This real life experience was written in the seventies while doing post graduation at institute of medical science BHU and immediately after completing the post-graduation. It remained unpublished due to various reasons. Most of the characters and persons mentioned in the travelogue plus are no more. The present day Varanasi has changed a lot, but the basic nature of the geography and people have not changed much. I have tried to express my anxiety and happiness on solving each problem during my first trip as natural as possible. As far as I am concerned it was an unforgettable experience. I was fortunate to have a fairly comfortable train journey in spite of the various obstacles. The education in B.H.U and life in Varanasi too was an interesting experience for me. I lived there only for two years (1971 – 19 73) but the memories of Banaras still linger in my mind.
The down and up train journey during vacations was terrible especially during the summer. The heat and dust in the crowded train compartment make one sick and tired. During the up and down trips we used to have a long break at Itarsi railway station. Itarsi is an important railway junction in the state of Madhya Pradesh; but as we stepped out of the station we realized that it was only a small town with very limited amenities. Often we take one or two showers in the spacious railway retiring room to clean up and cool down before continuing the journey in a connecting train to Madras/ Varanasi.
To get a train ticket in reserved compartment itself was a herculean task. Once I had to stand in a long queue in Varanasi railway station to book train ticket to my home journey during the summer vacation. My friend Dr. Thomas and I were in front of the booking counter in the railway station fifteen days prior to the proposed travel date. At that time the public were allowed to book train ticket only fifteen days before traveling date, even though one plans the journey months ahead. When we reached the railway ticket counter at midnight, after a cinema show in the city theater, there were about fifteen persons already in the queue. Throughout the night we remained there and the booking counter opened in the morning around 8.30 AM. The clerk leisurely started the reservation process. As per rule one person can get about fifteen tickets booked at a time. Each person standing before me booked fifteen tickets! And the process took a lot of time. It was a group of teachers booking tickets for their students on holiday trip to Bombay. All of them had student concession. The booking clerk had to verify all these papers for student concession and make the booking. We got our train ticket booked at 3 P.M.! When we reached the hospital in the afternoon we were fired for unauthorized absenteeism. When we explained the events the teachers were sympathetic and consoled us. They told that there are ways and means to get tickets reserved without going to the Railway station. My benevolent teacher introduced me to a railway employee of the Varanasi station. There after we managed to book ticket through him without going to the railway station.
The life at Banaras was interesting in many ways. The climate was extreme cold and hot. While in Banaras, I realized what each four season really means. In my home state Kerala often we feel only two seasons, namely the rainy season and the summer and the temperature often range between 20 and 38 degree C. In Kerala one need not have different type of dress for different season. Besides the climate change the food habits were different with lot of wheat ‘rotti’ as the staple food. The language was unfamiliar and the spoken Hindi was different from what little bit of Hindi we had learned from the school days. However I could manage to stay and complete the post graduate course successfully. I passed the examination in the first attempt itself. Interestingly when I got the degree certificate Ophthalmology was spelled as Ophthalmogy! Often my name was spelled wrongly in many certificates, but here the subject was wrongly spelled. However there was no difficulty in getting it registered with medical council and practice Ophthalmology and perform eye surgery. This certificate, my bread winner document, shall remain unique because nobody else shall get a certificate from B.H.U. with the wrong spelling written for ophthalmology. Today with the modern system, the computer shall correct the spelling mistake. Perhaps the university knew that I often made spelling mistakes in my communications and rewarded me with a certificate like this!
Banaras, Varanasi or Kashi is a unique city by the side of the mighty holy river Ganges, where old people often migrate from the whole of India not for making a living but for dying! Death is an important business here not only to the priests but also to the men on the street. Banaras means different things to the heterogeneous people of the Indian sub-continent. To a believing Hindu, it is the holy city (Kashy); the water is holy, the fire is holy, the ashes are holy and even animals like cows and monkeys are holy .It is the abode of Lord Viswanada, the powerful god of destruction; and it is the city where each and every God fearing Hindu would like to die to get ‘moksha’. To a historian it is a religious centre from the Vedic period and beyond, withstanding many political and religious revolutions. It is a city of temples, both big and small. To a present day politician it is a highly religiously sensitive area with a mosque in the temple compound often leading to religious riots and murders with several political implications. To a police officer it is a city of crimes where murders are committed with fair amount of immunity because the dead bodies (the most important evidence in murder) are often easily and quickly disposed to the Ganges often half burned. To a nature lover the holy river is the most polluted in Varanasi with half charred human dead bodies & the city sewage. The water is infested with large turtles and fish specialized in eating half charred dead bodies. To a musician it is the cradle of Hindustani classical music. To an educationalist it is the seat of learning in various art and science subjects. The great Banaras Hindu University established by the popular educationist Madan Mohan Malavia being the pioneer educational institution for all those who wanted to learn. Besides BHU there are other educational centers of learning. Interestingly there are unique humorous & critical poets meetings (‘kavi sammelans’) often organized during the festival season and they take poetry even to the illiterate lay man. To a student of Geography it is the joining spot of two important rivers Varuna & Assi to the holy river Ganges. For me it is the city of hope and expectation to obtain a post graduate degree in Ophthalmology to practice eye surgery. In other words my trip to Varanasi was not to wash and clean my sins in Ganges, but to learn Ophthalmology and to start scrubbing my hands clean for doing eye surgeries after getting the master’s degree in Ophthalmology. Learning eye surgery from Varanasi is exciting because about one thousand years Before Christ the great Indian surgeon Susurutha lived and practiced all sorts of innovative surgery somewhere near the present Varanasi.
In response to my application for admission for post graduate degree in Ophthalmology I got an invitation from Banaras Hindu University (BHU) authorities to visit Banaras and appear for the written test, on 6th August 1971 at 3 PM and interview on 7th August at the medical institute. It was very exciting news for me. I was eagerly waiting for an opportunity to get admission for Master of Surgery course in Ophthalmology. I decided to appear for interview and the written test of BHU at any cost. I knew that I have to work hard to secure an admission for a post graduate degree course. There were several obstacles on the path to achieve my goal.
The first obstacle was to get permission from the head of the department of Ophthalmology CMC and get leave sanctioned. Since I had already joined for the diploma course, leaving the institution half way without completing the course was a loss for the institution and spoiling the opportunities of many aspirants for the diploma course. Hence it was difficult to get permission.. Besides this I had been given admission, in appreciation of my hard work for the last one year in the department, overlooking the shortage of fifteen days in my junior house surgeon 2nd year course. However since our registration for diploma by Madras University was withheld (delayed/denied) for certain technical reasons, I was granted permission to appear for the test elsewhere with a very limited period of leave.
The second obstacle to achieve the goal was my in experience of traveling to North India and getting tickets for the travel. It was a difficult time for getting reservation for train travel. However I contacted the station master at Katpady railway station .He was kind enough to guide me to find the route and the trains I have to travel to reach Varanasi. With his help I made the travel plans. But he could not help me to book a ticket to Varanasi in such a short notice. So I booked flight ticket through a travel agent (Rammohan travel agent). Being a student I was eligible for student concession. Later when I knew that our parish priest was a senior railway officer at Madras I sought the help of our priest in the local church to get railway reservation for me to reach Varanasi. He managed to get a reservation ticket in sleeper up to Varanasi. So I decided to cancel the flight ticket to Varanasi and retain the return flight ticket. This way I could not only save money but also could be more certain of reaching the destination, because flights were more commonly canceled at the last minute than the trains. If the train gets cancelled I have time and I can still try for air ticket to reach the destination in time. Even though I had paid the whole air ticket fare at Vellore, to the travel agent I have to collect the Indian air lines ticket from the travel agency office at Madras on my way to Varanasi. Besides this I have to cancel the Madras Varanasi air ticket
Finally I started the journey on 4th August morning from Schell eye hospital quarters with a suitcase and bedding in my hands and the heart full of hope and expectation of admission at BHU. (Schell Eye Hospital is the renovated and rebuild old building Dr. Ida Scudder built for the humble beginning of the CMC institutions and presently used exclusively for the care of eye patients) When I successfully completed my MBBS, my ambition was to get a tutor post in the medical college. In fact I was selected as tutor in general surgery at T.D.Medical college. But my father in law Dr. George, who himself could not do post graduation due to family responsibilities, was very keen that I should do M.S. or MD. Because of his strong advice against joining as tutor , I did not take up the teaching post and decided to learn further. I left Kerala to join as senior house surgeon at CMC Vellore. On completion of the senior housesurgency I realized that to get admission for post graduate degree course in clinical subjects was very difficult. Hence this invitation for written test and interview from BHU for post graduate admission was very important for me.
There was some delay in starting from the hospital because I have to get a certificate from the head of the department Dr. Anna Thomas, a migraine prone, lady doctor with a kind and compassionate heart. She not only treated eye patients but also wrote good poetry in English. Fortunately I was in her good books and I was expecting a good introduction letter. I also have to get another introduction letter from Dr. Daniel, former medical superintendent of CMC to his friend and army colleague Dr.Harda Singh working at BHU. Dr. Daniel had come to the eye hospital for his personal eye problems. Having realized that I am going to BHU for an interview he volunteered to help me. Varanasi is a strange place and I hardly knew anybody in BHU. Since I was getting unexpected helps from different persons I was very optimistic about the whole trip, but my inexperience in North Indian travel, unfamiliarity of the place, people, and language disturbed my mind. As soon as I got out from the gate and reached the bus stop in front of the hospital, a bus (No1) was getting ready to move from the stop. I quickly boarded the bus going to railway station. My momentary happiness disappeared as the conductor told that the bus shall reach the railway station only at 2.30 P.M.. Since it would be too late for me to board the West coast exp. going to Madras; I got down at the next bus stop and engaged a taxi cab to take me to the rail way station. But on the way there was an unusual traffic block at the Palar river bridge. (Palar River is one of the wonders of Vellore- River without water- ) With in 15 anxious minutes the taxi started moving again and I reached the station in time. I had sufficient time to take lunch from the rail way station restaurant. While waiting for the train in the railway station I had the opportunity to meet my former Ophthalmology teacher Prof. Dr.M.V. John. He not only wished me best of luck in my attempt for seeking admission at BHU but also invited me to work at T.D.M.C. in his department after successful completion of my post graduate course! The railway platform was getting crowded as the first traditional bell was ringing indicating that the train shall approach soon. One of my elderly patients Mr. Punnen was also on the platform to board the West coast Express. He promised all help to find out the travel agency office at Madras, a strange town for me. We could board the train in time in a reserved compartment. There were many ifs & buts between the ‘M.S. cup’ and my lips.. Thinking about my family and observing the smiles of children of fellow passengers; I reached Madras.
It was my first experience in Madras central station; but with full confidence I moved with Mr. Punnen along with the crowd of passengers.. I moved to the enquiry counter of the Southern Railway and could confirm my reservation in the GT express going to leave Madras to New Delhi with in a few hours. We rushed to the auto rickshaw stand to go to the Mount road office of travel agent to collect my return flight ticket. He left me in front of the office of travel agent. When the manager told that the ticket was in Indian Air lines Office we had to rush to the airlines office. He allowed his office boy to accompany me to collect it from Indian Air lines Office situated about one kilometer away. The ticket was not ready and I was told some relevant officer for issuing the ticket had not yet turned up. There is hardly one and a half hours left for my train to leave Madras central rail way station. I was in a dilemma, whether to wait and take the risk of missing the train or straight away go to the station leaving the ticket at Madras. Realizing my pitiable situation the accompanying office boy told me that he shall deliver the ticket along with student concession card in the train. My first and foremost aim being to reach Banares in time and write the test, I risked the return air ticket and took a taxi cab to the railway station. Even though the station was unfamiliar I could find the train and my reservation coach. I was very much relived when I saw my name in the reservation chart glued on the door of the 2 tire compartment of GT express. I occupied the seat but I was anxious and was looking through the widow for the office boy with the ticket. When the announcement came that the train is going to leave the platform soon, I lost all the hope of getting the ticket. To my surprise with in a few seconds the boy reached my compartment and handed the ticket to me. As the train started to move he quickly got down from the train without waiting for my expression of gratitude. This incident induced lot of confidence in me and I believed that God is with me in this trip to the unfamiliar destination in the Northern India.
The train picked up speed and I sat comfortably on my seat in the 2 tire compartment. I made friendship with fellow travelers. I had lunch in the dining hall of the train watching the changing topography of the country through the window. I had a comfortable sleep on the birth, and timely food in the dining hall. My fellow passenger was a vegetarian and he argued very much about the benefits of vegetarianism. He argued that the largest and strongest animal in the world, the elephant is vegetarian. But his arguments did not change my food habits.
The next day in the afternoon suddenly the fast moving train stopped as a result of somebody pulling the alarm chain in a semi forest area. One fellow passenger told that we were passing through the state of Madhya Pradesh. We thought it may be some dacoit attack. But actually it was one of the kitchen staff who has stopped the train. The reason was that the chief cook had chest pain. The railway authorities looked for a doctor in the train. My fellow passenger knew that I was a doctor and he wanted me to volunteer my service. I was reluctant because I was practicing only eye for last one year and there was neither any essential equipment to examine a patient nor medicine to treat. By that time one senior doctor from the first class compartment had reached the spot and declared that the patient is dead.
The railway rules did not permit carrying dead bodies without the necessary permission. So the cook who had turned out to be a dead body with in few minutes should be unloaded in the next railway station. After the unauthorized stop for about half an hour the train started moving. Soon it had another unscheduled stop at the next station to unload the dead body. The formalities took another hour to complete and the train to start again. Without the cook the dining hall was closed since the staff cannot work due to the grief and sorrow in the untimely demise of their colleague. The train picked up speed to make up for the delay. I managed to get some food, and quickly packed my bedding and suit case as the train was nearing Itarsi Junction. I waited near the door so that I could get down from the train as quickly as possible. In fact as per schedule the train should reach one hour before the departure of Varanasi express at Itarsi station. But due to the exorbitant and unexpected delay the GT express reached Itarsi junction station one hour late at about 9.30 PM. (made up about half an hour by increasing the speed)
With the bag and suit case in my hands and lot of anxiety in my mind I got down from the train. An elderly silver haired rail way porter came close to me and asked about my destination. When I told Varanasi, he took my luggage and asked me to run with him to board the train. I followed him through the busy platforms and over bridge to ultimately board to a slowly moving train following the foot steps of the porter. I paid him 10 rupees. He happily and safely jumped out of the moving train and disappeared in darkness.
The compartment was dark and there was no electric supply to the compartment. Somehow I could find a seat to sit in the slow moving train since there was intermittent light coming through the window from the electric lights in the platform. This light also disappeared as the train slowly left the station and compartment plunged into darkness. I could realize that there are several fellow passengers; but could not see anybodies face in the darkness. I could hear some body talking in Malayalam. I casually asked in Malayalam to the passengers whether this train was going to Varanasi.I had a great relief for my tension, when they confirmed that it was the Varanasi express and was going to Varanasi. When the train stopped at the next station, a TTR and an electrician entered the compartment. They rectified the electric connection lights were switched on. Now I could see the fellow passengers. The TTR checked my ticket and allotted an upper birth. After taking a cup of tea in a disposable mud cup, I climbed up to my upper birth and slept.
When I woke up in the morning the compartment was almost full of passengers. It was unusual to see standing passengers in reserved sleeper compartment in the Southern Railway. While lying on the upper birth itself on opening the eyes I could see five heads of the persons sitting on the opposite lower birth meant for three persons. One had a turban and beard of a sardarji. The next one had his forehead decorated with pink and yellow colored paste with an almost clean shave of the head and a tuft of long hair hanging at the back. The third head was decorated with a turban made of long dirty clothe. The forth head was bearing a Gandhi cap. The fifth one had long grey hair and grey beard. Even though it was a reserved sleeper compartment there were many unauthorized passengers with all sorts of luggage. I could smell that many of them were ticket less travelers with the silent consent of the TTR. There were standing passengers as well. I casually asked the TTR about the expected time of arrival of the train at Varanasi. To my painful surprise he told that the train was scheduled to reach Varanasi by 5PM; but often it is one hour late. I felt like crying since the written test at B.H.U., I was eagerly preparing to write is at 3PM. The whole purpose of my trip is going to be shattered. In fact I planned the journey as per the guidance of the Katpady railway station master. He had told me that the arrival time of Varanasi express was 10.30 AM. The TTR elaborated on his previous statement that 10.30 AM was the arrival time at Allahabad. The Varanasi Express terminated at Allahabad and the same train traveled as passenger train to Varanasi from Allahabad. His explanation did not reduce my grief but I understood where I had gone wrong. However, I shared my sorrow and helplessness with the fellow passengers. In spite of the language barrier (my spoken Hindi was very poor) I got a sympathetic response from many co passengers. They came out with different suggestions and alternative methods to reach BHU to write the examination in time.
A medical representative (Alembic) suggested getting down at Allahabad and hiring a taxi to Varanasi. Another passenger suggested getting down at Allahabad and catching an express train, the Delhi Kalka mail to Mugalsarai; an important junction very near Varanasi. A third passenger agreed to the suggestion and told that he was going to Varanasi by boarding Kalka mail to Mugalsarai.He introduced himself as Mr. Dube, a retired army officer who had worked in Pangode army camp Trivandrum and also at Cochin for more than 20 years. He added that the young communist leader Mr. Nair was his friend and had some attraction to communist philosophy. It appeared that he had a soft corner for me, being a doctor from Kerala, the first state in the world where communist had come to power through ballot paper. He told me that he belonged to Varanasi and knew well every nook and corner of the university campus. He volunteered to take me to BHU to write the test.
After the discussion with the fellow passengers I had a ray of hope of reaching BHU to write the test. How ever I was suspicious about the intention of the passenger Mr.Dube, who had volunteered to help a stranger like me just because I am from Kerala. The memories of the cruel stories of the dacoits of Uthara Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh were disturbing my mind and draining my courage. Since I had no other reasonable option to go to BHU, I decided to follow Mr.Dube to Varanasi. Mr. Dube told that the timings of the trains were such a way that there was only 5 minutes time at Allahabad to get down from the train and board the Kalka mail. He also told that if our train was late we might not be able to catch the mail. I packed up my luggage and kept ready to get down from the train as fast as possible when the train stops. While waiting anxiously for the train to reach the station, I managed to get a pot of tea from the mobile tea vendor. This was my bed tea cum breakfast. All of a sudden the slow moving train was stopped. I was told that some body had pulled the chain for emergency stop. Many passengers in our compartment got down at this unauthorized stop. One person down loaded a bicycle he had brought with him into the compartment and cycled away. One of the remaining passenger in the compartment told that this type of chain pulling to get down near town area was pretty common in this train and the railway authorities often ignored it. To my great relief with in few minutes the train started slowly and moved on the big bridge on Ganges. Soon it reached Allahabad station, but 5 minutes late.
As already planned I got down quickly and ran through the crowded platform with my luggage to the next platform, following the foot steps of Mr.Dube. He entered into a moving train and I followed him. There was no time to verify about the train. When I was seated, I confirmed from the fellow passenger that the train was going to Mugalsarai. But I could see the train going through the same track we had come to the Allahabad station. The train started moving on the same bridge on Ganges. I thought for a moment that we had boarded into a wrong train. Soon the TTR came and after verifying my ticket collected some additional reservation charges. It was an electric train and was traveling very fast. The TTR confirmed that the train should reach Mugalsarai by1.30 PM. Since there was no food available in the train I drank one more tea from the mobile vendor. I could observe the changes in the appearance, dress, habits and attitudes of the fellow passengers. It was very difficult to understand their conversation in colloquial Hindi and Bengali. One passenger started talking to me in Bengali, thinking that I was a Bengali. I looked through the widow and thought about the next strategy to reach BHU. I could see through the window the changing topography outside.
We reached Mugalsarai junction, the largest goods yard in India, as scheduled at 1.30 it self. Mr. Dube guided me to an old ambassador taxi car waiting out side the station. He told me that Varanasi is just 7 kilometers from Mugalsarai. The driver of the taxi was not there. There was somebody collecting money. I told Mr. Dube that I shall pay the full fair. But he said that it was not necessary. Soon few more passengers were loaded in the taxi and we started to Varanasi.I was expecting to reach Varanasi in half an hours time covering the seven kilometers of distance. The car picked up speed, but soon it slowed down since road condition was very bad. I was told that there was a recent flood damaging the road badly. In fact part of the road was washed away. The condition of the road was miserable. Since the road was bad the driver was taking a short cut along the dry wheat/rice field which was better than the road. How ever we managed to reach Varanasi by 2.30 pm. The city was over crowded and roads were very narrow. There were plenty of cycles and cycle rickshaws on the road but there was hardly any taxi car seen on the road. There were cows resting and chewing the cud on the centre of the road, undisturbed by the crowd. Besides this there were several small Hindu religious processions going on with very enthusiastic participants blocking the already narrow roads. The driver and Mr. Dube personally requested the crowd to give space for the car to go, since there was no response to sounding the horn. I was told that these processions were part of the ‘Rakhee’ festival being celebrated by the devotees. He added that all Hindu religious festivals were celebrated often with road blocks and during Holy festival the passengers also could get compulsorily involved in the color painting process and their body and dress got painted. But I was not in a mood to listen to his description of Holy festival as I was very anxious to reach the university as early as possible .
The fellow passengers got down at Varanasi, but I did not. I engaged the taxi to take me to the University campus situated few more kilometers from the city. Mr. Dube told me that he shall accompany me to the University and introduce his friend in the medical institute office. He told that without a contact I may not be able to write the examination on late arrival to a strange place. I realized the graveness of the situation and sincerely thanked him for his kindness and traveled together to the university. He kept his luggage in his shop on the way and gave direction to the driver. I was straight away taken to the medical institute. Mr. Dube helped me to find out the examination hall. When I reported and presented the hall ticket to the invigilator he did not permit me to write the examination. He told that as per rules he could not allow candidates coming more than half an hour late to write the examination. I explained my situation, but he did not change his decision. Mr.Dube, who was with me took me to the office and introduced to his friend and office superintendent another Dube. After patiently listening to my travel story he asked me to meat the director Dr.Udupa. He was very pleasant and observed me from top to bottom. My dress was dirty due to the journey in the 2nd class compartment of the steam engine train. He was kind and agreed to pardon me for the one hour delay in my long journey from the southern end of the country. He wrote in the hall ticket that I might be permitted to write the entrance test, but no extension of time shall be given to complete the test. I rushed to the examination hall with the hall ticket. The invigilator allowed me to write the written test. I kept my bed and suit case in front of the invigilator at the entrance and occupied my seat to write the test. The other doctors sitting there writing the examination had a big laughter probably by seeing my dirty dress, the luggage I carried to the examination room and the anxious face. The question paper was of multiple choice questions and there were no essay questions. I drank a glass full of water. I felt that this first glass of water from the divine city of Banaras was not only holy but also sweet and refreshing. I got enough energy and started marking the answers. I marked the answers only where I was confident and sure of the answers and omitted all questions where I was doubtful or totally ignorant of the answers. I could finish the test in 50 minutes time. I gave the answer book to the invigilator five minutes before time and left the hall. I realized that I had the unique distinction as the last man to enter the hall to write the examination and also as one of the very few persons left the hall before time. As I was stepping out of the hall, I was acknowledged by the students (doctors) by a much louder laughter.
I was very hungry, and hence rushed to the college canteen. I took four vegetable cutlets made mostly of potatoes and two cups of coffee to compensate for my breakfast, lunch and evening tea. As I was getting out of the canteen I met Dr. John from CMC who was also writing the test. By that time the peon came from the examination hall and asked me to go with him to meet the invigilator. I became anxious and thought that some body might have objected to my writing the exam; but to my great relief he told that I have to correct the number I had written wrongly on the answer paper. The Invigilator showed my answer paper and asked to correct the number to 63. In fact I thought that I had written the number as per the cyclostyled interview card as 53, but according records of the invigilator it was 63.However I corrected it as per his instruction and signed there. As I was going down the stairs the peon told that Mr.Dube shall come again to meet me. Mean while I thought about the letter given by Dr Daniel to his friend Prof. Harda Singh. I located the microbiology department. Dr. Sigh was not available at that time. When I waited for few minutes, Prof. Dr. Sigh, a tough looking middle aged well built sardarji with a very prominent red nose without beard and turban came to the room in a white over coat. I introduced myself .and handed over the letter from Dr. Daniel. We had a cordial talk for few minutes over a cup of coffee. I expressed my concern and anxiety about recalling me making me change the number in my answer book after I had left the hall. He told that there should not be any foul play and reassured that the selection would be strictly according to merit only. I assumed that the number in the hall ticket might be wrongly typed or a small bit of the number six might have disappeared during cyclostyling giving it an appearance of five. He wished me best of luck and expressed his desire to meet me again before I return home, irrespective of the fact whether I was selected or not. When I came to the office Dr. John was under going his interview and verification of certificates. My interview was scheduled for the next day. By this time Mr.Dube had returned with lot of decorated flowery wrist bands (Rakhee). He had gone to participate in the religious festival. He invited me for dinner at his home and even to stay over night in his residence. I decided to meet the medical student Mr. Mathew from Kerala in the Dhanwanthari hostel. Dr. Sunny Mathai, a friend of Mr. Mathew as well as mine had given his reference when I started from Vellore. Mr. Dubey accompanied me to the hostel. I preferred to stay with Mr. Mathew in his room on the floor, since there was only one coat. Mr.Dubey invited both of us for dinner. But my priority was to clean all the dirt and coal particles I have accumulated in the two days train journey, the last day being in the train powered by steam engine. When I was fresh and cool after a shower we started to Mr.Dubey’s house in a cycle rickshaw. His family was waiting for us. It was a small house in the crowded city with very narrow streets. He introduced his brother, who was an advocate and his wife & children We had a tasty North India meals staring with potato chips roti , subji, and rice . I profusely thanked him for all the help he had done to me, and politely refused his offer to stay with him. I knew very well that without Mr. Dube I would not have written the test. In a cycle rickshaw we started back to BHU campus. The cycle rickshaw was the most popular vehicle in Banaras both for the rich and the poor as well as for the living and dead. This relatively cheep pedaled pollution free vehicle was the most suitable device to travel along the crowded narrow streets with all sorts of smoke and dust coming from crowded shops and houses. Unlike in many cities the pollution from vehicles was relatively less since there were very few cars and trucks on the street.
When we reached the university gate the rickshaw stopped and requested us to get down. He was not prepared to take the vehicle inside since he was afraid of the student community, who rarely gave him, right fair. He described his experience of getting beaten up by the student for asking the right fair. With little bit of reassurance he took us to the Dhanwanthari hostel. I gave him a couple of rupees. He happily left the hostel and we came back to the room & slept.
On 7th morning after the morning routines I walked to the medical institute and had the breakfast in the canteen. There I met Dr. Sapna Sanyal (Mrs. Samanth Ray). She was a smart Bengali lady with whom I had worked at Schell eye hospital for few months. She was doing housesurgency again at the eye department of BHU for the last six months. I understood from her that there are two more from the department trying for MS in Ophthalmology. She also told that there were only three seats for MS in Ophthalmology. This information was not very encouraging, since there are already three students from the same institution for the three seats available, the chances for getting admission for external candidates were very less. Meanwhile I saw a familiar face; I could recollect it as Dr.Thomas, the tutor in Ophthalmology from Alleppy. Now the picture was very clear. Five candidates for three seats; two candidates including me were external candidates.
I waited in front of the room where interview was being conducted. I was the last person to be called for the interview. After some casual questions about Kerala & Vellore, they asked few Ophthalmology question, which I answered to my satisfaction. Finally the professor asked whether I shall join if I were selected. I assured them that I shall join if I were selected. After thanking all of them, with a sense of satisfaction and achievement I walked out of the room. For me writing the test and appearing for interview were great achievements.
After an apparently successful venture to secure admission for M.S., I planned for the return trip. I started to the Indian Airlines Office in a cycle rickshaw along with Mr. Mathew as my guide. I was told that the easiest route was by crossing through the railway station. We had to cross the rail line at the station on an over bridge. The over bridge was crowded with pilgrims and cows, both were equally dirty with the ‘holy’ smell of cow dung & cow’s urine. With an adventurous spirit we crossed the tract on the over bridge successfully. When I reached the air line office my brown shoes had changed color to black with the nasty smell of cow dung. I could confirm my flight ticket up to New Delhi for the next day, but from New Delhi to Madras was not confirmed. However the officer agreed to send a request to Delhi for confirmation. Through the same route on the over bridge we returned to the rickshaw stand and proceeded in a rickshaw to a hotel for the lunch. We had a good north Indian lunch with fried fish caught from the Ganges.
When I told Mathew that the fish was very tasty he told that all the fish in Varanasi were tasty probably because of the unique food they were sharing with the turtles in the ‘ghats’ where the half charred dead bodies were dumped to the Ganges. Even though I did not visit the ‘ghats’ I could imagine the seen of burning the dead persons by the side of river with the holy fire ‘bought’ from the pandas (priests). The petty fire wood thieves steel the fire wood from the pier and half burned dead bodies were pushed to the holy river. The topic of discussion was immediately stopped since there was nauseating feeling. During my child hood I had taken both raw and ripe mangos & jackfruits plucked from the trees grown in the cemetery of our church, happily without any nausea or ill feelings. If the first link of the food chain starts with plant kingdom there is no ill feeling or nausea in taking the food from any where in the chain. I realized that there is a lot of difference between a vegetarian food chain and a non vegetarian food chain. For a moment I thought of the benefits of vegetarianism as described by my co passenger in the train.
We tried to hire a rickshaw to BHU. But every body was reluctant to take us to BHU. After repeated request one Bengaly, actually from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) agreed to take us up to the University gate. They were afraid of the student community and hence avoided going to hostels. We stepped down at the university gate and walked to the hostel.
After a bath we started to the institute to meet the Prof .Singh. He was not there. After waiting for few minutes in the department when he came, we presented ourselves. Dr. Singh told that tomorrow perhaps he might be able to tell us the test result. We came back to the hostel. On the way Mr. Mathew told that he knows his Ophthalmology professor well and perhaps he could directly contact him and get some information about my selection. I was fortunate enough that Mathew got the good news from the professor that I was selected as the 3rd and last candidate for M.S. I decided to host a cocktail party for Mr. Mathew, who allowed me to stay in his room, guided me in all my trips at Varanasi, and brought the glad news from the professor, in the near by hotel and celebrated my hard earned success. We tried to contact Mr. Dube, but could not invite him for the dinner.
We slept well and woke up bit late. Being a Sunday it was calm and quiet in the hostel because every body was waking up late. After a cup of tea from the hostel we visited Dr. Harda Singh. We divulged the happy news to him, which he was not aware. We shared the sweets I had brought and he congratulated me. We left his home after thanking him. He was apologetic and said that he had not done anything for me. I told him that he was a moral boost for me in this strange city and I had no body else to share my happiness.
We returned to the hostel, loaded my bed and suit case in the rickshaw and started to the city to board the flight to Delhi. On the way we got down at a Punjabi hotel and had snacks and started to the railway station. In the station we crossed the over bridge crowded with cows & pilgrims, and decorated with multicolored wet clothes hanged on the sides of the bridge for drying. We engaged another rickshaw to take us to the air lines office. The driver was pedaling the rickshaw without bothering the drizzling. My eyes were focused on the dribbling rain drops mixed with sweet on the broad half naked back of the rickshaw driver while my mind was wandering on the possible obstacles I would face on my maiden flight back home. We reached about half an hour early at the airlines office. When the bus going to the airport arrived we boarded it.. With in an hour the bus reached airport after taking many Caucasian passengers from the adjacent star hotels. I profusely thanked Mr. Mathew, said good bye and walked into the airport building along with the other passengers.
Externally I was cool and confident and followed the crowd to the check in. After the security check up I boarded the plain as if I was a regular traveler in the flight. It was a circular flight coming from Khatmandu and going to New Delhi. In the flight I could see an international crowd dressed in European, Indian, and Nepaly attires. Even though it was my first experience of air travel, I was careful not to expose my ignorance of the formalities in air travel. I managed to get a window seat and watched skies and clouds. I enjoyed traveling above and through the silver lined clouds. I also experienced the first snacks in air when the middle aged seasoned air hostess (I was expecting a young smart smiling air hostess) supplied the food packet and tea. While watching through the window I could see a shining silver river. Soon I could see a small pearl white building at its banks. With in few seconds there was Captain’s announcement that it was the Tajmahal at the banks of Yamuna. I had seen only the photos and movies of Taj .This was my first encounter with the seventh wonder of the world. It was a short, but magnificent view of the huge white marble structure from the sky. I felt that my maiden air travel was worth for the extra money I had spent and considered my self as a fortunate Indian whose first visit to the Taj was from the sky. My eyes were exploring the plain with lot of inquisitiveness. I could learn many things about the plain and also realized that I was traveling in a Boeing 757 plain. Soon the plain landed at Agra air port; my first experience of the plain touching the ground. Few passengers got down with lot of excitement of reaching Agra, the city of Tajmahal. Few passengers boarded the flight from Agra. When the plain took of I had become an experienced veteran plain passenger with the experience of one take off and one landing! I was eager to see the Taj once more and closely watched through the window, but I was disappointed. I could see only an air force station with many fighter plains parked in an orderly way for immediate take off? Soon the flight landed at New Delhi. After taking the luggage from the conveyer belt I rushed to the enquiry counter to know the status of booking in the night flight to Madras. I was disappointed to hear that the night flight was cancelled due to bad weather. So I lost my chance for the night view of the earth and the sky from the plain. Besides this I have to find a place for my night stay at New Delhi; another strange city. However I moved with passengers and waited for the airline’s bus going to the city. When the bus was ready to board I occupied a window seat for my first view of the capital city. The bus after scheduled stops at various places terminated at the Connaught Place office of the airline. I got down and confirmed my seat in the next day’s available flight to Madras. I was told that the flight would take off from New Delhi Airport at 12.20 noon and the bus should leave with the passengers at 10.20 AM from the airlines office
My immediate need at that time was to hire a room in an economy class hotel for my over night stay. I knew no body in the city for proper guidance and I was reluctant to make enquiries to the persons seen around me at the exit of the office building because I felt that most of them were scruples agents of hotels and taxies. I just walked out of the office as if I knew the place very well. After walking about one furlong in one direction I made enquiries about hotel. But there were none to suit my budget.
I walked in the opposite direction and tried again. This time I could identify a not so expensive hotel and hired a single room at a rate of Rs.15.The room had just sufficient space to put a bed and a table. There was no window; a ventilator on the top was the only air passage. There was no attached bathroom. I took bath in the common bath room. The cold water shower cooled down not only my body but also my mind. I changed dress and got out of the room. I decided to remain only the minimum time in the poorly ventilated room. I roamed around the hotel .First I confirmed the route to the airlines office where I have to report on the next day. On further loitering I located the Indian coffee house. There were people waiting to get a seat to sit down and take food. I joined the crowd of customers and had my food from the Indian coffee house. While sitting there waiting for the food, I realized that it was a social meeting place for people to discuss anything under the sun; mainly politics. I remained in the coffee house maximum time possible. Since I had lot of spare time, I did window shopping in this expensive shopping area and posted the letter I had written to Leela, my wife. I returned to my room and slept well.
I woke up in the early morning (9th August) and conveniently occupied the common bath room fresh and dry. After completing the morning routines before the occupants of other rooms get up, I dressed up and got out of the room. There was drizzling of rain .I walked in the direction of the coffee house along the pavements without getting wet. I was one of the first customers at Indian coffee house and there was no crowd at all. I had breakfast and returned to the room. On the way I confirmed from the airlines office that the Madras flight is in time. Quickly I packed everything and vacated the room. I reached the airlines office much ahead of departure time of the bus and waited. I decided to utilize the spare time to complete the diary writing before the memory fades off. While writing the left out portions of the past events comfortably, a political procession supporting Prime Minister Indira Gandhi came on the way in front of the airline’s office. The procession was much disorganized and disturbed my diary writing for a while. With in fifteen minutes the crowd started flowing in the opposite direction and I was told that they were correcting the wrong route they had taken. When the out side crowd disappeared the officers and staff who were watching the confusion out side settled to their respective seats. I got my luggage weighed and finished part of the check in formalities and boarded the parked airline’s bus to air port. Some more passengers boarded the bus and soon it started to the air port.
The bus took a circuitous route to Palam air port because of the political procession going on. There were traffic blocks also because of the confusion all around. However I was cool not only because I had gone through a much more critical situation successfully, but also I knew that if we got stuck at the road the airline should make alternate arrangement for our travel. How ever we reached in time at the airport. The flight took off in time and I could finish my journey to Madras without any hindrance. All through out the journey I was eagerly watching through the window to see some interesting structures like Taj down on earth. But the view was poor not only because of the cloudy sky but also because of the very high altitude of our flight.
From the airport I came down to Madras Central Railway station and could board a train to Kadpady .I reached Velore Schell eye hospital quarters in the afternoon with a sense of satisfaction. However I did not divulge the unofficial result of the interview to anybody and waited for the official communication from the University. With in a fortnight I got the official selection memo from B.H.U, and happily announced it in the department. By that time my registration for D.O. had been accepted by the Madras University. With lot of reluctance they relived me, but retained part of my meager allowance to compensate for the irregularities and violation of CMC rules. Later I came to know that the P.G. seat vacated by me could be allotted to my friend Dr. Naomi who was in the waiting list. So ultimately it turned out to be a win for all solution. (I got my MS seat, Dr. Navomi got her DO seat and CMC did not lose a seat.)
I booked my train ticket to Varanasi in advance in such a way that I should have an extra day to cover up any possible unexpected delay. When I joined in the department as post graduate student I realized that we were five, not three. On further enquiry I came to know that there was a student’s strike demanding the selection of the local candidates first for post graduate course and only remaining seat should go to outside candidates. (It was a common practice in most of the institutes to give preference to local gradates while selecting for post graduate course) Since director of the medical institute was out of station, the students strike continued for few weeks. Meanwhile the selection memos were sent to the successful three candidates from the institute office. When the director returned back after his engagements elsewhere, he tried his level best to get the strike withdrawn; but did not succeed. Ultimately to settle the strike he had to rush to the Vice-chancellor for increasing the number of seats for MS ophthalmology to five, to accommodate the BHU graduates. Suppose the settlement of student strike was reached before the selection memos were dispatched, I would not get admission at BHU. The authorities could have easily dropped the last two candidates and avoided the trouble of going to the Vice chancellor to increase the number of seats for M.S. I realized that I had been fortunate enough to get admission in spite of a strong adverse students strike. Looking back, there are several people voluntarily or involuntarily helped me in my attempt to secure admission for post graduate degree course in BHU. I thank all of them profusely.
How do I explain this series of events which eventually helped me to secure admission for M.S. at BHU in spite of lot of hindrances and obstacles on the way to success? The easiest way to explain it is to believe that, God had sent his guardian angel with me to protect me and guide me, in response to the prayers of my mother and my aunt. They used to pray repeatedly to Jesus through our favorite saint Sleeba mar Osthatheous Bava. I too was praying to God from the day I joined at CMC for getting admission for M.S. course. But as a student who had studied medical science for more than seven years, and continued to study and practicing scientific medicine, I was trying to find a scientific explanation to the occurrence of such a combination of events which led ultimately to achieving my goal of admission for M.S. course at BHU. The statistical probability of occurrence of several unfavorable events and turning them in this favorable way were less, but not impossible. What would have happened if I had prayed to God through another saint? What would have happened if I had prayed to another God? I do not know. Would it have happened if I did not pray to God al all? I still do not know. It appeared that for me the Murphy’s Law is ‘if things can go wrong, it need not go wrong for the determined and lucky ones’. I knew well that the easiest explanation need not be the correct explanation and perhaps a scientific explanation shall evolve eventually. The statistician might be able to calculate the odds of such unusual coincidence. The ultimate achievement of admission to the M.S. course is not only by chance but also by right decision making at each difficult step. A combination of chance and skill has culminated in the final favorable outcome of getting admission at B.H.U. Another way to look at it is, luck and effort have rewarded me with a Master’s Degree .In this situation probably luck has played a predominant role. Until I find a proper scientific explanation I am tempted to take the easiest explanation of God’s help through the guardian angel. This divine explanation continues to prevail even today. According to Albert Einstein “coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous”
N.B. The living conditions, the character of the city, the administration and the people have changed a lot from what it were in the nineteen seventies.
I have to thank a lot of good human beings described in the article. I do not want to repeat their names again. There are many small and big people in the list. Some of them I do not know even their name. The help has come from all levels of people. The railway porter who helped me to get into the moving Varanasi express train and the director of institute of medical science who had given permission to write the examination – all have rendered very valuable assistance in achieving my objective. One may explain that these benevolent events are just coincidence. However I thank all of them. I believe that God has worked through these people so that I could get a post graduate degree from BHU.
My grandson Appu (Master Rohith Mathew Binu) has made several corrections in the manuscript. I thank him for his interest in getting it published.
This book is the description of the real life experience of the author in his attempt to secure admission to post graduate course at B.H.U. His journey from South India to Varanasi , a unfamiliar north Indian city to attend the written test is narrated. There were several anxious moments during the trip and after wards. Fortunately all hurdles were over come and he gets admission to the Master of Surgery course at B.H.U.The events have occurred in the year 1970 and points to the deficiencies in India at that time and the helping nature of the people during difficulties.