For Shri Mani Rai, her earliest memory is of flowers – beautiful and colourful flowers at her childhood home in Solukhumbu – the foothills of Mt. Everest. At the age of sixteen, she was married, and the couple moved to Pelmang Rural Municipality. There, they started a family.
Life wasn’t without struggles, but the family made do with what little resources they had. However, tragedy struck threefold. In less than a decade Shri Mani first lost her son, then her husband, and then her eyesight.
Her husband, who suffered from asthma, required extensive medical attention and all of the assets that Shri Mani had to her name were exhausted during the course of her husband’s treatment – her land and her small one-room stone brick home.
Although she had suffered from cataracts for a very long time, two years ago, they matured, and Shri Mani was rendered completely blind. With her blindness came helplessness and dependency.
Already living alone in abject poverty, Shri Mani could not afford treatment. The closest eye hospital was more than 15 hours away, and she did not have the financial means or any other form of support to get there. She spent her days in darkness, sitting in one corner of her house, unsure what fate had in store for her.
Her daughter and her granddaughter took turns in helping Shri Mani – they would bring her food, clean her, and arrange her room. This was during the day. At night Shri Mani would be alone – not that daylight or nighttime made much difference to Shri Mani.
In March 2021, a screening team from the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation, who were travelling to remote parts of Solukhumbu District to identify patients with cataract blindness, located her. After inspecting her eyes, they asked her to visit the Cataract Outreach Surgeries to be held in Phaplu by the Tej Kohli and Ruit Foundation in April 2021.
Shri Mani’s family were elated to learn that her surgery would be performed by none one other than Dr Sanduk Ruit, a world-leading eye surgeon who is also referred to as the God of Sight, as part of the outreach initiative of the Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation.
On the 15th of April, Shri Mani made the painstaking jeep ride of 6 hours via rough, risky mountain roads to reach Phaplu. And on the 16th, her surgery was performed by Dr Ruit.
The next morning, anticipation was high – Shri Mani could not wait to have her bandages removed. At 7 a.m., Dr Ruit and his medical team arrived and removed her bandages.
Slowly, she opened her eyes – to sight.
The first thing she saw was Dr Ruit smiling. And then, as she scanned the surrounding, she saw other patients – one, Soorya Mani Rai who was sitting beside her was her neighbour. Shri Mani could not recognize Soorya Mani because she still had her bandages on – however when Soorya Mani’s bandages were removed and both of them saw each other – Ah! That moment was just too precious.
In the background, Shri Mani’s daughter quietly wiped her tears as she saw her mother able to see again. Her mother smiled illustriously.
The next day, before Shri Mani departed for her home, we asked her what she would do now that she could see:
I will take in all the sights from here to my home. I haven’t seen the river in such a long time. I might also tease a few villagers en route you know”, she replied mischievously.
That smile though – it lingered.