By Eisha Sarkar
This April, I had the privilege to meet Tinku Gupta, my fellow-Pax Populi tutor at her home in Kolkata, India. While videoconferencing is great, meeting people in person allows you to discover so much more about the person and even yourself.
Sitting at the dining table of Tinku’s seventh-floor apartment which offers a panoramic view of the city, we discussed cultures, our marriages, education, home interiors, cooking, Mughal history, Kolkata and Afghanistan. â€œMy husband is fed up with Afghanistan,â€ she said and burst out laughing. For the last five years, Tinku, who runs a travel agency, has been facilitating medical treatments and consultation in India for Afghans. â€œIt started with a Rotary project on thalassemia,â€ she said. Her agency had helped an Afghan child get blood transfusions and treatment in Kolkata. Since then, she has been swamped with emails, messages and pictures of people in Afghanistan who are looking to get treated for various ailments in India. â€œThere, the medical services are almost non-existent and many Afghans cannot afford treatment in Western countries. Indian doctors are very competent and because of the cultural similarities, Afghans prefer to be treated here,â€ she explained.
Tinku’s business partners in Kabul screen patients who apply to them for transplants, transfusions, amputations, knee replacements and cataract surgeries. They send her the medical histories of patients, which are often in Dari or Pashto and need to be translated into English. â€œWhen I go to the shop to get a photocopy, they think it is Urdu and ask me if it has come from Pakistan. Then they see ‘Kabul’ written on the envelopes and curiously ask, ‘Afghanistan?’ I enjoy their reactions,â€ she chuckled.
I watched Tinku closely as she giggled through the two-hour conversation. She had worked very hard to make this business model work and while she did feel let down a few times, she asserted, â€œAfghans are wonderful people to work with.â€ I agreed. We talked about Pax Populi and her student, Jamal. Tinku shared a memory from one of their tutoring sessions: â€œI once asked him what he wants to do in the future. Jamal told me he wishes to go to the US and study. I asked him, ‘Will you come back to Afghanistan after your studies?’ He said, ‘Of course! I want to do something for my country.’ I loved it. The youngsters in Afghanistan are very keen to see their country develop. It’s a very positive thing.â€
When I had contacted Tinku to ask her if she would meet me over a coffee, I had intended it to be a discussion about Pax Populi, peace-building and education. I walked away from this meeting with a sense of wonder and a feeling of gratitude that I had met a woman of tremendous courage and strength, who in spite of claiming to be â€œnot ambitiousâ€ had challenged the set norms for a married Indian woman and found a business opportunity where few had dared to go.