My Austrian grandmother, on my mother’s side loved me to bits. I was her first grandchild and obviously could do no wrong. Even as a child, she called me “Fraulein Doktor.” I used to feel so happy and proud when she said that, because to me, it felt as if it was an endorsement of what I wanted to do. Of good things to come. My only regret is that she was not there to see that her prayers for me came true. However, I did visit her grave when I graduated and talked to her, told her how I felt, and how much I missed her. As I stood there talking to her, I felt a soft warm breeze blow around me. Just like a gentle hug. It seemed as if she was there with me, and it dawned upon me that she had always been there through my trials and tribulations, all along. The caress of the breeze on my cheek while I stood there trying to hold my tears back was as if her gentle hands were reassuring me of her presence in my life, at that time, as well as in the future as it will be going along.
Trials and tribulations? Yes, I guess you could say that achieving my goals was full of that, but it was also lots of fun, as it was exactly the path that I had chosen for myself.
Studying always came easy to me. As a matter of fact, if I didn’t learn or understand something the first time I read it, I used to get mildly irritated. Yes, I know it sounds egotistical, but that was just the way I was. Actually, I used to be quite disruptive in class because I got impatient when the teacher was asked to repeat things by other students. I just couldn’t understand why they wanted the teacher to repeat the simplest of things again and again. Nowadays, they would probably have misdiagnosed me with Attention Deficit Disorder. I think anyone that’s mistakenly diagnosed with ADD and put on drugs should first be given an IQ test and should be intellectually challenged in school….but I don’t want to digress from the narrative.
My nemesis (well, yes, everyone has one, don’t they?) was Urdu, and of course all subjects related to this language. Hey! It’s not my fault! It’s neither my mother’s nor my father’s tongue, and we hardly spoke the lingo at home. And yet, I had to plow through poems and grammar put together by old dusty poets and writers who thought that odes to pretty boys were romantic. (sic Ghalib).
To tell you the truth, as the youngest in my class in college, (pre-med), I was a lively 15-year-old, and after a strict almost militant bedtime regimen at home, with discipline and meals on time etc., I went a bit wild. Nothing extremely dangerous or ominous. Just doing things that would not be allowed by the parents. Like going to bed late, skipping classes, and playing practical jokes a la Enid Blyton. Though thinking back, it was all so innocent. Just the antics of a naïve naughty child.
Suffice to say, I failed a few of my subjects in my second year of college, after hopping around like a hippy wannabe sans drugs, (yes, I loved wearing colorful beads and flowers in my hair), and scribbling everywhere “make love, not war,” as was the slogan of the times, not really understanding what it actually meant.
Well, that was a big kick in the you know what… here I was, this person who had her life all planned out since she was four to be the great healer and doctor of all times, and I go and mess things up just by wanting to have fun. I was extremely depressed for all of 18 hours, and then bounced back with the resilience of youth. I realized that I had time to spare! Most of my class fellows were 18 to my 16 years, so I really did have time to spare!!!
Alright, so I thought to myself, let us think positively; maybe God wanted me to have a bit of fun before the serious stuff starts, but I needed a reality check as well. I was able to sign up to repeat my exams, but asinine as I was, I applied to do ALL of my subjects over again, even the ones I passed earlier, so that I would have a certificate that said I had passed the examination as a whole, not in parts.
The other thing I did in the meantime was enroll in language classes during the holidays. That was my contingency plan. If I couldn’t get into medical college, I would study languages and become a linguist, and work at the UN as a translator. Quite ambitious, I dare say.
Subsequently, I threw myself into preparing for my exams till I was cross eyed….those darn repetitions! But I swallowed the bitter pill and thankfully passed with good enough marks for the university to consider my admission into a medical college.
My father was a brilliant engineer—a genius, some would say. He joined the Electrical, Mechanical Engineers in the Army and also was in the diplomatic corps at the High Commission in London. He subsequently retired as a colonel. My mother says he used to be her encyclopedia. Well, it so happened that since my parents had to travel abroad and around the country every two to three years, my father applied on my behalf to be admitted in an all-girls medical college, despite the fact that I was offered a place in a co-ed institution of particularly good repute. I still wonder today what my father thought his rambunctious daughter would get up to. Anyway, the college I was admitted to was under the auspices of the then 100-year-old provincial University of Sindh, with the same standards and guidelines, though later on I always thought that the quality of education and the graduates from our college were of a higher caliber. It was evidently a fact that when we went to apply for internships, our college graduates always got the best residency jobs, much to the chagrin of the other colleges’ candidates.
The sweetest thing that I remember my father doing for me at the time was buying the immensely heavy tome called Gray’s Anatomy, which is a doctor’s and medical student’s basic anatomy bible. The way he reverently carried it from the bookshop towards our car, where I was waiting, was a sight that has been burned into my memory forever. He had such a proud look on his face! After all, I was the first girl in his family to get admission to a university and proceed for higher studies, so in a sense I was a trailblazer.
Oh, well, medical college was medical college, whether here or there, so I shrugged, pulled up my socks and turned my face towards the bumpy road that hones physicians into the healers they ultimately turn out to be. I was actually quite excited!
But that does not mean that we were serious throughout the college years… does it? I mean, in the beginning, we were all teenagers. As I said before, I was the youngest in my class and entered the hallowed halls of learning, trying to follow the Hippocratic doctrines, at the tender age of 17! You have to realize that to be dedicated at this age, one has to sacrifice the “fun years” of being a teenager. Parties, discos etc. were rarely part of the curriculum or extra activities.
Ironically, our college was situated in a small town, Nawabshah, deep within the rural areas of Sindh, Pakistan. Our batch had the distinct honor of being the first to step into this hallowed hall of learning, so everything was brand new and squeaky clean. We were, in essence, pioneers, paving the way for many girls to follow our footsteps, which was actually awe inspiring. This was because we were living in an era where there were limited seats allocated to female students in the other medical colleges. Admissions were by a quota system. Once the quotas had been filled, many intelligent and hopeful girls were deprived of the opportunity to be doctors. Many opted to reluctantly use their pre-med credits and turn to nursing, and in the beginning, the resentment and tension between the female doctors and the nurses used to be quite palpable. Therefore, in this new medical college, it was absolutely amazing that they were able to initially accommodate 200 students! And that was just for the first batch. Every year, 200 more students were subsequently admitted, thus expanding the reach for optimal medical services in the far-flung areas of a conservative country where rural as well as urban women were more comfortable with doctors of their own gender.
I am so glad to be a pioneer and a trailblazer!