Ulhas Masaji sat down at the table across from me with two, white A4 sheets. He took out his pen that had been neatly tucked in the heart pocket of his Khadi shirt — a shirt he had spun himself, in true Gandhian fashion.
He had taken the train from Wardha to Pune that week — his beloved wife was recovering from knee surgery, and he was obviously going to be there right by her side.
“Anish Beta, when are we talking? Her physiotherapy gets done at 4 pm so I’m free after that.”
My proud uncle had told him about the work that I was trying to do here in Pune, so he might have been curious. But I was a lot more curious.
I had read the only book he had written in English, Towards Holistic Rural Health, and I was floored.
For over forty years, Dr Ulhas Jajoo and his team of student doctors had served over forty neighbouring villages. It all started with basic health check-ups but evolved into something a lot bigger — the overall well-being of the rural poor while driving accountability and long-term sustenance.
But the most compelling part was how the team evolved its thinking.
They iterated on ideas sitting right alongside village folk, collected data, analysed it, charted trends and calculated ratios, conducted experiments, and then scaled interventions that actually worked to other villages.
And this started in 1978.
Before computers and mobile phones were common things. Back when they had to go village to village, person to person collecting data by hand, and doing old-school math on sheets of paper with pencils and scales.
Some decades later, as I sat across from him in Pune in awe, Ulhas Masaji was still more comfortable with his white A4 sheets, and his pen.
“Bol Beta, tell me about you.”
I said, “NO, tell me about you”. But he insisted, and prodded and poked and questioned and took notes on his white A4 sheets, unearthing the why of what I wanted to do.
And I remember thinking: this stalwart of good, bubbling with intellect hidden in the coffers of the non-English world, who had dedicated decades of his life to the poor, wasn’t forcing humility. He just embodied it. He was intrigued by the why of today’s youth, all the while drowning in the purpose of doing good work. Nothing else really mattered.