Making Excellence A Habit: The Secret to Building a World Class Healthcare System in India by V. Mohan

Making Excellence A Habit: The Secret to Building a World-Class Healthcare  System in India by Dr. V. Mohan

Part-memoir and part-manifesto for inspired living, “Making Excellence a Habit” is one man or rather one determined family’s unrelenting crusade to prevent and treat diabetes. Dr.V.Mohan started out with his wife Rema Mohan in an unassuming fashion in 1991 on a mission. Egged on by borrowed funds and benevolent well wishers the couple faced insurmountable hurdles ranging from a scheming landlord to a most unsuitable location in which to begin a dedicated medical facility for the treatment of diabetic patients. Undeterred they persuaded, ploughed away, and persisted. At the time of writing this review, Dr. Mohan’s Group is one of the largest chains of diabetes centres in the world, comprising 48 branches spanning eight states and spread across thirty two cities all over India. This Group has treated to the north of 900,000 patients and is also the collaboration centre for World Health Organization on Non Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control.

Dr. Mohan’s capabilities and renown transcends geographies. In the year 2018, the American Diabetes Association conferred the 2018 Dr Harold Rifkin Award for Distinguished International Service in the Cause of Diabetes on Dr Mohan. As on date, he remains the only Indian to have been the beneficiary of this august honour. As the diabetologist chronicles in the early part of his book, his ambition was more to follow in the aesthetic footsteps of Shelley and Wordsworth than in wielding a stethoscope or a scalpel. However an enviable pedigree and an engrossing opportunity put paid to such hopes. Dr. Mohan’s father Professor M. Viswanathan is popularly referred to as the “father of diabetology” in India. He was the first medical professional in the nation channel all his efforts in furiously dissecting diabetes to its minutest level with an avowed objective of serving the Indian populace plagued with this silent killer. He soon took the enterprising Dr. Mohan under his tutelage and the father son duo tackled the onset and progression of this disease with a maniacal rigour. “By the time I had completed my undergraduate medical education, I had already written twenty research papers. As our economic standing improved, I also started travelling with my father—initially, around the country and, soon, all around the world. This exposed me to the work done on diabetes at various research centres and universities, nationally and internationally. Needless to say, my self-confidence got a huge boost.”

But as Dr. Mohan demonstrates in a telling manner, nothing comes in life on a platter. Grit, guts, and gumption are indispensable handmaidens of success. This is the very grit that has ensured that this famed practioner has penned more than 1300 peer reviewed research papers in the field of diabetology. A devout man, the doctor is also an ardent follower of Bhagawan Sathya Sai Baba, the popular spiritual Guru. The author’s twin-pronged belief in prayer and the power of positive thinking is articulated in a Chapter where a patient through unflagging will power and persistent prayers successfully brings down his blood sugar levels from an alarming number to a perfectly “manageable” number.

Dr. Mohan also pays a moving and heartfelt tribute to his late wife Dr. Rema Mohan. A specialist in diabetic retinopathy herself, Rema was a pillar of strength and succour in the life of Dr. Mohan. Working with an indefatigable fervour in the running and embellishment of Dr. Mohan’s Specialist Diabetes Centre she was the epitome of encouragement and optimism. Even when beset by cancer and undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she continued to work from home. “It was during this difficult period that she wrote her PhD thesis and eventually became the first ophthalmologist in India to obtain a PhD degree. Although a clinician, Rema did basic research on the biochemistry of diabetic eye disease, which was most unusual for an ophthalmologist.”

Dr. Mohan throughout the book displays his penchant for literature and an insatiable love of books. Deriving inspiration from both spiritual and scientific authors, he co-relates many incidents from his own life with passages from various books. Dr. Mohan also illuminates his readers on the valuable lessons one can learn from failures and setbacks. Many branches of Dr. Mohan’s Diabetes Centres were shut down in various cities (one Centre was unsuccessful after incurring huge expenses in Muscat even) on account of various factors and as Dr. Mohan humbly states, each failure was a lesson that collectively warned him about the perils of spreading oneself thin.

Dr. Mohan also places invaluable emphasis on the need for inculcating an altruistic bent. His Group approached the World Diabetes Foundation (WDF) in Denmark and requested their support in establishing a telemedicine unit. With the support of the WDF, Dr. Mohan and his Group fabricated, from scratch, a mobile diabetes clinic, the first of its kind, fitted with all the equipment needed to screen for diabetes and its complications. The Indian Space Research Organization donated a satellite link, which was fitted on the bus. This enabled the images in real time, to be sent, from the van to a base hospital in Gopalapuram in Chennai. Quoting “The Psychology of Persuasion” by bestselling author Robert B. Cialdini, Dr. Mohan goads his reader to ‘start by taking the smallest possible action towards your goal and then leverage that commitment to motivate yourself to do more.’

As Dr.Mohan educates his readers, the pernicious yet burgeoning incidence of child obesity also contributes immensely to an upsurge in diabetes. With a view to nip child obesity in the bud, Dr. Mohan commenced a vast programme to prevent obesity in children. “Through the Obesity Reduction and Awareness and Screening of Noncommunicable Diseases through Group Education in Children and Adolescents (or ORANGE) project, we reached out to 22,000 children in over 100 schools in Chennai, both government and private, where we taught them the importance of healthy eating, physical exercise and the overall need to prevent or treat obesity. The project was a huge success and led to an improvement in the lifestyles and health of thousands of children. One can practice the prevention of diabetes.”

“Making Excellence a Habit” is a passionate quasi-autobiography that illustrates the power of determination, devotion, dedication, and discipline. It would not be out of place to state to conclude that Dr. Mohan seems to lead his life uncompromisingly based on one of the favourite quotes of his spiritual preceptor, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, “hands that help are holier than the lips that pray.”

Operation Varsity Blues – Chris Smith

Netflix documentary to examine man behind college admissions scandal | KUTV

In her book “Let Me Tell You What I Mean”, Joan Didion in an achingly wistful fashion recounts her feeling of desolation upon receiving a letter of rejection from Stanford University. In an essay titled “On Being Unchosen by the College of One’s Choice”, which every parent ought to read, Didion mulls on how she  contemplated suicide while sitting on the edge of her bathtub with an old bottle of codeine-and-Empirin. Sanity prevails in the end as she brushes away the ominous thought. Upon hearing the news that her daughter’s application to Stanford was rejected, Didion’s father just shrugs and offers her a drink. “I think about that shrug with a great deal of appreciation whenever I hear parents talking about their children’s “chances””, muses Didion.

Director Chris Smith of “American Movie” fame brings to bear in a brilliantly matter-of-fact yet devastating manner, the infamous college admissions scandal that rocked and shocked the United States. In an original Netflix documentary titled, “Operation Varsity Blues”, Chris Smith showcases the brazen and seemingly inconceivable “side door” scheme perpetuated by the now convicted “education and life coach” Rick Singer. Matthew Modine, who essays the character of Rick Singer to un-distilled brilliance, boasts to one of his high profile clients, “if you want to use my side door at Harvard, it is $1.2 million. But if you wanna go through the backdoor, Harvard’s asking for $45 million.” Neither the scheming counselor nor the willing parent even considers the “front-door” option which has students getting into Ivy League Institutions through talent and grit alone.

Celebrities, business tycoons and magnates and fashionistas made a scramble for the Rick Singer’s side-door. When the scandal was unearthed and the dust settled down, Singer has pocketed approximately $25 million between 2011-18. Most of the money went in bribing college administrators and coaches. Singer had opened a jaw-dropping 761 side doors when the penny finally dropped. Throughout the documentary, Modine works the phones with a single minded determination bordering on the obsessive. Regaling his impressed and astonished potential clients with his modus operandi, Modine furiously works through 21 hour workdays, jet setting from coast to coast. The documentary also depicts Modine establish a for profit education counseling company “The Key”, in addition to setting up a nonprofit foundation “The Key Worldwide Foundation” that is exempt from tax. This is exactly what Singer did. Depending upon the institution which a parent wishes his or her child to secure admissions in, Singer named a price and the amount was wire transferred into the foundation’s account. The money was then channeled to enrich various “point men” such as Yale University Football coach Rudy Meredith and USC Water Polo Coach, Jovan Vavic, who were hand in glove with Singer.

Amongst the people who participated in this insidious scheme were Hollywood celebrities, Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin; founder and chairman of International Dispensing Corp, a food and beverage packaging company, Gregory Abbott; CEO of a boutique marketing company Trendera, Jane Buckingham; owner of a family wine vineyard in Napa Valley, Agustin Huneeus Jr; and senior executive at TPG private equity firm William McGlashan Jr. As Perry Kalmus, an independent education counselor bemoans in the documentary, “the running line in our industry is like, ‘the parents are applying to college’. The kid is the vehicle through which they apply to college. Chris Smith dexterously employs the wiretapped phone calls of Rick Singer and weaves a story line in a totally non-linear fashion based on such phone calls. Smith also succeeds in getting a firsthand testimony from one of the accused in the case, who incidentally was also the one who was let off with the lightest indictment on account of being held not maliciously culpable. Stanford sailing coach John Vandemoer holds forth about how Singer pumped funds into his sailing programme but where the funds were actually utilized for enriching the very purpose for which it was reluctantly made available.

Smith also chillingly portrays the role played by Mark Riddell in the entire grandiose scheme of things conceived by Rick Singer. A Harvard graduate himself in addition to being a former director of college entrance exam preparations at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, Riddell was paid $10,000 for each of the harmonized ACTs or SATs which he was required to edit for the students. Riddell frequently flew from Florida where he was residing to various test centres in Texas and California. At the test centres he doubled up as a proctor before manipulating applicant’s answers to arrive at a ‘predetermined’ score.

“The word prestige means deceit in French” explains John Reider, a former Admissions Officer at Stanford. Prestige that is generally attached to admissions into the hallowed portals of Ivy League institutions, according to Reider is just an “imaginary illusion.” In an era where education symbolizes more badges of honour than an infusion of character, and where – as Michael Sandel illustrates in his brilliant book, “The Tyranny of Merit” – entry into an elitist Ivy League Institution becomes the very end, rather than a mean, Chris Smith in a breathtaking manner blows the lid open to reveal a broken system that exploits anxieties of parents and the angst of children to the hilt thereby birthing a form of corruption that is not just endemic, but institutionalized.  

The insipid and almost laughable nature of “punishments” imposed by the Department of Justice on the perpetrators of the Operation Varsity Blues scam will only lead to an intermittent lull in proceedings before there arrives more grist for a perpetually working mill. Meanwhile the likes of Chris Smith still go about their work unstintingly in trying their best to throw some sand in the gear. May The Force Be With their ilk!