Pondicherry: Memories of a College


india medical schoolJIPMER, my alma mater, is one of 3 Premier Institutes in India for Medicine. It is located in the quaint former French Colony of Pondicherry on the East coast of India. The acronym stands for Jawarhalal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research.

I graduated from here in 1999 and throughout those five long years I spent studying, drinking, eating, gossiping and living a typical College life, I had harbored no qualms that these days would eventually end. Nostalgia happens after the fact, not during it, and till I actually graduated, it had never struck me that my own Convocation would hold such bittersweet memories.

This day marked the day I was leaving a College and a city that had embraced me, made me a doctor and captured my soul.

To start with, this nostalgia did not last too long. The practicalities and worries of an undefined career took precedence over any notion of a romantic nostalgia of College life. I had moved on, but nostalgia was never far away.

JIPMER made me a doctor. It was a place where study was intense and marks were always earned. It was where I was introduced to the art and science of medicine, a place where patients were always people and not a disease, the place where I helped bring a new life in the world and also the place where I watched my first patient die in front of my helpless eyes.

I grew up in JIPMER, in girth and otherwise. I made friends who remain my best till today. I met teachers who shaped me in many ways, and as strict and uncompromising as they were, they always had our best interests at heart. I lost my best friend to a highway accident, I was a victim of the rules of class attendance and I was the chief patron of many a bar and restaurants that dot this wonderful city.

And I fell in love with Pondicherry with all its faults and virtues, its French avenues and its roadside shacks, its pristine beaches and its chaotic traffic, the peace of Auroville and the madness of a small South Indian town at peace with its own French heritage. 14 years after I have left, no other city feels more like home.

They say nostalgia and memories bind us to the past and we should let go, move on and live in the present. But how do you move on from something that has become a part of you and in some ways, defines you?

My memories live on in the friends I made and the experiences we shared, in the forgotten traumas of failed exams and the vivid exhilaration of the successful ones. They will live on in the small hostel room I occupied briefly, in the classrooms I was sometimes present in and in those random, seemingly disconnected ways that make up memories. They live on in the conversations we shared in seedy bars and fancier restaurants, in the shared responsibilities of a College Festival and the intangible feel and atmosphere of an Institute that for me, will remain a storehouse for my thoughts and my memories.

But JIPMER has changed. I saw that when I visited it this year and the changes have been sudden and dramatic. New buildings have come up over a campus once blanketed in green, old haunts have disappeared and old faces have long since retired or moved on. My memories of my education-the Dissection Halls, the Labs, the Labour Rooms where we spent 14 straight days and nights-all have moved into newer premises. And they have taken my memories with them too.

In my more idle moments, especially when I sit down and try to complete my own life story in JIPMER in the blog that I write, I lie back and think of my alma mater. I think of an old friend I meet now, sometimes by fate and sometimes by accident, a friend who at least on the outside, changes irrevocably with every meeting, a friend who has lost that familiar dimple, that glint in the eye and that innocence of youth, a friend whose familiar looks have fallen under the surgeon’s knife, and a friend whose personality and character have perhaps changed, but as I stand on those old familiar roads and look at what is still there, I see a soul that is still pure, is still free, and I know in that moment that I will always be welcomed back.

Au Revoir, Jipmer. Till we meet again.

Author Bio: I am a practicing surgeon in Malaysia. I write very occasionally, maintain a blog on my random musings and am passionate about Cambodia and Buddhism. I am also quite weird, according to all the saner friends I have! Twitter: @jipmerdays

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