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'Learn well, work hard, the money will follow'

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

says, Dr. Aparna Santhanam, dermatologist and author.

I did science in my 11th and 12th from St. Xavier’s College; MBBS from Grant Medical College (JJ Hospital) and MD in dermatology from TNMC (Nair Hospital). Both Xavier’s and JJ hospital campuses were built in the architecture of the colonial era. Nair hospital had a more modern style of architecture with an open look about it.

Coming from a small girl’s school in a protective environment, the first day in Xavier’s was like walking into a new world. It was a totally different environment, filled with possibilities and verve. The first day in JJ was more daunting. The lecture hall was massive, filled with faces that were all alien and I was blessed to have one familiar face which called out to me and has been my steadfast best friend ever since!

I was ragged in JJ. It was more like a gentle ribbing that never got to dangerous proportions and all the seniors who ragged me became very dear friends. I had to balance a one rupee coin on my forehead and had to sing a song every time it fell, being made to walk up to a senior boy in the canteen to tell him that I liked him and would he take me out and being made to drink a weird concoction called GMC cola which was a yucky combination of Thums Up, Fanta, tea, coffee, Chinese vinegar and soya sauce.

My professors were very imposing to begin with but many of them became quite friendly with later. Many were stalwarts in their fields but taught with joy. I had excellent teachers at all levels and my dermatology department in Nair particularly had the most dedicated and amazing teachers and guides I have been blessed to learn from.

My 11th and 12th were fun filled years but the stress of getting into medical school was quite high. MBBS at JJ was fantastic. The studies were tough, but the fun quotient was unbelievably high. We not only had a blast but made friends for life and truly enjoyed the best years of our life on the sprawling beautiful campus, filled with laughter and joy. Third year MBBS is possibly one of the toughest exams that any one has to face and at the end of it, you felt like you had passed through an ordeal of gigantic proportions. MD studies are far more serious and focused and go hand in hand with working with patients too. The approach is far more serious in nature and the bonding with your department is also very high.

College life was fabulous. I would take a bus to college and back and at JJ, I stayed in the hostel on campus. The late 80s and early 90s, life was still electronic free. We hung out a lot over endless cups of tea, went for college socials, wrote and received notes and cards as well as roses on Rose Day, rejoiced and wept over our silly crushes, got our hearts bruised a bit but mended easily by the laughter of friends. We ate a lot of street food like kulfi at Parsi Dairy Farm and Cream Centre, New Yorker, Sundance Cafe, Kailash Parbat, Sukh Sagar, MG Cafe for their lovely samosas, Tibbs frankies and sali at Chiquita were some old favourites.

My friends circle was very large and very varied. The beauty of those days was that no one knew or cared about anything other than hanging out with people you liked. We never knew their religion or which state they were from and nor did we care. Today many of my friends are highly accomplished leaders in their chosen fields and yet when we meet, the years roll away and the laughter rings as true as it did then. Hostel life at Grant Medical College was amazing. You formed a new family and bonded with your hostel mates at a truly deep level. It was lonely at times but my friends who were day scholars opened up their homes to us to dispel any sense of aloneness.

I remember one interesting anecdote which I will never forget. My best friend in JJ who is now Dr. Anjali Tendulkar, would never bunk a single lecture. One morning I was desperate for a cup of tea and convinced her that we could bunk one lecture and quickly sneak back. We took all the tiny back routes to the canteen and as we walked in, out walked the head of department of Physiology, the lecture that I had convinced her to bunk. He upbraided us for this act in public and she was so mortified, she never missed a lecture ever again.

Professional education and excelling in it gives you a good start in your career. However, it must be coupled with learning on the job and employing an attitude of collaboration and constant learning throughout your life. I have played various roles and worn various hats in my career, all of which had the core of my medical training as the base. However, I went ahead and did courses in various different topics to keep making my learning relevant to excelling in my work.

My advice to college students is - Enjoy yourselves but work hard too. These are the best years of your life. Learn to gain knowledge; not just for marks. Don’t be obsessed with consumerism but enjoy the smaller pleasures of life which are inexpensive like hanging out, laughing or just chatting face to face. You will gain truly lasting knowledge that will help you in not just your chosen field, but in life overall. Spend time with friends, build bonds for life. It is the richest thing life will ever give you. Learn well, work hard, the money will follow.

As told to Monarose Sheila Pereira

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