Larry Brilliant and Neem Karoli Baba – How They Gave Indians The Smallpox Vaccination Scar

If you are an Indian, and born before mid 70s, you are mostly likely to have two scars in your upper arm: BCG vaccine scar and Smallpox vaccine one. BCG vaccines are still being administered (but with a smaller scar) but Smallpox vaccines are not. Because, smallpox has been successfully eradicated from India and from the face of this earth . (So, no more two scars for youngsters these days.)

This is an amazing, incredible story.

The smallpox vaccination drive had been going on in India since the early 1920s but not on a massive scale it warranted. But, when the campaign got resurrected in 1970s, no one expected it to achieve much, but, it took off with a momentum of its own.

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The smallpox vaccination program was visualized and planned by WHO officials, such as Dr Donald Henderson, Dr Bill Foege, Dr Nicole Grasset and executed by thousands of indefatigable faceless, nameless healthcare workers. How doctors from over 150 countries (at the height of cold war) joined hands with thousands of healthcare workers in India to fight an epidemic, working tirelessly, visiting of thousands of villages and making a billion house calls, is a miracle story that deserves telling and re-telling.

What makes this story of eradication of smallpox  even more riveting is that it is two persons, a rookie doctor and his guru who were largely instrumental in taming the scourge of smallpox  in a short span of time.

Till date, the eradication of smallpox remains one of mankind’s greatest public health triumphs.

Let’s hear it from Dr Larry Brilliant (from 1.20 onwards) :

Larry Brilliant - The battle to eradicate smallpox - INK Salon Delhi 2015

Larry’s is an amazing, inspiring story. Wired magazine once wrote, “If Larry Brilliant’s life were made a film, critics would pan the plot as implausible.”

Trivia #1 : Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google committed 1% of the company’s equity and 1% of its annual profits to philanthropy as they wanted to make Google an institution that makes the world a better place. They set up as the main route to disburse these funds and whom did they pick to head their philanthropic arm?

Trivia #2 : Dr Larry Brilliant and his wife Dr Girija Brilliant made a few seconds appearance, as a part of a group of hippies, in the song ‘Dum Maro Dum’, from the Hindi film ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’.

Trivia #3: Dr Larry Brilliant was the consultant to the screenplay writer of the movie ‘Contagion’ that predicted the Covid-19 almost to near-perfect chilling detail.

Dr Larry Brilliant talks about his friendship with Steve Jobs in

Steve was part of the development of the Seva Foundation.
In that meeting there was Dr. Venkataswamy and Nicole Grasset, who had worked in smallpox, and Ram Dass, and Wavy, and so many wonderful people were in the room. Steve came after having had the first meeting of the board of directors of Apple. Arthur Rock became the chairman and Steve had just gotten a new suit, and a new Mercedes. He was trying so hard to be a good corporate citizen, and he drove from Palo Alto to Marin and he was tired. He got out of his car and walked into the room; he blew past everybody there. He said, “The way you’ve got to build Seva is like this. You’ve got to go call Regis McKenna. You gotta bring him in. You’ve got to do marketing.”
He got a little ahead of himself and I kicked him out.
He sat in the parking lot in that new Mercedes, in his new suit and his roommate from Reed, Sita Ram Dass, was with him. After an hour and a half, Sita came up to me and said, “You know, Steve’s still here.”
I went out into the parking lot and stood by the car and Steve looked at me. He opened the door, and we hugged, and he cried. He was sitting in his car crying.
I said, “Steve. It’s okay. Really. Come on back in. All’s forgiven.”
He said, “No, I messed up. I was wrong. Everybody was right. I was wrong. I was arrogant.”
I said, “Come on back in. It’s okay.”
He said, “I will come in, and I will apologize, and then I will leave.”
He said, “Larry I have two beings in my head. One is with Arthur Rock and my shareholders and the other is with everything that Seva represents. I’m both people. I’m still the kid at Reed who took LSD and who snuck the name of of “RAM” (name of a god in Hindu mythology) inside of every Apple II. These two beings in my head, they’re at war with each other.”

[Larry pauses and says to all of us listening, “What, you thought it was Random Access Memory?”  [laughter all around]

I’m reminded of the Native American admonition, when a young brave goes up to the elder and says, “How will I be able to lead a light on the righteous path?”
The elder says, “There are 2 wolves inside of you. One is spewing hatred and venom, and the other is talking about love, and peace, and harmony.”
The young brave says, “Which one will win?”
The elder says, “The one that you feed.”
That was Steve in that moment.

On June 15 every year, devotees from all around the world gather at the ashram (situated near Nainital) to celebrate the foundation day of the Neem Karoli Baba temple and to partake the day-long ‘prasad’ distribution festivities.

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Author: Blog Desk
Blog Desk comprises many freelance medical and science writers with over a decade of experience in journalism. They have masters qualifications in journalism, science and management and have contributed significantly to the building of this portal. The authors can be contacted at blogdesk (at) skillmd (dot) com.

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