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Nº 121 – Empathy

Saturday 8th January 2022.

Our dear friend, Bal Krishna, is dead. Bal just made it into the new year, before dying in the evening of the first day of 2022 at Portimao hospital where he’d already had to spend nearly three weeks. We are mourning a great, sensitive human being with a big heart. Whenever I visited him I felt accepted. Generous, modest and humble, he  often reminded me of the great Mahatma Gandhi. He loved to go swimming in the Atlantic sea at crack of dawn. A quiet and calm man, he was a pioneer in lending his calling and his empathy an earthly shape with a great persistence and devotion, without ever tiring. These were the words a colleague used to describe him only recently.

I’d like to tell even those who never met Bal that he was a good, a great human being and medic, esteemed in many countries. Small in stature, he had great courage and endless patience and possessed great empathy, shaped by the Indian medicine he practiced for many years out of a deep yet humble conviction. However, he was also a philosopher, viewing human beings as a whole. While his family hailed from India, he was born and schooled in South Africa, home to a major Indian and Portuguese community. Together with his wife Ana and their three daughters, one of them a doctor herself now – who I’d like to express my condolences to here – they founded the Karuna (Empathy) centre in Monchique, at the foot of Picota peak. Karuna enjoys worldwide fame for its silent and meditation retreats.


Whomever Bal treated in Monchique or in Porto would leave a donation in a little bowl, which financed the centre. Everyone gave what they could after receiving what they needed in medical and human terms. Bal helped so many people who were sent on their way with a few pills, only to find themselves left standing on their own in the street, to take their prescription to the pharmacy. If you knew him and spent time with him, you had no more need for antidepressants. Bal realised that his Portuguese patients were being stuffed full of antidepressants by medics. Within the EU, Portugal occupies the top spot for the medical prescription of this chemical, addiction-inducing drug. He was an experienced doctor following Ayurvedic philosophy from India, yet also a master of Chinese acupuncture. Our neighbour on the way up to the 776 m Picota peak, Bal was a doctor serving the poor in particular, who was always present for his patients. For many years he helped people in Tibet, Nepal, China and India. To do so, he undertook long hard trips to Asia, to foster his own knowledge and to train younger medics. His character was made up of qualities that no longer have much currency these days: to help sick people in pain without charge, and to take unlimited time to engage in good, difficult talks with them. Something that was of the utmost importance to him was a deep sense of empathy, which in his view was a prerequisite for him to be allowed to exist in this world and do good.

Bal Krishna reached the age of 71. Back in the summer of 2017, ECO123 featured a major interview with Bal on pages 30-37 of our edition no. 18. They are free to download, and you‘ll find that particular edition and all others in our online archive.

Uwe Heitkamp (60)

trained TV journalist, book author and hobby botanist, father of two grown-up children, knows Portugal for 30 years, founder of ECO123. Translations : Dina Adão, João Medronho, Kathleen Becker
Fotos: Uwe Heitkamp

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