No RIPs, please - only a humble PhD

Suresh Pattali
Filed on August 27, 2020 | Last updated on August 27, 2020 at 08.31 pm

Son accepts no dowry. Daughter gives no dowry. There's no better reason for a subcontinent father to be ecstatic than this win-win situation. Still my life is like what the 90s AR Rahman song resonates, Tension, tension, tension. But why?

I'm on the last leg of all that I have been doing and that I have been dreaming up. There are no more hearts or career heights to conquer. No more kids to rear or educate, unless I adopt one to fight the empty nest syndrome. No more laundry list to pore over. No more new chapters to write in the story of life. Still life is full of tension, tension, tension.

Even a cup of hot Horlicks is like a turbulent ocean that drowns me into fathoms of panic. The smell of the hot drink, that my mum served up while I prepared for college exams, haunts me every time I close my eyes with the intent to sleep. The steam rising from the hot brew rises over my mind like a nuclear mushroom, its smell choking my lungs like a toxic fume. And this nightmare of struggling to finish studies before exams haunts me every night, even though it's been decades since I left the campus.

Education has been an unfinished dream for yours truly, with student activism playing the villain. I toddled into politics when I was a fourth grader in my neighbourhood school. There was no politics-based election per se, but the selection of student leader was made by the headmaster, who rubbed shoulders with my father in the left movement. Since then, I'd fought every campus election - and violence - until I finished my tertiary education. Academics took a back seat, while Karl Marx tightened his grip on my cognitive field.

Do I regret? Of course, I do. I had despised it even when I was in it. Politics is like a narcotic. I skipped classes for weeks and months due to the responsibilities that rested on my shoulders as a leader, while every class was crucial for a science student. There were political debates to conduct, book and arts exhibitions to hold; poetry evenings to conduct; delegates to invite; and funds to raise. I sobbed into my hands, watching classmates go about collecting specimen for herbariums and lab work. My backlog of practicals and record works grew like an Everest, blocking my academic dreams, even as I scored a huge aggregate in English language. I wanted to be a doctor, but ended up reading Chaucer and Wordsworth, while my friends and cousins went on to become doctors and professors with the PhD suffix to their name.

I was not alone in the muddle. Hussain, my political rival and bench mate, was a partner in crime and faced a similar predicament. With 40 days left for the finals, Hussain and I shook hands, counted the thousands of Xerox pages, which our girlfriends gifted as parting gifts, to decide on the number of hours we need to study a day. We needed 40 hours. Hussain bicycled to my place every evening to revise what we had covered. All was well until we realised we needed 45 hours a day. One day, Hussain's bicycle failed to show up. It never rolled down since, though I waited every day. My mum prepared two cups of Horlicks every day. He wasn't there in the queue to collect the exam ticket. He was undergoing psychiatric treatment when I traced him to a relative's place after the exams.

"Hussain, I'm so sorry, but I waited every day. Mama made Horlicks every day," I mumbled.

"Who are you?" he asked, his eyes not focused.

"I'm your buddy, Suresh."

"I don't know any Suresh." Hussain, his body double in size due to the extensive side-effects of medicines, staggered into an unlit room, leaving me frozen with fear and agony. I was scarred for life, with exam nightmares battering my psyche every day.

Fortunately, education never was a stumbling block in my journey that saw me through several mainstream newspapers within and outside of India. Certificates never mattered in my profession; it's all about passion, passion and passion. While Hussain left his studies and went on to become a successful businessman, I am half empty, despite a successful career - a feeling that will chase me until the final curtain call. I attempted literature, law, journalism, filmmaking etc, but circumstances failed me every time.

When colleagues, buddies new and old, cousins, nephews, nieces and their partners et al - all with a PhD suffix - crowd for my funeral, eternal peace would be elusive. The smell of mama's Horlicks would scare my soul in the coffin. Unless you engrave a golden PhD, instead of RIP, on the wooden box. Hussain, are you listening?


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