‘I realised that it wasn’t about exams or ranks, but medicine’

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By Kameswari Padmanabhan

Illustrations: Sudeep Chaudhuri

I GREW up in a modest household in Kerala. One in which a lot of emphasis was obviously laid on a conventional education and a planned-for life. Family astrologers and relatives had told my parents that medicine would be my ‘calling’; that I was destined to save lives for a living. As an impressionable child of 10, I assumed that I would be placing a stethoscope over a person’s chest and they would recover miraculously, that the worst patient I would see would have a bandage on their forehead with a light bloodstain as evidence of major trauma. Though interested in writing, journalism and dance, I was told to pursue these as mere ‘hobbies’. After all, what would I earn as a dancer, and what dangerous places would I have to go to as a journalist?

It was a different matter that I was too uninterested in science. No one paid too much heed to that. However, when the Class XII board results were announced, I managed to do better than what I had expected. ‘Mugging up’, the colloquial term for endless cramming, was never my forte. But that seemed to be the key to success in this education system. I had far too much energy to sit still and, expectedly, did not manage to clear most medical entrance exams. However, since the astrologers had already foreseen my future, a donation was duly paid to a medical college to get me admitted.

The next five-and-a-half years were a process of great self-discovery. I realised that as much as I liked treating people, the system was not supportive of either doctor or patient. Over a period of time, I developed an interest in reading about diseases, but hated, rather despised the sheer lack of sensitivity displayed by some colleagues and their intellectual emptiness while they attempted to showcase their knowledge.

As I write this piece, it has already been two years since I received an undergraduate degree. I am now preparing for my post-graduate entrance exams. Truth be told, I did feel a little lost after I graduated. Though I hate the system, I really do like medicine. But how was I to overcome a system where it was alright to turn a blind eye to one’s own conscience, and everything was just a means to an end, to gain admission to a desired course? But persevere, I decided, I would.

What to make of these two years I have spent in trying to ‘crack’ the post-graduate exams? I have had to defend the time spent (‘wasted’ according to the various uncles and aunties) to everyone. To my parents, of course, then the relatives, friends, colleagues, acquaintances and sometimes even mere passersby. This has been novel and strange. For a person who has never had to think twice about her ‘purpose’ or ‘usefulness’, this has been a particularly hard time. Thankfully, even though I am part of the quintessential middle-class family, my parents know that marriage is, and should be, a personal choice. I have to prove nothing to anyone, I reassure myself, as I set out to climb new mountains

Amid all the personal chaos, clarity found me. It isn’t about these exams or the ranks. It is about medicine. About consoling and curing. Once I realised that, the exams seemed inconsequential and just a stone in my path to be dealt with. Quickly and swiftly. Maybe I didn’t have faith in the system but I did have faith in me. Maybe it is naivety talking. But if I don’t have the conviction to change the system, then I have failed my subject.

I just received the results of yet another entrance exam. In big block letters, I have been informed that I have FAILED. Yet again. Back to the drawing board, is it?

Kameswari Padmanabhan is 25. She is a doctor and a blogger based in Kochi.

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