Thursday, July 3, 2014

Everyone Has a Story to tell

It is funny how some of life’s biggest inspirations and most profound counsel are derived from seemingly routine day to day experiences and conversations.

Take for example the true story of a man seeking spiritual reformation who stopped by at a fast food joint for a meal before heading off to the Himalayas for 3 years.

As he placed the order for his burger, which could possibly have been his last one in the years to come he noticed that he only had a 1000 rupee note in his wallet and no change.

The cashier took the note from him and said “Don’t worry sir, I will give you the remaining money, please wait for a few minutes”, then pointing towards the kitchen he said –
“The change must come from within” !

That was all the advice this man needed.

He realized that he had to become the change he wanted to see in the world, and the best place to start wasn’t at a height of 25,000 feet off the ground but from within his heart.
I met Esha Shukla amidst extremely weird circumstances.
We were both preparing for the same exam and were desperately in the need of a study partner to keep each other motivated and to monitor our day to day progress.

Our collaboration had a very shaky start, the rains played havoc in Gujarat in september 2013 and even before we could finish introducing ourselves to each other the electricity at Esha’s end started dwindling.
Please hang on for the next 2 days she said, “hopefully we will meet.....if there isn’t another natural calamity here” and went offline.

2 days later the power situation was no better, the rains continued to pour and the water levels kept rising.
A week went by and finally electricity had returned to the streets of Gandhidham but understandably Esha needed time to clear up all the mess that the rain had created.

When we finally managed to start studying together it took us only a few hours to realize that the wait was worth it.

Esha and I hit it off almost immediately. 

Occasionally, the discussions in our study sessions would take diversions, we talked at length about politics, movies, day to day events and so on.

Sometimes these arguments would get heated but we were always respectful of each other.
At the end of one such interaction I remember telling Esha that someday I was going to sit down and write the story of my life, I assured her that i had a great story to tell filled with intrigue and adventure, that it was an incredible tale and would surely make a good read.

In fact I remember being pretty emphatic while making this announcement to her.

Esha listened to everything I had to say and at the end of it she calmly said

'Everyones life is an incedible story buddy, not just yours'.

I never told this to Esha but what she said to me that afternoon radically changed the way I think of life as such.
The Many faces of Swami Esha Shukla :-)

While returning from work the same evening I saw an old man dressed in a very simple attire walking back home, he held a small bag of groceries in his right hand and a cane in his left, Esha’s words returned to haunt me, as i hit the brakes on my bike and slowed down i started wondering if this man too had a story to tell.

I knew that hopping off my motorcycle and walking up to him at that time of the night and in that part of town just to ask him the story of his life would mean nothing short of a sound thrashing from the cane he was holding so i just drove back home.

Ever since then whenever I got a chance to ask someone if they felt their life was a story worth telling i took it and with every person I interviewed Esha’s words began to make more and more sense to me.
The result of my little study was unprecedented.

Everyone, as a matter of fact had a incredible story to tell.

I came across people who fought all kinds of battles in their lives

While on one hand there were those people who spent 12 hours a day in hard manual labor to make just enough money to feed their families on the other there were those who spent years in dieting, exercise and surgery fighting obesity.

There were some people who waited for long lost love to return and some others whose love transcended region, language and religion and overcame all sorts of barriers.

From studying under streetlamps to secure a high school pass to being the only Asian in 10 years to clear a high profile job interview there were people who faced all sorts of challenges in the short span of their lives.

I was convinced now that what Esha said was true and yet, just to make things clearer the universe decided that there was one more story I had to listen to.

In the course of the 5-6 years we spend studying at a medical school we read about a large number of diseases that we rarely come across in day to day practice.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease where the body’s own immune system destroys the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.
There is no known cure for the condition and as it progresses it leads to permanent, irreversible neurological damage

When the nurse handed me the file of a patient with MS last monday i was not sure what to expect.
As I asked her to let the patient in I expected to see a middle aged person on a wheel chair, instead a young, handsome looking man in his late twenties stood at the door.

“Come in, Where’s the patient?” I asked him politely.

“I’m the patient sir” he replied.
“I have multiple sclerosis. I’m just here to take my monthly injection”. He said handing me a vial of beta-interferon (one of the few treatment modalities approved in the management of MS).

For a brief moment in time i was left speechless.

“I’m sorry Amit but I am a little surprised”. I said to break the silence

He smiled and said – “Don’t worry sir, most doctors who see me for the first time react this way”.

On enquiring he told me that his symptoms had started in his teenage just a little tingling and numbness in his extremities, his family and most of the doctors who saw him thought he was faking it, some even asked him to see a psychiatrist, instead of trying to find what was wrong with him.

People began taking his symptoms seriously a good 9 years later when he developed double vision and started losing his balance, an MRI and a CSF analysis later he was diagnosed with MS.

Ever since then he has been on steroids and interferon to keep the disease in remission.

Beta-Interferon induced depression is so notorious that its one of those rare situations where doctors actually consider putting the patients on prophylactic anti-depressants.

Contrary to all expectations he stood six feet tall courageously fighting this dreadful disease while going for work and living his life to the best possible extent at the same time.
Ever since I met Amit, simple things such as pulling over at a traffic signal, or staring down at the bustling weekend crowd below as I lean on the steel railing at the third floor of a mall in the city hasn’t been easy for me, looking around at the hundreds of people involved in the race of their lives I can’t help but imagine what all struggles these people are going through.

The love story of the old man I saw that evening after I spoke to Esha may not achieve the status of a Shakespearan classic, The tales of how you and I chase our little dreams and ambitions may not make it to the #1 best seller list of the New York times and the true sagas of how our parents brought us up against all odds may not get adapted into oscar nominated films.

Sure, our life events may not be ones that alter the course of the world’s history but at the end of the day as we overcome one tiny challenge after another we leave behind our own legacy.

And whether or not we ever get to share it with the rest of the world, like my good friend Esha says – 
Our stories will always be INCREDIBLE.

Until next time,