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First Lesson

- Anubha Bhatnagar
from Spandan 1999

I am going to be a doctor. I am a med student. 1st August was my first day in medical college. I walked to college and on the way passed one of those huge metal garbage trolleys (sprinkled here and there in this city by the Municipal Corporation ) filled to the brim with just that - garbage from the colony nearby. I did not particularly want to study medicine - to be honest I didn't want to be a doctor at all. You see I don't like doctors - at least I do not like most of the ones I have met. I just wanted to prove to myself and others that I am not a total jackass- that I can clear competitions, and work hard etc.- and anyway I have to work - get a job don't I?

In college we are welcomed and we are ragged. In one of the introductory lectures one doctor tells us that the Government spends 10 lakhs on each one of us before we are professionally qualified and hence we have a certain responsibility, a particular duty to serve the country the best we can. Impressive isn't it - both the amount and the lecture. But big deal ! And I don't really take all that in seriously. But I do have dreams-of being a terrific doctor -earning money.

Next day en route to college I see a man eating rice, taken from the garbage trolleys. The street is his plate. He is emaciated - I can see the bones under the dark skin. And I think - God why bring a human being to such depths of degradation where he forages for food like a street dog.

That day we go to the dissection hall - the place where we shall learn the anatomy of human beings. The cadavers are lying on the table. `Cadavers' makes it sound so sage and object like, whereas it is actually so gruesome - these are naked embalmed bodies of people who are dead now - who once lived and walked among us but today lie on the dissection table because they were unclaimed on death. Some people joke about it , but somehow I don't feel like laughing. I am not fainting either, just trying to be indifferent. On the way back I notice the man again. He is sleeping. I notice sores on his body and I wonder if one day he will be a cadaver. You will say I am quite cruel and brutal, thinking about a living person like that, but perhaps med. college is getting into me.

I also see a group of three-four people huddled close together. One of them has a chit of paper on the palm of his hand and he brings it close to the nose of another who with a small tube like thing sniffs it. I wonder if the sleeping man can be helped in any way? If some of his dirty, starved bedraggled companions, who were taking drugs, will ever be able to live the life of a decent human being like you and I, with clothes on our back and food in our stomach and a place for shelter? And so I think of some of the responsibilities that I have. Not to my parents, my family or my friends, not to the society or the Government, but essentially to God and to humanity. I have not suddenly become idealistic. No way ! I don't stop thinking about the things I want from life. I don't suddenly decide to change all my plans and serve people in some Godforsaken place and I still do think about the money I shall earn. But I feel that today I have learnt something-something which I hope shall help me on my way to be a good doctor.

Sounds cliched, perhaps but I still feel it's true.

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Copyright (c) 2004, Nikhil Goyal. All rights reserved.