As the years passed by, the gardens in the college became lusher and even more beautiful. Especially the trees that were planted by the students during the annual tree plantation drives. There were many green nooks and crannies which were ideal as cool study areas in the blistering heat. Similarly, under a cluster of the now grown trees, just near the older neem trees, there was a small Masjid (mosque) nestled under the branches and shaded by the canopy of green leaves. It seemed so serene in the shade. A blossoming magnolia tree as well as some jasmine bushes added their fragrance to the idyllic ambience.

The little Masjid was situated in one of the farthest corners of the college compound, and very few people would make their way there in the hot afternoons. The little squat single-story building had only two open airy rooms and was surrounded by a small courtyard that had a low concrete wall surrounding it. The floor was paved with the red flagstones indigenous to the area, their retention of cool temperatures making it pleasant to walk barefoot on. Yes, that little Masjid was a pleasant and cool place to sit, pray or simply meditate.

One day, deciding to have a post prandial walk, I wandered towards the area, and was intrigued by the peace as well as the shade of the luxuriant trees that I saw there. Suddenly I had a thought. This was the perfect place to study in the afternoons when the library was closed! Since I was definitely not going home for my study leave. There were too many attractions to divert me from my studies, so I had actually found the perfect place to prepare for my finals. The last exams before I could finally put the coveted prefix of Dr. in front of my name!

Medical Students usually like to pull all-nighters when they studied for their exams. The boast of the day would be how long into the night they studied and how many cups of strong tea or coffee were consumed. How much was retained, was a different story and obviously one we never got to know.

I never could stay up so late, and my concentration would wane once the sun had set, and night fell. But I had formulated a different study schedule than the others for myself. As a matter of fact, to my amusement, there was a rumour going round that I didn’t need to study (much) since my father was politically well connected. People used to speculate that was the reason why I used to sleep soundly at night while the others studied. Little did they realise that according to my timetable and set plan, I used to get up early, have a good breakfast and spend my mornings in the library, come back for a nap in the afternoon, and then study till 10pm when the library closed for the night.

Once I was back in the dorm, the sweet realm of Morpheus would claim me, and no amount of noise could wake me up. Since I ensured that I had enough sleep, I was usually quite alert and fresh while studying during the day and I rarely nodded over my books. But as the finals loomed near, I felt that the afternoon hours had to be used to study as well since I was consistently making notes of topics and subjects that I had compiled from different texts and reference books.

Consequently, the Masjid was perfect. No one disturbed me there, and the cool breeze under the trees made for a comfortable nook to study. I loved that place. Not only was I able study quite intensely there, but I also meditated, convened with nature, and basically relaxed without the stress from my colleagues who tried to psychologically intimidate everyone by bragging how far along, they were with their studies.

Sometimes, I would even take a short, half an hour  power nap, and curiously, I never felt scared in that lonely place. As a matter of fact, I felt calm, (as if I were taken care of by some benevolent entity), secure, and I would always wake up quite refreshed.

One day, I dreamt of an ancient man in white clothes who came to visit me at my serene retreat. He radiated peace and tranquility, and there seemed to be a light shining from a place near where his heart was supposed to be. At the time, I was going through unprecedented stress because of a private matter and seeing this old man sort of melted away my fears and anxiety.

In my dream, he started to talk to me in a soft melodious voice. I listened attentively even though I was surprised at the vividness of the dream and the presence of the old Sufi.

He said that he had been watching over me since I was a little girl, and had bestowed some gifts on me, some of which I was already aware of, and some would be revealed to me as I grew older. He told me that I should not be afraid, he would always be there when I needed him, and that I will become a good doctor. In his soft, gentle way he also told me that I will make my mark in the world. Awesome!

One day, as I was exploring my dreamscape, the ancient one advised me to eat three dates every day. He said that the nutrients were easily absorbed by the digestive system and provided energy to all of the essential organs, especially to the brain cells, muscles, red blood cells and marrow. The dates would help me study and retain whatever I had ploughed through. He went on to say that a handful of nuts every morning, with a glass of milk were also supposed to be good for the brain.

You know, I thought that one could not mix allopathic medicine with herbal or traditional medicine. But just for a lark I did try that out, and I was surprised that I became aware of an increase in my concentration and energy levels. This created quite an impression on me. So much so that nowadays, I try to blend the good points of all forms of healing to create a well-rounded and holistic approach for my patients.

As the days went by, word got around that I was studying in the Masjid in the afternoons, some friends asked whether they could join me. I agreed on the proviso that they stayed in their own corners. This was not a place where we “group study” and caused a loud ruckus. It was a place of serenity and quiet. Anyone violating that cardinal rule had to go. Surprisingly, the peaceful ambience affected the others as well and this rule was strictly adhered to. However, in the end only four of us remained.

It was a remarkably successful “retreat” so to say. We meditated together, even started off with a short yoga session before we went to our respective corners to study.  I am incredibly pleased to say that when the time came, the four of us passed our exams stress free and with flying colours.