It was my 70th birthday. My wife Anika invited several close friends, mostly doctor colleagues, to our home for dinner.
The conversation started off about the pros and cons of buying a Tesla. We then spoke of children’s jobs and grandchildren’s education. Finally, the discussion centered on medical school admissions.
“The admission interviews to medical schools are a big fiasco,” Jagadish said. “Recommendations from ministers, bribes, nepotism, all these are rampant in India.”
“Not always. I was sixth in the ranking system in science subjects and the interviewers wished me to keep up my rank at the medical school as well. No influence, none,” Dr. Sunil said.
“For me, I belong to Nadar caste and one of the examiners was also a Nadar. We are from the same town. I don’t know whether this helped me. He asked me a few simple questions and let me go. I was selected,” Dr. Krishna said.
“What about you, Rao?” Prema asked.
“When I finished my undergraduate course, I was sixteen-and-a-half-years old and was not eligible to apply for the medical school. I was disappointed. One day, my dad saw a notice in The Hindunewspaper that even under-aged students could apply and they would be interviewed. I packed in a hurry, my certificates, a clean shirt and a pair of pants, and caught a train to Guntur for the medical school interview. I filled out the application then and there.
“Like me there were 300 students, all under-aged. There were three interviewers. One of them asked why I was in a hurry to become a doctor and why I couldn’t wait for another year. I told him if I were selected now, I would wait for another year and join the medical school the next year. They all laughed and wished me good luck.”
“I anxiously waited for weeks. Then I heard they had selected a candidate related to a minister. I spent one year at home learning to play my mother’s harmonium and practicing watercolor painting.
“The next year I applied again for the medical school and went for the interview. It was in Tirupathi Town and the interviewers were Dr. Jagannatha Reddy and the vice chancellor of Sri Venkateswara University.
“My name was called and I entered a small room. A PE coach invited me in and offered me a chair. He asked me in what sports I participated. ‘Volley ball,’ I said firmly.”
“He looked at me. ‘How tall are you?’”
“Four feet and nine inches, I said.”
“Height of the volley ball net in the middle?”
“7 feet and 11 5/8 inches for men’s court.”
“What is the diameter of the volley ball?”
“’Look, you have done the homework well. I don’t think you played volley ball.’ He marked ‘no sports’ on the application. I went back to the waiting room dejected.”
Sunil asked, “Rao, how did you manage to get the volley ball certificate from your PE coach at the undergraduate college without playing the game?”
“Simple. I bought a dozen, fully ripe Alfanso mangos and went to the Coach’s house. I offered them to him and politely requested a PE certificate. ‘What did you do?’ The coach asked.”
“’Volley ball,’ I blurted out. He looked at me suspiciously and signed the sports certificate.
He was nice. The mangos certainly helped.”
My friends laughed. “How did the interview go?”
“After an hour I was called in. In extracurricular activities, I had marked I could write poems in Telugu language. I felt I would be in trouble.
“Dr. Jagannatha Reddy flipped through my application. ‘I see, you’re good in science.’ He flipped a couple of pages more. ‘No sports, but you write poems. Interesting. Mr. Rao, let me hear a poem you wrote recently.”
“I almost shook. I gathered all my courage and slowly recited a poem I wrote a few days earlier in ‘tetha geetha’ meter.
‘Dina jana Kalpakambavu, Tinna nina
Sri Jagannatha Moorthivi, Cheva kaladu
Icchutaku pucchukonutaku, Eppudaina,
Interview nandu daya chupu manti nayya
‘You’re like the celestial tree, the Kalpa Vriksha, Which fulfils our wishes. The God Jagannath Has no limbs but you’re completely normal. You have the capacity to give and take. So, Please be kind to me in this interview.’
“Dr. Jagannatha Reddy and the Vice chancellor burst into a loud laughter. ‘Run away, Rao. Keep writing poems. Good luck,’ Dr. Reddy said.”
Sunil asked, “Rao, you write fiction. Is this real or your imagination?”
Prema said, “Is this when you got accepted?”