by Larry Brilliant
Larry Brilliant shines in this unusual account of his role in the eradication of smallpox in India, where an epidemic in 1974 sickened or killed 200,000 people. As a member of the World Health Organisation team for that country, Brilliant was involved in the sometimes forced vaccinations of Indians who resisted such intervention (for religious reasons), thus bringing to fruition a prediction of his guru that smallpox would be wiped out quickly. The mystic’s presence in the lives of “Doctor America” and his wife (who changed her name from Elaine to Girija, as you did in the 1970s) attests to the fact Brilliant was no ordinary medic. He was a radical hippie and civil rights activist from Detroit, who had tripped off to India in his 20s to live on an ashram in the Himalayan foothills. Another spiritual seeker was Steve Jobs, who lectured Brilliant on eating meat and “contributing to killing”. A close friend in later years, Jobs would die less than a year after Brilliant and Girija lost their 26-year-old son to cancer. Brilliant’s story reminds us of a generation that fought for social change and the role of compassion in medical history.