“What do you want to become when you grow up?” I remember Ms Jayalekshmy , my 3rd grade mathematics teacher asking this deeply philosophical question in our class almost three decades ago.
“Doctor”, “Engineer”, “Cricketer”,“Engineer”, “rich”,“Bigger” (!),“astronaut”, “cosmonaut” (The cold war was very much on those days)“Fire-engine driver”, “Policeman” (I suppose that should be ‘police-person’ in this age of gender equality, but in those uncomplicated days none of the girl students were particularly interested in this particular profession anyway)……..more or less standard answers you would expect from any bunch of eight year olds, even now.
I believe that when it comes to the ‘“What do you want to become when you grow up?”most of us grow up with vague, very attractive, mostly unachievable dreams of being some kind of celebrity in the future – successful film star, captain of the Indian cricket team who is part-time captain of the football team, who is part-time boyfriend to the latest pretty young thing in Bollywood also, prime minister of a non-coalition government, etc. etc….simple and clear concepts. Later at a certain age when your abstract thinking skills are more developed (i.e ‘you see the light’) you bring down your expectations and start thinking more realistically. This is the first ‘eureka’ moment .Now you start thinking on the lines of the standard job-sets – doctor ,engineer ,lawyer etc. etc. You gradually realize that you (or your parents J) have a preference for one of these standard job types and you work towards ‘becoming’ a doctor or engineer or whatever…..
If you are really lucky sometimes you have that second ‘eureka’ moment in life, when you realize what is that you have a real passion for. It might come before or after you venture into one of the more mundane ‘standard’ jobs .Unfortunately out of the lucky few who experience this great moment, fewer still have the guts to throw caution to the winds and take flight with their dreams.
Now if you’re thinking you’re in for a bit of the Arindam Chaudury- ‘discover the diamond in you’ thing or some similar crazy pep psychology thing.....don’t worry…the idea was only to get it across to you that I too had at least one of these ‘eureka’ moments’. The defining moment was around the tenth grade when I had to reluctantly visit a dermatologist for a very neglected , very scratchy ,very ugly fungal infection in an unmentionable area. I had to wait a couple of hours before I could meet a certain Dr B . I being me, divided the time judiciously to ogle at 1) The sleak and shiny Mercedes idling away in the garage of his palatial home cum consulting space 2) More importantly at the impressive line of not –so-bad looking female patients waiting in the reception area. Finally when my turn came, the good doctor took 2 minutes and 200 bucks , gave me a list of medicines, and asked me to come back after two weeks ( I assume with another 200 bucks, though it was not mentioned explicitly in his prescription).Anyhow I luckily got better much before the 2 weeks periods, and so skipped a review. However now I knew what to do with my life - Merc + 200bucks for a 2 minute consult + loads of female patients (many of them pimply maybe, but female all the same) + (best part) I get to treat my own ugly fungal infections by myself –Eureka!!! I wanted to be a dermatologist – the small problem was that apparently you needed to graduate in medicine before you get to specialize in dermatology……………..and with that began a rather interesting journey which saw me catapulted into the hallowed hallways of the Government Medical College , Trivandrum.
I was recently going through an old poll – year 2000 vintage on our batch e-groups site, which was basically something vaguely on the lines of ‘which specialty would you opt for’. We were of course freshly out of our internship ….full time into what we medicos label adoringly as ‘entrance thoyilalism’ (for non-doctors and non-mallus: ‘Thoyilali’ means ‘worker’ or ‘employee’ in Malayalam. This wonderful period entails full time employment involving extensive ‘re-roting’ of all the bulky, highly detested text-books right from day 1 of medical school. The objective is to score well enough in the post-graduate entrance exams so that in time you can get some kind of specialization and add the hallowed MD/MS suffix somewhere behind the not so much hallowed MBBS alone thing)
Interestingly about 50% of the responders to this pre-historic poll actually did end up doing what they wanted to do……at least in terms of choosing their specialty. Some of them did absolutely fantastic U-turns though…..I know one guy who insisted that he would never be a surgeon coz of some vague tremor while holding surgical instruments. The guy is now a hot-shot surgeon. Another close friend changed courses around four times to finally reach a stage where he is one of the best in his field.
However when it comes to having long term, specific goals, I can think of two extreme cases in our class.
The first guy happened to be sitting right next to me on the first day of our MBBS course. That was when the deceivingly maternal looking Dr Glorine Gnanathankam, HOD, Physiology entered the classroom flashing a disarming smile (the ‘maternal’ image got pretty well shredded after our first couple of exams when a lot of us were initiated into one of the fundamentals of medical education…no study, no marks!) The good lady asked the eager crowd of freshers the ‘what do you want to be in the future’ thing. I was actually expecting people to come up with stupid Ms World kinda answers – “Start a charity hospital”, “Serve rural India”….and other such obvious hogwash. All of a sudden the spectacled, moustached, fidgety, Tam- Bram guy next to me jumps up over eagerly and shouts “Neurosurgeon!!”
Duh?! Dude…first day of class and you’ve managed to award yourself ‘overeager nerd of the year’. I was trying to pull him down so that the damage could be controlled, but if I remember right he also simply had to explain the why’s and the wherefore’s about his ambitions too. Anyway I think not many believed him of course at that time, but 20 years down the line Dr Gopalakrishan CV happens to be a proud and successful neurosurgeon……..at present in Canada for some kind of hi-fi post-doc fellowship.
At the other extreme is a guy who I believe spent a lot of time getting confused (and successfully confusing others too!) over the broader question of whether to go for a medical specialty or a surgical specialty (He was confused about a lot of things in general I suppose…right from girlfriends to specialties)…and finally at the end of it all the guy ends up as one of the CAT toppers and goes into IIM Ahmedabad. The last time I met him he was not talking in English or Malayalam, but pure unadulterated ‘Financialese’…….all about stock options, recession-proofing, fiscal deficits and what not. I obviously didn’t understand the language, but what I did understand that in the near future when we poor souls who stayed on with the Hippocratic oath thing, will be thinking about upgrading our old cars, he is going to be thinking of upgrading his private yacht. Hari G at present happens to be minting money at a very senior post in a famous multinational private equity company.
On the whole I suppose most of us ended up kind of happy, doing what we wanted to do. I don’t have a specific count but I think there are virtually all clinical and non-clinical specialties represented in our batch and almost everybody seems to be doing quite well in his/her chosen field. Basically it means that during the upcoming reunion any medical problem cropping up should not be an issue – whether it is itchy rashes or hemorrhoids. So ultimately as goes the famous statement –“If people could make penicillin out of stale bread, we could surely make something out of ourselves”