There’s Always Time, If…

I was thinking about the biggest lessons my teachers had taught me. Lessons learned in life.

There were many favorites. Mrs.Raju from 3rd grade. Mr.Daniel from high school. Dr.Laxminarayan from medical college.

And Prof.A.M.Selvaraj.

Prof.A.M.S. was my mentor throughout medical education. He was a remarkable man with an incredible work ethic. He’d wake up at 7 a.m. to read for a couple of hours before seeing patients. He’d carry on right until 2 or 3 a.m. the next morning, taking only brief breaks for a quick lunch and dinner.

“They come from far away to see me,” he’d explain. “I can’t say I’m too tired to see them today!”

You’d imagine he was a mono-maniac with no time or energy left for other passions.

And you’d be WRONG!

  • On his bookshelf was a thick book by Salim Ali on “Birds of the Indian Sub-continent” – from which he’d quote often as he pointed out feathered friends on walks in the park in his native Coonoor in the Nilgiri hills.
  • He was a connoisseur of fine tobacco, and enjoyed smoking his pipe (loaded with Troost from the U.K. – an indulgence that his grateful patients were delighted to help sustain with a gift of a refill each time they visited London).
  • He enjoyed classical music (both Indian and Western). I remember him asking his assistant Ebby to put Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ on the player when he noticed famed violinist Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan in his waiting room!
  • He wrote a book on the 150-year history of Madras Medical College, taking the time and trouble to examine every important plaque and monument, then researching the background of each to compile a masterpiece.
  • And he had an encyclopedic knowledge of medicine, kept abreast of the latest developments, was among the most feared examiners in University post-graduate examinations, and was referred the most complex patients whom other physicians had tried their best to treat – but failed!

At the time I worked in his practice, I was 22 years old – and he was nearing 60. By the time I left the clinic around 10 p.m., I’d be exhaustedbut the old man was good to carry on for another 4 or 5 hours!

I observed all of this, as a young, freshly graduated doctor embarking upon my career in medicine.

I come from a family of doctors. Ever since I can remember, I’d been told that medicine was a jealous mistress. That I’d have to give up everything else, if I was to “succeed” at it.

And Prof.A.M.S. turned that popular wisdom on its head!

Suddenly, I realized that there was a way to follow my heart, explore other interests, dabble in hobbies – and still be a good doctor.

That was a revelational insight, at that point.

The biggest lesson (among many) that a great teacher taught me about life.

There’s Enough Time…
If You Really Want To Do It!

And since then, I’ve chased after oh-so-many interests, curiosities and experiments that have enriched my life beyond all measure.

Oh, and like my teacher, I also enjoyed professional success in my career as a doctor… albeit in a somewhat unconventional manner (I raised money to sponsor heart operations for the kids I treated!)

At every significant milestone in my medical progress, I’d visit Prof.A.M.S. to seek his counsel and get his blessing.

We’d talk for a while.

Then his head would bow for a moment in a silent prayer.

And he’d dip into the bowl of sacred ash kept beside his desk, move his forefinger slowly towards my forehead, and apply the dust while conferring his blessing.

“May God bless you, son.”

And then his face would break out into “a scintillating, syncopating smile” that he claimed broke a thousand hearts in his heyday.

I don’t doubt it!

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