When I was eighteen years old, I moved to the city of Pune to pursue a course in dental surgery. My five years there shaped me and changed me into a person I wouldn’t have recognized if I were to meet my past self in some parallel universe which allowed such time-travel.
However, this isn't another tell-all article about my escapades as a college kid. This is the story of many other things; how moving back to your hometown and living with your own family can feel like a new experience, how you can feel alone in a house filled with people because your roommates have officially changed, how you suddenly don’t know too many people in the city anymore, how Friday nights no longer involve spontaneous but definite plans with your gang of friends, and also, how suddenly, you’re isolated and entirely unaware of how to chart your career as a medical professional.
I think I spent my first few months after moving back home struggling to remain afloat and fathom exactly what a change of address truly entailed and what kind of influence it can have on a girl’s life. Friends were few and job opportunities even fewer. For those early months of 2014, I can safely say that I spent my days running from clinic to clinic like a headless chicken, hunting for jobs, willing to work even if it would have to be for free (because clearly, there is zero scope for greed and/or validation for a young dentist in our country). I also spent my days writing and traveling, and I think that taught me several lessons in a silent, believable language. I stopped looking to make new friends just so I could recreate some of the magic that I had held in my palms back in college. I realized that life has phases, and their tone and tune is dictated more by time than by anything else. So yes, age does in fact play a role in how we feel and how we live, and contrary to popular belief (and to those cheesy Hallmark birthday cards), age is not just a number. I accepted that it was fine for me to be a relative nobody in my own city for the time being, and that I ought not to take it to be a demotion of sorts as far as my social status was concerned.
In the month of July, I landed my first full-time job as a dental surgeon. The feeling was very gratifying, fulfilling and above all else, a giant relief. This was, after all, the next logical step after getting a college degree, right?
Suddenly, I had a cute little dental office at my disposal, patients to attend to and treat, and two assistants- Narayan and Biswanath- who made my job so much more comfortable.
Once I got over that initial hesitation and opened up to my assistants, we reached a very friendly zone of being able to speak to one another and crack a joke or two once in a while; perhaps even do a bit of boss-bashing on days when the boss had been mean and angry.
Biswanath is a young man, about a head shorter than me, with a spark in his eye and a constant cloud of cigarette smoke hovering over his head. He is immensely tolerant of some of my boss’s seemingly unfair vagaries, in a way that almost makes me call him linear and predictable in my mind.
Narayan, however, is a 37 year old father of two children. He has coffee-brown skin and curly hair that points out in opposite directions. He is a thorough extrovert and has an extremely curious brain. Within the first month of knowing Narayan, I realized that I would, one day, write his story just so that I don’t forget the many layers that I have observed in him, and also because the story of his life is rather interesting. So much so that it may almost appear to you as a work of fiction.
He started working as a night-watchman at a mental-health facility at the age of 22 after having dropped out of college; the salary was meagre, but he was young and free, and yet to crumble under the unforgiving demands of economics. The inmates at the facility intimidated him, and the job started taking a toll on the young man’s underdeveloped levels of patience. Destiny, however, works in the strangest ways. In the building right next to his workplace, there lived a 17 year old girl with smooth skin and big black eyes that caught Narayan’s undivided attention. He was in love, and tried his best to woo her into feeling the same way for him until the glorious day that she finally did. Their families were against this union for several reasons, and the impassioned couple was left with no other choice but to elope. They ran away from Calcutta and built a small house for themselves with whatever little savings they had in a neighbouring village. Married life kept him happy, but only for so long. Narayan’s family completely cut him off, and suddenly he found an emptiness that his wife alone could never manage to fill.
He changed jobs and started working as a dental assistant at a small clinic. The pay was decent and allowed for greater material comforts for the young couple, and yet, he failed to fill the void in his being that had appeared after his family's rejection of his tempestuous elopement. He felt betrayed and isolated, and started looking for spiritual solace to heal his wounds.With time, and through chance encounters with nomadic missionaries, he came to realize that all the questions in his life had their answers in the Holy Bible. So, for the second time in his life, Narayan took the bold step of doing something no one in his family had done before. He converted to Christianity and since that day, he has apparently reached a level of emotional peace, unaffected by any outside forces. He spoke to me with great sensitivity and honesty about religion, and how this conversion really changed his life.
This was the first time in my life that I ever met someone who had reached that fork in their life's journey that a change of religion would be the detour they would choose to take. So I was rather unabashedly curious in that conversation with Narayan, and in retrospect, I probably shouldn't have asked him some of the questions about his faith that I did, but he handled my questions with graceful replies. I found that he had not imposed his own faith upon his two children.
Knowing the socio-economic background he stems from, and the upbringing he has had, I was quite impressed with this parenting decision of his.
"I want them to see the best of both worlds. I was raised as a Hindu, and I still have a deep regard for Hindu festivals and the gods and goddesses. I also have blind faith in the power of Jesus, and I try to teach my children to respect all religions", he said to me with a stoic expression on his face.
Narayan is a man with immense self-respect, and when my boss's regular unrelenting chiding finally got to him, he hung up his boots and recently left our clinic for a clerical job elsewhere.
"I hate to leave this place madam, but I cannot work in an environment where a 'thank you' or a 'please' is more expensive than a root canal procedure. I cannot live like that and I cannot accept such money", he told me the day before he quit, while wagging his long brown finger in the air.
I was very disappointed to see him leave, because not only was he an efficient assistant, he also had great people skills and some very interesting stories to tell.
This morning, I started my week at work without his diverse conversational habits, and it certainly felt a bit strange. I expect this feeling to remain for the next few days, and then, like everything, he shall become another person that I once knew and worked with.
I've written before about how my life changed during the rains of 2014.
July got me my first job, and August got me my best friend, my biggest strength, my loudest champion, my greatest love.
That's when it began to hit me how I didn't even care if I didn't have too many friends around me anymore in Calcutta. It didn't matter if I wasn't the centre of attention at a club on a Saturday night. It didn't matter if I wasn't minting money on a daily basis. The only thing that matters in your life is that you are surrounded with the right people and that you don't ever give up on them. Once you've made the right choices and met the right person, everything in your life attains a definite direction, and you don't feel aimless and lost anymore.
There is now a definite milestone in my calendar which I look at, and find myself comparing my life now with what it used to be like.
I have a smile on my face and a name on my heart.
I'll be alright. And as I type that, I urge you to knock on wood and thank the Lord on my behalf.