Sunil Gavaskar, Madhuri Mishra and the lessons on influence

He stuffed hand towels in his pant front pockets to make it work like thigh guards and she, far away from him, walked nearly eight kilometers everyday to accomplish her mission. He created a path, she knocked doors. He went from country to country, she went from village to village. He retired years ago, she retired last week. Both unique in their pursuit, but both crossed bridges that we are all walking on today. The two, unknown to each other, have been the one to influence our lives, influence in the largest possible way. Influence in cricket and in vaccines

This month, the cricketing world and India celebrated Sunil Gavaskar for accomplishing what no other Indian had done before him in World Cricket. March 6th was the 50th anniversary of Sunil Gavaskar’s iconic test debut, against West Indies in Port of Spain, Trinidad where he made 774 runs in his debut series, which I have come to realise, is still a record for most runs by a debutant in a series.

An article wrote, “Gavaskar’s feat signalled a change in mindset for Indian cricketers. The belief that his achievement gave the team showed up in the sport and how India battled with the opposition, often in the lion’s den. Given the pittance that sportspersons were paid then, his feats catapulted him into India’s first sports superstar, opening up opportunities for endorsements.” 

Sunil Gavaskar said in an interview that during his early days there were no gears for protection, no helmet, no thigh guards. They just went on. No paraphernalia. What he remembers today is the feeling of pride and happiness when he first wore the Indian Cap during his fielding. 

In 1983, the iconic year for Indian cricket, in a small town Madhuri Mishra, absolutely away from cricket, had defied her family and her circumstances and become a health worker. This was almost five years after the launch of the nationwide immunisation program. This month, Madhuri Mishra retired from the service.

Before we move ahead, here is quick note on immunisation program: smallpox was eradicated in 1977 and the first version of national Immunisation program was launched in 1978 as Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) with the introduction of BCG, OPV, DPT and typhoid-paratyphoid vaccines. The target in EPI was at least 80 per cent coverage in infancy, the vaccination was offered through major hospitals and largely restricted to the urban areas and thus understandably, the coverage remained low. The EPI was rechristened with some major change in focus by the launch of Universal Immunization Programme (UIP) on November 19,1985. The objectives and major focus in UIP was not only to increase production and distribution capacity but also to rapidly increase immunization coverage and reduce mortality. It meant phased implementation – all districts to be covered, including a district-wise system for monitoring and evaluation. 

District-wise monitoring means health workers on the ground. This is where Madhuri Mishra stepped in. For 30 years since then, Madhuri, now 60, walked for 8 kilometers everyday to remote villages to reach and immunise those with least access to healthcare. In an interview she mentioned, “The first few years were very tough. People didn’t want to get immunised. Myths and rumours like vaccines can cause infertility or will make them sick were her battles. She said, “But I’d keep walking, stopping at villages and vaccinating children. It had to be done. At times, people would misbehave. At others they wouldn’t let me enter. I would keep going back, sometimes with others who had vaccinated their children until I could convince them.” She barely took a day off and her ward managers said, wherever she went, there was a surge in mass immunisation. Such was her influence. 

This week, a friend tweeted, ‘Khushi ke aansoo’ (tears of joy) with a picture of her parents post the Covid vaccination in a small town in Bihar. Anywhere you see, whether it is social media or neighbourhood or within the household, there are signs of relief on getting the jab. Wide smiles behind masks, gleamy eyes, these are not just pictures of hope, but also pictures of firm faith. Vaccines are here for real. 

Sunil Gavaskar went from country to country taking India on the world map. Madhuri Mishra went from village to village carrying vaccines and determination in her bag. He didn’t have a helmet to protect himself. She didn’t have vehicles to cover the distance. He batted so confidently in his debut that created a bridge for Indian cricket in the world map. She walked for days and years so that no one was left behind in her area. He created a path for fellow cricketers, more money flowed in, more cricketers gained success.  She opened doors for healthy living, more villages and more districts were covered. Both of them crossed the bridge for many others. Both of them influenced their world. The world of cricket and immunisation respectively. 

In today’s Habits for Thinking, I am bringing your attention to developing mental notes through events around us. Two large events took place in the last few days. Firstly, Sunil Gavaskar was in the news for reasons mentioned above and secondly the covid vaccination drive took off across the country. The two stories, stories of the famous cricketer and the nurse from Agra, who retired this month, are the anchor of these mental notes. And, the note is on the power of influence and how these influencers have created a solid culture in their respective fields. 

Sunil Gavaskar was not the first cricket player to get noticed by the world but he created a mark that still carries a huge weight. Madhuri Mishra is just one story about healthcare workers. If you had a baby at home in the mid 2000’s, you will remember polio-drops healthcare workers coming home. I remember the shocked feeling of seeing the same polio-drops lady for my daughter at my doorstep even after we had shifted home. The lady had managed to find our new address and had landed up at the scheduled time for our baby to not miss the dose. 

Influencers, as we have seen in the case of Sunil Gavaskar and Madhuri Mishra are not made by social media. This Habits for Thinking edition is dedicated to the power of influence that becomes the bedrock of a culture. Cricket is the visible culture in our country. Immunisation is a culture too in India. It is not just years of developing and maintaining a strong distribution system for vaccines, it is in the core of ground level health care workers and every human being to be aware of the importance of the vaccine. The program in 1985 defined “all districts to be covered” and Madhuri Mishra is one of the strongest examples. If all districts are being covered with covid vaccines today, it is because Madhuri Mishra and several health care workers like her have worked hard to create a culture, a culture of immunisation. 

People make the culture. And magnificent influencers, whether a celebrity profile or the next door neighbour strengthen that culture. Both have the same framework of principles to influence:

1. THE RESOLUTE:

It is the determination to work that carries one forward. No paraphernalia, no conveniences yet that perseverance made Madhuri walk and work everyday.

2. THE PURPOSE:

No matter how many times she had to repeat herself, the nurse kept going back to the families that declined her initially. Her purpose was not to keep a count of how many homes she covered but her purpose was not to leave anyone uncovered. 

3. THE CONSISTENCY:

If you have worked for thirty years without taking any break, without any excuse with the same enthusiasm as you had on day one, you would have influenced many coworkers in your journey. Consistency in performance, in showing up everyday becomes the reason for success. 

Like the famous cricketer or the next-door nurse, each one of us has the power to influence. If every manager at office has the power to influence, so does every factory worker. That is what makes a culture of the place. It is not only social media  that makes an influencer. It is the resolve, the purpose and consistency in work that makes an influencer. And, every influencer builds a bridge. 

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