Going Back

The Golden Jubilee Meet

We had gathered to celebrate the golden jubilee year of some 200 of us who joined medical school in 1968; out of these 200, 33 had already departed from this life

The night train journey started in full doubt: the car to take the four of us to the Egmore railway station in Chennai was too small for our six pieces of luggage. The end result was that we recruited a second taxi and reached Egmore at different times; and were deposited by the taxis at different gates to the station! As my wife and I moved to the entrance with two heavy suitcases we noticed there was even a luggage scanner; the policeman responsible for it waved us through a different gate while continuing to read his newspaper. As time was running out we decided to locate the 8th platform, way on the far side, where our train was. Now with electronic ticketing the codes were difficult to assess by everyone, so difficult to find one compartment.

Leaving my wife behind I ran back to the front of the station to look for my sister and friend; I capitalized on the occasion to move to the ticketing counter where 50 years ago I bought a first class ticket to Tanjore. The ticket officer at that time moved his head sideways as Bharatanatyam dancers would do – when, on two occasions, I had asked him whether I could have a first class ticket. What embarrassing situation – no berth was available. However I soon realized that the Mauritian body language ‘no’ was in fact a ‘yes’ for the officer; all that occurred at the very same single counter as now, except 50 years ago the counter desk was a used, eroded wooden solid plank, but nowadays it had been replaced by granite and there were a few computers in the background.

I ran back, realizing my sister and friend Lucky were nowhere to be seen; so up the stairs I went again and discovered to my dismay that it was the wrong way; as I ran I heard my sister calling out loudly my name on the platform 8 below me. So they were already there before me! Finally I managed to get into the train as it slowly pulled out of station.

A couple was to share our compartment; they did not budge to allow us or help us to slide our suitcases below the berth. The three breathless ladies I were with (all over sixty) were cursing joyously as kids, and laughing at the beginning of their train adventure, for they nearly missed their tryst.

As the train rolled out of Chennai that night I kept thinking how did I live that instant some 50 years ago. I remember I was with another passenger, a certain Mr Murthy; he was a chief engineer going south to Tanjore to help setting up a rice mill; we chit-chatted until we had slept. Now I threw my mind back – five decades ago I was an immature who had just finished my HSC six months earlier, heading towards the unknown future.

That time I did not go to the loo, but now I had to leave my berth some four times to visit it. Time was telling – with changes in one’s physiology. The ladies also did also move about and sporadically laughed at their lack of comfort, cursing a bit our correspondent who had assured us that that was a good train to our destination.

 Towards Thanjavur

Early morning, after about seven hours I woke up and went to my favourite place – at the still of the door of a moving train. I reminisced on my previous train journeys years ago, when I had looked out at the Indian villages, the dry land of Tamil Nadu and eucalyptus plantations. But now I could see less thatched houses, more electric bulbs in the villages, and was surprised to see plenty of water around, and well-flooded paddy fields perhaps because of the monsoon. About five decades ago I had used that standing posture for hours on end, to think about life, about human feelings, about the unknown girl I would one day marry… I was young, I did go for a self-discovery journey during these silent, solo situations; maybe I had turned my gaze inside too, at my own feelings and reactions as adverse conditions had cropped up now and then. This process along with frequent glancing at the green paddy fields, interspersed by dry patches of land, at the poverty-stricken people of the villages had produced the perfect cocktail to inspire some young man to deeper thinking about human life and fate.

Soon our train reached Thanjavur (Tanjore) railway station. We alighted and took some photos. We got someone with a push cart to carry all our luggage to a big van, and took off for the Ideal River Resort View hotel. There were flyovers in town, but busses were not allowed in, they had to station at the periphery. Neon tube lighted shops of the panoply of Indian sweets, huge sari palaces, the imposing building of the district collector and new universities had come up; nevertheless the traffic was more intense. No doubt the landmarks of 50 years ago had disappeared; we crossed the town and headed west, by the old hospital, the old bus stand, and the palace of kings of yore. After about 30 minutes of negotiating through a rough, narrow road we reached the river resort, which proved to be well beyond our expectations.

Never had we thought that such a lovely place could exist at the periphery of the town; full of greenness, of coconut trees, of English lawn with a wonderful swimming pool set nicely by a river. What a pleasant surprise; more surprising was the room, never had we lodged in such large, comfortable place. We were enthralled, especially as the river was swollen with water coming from the heavy rains in Karnataka state on the west.

That dusk we even visited the famous thousand-old Big Temple of Tanjore; what architecture and what memories it brought back to all of us, specially to my friend Lucky who used to pray there monthly with her late husband Ramdass.

The Alma Mater

We had gathered to celebrate the golden jubilee year of some 200 of us who joined medical school in 1968; out of these 200, 33 had already departed from this life; and about 90 had decided to come to the meeting, some along with the children, sons or daughters-in-law and grandchildren.

We had a wonderful time, discovering how most of us had undergone changes beyond recognition, how we learned about each one’s progress through life. There was inevitable reminiscence of our early difficult days at Medical School, of our hesitation, our difficulty to adapt to the harsh life of the medical wards and the suffering of the patients; how we changed overtime from looking at diseases from a layman point of view and shift to the professional perspective.

We had come with wife and children to meet, not in the auditorium of the college, as we did for the first time on 26th August 68, but in a new building – the examination hall! Speeches by the organizers, by the president of the Alumni association – an old Professor of surgery, and by some of us to welcome and honour many teachers and professors of our time. In the Indian tradition they were ‘shawled’ and embraced and thanked for their contribution to our professional life.

There are many changes around in the college and hospital; many more buildings, as now post-graduate courses had been implemented for decades, whereas in our time it was opened for undergraduates only; a new paediatric block is being set up as well as bigger police stations, car parks, canteens for patients.

However, it must be said that in the Tamil Nadu state, situated on the east coast of India, rain is a rare commodity — for the best of it falls in Kerala and Karnataka on the west coast. Hence water has always been a problem – most of it comes from underground bore holes. Because of that the compound of the campus had no green fields or flowers, but some authority had seen to it that thousands of trees were planted to brighten the environment.

Decades ago we never had to have hot water bath – it was always warm in these climes, but now our ‘68 batch mates decided to donate a solar system plus bore hole to supply warm water for patients and staff of the hospital. That was our humble contribution to the Alma Mater, where we had spent the best six years of our young adulthood to become professionals.

 


* Published in print edition on 24 August 2018

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