Ofcourse the steaming hot tea was crucial to rejuvenate brains exhausted by the extensive and complicated knowledge bombarded by dedicated teachers in medical college. For some tea alone was not sufficient. So positions were taken for hiding faces in case teachers walked by. One can hide the cigarette, but not the smoke. If at all any teachers / “papa ke dost” passed by, all effort was made in steps… avoid eye contact, if failed, don’t recognize, if failed, just give a smiling busy brief nod, and start talking to your friend. In case of emergency handover the cigarette to your always ready-to-save friend. (And people think doctors learn only medical emergencies!). Most teachers understood and complied, but sometimes someone came to talk, in which case the precious tea and its companion were both wasted. However much you love someone, they cannot interrupt your precious tea time unless you invite it.
GK ordered the ‘cutting’ tea for everyone out of his turn, as his crush had looked at him and smiled today.
As the hot beverage started to sing upon our systems, AK walked in, all wet. He had a keen eye. Pointing at a torn portion in MM’s pants he described the potential hazard. MM invited him to enjoy that hazard free. There were personal comments by SG and YK that would not be even thought of near our parents.
UP walked in and started to describe the portion for next week’s exams. He was collectively bashed, mentally tormented and reminded of his failed proposal to a girl from his community last week. Some communal comments were also passed, contributed by his own community members sipping tea next to us. Nobody was offended, there were no riots. He left, determined to study more. I mean, we respect studies and all, but there are times when talking academics is pervert.
The junior batches were out. The tea shop transformed into a silent observatory. The understanding of each other’s preferences was so perfect that if countries were loved as much, there won’t have been any wars! Sometimes there were disputes, and the sarcasm, bitterness that generated seeped into the souls, to become a lifelong rivalry. We may talk again, be friends, help in need, but never love each other..
Once all the “interesting parties” left, and the second “cutting” tea started its magic, we started descending into real world. Our ideals were mostly to become like our teachers: to know enough to diagnose everything correctly, to do surgeries with perfection and style, to save lives directly or indirectly, to be known as the best doctors in our respective fields. There were universal vows of never being “sold out” for money, never turning off a poor patient, but also dreams of luxury cars, one’s own bungalow, and ofcourse the current crush in that bungalow (some dared more).
There were also plans of making parents ‘superhappy’ for all the sacrifices thay had made (so what if my father speaks like that? He has gone through a lot to pay for my fees… and this was government college!). The most frequent dream was that of serving the poorest of the poor, while earning a very good name, fame, researching to find solutions to cancer, AIDS, and so many other killers. To win a Nobel in medicine and be respected all over OUR India, make her proud.
We shared almost everything. There were no barriers. There was freedom to corner and blast a friend for encroaching upon someone’s love-interest, but there also was the duty to take him out that evening to the nearest calming hotel that offered liquids which most poets like. We never collectively had more than five hundred rupees (including the hundred in the secret suitcase pouch of an absent friend MC) , but nothing ever stopped for want of money. Local friends like FK were dinner backups, and it did not matter what was your religion. First day first shows (and next day the dialogue “Shahenshah is not going to save you now in your exams” by a teacher whose lecture was bunked … and a terrified AK for that term!), weeks of entire nights spent in the wake of rejection in love, listening to sad songs, smoking away while friends patiently tolerated your blabber, trips to Goa, all shared and Xeroxed books: we had everything we wanted in life then. Most importantly, we laughed a lot: at others, at hypocrisy, at ourselves and our helpless poverty, even at our failures.
Our crushes were simpler, and were happy with poems, rainwalk and respectful admittance of love with a pinch of competitor’s weaknesses cleverly hidden in apparent praise (i.e. : He is very good, but he said sick things about you that I didn’t like.. You may tolerate, but I cannot!). Stronger the competitor, bitter the praise.
There never was any meaning in the drink-sharing, gossiping, pseudosocial relationships, and we were glad that our friendships never needed parties as a premise, nor status as a prerequisite.
The bond we shared was neurocardiac, with a shade of psycho.
Now we are settled well, with average/good cars and residences, doing well enough to educate children well. Some are caught up in the race for numbers, financial or social. Most of us do not get time to meet for years together, whatsapp and fb have kept the channels open more than ever, but we do not know what goes on in each other’s life, we do not want to share, and we do not tolerate interference by the very people who once took our cigarette in their hands to save our reputation in front of family / teachers or crush. We are lost for each other.
We mostly have more material than what we set out to win. There were cruel realisations on the way: that malpractice is directly proportional to one’s riches, that genuine, real, advanced research is impossible if you stay in India, that there is a huge misunderstanding against the whole medical profession. That the very community serving whom was our dream has turned against us in a blame game difficult to solve. That our own friends sometimes have to be fought against in the battle of right. That a clean, honest life is not compatible with affluence. That you must belong to social / political/ religious clans to win accolades for good work.
That respect of Indian society which blindly imitates anything rich people do comes with the poverty clause for doctors. That your own teachers sometimes presume that hardwork, honesty, merit are rewards unto themselves, a doctor should not dream of affluence of standards at par with the society he / she belongs to.
That the barrier not only among us friends has heightened, but the valley between doctors and the society is widening beyond repair, any jumps to cross these heights and widths are becoming impossible.
In the survival race we have lost our dreams and hopes. God knows how healthy, how energetic and how powerful we all were then, and how helpless we are now.
Dreams were us then. What remains is a mixture of petty compromises, unrespected sweat and blood shed in an attempt to live a good life, and memories of those dreams.
The rain has stopped. I hate this dryness in life.
If only we could pursue those dreams even today (in some cases, including that crush!), our lives may become meaningful once again.
Let it rain again, Lord!
(c) Rajas Deshpande
Please share unedited with credits.
PS: Special thanks to Dr. Ganesh Kulkarni for a reminder of those days today!