sons.’

“Is that the goal of your life?’

“Yes. I’m Rama’s wife. As the queen, I couldn’t discharge my duties. I must at least give to Ramarajya its heirs.”

“You never lived in that kingdom, yet see how your life is entangled in it, Sita!’

“Yes, being a king’s wife, it is inevitable, isn’t it?” Sita smiled.

“I don’t know why, but I was always afraid of kingdoms. Despite my brother’s persuasion, I never lived in the city of Lanka. The joy you get from wandering in a forest, you don’t get anywhere else.”

“I too like the forest life. When Rama abandoned me, this forest softened my suffering.”

Time simply flew as they conversed.

“My children do not know that they are Sri Rama’s sons. I have not told them. They’ll know when the time comes.”

“Once they get to know, you think they’ll live even for a minute more in the forest?” Surpanakha looked pityingly at Sita.

“They too love this forest life” Sita said feebly.

“They may like it. But the kingdom has no love for the forest. For the development of cities and for the protection of the citizens, it may become inevitable for children of the forest to migrate.”

Sita too knew it was inevitable.

“What will you do then? Will you stay back alone at Valmiki’s ashram?”

“No, Surpanakha. I will take refuge in my mother, Bhudevi.”

“Isn’t your mother omnipresent, Sita? I think your mother is manifest more beautifully here than anywhere else.”

Surpanakha proudly surveyed her garden.

Sita smiled, having understood Surpanakha’s suggestion. Her heart swelled with joy at Surpanakha’s unsolicited affection. She felt a bond of sisterhood with her.

“I will certainly come, Surpanakha. After my children leave me and go to the city, I will become the daughter of Mother Earth. Resting under these cool trees, I shall create a new meaning for my life.”

Their conversation stopped as the children returned.

Surpanakha gave the children ripe fruits from her garden, which they ate with relish.

“Mother, who is she?” they enquired on their way back.

“She is someone very close to me. A dear friend.”

“But you never told us about her.’

“You’ll know everything at the right time. But never forget the way to this garden in this forest. Wherever you may go, whatever you may do, never forget this path.”

“We will not forget, Mother,” Lava and Kusa promised.

Excerpted with permission from The Liberation of Sita, Volga, translated from the Telugu by T. Vijay Kumar and C. Vijayasree, Harper Perennial.

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What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

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Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the marketing team and not by the editorial staff.