It is said that your parents are your first and best teachers. My father was every bit my teacher and mentor and but for him, I would never have become the man I am today.
Growing up in a small village in India as the sixth of seven children was not always easy. My two older sisters grew up, got married and moved away by the time I was 10. When the two older brothers went away to college, I was relieved, with a twinge of guilt, to have the extra space in the bedroom to spread my mat at night. I grew up with two of my sisters closer to my age.
One of my fondest memories about father is his ability to tell stories. Often they were culled from Arabian Nights or Jataka Tales, the Indian folklore with morals, which he would deliver with his characteristic panache. His idea was to give you subliminal messages for self improvement and it certainly helped me to hone my ability to think straight and act right at difficult times.
When I was in the ninth grade, father planted an idea in my head, "You could become a doctor, you know." As a compounding pharmacist at the local hospital, he had aspired for his young son to become a doctor.
I was somewhat surprised. My childhood hero was the doctor at our primary care center, who held an exalted position in the society. He made piles of money and was the only one who had a car in our small island of some 25,000 people. But to become a doctor would be a tall order, I knew, especially since not many kids from there went to college those days.
My father had clear ideas. He could see my future and carve it into shape. I wasn't happy about the constant pressure to study harder and at one point, even thought of trying an easier field, but my father wouldn't relent. So, I had to give up my rebellion, put my nose to the grindstone and get on with the studies.
The first time I ventured out of the island on my own was to get enrolled in the college for premedical studies in the big, prosperous city of Cochin. I became mesmerized by the huge, opulent houses, beautiful college campuses with sprawling buildings and manicured lawns, nice restaurants, attractive stores and hectic traffic. If I get a good education, I could live in a city like this, I told myself.
However, one had to weather stiff competition before getting accepted to the medical school, with nearly 25,000 students vying for the 150 positions available in Kerala state at that time. Not hailing from an underprivileged community that enjoyed a quota of reserved seats was a disadvantage. And my father didn't have any political clout to wrangle a spot either. Also, I worried if it would be too expensive for father, whose small salary just covered the domestic necessities. But with constant encouragement from father and my older brother, I successfully completed all my premedical tests, coming out with flying colors. Much to our relief, all that work paid off when I got a full government grant to complete the medical studies.
At times the going was quite difficult and when I mentioned this to my father, his predictable answer was, "Success is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." I have never complained about hard work since then. "Be prepared for hardships, don't worry about the occasional slip ups, you will come out ahead in the end," he added. It is a priceless piece of advice to cherish forever.
My father was a bit saddened when I left for U.S. for further studies because of the distance and his worry of my permanent settlement here. His eyes were moist as he saw me off at the airport. But he was also happy for me for going abroad to conquer new vistas, confident about already having laid the foundation for my success in any land I chose to live. As always, he was right.
I pay homage to my father for his constant guidance, support and encouragement throughout my formative years. He walked with me holding my hand till I crossed all the hurdles and safely reached my goal. His teachings certainly helped me to mould my own children. Hopefully, my two little grand-daughters will also benefit from his wonderful wisdom passed on from generation to generation.
Dr. M. P. Ravindra Nathan is a Brooksville cardiologist.