Obsessed with goal-setting!

But having said this, what is the life of a child today?

A child now grows up within the four walls of a plush apartment, in the company of gadgets. He is distant from nature, distant from his natural instincts. There is no play, there are no grandparents, no bedtime stories. The child is walled off from a world of infinite beauty. Walled off from the fantasies that float in this world. Most of his senses remain unstimulated and unawakened; his potential at perceiving the infinite beauty in the simple things that surround him, is permanently lost. Within him is a child that is locked up, a child that has never been allowed to step out into the world…

Within him is the emptiness of a repressed childhood.

The moment the child is old enough to go to school, he is burdened with the painful process of goal-setting. Parents and teachers teach the child to set goals in every activity he pursues…

Study because you must be the class-topper.

Participate in extracurricular activities because you must win prizes.

Learn swimming, dance or music because you must win medals.

Be friends with somebody because there is something you gain from him.

Don’t be friends with somebody else because there is nothing that you gain from him.

Take a walk because you want to burn calories.

In summary, do something only if you can define an achievement at the end of it.

So what is the problem with obsessive goal-setting?

A documentary comes to my mind. The documentary discusses modes of transport, exploring how development has changed the picture of travel and how travel has changed as an experience. It dwells upon a time when man had to walk in order to reach a destination. It traces man’s journey on foot.

A man walks, observes much as he walks, and then eventually sits down to rest. He is joined by other weary travellers. They share their experiences over a meal. Then they resume their journey and part ways. The man seeks shelter for the night at a house that is kind enough to provide him shelter. The hosts receive him with much hospitality. Again, there is a heart-to-heart conversation wherein the hosts and guest share their tales of joy and sorrow. The man engages the children in conversation and play. In the morning, the man bids farewell to his hosts and resumes his journey. He reaches the banks of a river. He joins passengers waiting to hop on to a boat that will ferry them across the river to the opposite bank. The boatman helps them get into the boat and then rows away. The passengers and the boatman strike a conversation. An old man rests his head on his neighbour’s shoulder. After a long journey that has accommodated their varying moods, the boat reaches its destination. The travellers, now exhausted, alight with relief. The man is at the end of his journey. He is weary and exhausted, but enriched by the experiences the travel has gifted him. The journey has transformed him.

As motor cars, buses and trains replaced travel on foot, the comfort and convenience increased, but the experience dwindled. And then came the era of air travel. A man now boards a flight, goes off to sleep, and wakes up at his destination, miles away. The entire experience of the journey is replaced by comfort and convenience. The joy of arriving at his destination is a momentary thrill, as opposed to the journey discussed earlier.

This analogy helps us understand the problems with obsessive goal-setting:

  1. Children learn to fall in love with the outcome, and not with the journey. But, the joy of an achievement is short-lived. So children are robbed of the ability to experience long-lasting happiness, fulfillment and contentment.
  2. They miss out on the experience of the journey. Sometimes, they even take short-cuts to the goal.
  3. The journey is transformed into stress because of the pressure to arrive at the outcome.
  4. The possibility of discovering new paths and new destinations is abolished.
  5. Undue importance to the goal encourages unhealthy competition; children see others as rivals. ‘Who is first?’ becomes more important than ‘What did I learn from the journey?’

Obsessed with goal-setting, children always have one foot resting into the future; they are never still. They are either planning or executing; they are never feeling. They end up replacing their feeling space with thought and action- a factor that is responsible for poor emotional development.

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So what are we feeding into our children’s lives? At a time when they should have been exposed to nature, fantasy and the joy of perception, we end up replacing the beauty of this journey with stress. Stress is compulsorily fed into their lives today.

The question that we must next ask ourselves is: ‘So how are our children handling stress? Are they equipped to handle this enormous stress that is fed into their lives?

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Nurture a fantasy!

Human life is unique and special. We are the only beings that have the ability to perceive beauty in the things that surround us; we are the only beings capable of being moved.

It is within our minds that the rain is enchanting. It is in our minds that a poem is beautiful. We alone have the ability to be fascinated by a child’s play. We alone have the ability to see the beauty in an individual’s personality. 

This ability to perceive the aesthetic quality of the world we live in, is unique to human beings.
However, though we are born with this potential, it lies dormant within us and must be awakened in the early years of our life. Childhood therefore plays a key role in our ability to see the aesthetics in life.

Childhood has witnessed considerable transformation with the passage of time. When I think of my childhood, the song that comes to my mind is ‘Kannam thumbi poramo’ from the film, ‘Kakothikkavile Appooppan Thaadikal’.

 

 

The song captures the magic of a childhood spent in the proximity of nature. A childhood that was about freedom and the outdoors, with no goals to chase. A childhood that was about reveling in the magic of sight, sound, fragrance, flavour and touch- about endless stimulation of the senses.

A childhood that taught us to fall in love with the touch-me-nots that cowered under our touch, the moist earth on which we walked barefooted, the lanes fragrant with the scent of the chempakam and pala flowers, the rustling of the coconut palms, the lullaby of the rain and the croaking frogs that put us to sleep, the sand castles we built and the mud cakes we pretended to bake, the mysterious glow worms that lit up the darkness of moonless monsoon nights, the howling of foxes that cut through the silence of the night, the little fish that we tried to catch in the canals, the taste of the steaming hot pancakes with their coconut-jaggery stuffing that melted in our mouths, and so much more.

Our childhood was a paradise. Nature awakened our senses to the infinite beauty in the world and taught us the art of using our senses to perceive this beauty.

Apart from nature, our childhood was also shaped by stories– the stories that our grandparents narrated to us. Sometimes, to distract us enough so that we would eat our food absent-mindedly. Sometimes, to put us to sleep. And then, when we were old enough to read, there were the stories we read in books. Beautiful books that had pictures in them.

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In the stories we grew up with, there were forests and rivers, there were animals and birds, there were human beings, Gods and demons. They were portrayed as beings that felt, thought and dreamt like human beings. I was enchanted by their secret lives- a life that was not visible to us human beings. It was as if the stories let me into their secrets. A secret that I became part of.

As children, we believe in fantasies. As we grow older, we gradually lose this ability. A child must therefore be exposed to fantasy. Only then is the fantasy firmly rooted in our minds.

These stories helped me see fantasies in the world I lived in. To my young mind, the trees, stars, river, animals and birds had a secret language- a language that was not about words. I learned to talk to them, and to listen to them in my mind. As a child, this was my little secret- the ability to silently converse with the universe. That ability is rooted in me. To this day, I can hold silent conversations with the universe, and perceive the beauty of this phenomenon. It lights up my soul on the darkest of days.

Childhood must therefore gift us two things:

Sensory stimulation, awakening our senses to the immense beauty in this world

Create a fantasy world in our minds, built from the reality of the world we live in. Only stories can accomplish this.

The film ‘Kakothikkavile Appooppan Thaadikal’ is unique in that it is woven around a childhood fantasy. Murali, an orphan, is abused by his caretakers. His young mind is fascinated by the story of Kakothi– a legendary female character who kills her tormentor in an ultimate act of courage. Perhaps, Murali’s young mind finds liberation from the torments in his own life through the legend. When Murali encounters Lakshmi (Revathi), humming a tune on the harmonium, wearing a stone beaded necklace, his young mind fantasises her as Kakothi. This fantasy forms the basis for his adoration of her and the deep-rooted bonding that develops between them eventually. To Murali’s young mind that believes in the fantasy of Kakothi, there is nothing more joyful than this fantasy turning into reality.

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If we were to closely analyze the role models we choose and the relationships we form in life, we would realize that most are to do with our unconscious fantasies- these people often represent fragments of what we dream of being ourselves.

So why is fantasy so important?

First and foremost, fantasy fosters imagination. If we give our children beautiful fantasies to believe in, they will always see immense possibility in life. No matter what adversity surrounds them as adults, they always have a fantasy to come back to. That defines their motivation. This is beautifully illustrated in the above-mentioned film where both Murali and Lakshmi are surrounded by adverse circumstances, but they live their lives with much zeal, optimism and happiness. To them, every day is rich with possibility. They find creative ways of dealing with people and with challenges. Their mischief and pranks are expressions of their creative potential. They transform every day into a perpetual celebration.

In life, imagination is a more valuable tool than intelligence. Only if you have the ability to fantasise, are you alive until you are really dead.

Secondly, it is this fantasy that teaches us to dream. If we are moved enough by a fantasy, we transform this fantasy into our reality. We thus define a dream.

The happiest adults are those who have kept their childhood fantasies alive and transformed them into reality.

Perhaps, there is nobody in the world who is not familiar with the characters of Mickey and Donald. Almost a century after its creation, these Disney characters continue to be loved by children and adults, worldwide. Walt Disney found the inspiration for these characters in his childhood fantasy.

His most famous creation, Mickey Mouse, is a universally recognized cultural icon. And his numerous films celebrating the triumph of the little guy and the simple charms of small-town life captured the imaginations and fueled the dreams of six generations.

Walt Disney’s childhood was anything but idyllic. His father was a strict disciplinarian who thought nothing of taking a switch to Walt and his brother Roy to administer “corrective” beatings that became a part of their daily routine. Young Walt found an escape from his father’s brutality through drawing. With pen and ink, he created his own little fantasy world where life was always beautiful, people were always happy, and, most important, he was always in control.

Disney hit upon the idea of creating a new cartoon character based on a mouse that had lived in his office in Kansas City. As Disney liked to tell it, “Mice gathered in my wastebasket when I worked late at night. One of them was my particular friend.”

There are numerous examples of such people. People who define happiness. Some celebrated, and others uncelebrated. The ones who have kept the fantasy alive. The ones with the ability to fly on the wings of their imagination…

Part III: What should a doctor dream about?

The inability to savour and cherish the doctor-patient relationship perhaps lies at the crux of the ailments that have afflicted the modern doctor.

In the past, the maximum filtering in education was carried out at the ground level. This perhaps enabled students to be steered towards career domains that they had greater inclination to. Today, such filtering is absent at the school level. Also, the number of private medical colleges are ever expanding. As a consequence, we have a surplus of young doctors passing out. And yet, there is no channeling of these doctors towards rural and government sectors, where services are most needed. Also, since these medical graduates from private medical colleges are largely from the higher socioeconomic strata, their aspirations almost always revolve around urban and elite jobs.

This surplus generates a need for further qualifying exams, wherein young doctors are compelled to write endless competitive exams, specializing and super-specializing- a process that has no end. They are forever on the move, with one foot resting into the future. Where then, do they have the time or space to savour a doctor-patient relationship? They never really settle, and by the time they attain a certain career stability, they have been stripped off the last vestiges of human essence. They find themselves robbed of the true meaning of their lives. This is the sad story of a doctor’s life today. Unless young doctors wake up to this fact, and refuse to be swept away by this overpowering tide of market-driven forces, they shall lose hold on the actual path of their lives, and end up as victims of the system.

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Perhaps it is the need of the hour to slow down. When one takes up the medical profession, one must understand and accept that a doctor’s journey is a slow process of ascent, sometimes spanning a lifetime. It may be worthwhile spending some time working in a small hospital or a clinic, without setting any immediate goals. Ideally, in a rural setting where there is greater exposure to life. Just so as to get a feel of the profession. Allow oneself to experience its joys and pains- at the ground level. That is when one is able to hear one’s inner voices. There is nothing that can provide better guidance than one’s own instincts. It may be worthwhile taking up an apprenticeship under a doctor that one looks up to. It may be worthwhile working as a resident in a field that one has a liking to, just to get a feel of it.

It is only when one exposes oneself to a domain at the ground level that one can rise up to the role that is demanded of oneself in that domain, as one steps into higher levels of hierarchy. 

Work in a ward. Do everything. Be a doctor, be a nurse, be a pharmacist, be a lab technician, be a clerk. Be a human being. Talk to your patient. Talk to your peers and to all the staff involved in the care of your patient. Talk about your patient’s condition, talk about life. It doesn’t hurt to crack a few jokes. Liven up the place. After all, a hospital is a place where there is so much suffering. Bring a little optimism and happiness into this suffering. Communicate and coordinate between members of your team and give your highest involvement. Make things easy for people. Make it a place where your patients and peers are eager to see you and look forward to your presence! And slowly, you will see the light within!

A little light on this through a personal journey:

https://vchathoth.wordpress.com/2015/06/16/an-icu-story/

A few more instances of the doctor-patient relationship:

https://vchathoth.wordpress.com/2014/08/06/glimpses-of-life/

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Part II: What should a doctor dream about?

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Dr. Gangadharan  is a distinguished Oncologist who combines high professional skill with compassion, and hence is a source of hope for cancer patients generally steeped in despondency‘, reads a profile on the website of Caritas Hospital, Kottayam.

Dr V.P.Gangadharan is a name that is familiar to every Malayalee. A name that cuts through all barriers of caste, creed, religion, wealth or social status- just as the disease he treats….

A disease that does not distinguish between its victims…

A disease where all the illusions of the material world crumble, exposing the vulnerable and terrified human being within.

To his patients, Dr Gangadharan is God himself. But the doctor brushes off the ‘larger than life’ image that his patients confer on him and maintains that he is just a human being who is committed to his role as a doctor.

In an era where there is a palpable lack of role models and references, there is much that Dr Gangadharan’s life speaks for itself. For a young doctor, there is much to learn from his life.

In an interview at J.B.Junction in 2014, the doctor illuminates those forgotten aspects that once defined the medical profession, by sharing experiences from his own journey as a doctor, rekindling the dormant spirit of young doctors, awakening the seeds of humanity in them, and planting dreams in a career that has transformed from what was once regarded as humanitarian service of the highest order to what is now a commercial industry.

 

 

At the start of the interview, the doctor makes an important observation:

A doctor represents a cross section of society. Now, if society has changed, it is quite natural that the doctor would also change. The change that we see in doctors today, is a reflection of the change that has afflicted society as a whole. And so, the greatest challenge that a doctor faces today is- Is it possible to remain committed to one’s ideals and principles, in the setting of such change?

This is the question that young doctors must ask of themselves. What needs to be understood is that the practice of Medicine is an art. The real doctor is an artist, not a scientist. And so, he must possess the quality that defines an artist- perseverance. A true artist must demonstrate perseverance. Only then can he remain committed to his art. It is this perseverance that will eventually enable him to carve out a space for himself…that will make him distinct and irreplaceable. Dr Gangadharan’s life is a living example of such perseverance.

In this context, Dr Gangadharan discusses the joy of the doctor-patient relationship. He believes that once a young doctor has experienced the joy of this relationship, it is impossible to choose materialism over this joy. He insists that teachers and doctors are the most fortunate, for their professions bring them ample love. This love that comes from their students or patients is the secret of their undying zeal and energy. He regards his patients as people, and not as cases. He feels they have much to offer him as human beings who have traveled their own paths in life and whose souls are enlightened by the suffering they have experienced. The doctor emphasizes on the need to communicate and converse with patients and breathe life into these interactions.

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Love is the fundamental principle of ‘Medicine’

This message resonates with the previous post on Dr Rosamma who enjoyed her interactions with patients. Her interactions were unhurried and had the feel of a heart-to-heart conversation between two human beings, rather than the mechanical exchange of words that characterize a doctor-patient interaction today.

Yet again, this point illuminates the difference between a dream and an aspiration. As young doctors aspire for degrees, awards and materialistic rewards, they lose sight of what they have to live with every day, for the rest of their lives. They fail to see the daily routine of their lives that revolves around their interaction with patients. Unless one can transform these interactions into moments of joy, the degrees and all other achievements lose their significance. 

Dr Gangadharan describes the role of an oncologist thus:

There is this narrow bridge between life and death. I carry my patient on my shoulders and walk across this narrow bridge. On one side is disease, with all its horrors. On the other side is treatment, with all its horrors. I carry my patients through these horrors, and that is the magnitude of challenge that an oncologist must confront!

Dr Gangadharan reflects on how a doctor is a student for much of his life. He recounts the numerous instances where his patients opened his eyes to numerous aspects of his profession that one cannot learn from text books.

I asked the patient to lie down. But I was called away for something, and I left abruptly. It was only when the patient said to me that it does not befit a doctor to make their patient lie down in order to be examined, and then leave abruptly, leaving the patient in the dark, that I realized the lack of sensitivity I had displayed.

He emphasizes on how the greatest lessons are always learnt from life. Formal education can only be a preparation for the lessons that one must learn from life.

Upon receiving an MBBS degree, the doctor is only formally qualified. But in effect, he remains a student who has much to learn from his encounter with his patients‘, he concludes.

In his book ‘Jeevithamenna albhutham‘ (The miracle that is life), Dr Gangadharan talks about the powerlessness and fragility of human life as he recounts his helpless moments as a doctor in the context of disease- the heart attack that killed an individual who survived cancer, the relapse of cancer in a patient who had been cured of it, and so much more. Perhaps the greatest tales of resilience are also found in these cancer wards where one witnesses individuals who manage to smile and keep up their spirits, despite their poverty, deprivation and the dreadful illness they fight.

 

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Actors Sreenivasan, Innocent; artist and cancer survivor Eby N Joseph; and noted oncologist Dr V.P.Gangadharan, share a lighter moment at the inauguration of Eby’s exhibition at Durbar Hall Art Gallery in Kochi. Photo re-posted from ‘The Hindu’.

It might be worthwhile compiling such inspiring stories into documentaries that could be screened in medical colleges. A lack of inspiration haunts our medical education system today and the medical curriculum must incorporate activities that inspire and motivate. Also, it must introduce sessions that focus on goal-devoid doctor-patient interactions. Students could be made to visit the community or palliative care units or hospices, talk to patients, and write about their experience. It is then that they engage with life and with the human being and discover the joy in these interactions!

Read: http://2609-11340.el-alt.com/ShowArticle.aspx?ID=37437&SECTION=31

Part I: What should a doctor dream about?

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To the fresh, eager young faces who were beginning their journey as doctors, my focus this year was to make a distinction between a dream and an aspiration, between the joy of perception and the burden of chasing a market-driven ambition.

This thought stemmed from a post I had put up some time ago on Facebook:

Whatever you choose to become tomorrow- a parent, a practitioner, a teacher, a writer, your ultimate objective of that role should be to bring about a transformation in the lives and minds of the people you touch- your children, patients, students or your readers. I say this because profits, expansion, competition– these are the words that govern the modern world. Aspirations are built on the foundation of these words. Do not fall prey to these. True happiness comes only from a positive transformation of the world in which you live. Touch lives and live on in the minds of the people you have touched. There is no greater joy than that!

To which one of my students asked:

But what should a doctor dream about? For instance, I am the first in my family to have taken up this profession. I am now already in my second year, but I do not know what I must focus on. Should I just focus on studying and building concepts? How do I plan my future? What defines a dream? If I wish to set up a hospital, would that be a dream?

This question, I realized, was the question of the hour- the unasked question that nevertheless hung heavy in the minds of all the young people in the profession. While a large segment of society believes that the problem lies with the students who make an entry into this field by paying a huge capitation fee while they are not suited for the profession, my experience with them has been different. Like the student who asked me this question, there are many who are here to explore and to learn. In fact, entrance toppers have often been a disappointment in this regard because more often than not, they are good performers and not true learners. Many are only masters of a formula that works when it comes to delivering in Indian entrance exams- an evaluation pattern that seldom assesses the creative application of the knowledge acquired.

So what must a doctor dream about? 

When I worked in the Medicine Department, we had a doctor by name Rosamma. Rosamma ma’m was a middle aged lady, and she only had an MBBS degree. My room was adjacent to hers and I could hear her conversation with her patients. On many occasions, I have wished I could work as an apprentice under her.

She talked to her patients

About their illness, about medicines, and about numerous other things that no doctor would bother to explain. I remember her telling her diabetic patients:

You can eat just the same. Fill up your plate, but reduce the quantity of rice to a cup, and increase the vegetables. That way, your stomach is full, but your calories are low. You could perhaps divide your meals into six small meals, instead of three large meals. You could substitute your snacks with salads and fruits. It is alright for a diabetic to eat a little fruit. Go down on the rice and the starch, but increase your dals and fish, so that you are not hungry. Steam or bake your fish, instead of frying it. Most importantly, keep giving yourself a change of menu so that you are not bored of the same diet. Once in a while, after your blood test, if your glucose is normal, you can treat yourself to a sweet.

She maintained a holistic approach to all kinds of illness. She had these little non-drug prescriptions for all kinds of illness- common cold, asthma, abscesses, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease.

Instead of jogging, you could do gardening. Since you enjoy gardening, you would be more motivated to pursue it, as opposed to jogging or other physical exercise‘, she would tell some of her obese patients.

Rosamma ma’m was very particular about the follow-up of her patients. She would ask relevant questions on follow-up and listen attentively as her patients let out details of progression or regression of the disease, and I realized that she had acquired most of her wisdom from such attentive follow-up. There were many occasions where she was able to identify things that many specialists missed. Some were simple things. For instance, an infection that failed to abate because her patient had stopped the medication midway- a fact that the patient considered irrelevant to mention. Or self-medication with antihistamines that suppressed a throat infection. She had also learnt to differentiate between brands of a medicine; she was aware of which brands were cost-effective and patient-compliant. When prescribing a new brand, she always made it a point to check with the patient if the patient had experienced any particular difficulty.

In effect, Rosamma ma’m was a very happy and content person, unlike all the specialists in that department. She had built a patient clientele, and had gained their confidence. She demonstrated a deep involvement with them, and that was the reason for her ‘success’. This deep involvement was possible only because she kept her clientele limited. At the time, she had no private practice unlike the specialists who filled up all their time with practice.

Her calm, content face was a striking contrast to the frustrated faces in the department.

Rosamma ma’m quit this hospital a few years ago. She is now happily settled in a little village called Kelakam where she runs a clinic and enjoys the simplicity of rural life. She has a beautiful house with abundant garden space, and she enjoys tending to her garden. She grows her own vegetables and rears a couple of hens on her farm.

I think a dream is defined by breathing life into what has touched us. I am sure we all have our stories of encounter with disease and of how it has touched us. In the dark alleys of disease, one often discovers the most powerful stories of human life.

Perhaps it is these stories that the young doctors have to search, within themselves. It is in these stories that they shall discover their dreams- the dreams that define their role as a doctor.

(to be continued….)

 

 

 

 

Revisiting the art of teaching

I was very upset that evening. Something about the class was deeply disturbing me. The students had been impassive throughout that class.
Perhaps I had rushed a little?
Perhaps I hadn’t made it as innovative and interactive as I usually do?
These were my thoughts. So I got back to my PowerPoint slides and breathed more life into them. But the next day was the same. And that continued. At first, I couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. The faces before me were just not the ones I had seen at the beginning of the curriculum. I concentrated on their faces. They looked so exhausted.

They were numb….

To the point that nothing could penetrate them. They had become impassive to the good and bad in their environment. The irony was that they scored very well in their exams. And then I understood what was bothering me…

The fact that they were not enjoying learning.

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Numb faces stared at me in the classroom; five months of medical school had transformed them into zombies, incapable of being moved.

The pressure to perform had successfully transformed them into automated robots, good at swallowing capsules of information that could be regurgitated during exams. But nothing could move them anymore. They were no longer thrilled by those beautiful stories that described life. They were so saturated with ‘information’ that they had no space for stories. Just five months of medical school had transformed them into zombies, incapable of being moved by life.  And they are the future guardians of our lives…

Individuals who have no clue of what life means.

As I scanned their faces, I wished I could talk to them about the larger perspective of life. I wished I could talk to them about why they had to learn stories instead of swallowing information. But the medical curriculum in India does not give room for that. There is no time where students get to interact with teachers for a mentorship. All the time in their curriculum is invested in academics…

Academics that is of no practical value to humanity.

There is no leisure time. The extracurricular activities are also loaded with the pressure to perform and gain points that can enhance the CV. My students don’t read storybooks and novels. They don’t watch movies that go beyond entertainment and help them root their own experiences into memory. They are not aware of the role of books and movies in the formation of unconscious memories. Also, there is no intimacy between them. Their friendships narrow down to smiling faces on a selfie. They collect none of the beautiful memories that once characterized campus life.

One witnesses a slow death that eventually robs them of their ability to feel anything at all.

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The beautiful memories that once characterized campus life

I wish I could tell them that depression is their future. A brain with piles of information that means nothing to them at an emotional level…a brain devoid of any unconscious memories. Their bank of emotions and memories is empty. And they eventually fill it up with antidepressants.

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Their syllabus includes a beautiful chapter on the physiology of memory and emotions. A chapter on what it takes to form a memory. A chapter that differentiates between conscious and unconscious memories and educates as to why the latter is crucial in motivation and learning. And that chapter is squeezed out of its emotional component and fed into their brains where it doesn’t leave the tiniest trace of memory! The teachers and the text books are machines that are brilliant at this squeezing out process. The more they squeeze out the emotions, the better they are regarded. That beautiful textbook of Guyton lies in a dark corner of some library shelf, conveniently forgotten and abandoned. The good teachers also find themselves secluded.

If you ask me, these students are not yet dead. Their numbness is transient. They need to be released of this pressure to perform.

For which their learning environment and evaluation system must change.

And that can only be achieved by teamwork. I have always believed that education is a tool to awaken and develop the inherent curiosity and creativity that exists in every child. And this belief has isolated me. I find myself fighting the entire system when I teach, because I have to first struggle to teach them to feel.

I feel pained when I realize that man has reached a point where he needs to be taught how to feel and what to feel.

And just as I have succeeded in generating some feeling, somebody else takes over. And we have such a deficiency of true educationists that by the time I get to teach that batch of students again, they have already slipped back into numbness. Also, there is the struggle to oppose your peers and superiors and stick to your teaching module. Not to mention dealing with the hurdles created by their insecurities. This struggle is exhausting.

When I teach them physiology of the nervous system- those beautiful wires and circuits in us that breathe life into us, I feel pained at the thought that many of these circuits are slowly becoming vestigial for our modern lifestyle successfully suppresses them for good.

With every step of technological development, we are actually putting to disuse one emotional circuit within us, and thus removing one element of life from us.

Today, the circuits are lost only in individuals. But tomorrow, these circuits will disappear from our species. As I clearly see a future where a robot will replace homo sapiens, I hear aloud the cry of nature. Of that emotional world where life once thrived. Life, with its infinite joys of the wholesomeness that resulted from those infinite associations that our creative minds endowed us with, thanks to our ability to feel. Our minds that breathed life into colors and textures and sounds.

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Don’t we have the responsibility to preserve such a world for our generations to come?

Akshita

The session was a part of our ‘Tuning the Teens‘ programme. This session was on orienting the students towards a choice of career. It was my turn to be on the dais. I looked at the eager young faces that looked at me in anticipation. I searched my mind for a story that could connect to the child in them. And then I remembered Akshita.

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“I teach first year medical students. Whenever I ask them what prompted them to choose Medicine as a career, I end up getting stereotyped answers.

‘I have always loved Biology.’

‘I have always wanted to serve society.’

‘It is a respectable profession.

These are the answers I always hear. Recently, one boy smiled and said he hadn’t really thought about it. That at least was an honest answer. Most students get into Medicine only because Medicine and Engineering are the norm in India. These are considered lucrative careers and parents work hard all their lives to earn their children a medical degree. The child knows from kindergarten that he is going to be a doctor or an engineer. And so, when you ask students this question, they are puzzled. For they have always believed that this is the career they were meant to pursue. It appears odd to them that there must be a reason for it.

And that is what set Akshita apart. When I asked her this question, her face lit up and there was a glow in her eyes.

‘I have always derived my happiness from giving. When I was a child, I lived with my grandparents. They lived a life of generosity, and seemed to derive immense pleasure from it. For them, happiness was always collective happiness. Once they even brought a beggar child home, gave him a good bath, a change of clothes and food to the stomach’s fill. Perhaps it seeped in unconsciously into my mind. I remember how for Diwali, I would collect money, buy crackers and distribute them to the slum kids who could not afford it and would watch with longing eyes the kids from affluent families bursting crackers. The glow on their faces was priceless. At some point, I knew I had to choose a career where I could give a whole lot and make a significant difference in people’s lives. And so, I opted for Medicine.’

Education ideally, is supposed to nurture our curiosity and creativity and transform us into individuals capable of working to the best of our genetic potential, and thus contribute meaningfully to the world. Instead, the modern Indian education system successfully kills all our inherent curiosity and creativity and transforms us into robots capable of handling systems.”

I looked at my audience- adolescents who were listening attentively, inspired by Akshita’s example. They clapped hard.

Akshita is a teacher’s pride. A student who restored my belief that a student could do wonders as long as there was a teacher to believe in them. She reinforced the fact that a teacher could make or break personalities.

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I have watched Akshita unfurl into a confident, compassionate and competent medical student who studies because she wants to know how she can help people. She has made steady progress in the course of her medical school and I have no doubt that she is going to excel. I watched her shed off her initial fear, hesitation and inhibition and slowly acquire wings. I see her slowly getting ready for a future that will ask much in order to give back. And she has learnt this lesson early.

This lesson that life will test you intensely before it considers you worthy of its miracles.

When I think of Akshita, I remember her beautiful, sparkling eyes that seem to reflect the infinite beauty in the world that surrounds her. I remember those dimples that make her smile rather attractive. I remember her infectious enthusiasm. And the excitement in her tone as she talks about a million things that have touched her.

So alive….so full of life!‘, I think to myself.

Life and only life has that spark in it that makes people phenomenally beautiful. She is a living example of that. I can lose myself in conversation with her for she has so many things to talk about…

Things that matter….things that inspire.

She always makes me feel part of a large world where there is so much to explore. There is that element of rawness in her that makes her so loveable. And I can tell that this spirit of hers will endear her to her patients.

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That rawness also makes her vulnerable and gullible. But I have always believed that the happiest people are always the ones who can feel the currents of life in all its intensity. She is full of memories and that makes her a delightful companion. I have seen her through her moments of vulnerability, and I can say that she has resilience in her spirit. I believe that vulnerability and resilience is the best concoction one can have, for that enables one to feel everything and live life to its fullest, and yet find the strength to come out of setbacks. Akshita’s spirit easily puts insensitivity to shame.

Akshita has taught me that a student teacher relationship is rather special. We are both die-hard fans of Randy Pausch who brings out the essence of a teacher-student relationship in his book, ‘The last lecture.’  We have a lot in common- a deep love for nature, the inclination towards aesthetics in day to day life, a love for people and books and music, a passion for travel, and an undying thirst for the richness of life.

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The mind is indeed the most beautiful of all creation and I am in perpetual awe of how we connect with different people, and how we derive a deep sense of purpose from some of these connections.