Wednesday, October 11, 2017

30 Years & Counting...

Everything I was wearing that day was brand new, except for Dad’s watch.

The ensemble - A striped blue shirt its long sleeves neatly buttoned at the ends, pleated black pants ironed to perfection and my shiny black shoes.

‘It's a brand new start son’ Dad had said as he gave me his large Seiko timepiece. It didn’t fit, obviously, but I held onto it tightly nonetheless.

Our uniquely oblong classroom was really noisy on my first day at junior college.

The rustling of restless feet and the incessant, nervous chatter of anxious students like me only served to tighten the knot in my belly.

I sat on the first bench with 3 others, trying my best to keep it together.

Peace and quiet finally came to us like a wave, the noise gradually reduced starting at the back simmering down the aisle.

I didn't have to turn around, It was clear to me that someone important had just walked into the room.
Jibimon Joseph was an unusual name for a physics professor.

His name was only the tip of the iceberg.

I was expecting a much older, unkempt, eccentric man with thick glasses as the department head of physics. Professor Joseph or Jibi sir as we called him was the complete opposite.

Come rain or shine, his hair was always combed to perfection, it was almost as if the wind in Bangalore city helped him each morning, organizing every strand on his head to a preset angle with respect to the planes of his scalp. 

His eyes complemented his focused, laser-sharp stare which was a little odd when coupled with his boyish smile. 

In sharp contrast to my attire though, the long sleeves of his chequered shirts were always folded up to the middle of his forearms.

We loved him, and like every great teacher, he made us fall in love with his subject.

There were exactly 63 students in my science class that year, and when the teacher of the year was announced in both 2004 & 2005, Jibi sir beat the closest competition by exactly 63 votes.
2 years went by at the speed of light, and coincidentally our last lecture on our last day was again in physics.

He was calm and composed, as usual, I waited for him to give us a lengthy discourse on the path that lay ahead of us, but he stuck to topics that were important for our upcoming exams. 

Maybe he didn’t want to make it harder for us than it already was to say goodbye.

With barely 2 minutes left for the class to end, he made us promise that every 5 years, we would get in touch with him and apprise him of all major professional and personal milestones in our life.

The front bench had by now become my designated spot,this evening too I was finding it hard to hold everything together, but when I looked at my hands I realized something was different.
Working nights is a unique experience.

It’s been very long since I first burnt midnight oil working the graveyard shift at my medical school. In spite of all these years, it still takes some getting used to.

The first night is always the hardest; no matter how well you prepare for it your body is just not ready for the change.

But then, the first 5 shifts go by and snap, all of a sudden your rhythm just changes.

You go from being human to werewolf just like that.

I don't mind if my night is busy, time just passes by, but once the switch has occurred, having a quiet night without any work to do is kind of a punishment, because at least in my case, I just can’t go to sleep.

One feature that really stands out when working at Saint Joseph Hospital in Chicago is the spectacular view of Lake Michigan visible from most parts of the facility.

Irrespective of the weather or time of day, it is very hard not to be captivated by the beauty that lies ahead of you.
The first half of my recent night float rotation was incredibly busy.On some of the shifts, I didn’t even see the inside of my call room.

Then the switch happened, both with my circadian rhythm and also with the patient load at the hospital.

I got less busy and I was able to find time to rest. 

6 nights in unable to sleep and tired of staring at the ceiling I walked up to the window in my room and stared at the lake.

It was still very dark outside, but the moon and its reflection off the surface of the lake was simply stunning.

I tried to take in as much as possible of the view in front of me, but when I realized I might be standing too close to the glass I took a few steps back, and then a few more.

When I adjusted my gaze a little I was slightly taken aback by the sight of my own reflection in the glass.

But then I wondered If I stretched my imagination just a little more would I be able to make an objective assessment of the man staring back at me

Don’t judge me, like I mentioned this was my sixth night straight in a row, I was entitled to hallucinate a little.
I started by smiling at him, just to see how he would react you know.

And he smiled back, right away.

‘What a good looking guy’? I thought to myself.'Even with the dark circles under his eyes' I duly noted.

As you can see I was stretching my imagination a lot.

‘He could use a haircut though’ I thought out loud.

‘And a shave’ I told myself.

'Why do his scrubs look so crushed'? I asked, pointing my finger at him.

Slightly annoyed by the sight of him pointing his finger back at me I paid closer attention to his hands.

That’s when something else caught my attention, the same thing that I noticed on my last day at junior college.

Like my shirt, the long sleeves of my white coat were neatly folded up all the way to the middle of my forearms.

I thought about Jibi sir as I sat down at the foot end of my bed.

The first time I met him, I was 15 years old, and now in a few weeks,I was poised to turn 30.


I took a deep breath, and all of a sudden I felt a lot older than I ever did before, like someone at the end of a long journey.

Sure, like Frost once said, I had miles and miles to go, but still, I couldn’t stop my shoulders from feeling heavy and so I placed my hands on the bed and looked down on the floor.
It dawned on me that in all these years, I hadn't kept my promise to Jibi sir.

Only once eons ago I had called him to let him know that everything was going well at my medical school. When he asked me what I was planning on doing next, I told him the truth, I did not know. That was it.

When Orkut was still a thing, for a short time he created a profile there, but after the website was closed down he completely went off the grid. Most of my searches for him online returned fruitless and before I could get my first cell phone, I lost the book containing his contact information.

With my night float behind me, and my sleep cycle restored to normalcy, I reached out to some other teachers at my college whom I could identify on social media.

I heard from our English teacher who told me that he had moved out of the country many years ago relocating to the UK.

I was left with a bittersweet feeling.

If I could somehow reach out to him today, I wondered what I would say to him.

He was never a man of many words, so maybe the best thing I could do was summarize the last 15 years of my life.

How best could I do that?

I would tell him that on completion of 30 years I felt grateful more than I felt anything else.

Grateful because God had been good, grateful because the blessings outnumbered the curses,  joy surpassed pain, laughter dominated the tears and happiness overcame regret.
In spite of all the ups and downs, for all that it gave and took away from me, life had been good and for those reasons, I was grateful.
Maybe all he wanted to do was instill in us the ability to set goals for ourselves and strive towards achieving them, or maybe this was his way of making sure that no matter where we ended up we were doing ok.

While I will never give up my search for finding him, sometimes when I fold the sleeves of the shirts I'm wearing I wonder if after all these years he would still remember me, and if he did, would he be proud?

I hope yes.

Until Next Time