Sometimes I wonder how things would have been without it. Would I have turned the other way at a crossroad? Been too late for a meeting, a tryst with destiny? Would I have tread a different path and met other people ? Would I have missed out on friends and opportunities or had better ones? Would I have not become me and become someone else?
Intrigued? I’ll explain. I depend on my conscience to choose between between right and wrong. But for deciding between right and left I have to rely on a scar on the back of my left hand. Without it I am stumped. Makes me think, what would have happened if I hadn’t cut my hand thirty-five years ago. Without this guiding force, this beacon in the dark, I would have been lost……but by never getting lost, by always knowing which way to go, did I miss out on something? Sans the scar, would I have been a different person, led a different life or would I have learnt to use an inner compass like everyone else? Did that incident change the course of my journey or have I reached my predestined place in this world? I often wonder.
And now you wonder too! So let me begin at the beginning. This life defining moment occurred on a hot summer afternoon during Botany practicals. I was in eleventh class and we were dissecting plants. It is in this rather mundane setting that it happened, the pivotal moment that would help me decide which path to tread. As was usual, I went about my lab work chatting animatedly with a friend. I made a brisk hand gesture while looking into the microscope and my friend gasped. I looked up inquiringly. I had hit my hand against the blade she was holding and there was a huge blood spattering gash. My tendons were visible but surprisingly, there was no pain. I just remember feeling numb and nauseous. A commotion ensued and my panicked teacher took me to the Civil Hospital. A junior doctor in Casualty, casually stitched me up. Even then, I thought he had done a lousy job, now that I am a qualified doctor myself, I can say it more emphatically. A clean cut with a surgical blade should have left an imperceptible blemish. The poorly aligned, badly repaired wound left an ugly scar on the back of my left hand.
Most will dismiss my line of thought as too whimsical. They would have readily agreed if I claimed that the sloppy resident doctor inspired me to become a doctor, a better one! But that is not how it happened. I had already picked up subtle hints nudging me in that direction, so at most I can add him to the long list of other influences. People talk about life changing moments and role models all the time. I had read somewhere that three persons and six life experiences make a person what he is. I have often tried to choose the ones which made me, me!
My parents and teachers, being in a position of influence, are the obvious choice, but it is hard to believe that brief, chance encounters with others did not change me in someway. How can I dismiss the shopkeeper who stayed beyond closing time hoping to return the valuable package that I had carelessly left on his counter, or the couple with a bawling baby who waited outside Dilli Haat to return my mobile phone that I had dropped on my way in. I hope some of their concern and honesty rubbed on to me.
The paanwala who took such pride in his work, converting the humble spice filled betal leaf into a culinary delight, mounting it onto a toothpick and decorating it with warq. The dhobi in Bagdogra who dried and neatly ironed my laundry. I had been a little hesitant to drop off my rain drenched clothes in his shabby hut, but with a flight about to leave didn’t know what else to do. I earnestly hope I learnt something from their quest for excellence.
The waiter in Switzerland who happily waited on us, even when we were consistently late for dinner because he agreed that there was so much to see in his country. Our tour operator in Canada who ensured that we make the most of our five day revisit and take back wonderful memories. The Italian who, knowing the language problem, abandoned his Gondola and guided us to our bus when we got lost. I would like to believe that I learnt something from these lessons in hospitality and national pride.
Selecting six experiences out of the countless vying for my attention is equally difficult. Some are obvious like getting into medical school which taught me that persistence and perseverance pays. Marriage and a relatively asocial existence in a suburb that gave me time to read and reflect. The arrival of my children, which was a lesson in patience and prayer. And now, my shrinking universe that has helped me spread wings in the virtual world.
I have had my share of tough, unpleasant lessons too. Flunking Pathology taught me that situations are not as insurmountable as they initially appear. The taxi ride to Gandhinagar airport in a rundown Sumo, with rattling doors and broken windows taught me to ask the make and model of the vehicle before hiring. These experiences are a part of my education.
Life is a great teacher and every little moment, every decision, every seemingly insignificant person moulds and influences us. The effect maybe small but it still changes the way we think and function. We are, after all the sum total of our experiences.
And so, an accident leading to a scar that helps decide direction counts.
(published in the Open Page of The Hindu on 23/8/2016)