Someone knocked my room. Mrityunjay, my room partner who was in his usual studying position: half on the bed and half upon the table expectantly looked at me to open the door, as I was all perched upon the floor near the door, surrounded by books. If books were seen open in our rooms, one could predict that the final exams were very close.
The delay in opening door obviously invited a nasty and offensive comment from those outside, referring to what we could be doing in the room, having wasted the whole year without studying. This was enough to wake up anyone sleepy.
I opened the door. Feroz, Ganesh and Shrinivas entered. As we came out of the hostel, Aniruddha, Yogesh and Manoj joined us. The night outside was colder than our enthusiasm for the exams.
Behind the college campus, the dawn was waking up to the tandem noise of stove burners and clinking of ceramic. Teapots whistled guiltily, and cigarette smoke rose pensively. Workers in those small shops, covered in humble blankets meditated in their habitual routine, reluctant for any human interaction. The stage was all set for another mundane day. Who knew life was to throw open one of its beautiful chambers for me that day!
We went ahead to the lone roadside bakery in a slum, which took out puffed bread at sharp 4 AM. Those bread puffs (samosa puffs) with the hot sweet tea would redeem most of the life lost in the prior night of studying.
As we silently cherished this feast, nobody spoke. Even the most favourite topics: philosophies about life, life partners and a rotten education system were banned in this hour.
I had started early last evening to binge-study, and planned to sleep after this early morning “dinner”.
So everyone else returned, and I ordered another cup of tea and a matchbox.
The pan shop owner Mr. Ahmed switched on his tape recorder. It is surprising: that in the early morning no one tries to impress anyone else, one is happier to be oneself. Some Arabic verses caressed the mysterious dark of the dawn. Their intensity was so genuine, the agony was so honest in that voice, that I went to Ahmed and asked about it. Smiling, he gave me the cover of a cassette; a treasure what was to become a habit later in life: Praises of the almighty by Mr. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
The particular song that was playing then has become my all time favourite: “Ya Haiyo Ya Qayyoom” which describes the glory of God in so many different magical ways that one is stunned at the meaning that small verses can carry, which are difficult for so many books to even touch.
Exam-time automatically activates the rebel, the poet, the philosopher and the lazy bum within many. This exam-screwer syndrome is difficult to treat. I borrowed the cassette from Ahmedbhai and played both the sides : “Tum ek Gorakh Dhanda Ho” on the other side was equally disturbing, where the great Mr. NFAK blames and praises God and blasts the hypocrisy of “discriminating between humans”. While challenging God for the immense suffering all the good people go through, he has hidden his love for the very concept of God being within each one of us.
“Hairan hoon mere dil mein samaye ho iss tarah
Halanki do jahan mein samate nahin ho tum” … simply superb!
Ofcourse I had to search for meanings, learn Arabic words and talk to some wise ones to know the meaning of some verses. In a few years, I had a vast collection of his works, and am indebted to him each time I listen to his songs: they gave me an insight into humanity and God that only a spiritual Guru could have.
Oh and yes, we all passed first class too.
Another exam. Bad times.
Visiting the “Supari Hanuman” temple, my friend Girish Kore had updated me with the English word for “Pradakshina” on that eve, we didn’t talk anything about medicine then!
Walking that late night with my equally “nonconformist” friend, Shrirang, he suddenly halted in the middle of the road, and asked me to shut up and listen. This being the routine madness that we shared, I listened. There was someone distantly singing, the singer was lost in his voice. We traced the sound, found it coming from a temple, and to my utter discomfort, Shrirang knew it, and he declined to tell me what the song was. I could recognise the voice of the genius instantly: Kumar Gandharva, but had not heard this album.
“It is not for you” said Shrirang, “You will become mad(er) if you hear this album” he commented. This was temptation irresistible. Upon begging him, he agreed on one condition: that I will listen to those songs only after my exams.
This album is now almost completely in my heart: “Nirguni Bhajans”.
“Tije ban mein paanch paradhi unke nazar nahi parana
Heerana samajh bujh ban charana…..
Tohe mar tero mas bikave, teri khal ka kare re bichona
Heerana samajh bujh ban charana…..”
Indeed this album threw me out of gear for quite some time, and I could return only after a few months to normal ways of the world. But thereafter, life became easier, I knew what to expect from myself, my life and others. Peace.
On my way to appear for DM Neurology exams in Mumbai, travelling 14 hours overnight, when the bus stopped at a hotel for early morning filter coffee, I was blessed with “Sri Venkatesha Suprabhatam”: no one was left unblessed in that hotel, I know from my own experience!
“By the rivers of Babylon” , “Shankara Bharanamu” and so many other pieces of the wisdom of God’s own people have endowed our lives with such perpetual bliss!
Nanded, where I did my internship, has one of the holiest Sikh temples (Gurudwara), where prayers start early morning and people from all religions benefit from the inherent divinity of those prayers. To go there and “ Matthha Tekna” (bow to the Almighty) is itself attainment of what we live to achieve: peace within. So many come here to shed tears and smile again. I have often felt a complete disappearance of negative feelings visiting this shrine!
As I studied higher and higher in medicine, I found these things more and more useful, more and more relevant in knowing people and their souls.
One is married to one’s own sufferings, but to mature to someone else’s pain and to know that all suffering, all pain is universal: illness, death, loss affect each one of us in the same way, no one is free of it… this was real insight I felt every doctor must have, and have since tried to imbibe in every student I met.
The greatest pain of humanity: artificial differences between humans, has been treated by these divine artists, songs, verses for hundreds of years. As a community, Doctors all over the world join the pride of belonging to the cult of these “saviours of humanity”, a role beyond medicines and surgeries played by every doctor, but neglected by the world.
Everybody can pass an exam with enough effort, most can get good marks, many are successful materially, but only a rare few earn peace. One thing is definite: one cannot attain peace having hurt someone, leaving a fellow human being suffering.
A happy, satisfied patient is the best degree, highest rank in medicine one can strive for. These maestros in music from so many different religions but praising one Lord have given me so much love to spread!
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande