Feature The Teacher – Valentine’s Day Special

It’s February! And soon, the king of all invented “holidays”(sarcastic air quotes FTW) will dawn on us, making most of us sad, for at the end of some of us will have no date, while some will have no money for the rest of the year (although by the time you read this, you may already be regretting  your choices). In the spirit of romance and Cupid’s aimless arrows, we interviewed one of our very own sweethearts, Dr. Anil Purty and Dr. Shashikala, as they gave us a glimpse into how they fell in love.

Tell us a bit about yourselves.

Dr. A: I’m from Ranchi, erstwhile Bihar and now Jharkand. After early schooling at Ranchi and high school at a boarding school in Pune, I was privileged to joined CMC Vellore and briefly worked at Bethesda Mission hospital in Ambur. Then joined the Residency programme at JIPMER in the departments of Orthopaedics, Cardiothoracic surgery, Dermatology and thereafter completed the PG course in Community Medicine.  I was at CMC Vellore during my internship where I first met her.

Dr.S: Basically from Pathanamthitta, Kerela but I was raised in Rourkela, Odisha where my parents worked in the GoIs Steel Plant. I studied at the Steel Authority of India-run school before graduating from VSS Medical College. In those days, once you finish UG, you could do something called Senior House Surgency or Non-PG, and for that I came to CMC Vellore. There I worked in casualty department and the Shell Eye Hospital. I was interested in Ophthalmology, and would have gotten a seat if I had waited one more year.

Dr.A: It was at CMC’s Casualty department that we met, and I was drawn to this quiet, determined doctor who was staring a an IV line into a patient.

Dr.S: I really used to like putting in IV lines, and one day I see someone staring at me.

Dr.A: She had an excellent technique and I was just observing, fascinated.

So the casualty was where the love story starts?

Dr.A: One night, I remember a double casualty came. A college going boy and a girl were brought in by their respective families. I got the boy and she took over the girl’s treatment. Both were cases of poisoning, and they were wheeled in at almost the same time. We immediately started poison management, you know, did a stomach wash. The girl was thin and petite, while the boy was quite sturdy. He tells me, “Doctor, I’ve drunk poison. Now you can’t do anything to save me.” And, I was like, “Please, I went to CMC Vellore. Challenge Accepted.” It was a little peculiar, as both cases were very similar. And then, after some coaxing, the parents finally told us that our two patients were in fact in love with each other. As young love would have it in India, the parents didn’t like it, and did everything to keep them apart. In despair of their ensuing heart break, they went to Chemistry Lab and concocted a potion, and drank it. I was scared that he made her drink something without actually drinking it himself. After a bit of threatening, he finally told us that the chemical was Potassium Ferricyanide.

Dr.S: Their beds were adjoining to one another, separated by a curtain that really didn’t do its job. While Anil and I were treating our patients respectively, they would move in perfect synchrony, always trying to catch a glimpse of each other. Technically we were being their curtain and not allowing them to see each other. She’ll crane her head to see him when Anil was treating him….

Dr.A: … And he would crane his head when Shashi was with her. When he said Potassium Ferricyanide, I was a little tensed, since the word Cyanide threw me off a bit. So I immediately dialled my Clinical Biochemistry Professor, who went on to inform me that Potassium Ferricyanide was not very poisonous, however all routine tests need to be taken and the patients need to be kept under observation. This case was my chance to talk to her, and while we worked on the patients, we constantly ran into each other. Next morning after they were discharged, I grabbed the opportunity to talk to her.

That day, a double casualty happened. Those two young lovers recovered, but I never did.

So CMC Vellore was where all the magic started?

Dr. A: CMC stands for Christian Medical College. It also could be another Couple Making Centre. After the casualty incident, we started talking, and soon became friends. And I started falling for her.

Dr. S: So he knew my birthday, and the day before, I was at this stall right outside CMC where a friend and I were drinking tea. Suddenly, out of nowhere Anil walks towards me and gives me this box. Inside which was this lovely cake that said ‘Happy Birthday’. He handed that to me and just went off without another word.

Dr. A: See, my friends and I had planned to buy a cake. At that time, there was this Don Bakery (then ultimate, now rundown) which was our go-to place. So we pooled in some money and I went to collect it. On my way back to the hostel, I saw her, a vision of beauty sipping tea from a glass. So I walked up to her, gave her the cake and left. So when I went back to the hostel, and when my friends asked, I told them, “I saw her, so I gave it to her.” Incidentally, what did you eat or throw the cake away?

Dr. S: I ate it; it was very nice, thank you. Soon after this was his Graduation Dinner Ceremony at CMC. And out of the blue, he invited me to go with him.

Dr. A: CMC had this wonderful tradition where the juniors would organise everything and in fact serve us themselves. And I thought it would be nice to have her during the graduation day  dinner.

Dr. S: I was a little apprehensive, so I took a friend (who also worked in the Casualty) with me and I went for it. We had dinner and we came back. After that I continued working in Ophthalmology.

Dr. A: Slowly we were meeting regularly for a cup of tea, in the beginning with some friends chaperoning us.

Dr. S: Slowly, I don’t know if we left them or they left us, it was just us having tea and talking.

What was the romantic highlight of your courtship?

Dr. S: My parents were slowly looking for a groom, and it happened to be the wedding of my cousin in Kerala. I had to board a train from Katpadi station, and Anil and his best friend (TD) came to drop me. I went to the wedding, and came back. The train stops in Platform 3, and I had to walk across the over bridge to reach the bus station. It was early in the morning and still dark. Suddenly someone came from behind and grabbed my bag. I thought some thief had stolen my bag and was very scared. But that person turned out to be Anil.

Dr. A: And I was the thief who then stole her heart. I mean, what is more romantic than doing a little extra coolie work for Rs. 5 just for her (joking, of course). But I did wait there all night to bring her back safely.

Dr. S: What happened next was a little funny. At my cousin’s wedding, I got a ring which I was wearing. This was the time my parents were actually looking for a groom, and Anil knew that. So when he saw the ring, he thought it was an engagement ring and I didn’t correct him. He went on to believe this for weeks until I finally gave in and laughed.

Dr. A: But hey, even after that heartbreak, I still brought her back to the hospital safely.

Dr. S: Yes, even after that shock he was the total gentleman. And still is.

So you decided to get married after this?

Dr. A: That was the time when I got into JIPMER and started a diploma course in Leprology and she continued to work at CMC. I commuted to Vellore every weekend to see her. I still remember, Bus No. 204 that left on Friday at 5:15 pm from JIPMER gate and reached Vellore at 9:20 pm. Then I’d take the Monday morning bus at 4:15 am and reach JIPMER at 8:15 am in time for duty at 9.

Dr. S: There was pressure coming from my parents, and to be honest, I was a little befuddled about where this relationship was going.

Dr. A: So one day, she calls me out of the blue, and asked whether I was serious or not about us. We mutually decided that we were very serious about each other and decided to get married. That was the time of entrance exams, and we both travelled together to places to give them.

Dr. S: I remember we went to Delhi to write the AIIMS entrance exam.

Dr. A: My elder sister lived in Delhi. She came to see me, saw Shashi and got inquisitive. She asked me who she was, to which I answered, “Friend”.

Dr. S: So we went around to a few places to write exams, and then I finally plucked enough courage to tell my parents. I wrote them a long letter and they immediately decided to come down and meet us. My father was okay, but my mother was a little upset since he wasn’t a Malayali. She was all,” Studies over no, let’s go home”. He came to pick them up from Chennai, and soon her parents warmed to him and accepted our relationship. His parents and family had no problems and gave us their blessing.

Dr. A: We had a Registered marriage in Vellore. The Registrar’s Office was walking distance from CMC, and the clerks there asked us if we were Doctors, as if it was a routine happening (remember Couple Making College?). It was the Rs 100 fees as per the -Indian Marriage Act- very simple wedding.

Dr. S: But after that we held a reception in Kerala which my parents threw for all our family and friends there. What’s very funny about the whole thing was that my parents we on and told everyone there that Anil was a Malayli. Of course, a little later they found out the truth but Anil had to basically pretend to be Malayali with everyone who had gathered. I remember him and my grandmother having these long conversations. She was speaking enthusiastically in proper Malayalam of which Anil couldn’t understand one word, but still they would talk for hours together.

Dr. A: The whole Malayali scenario was a whole new experience and a little daunting. I was a little fascinated with everything, especially how they all sit together in front of a banana leaf to eat, how they serve the food and most importantly, how they crush an entire poppadum into their rice.

Dr. S: The highlight of this whole situation was that Anil actually did not like Malayalis.

Dr. A: She spoke such fluent Hindi I had no idea she was Malayali, and one day told her that also. She didn’t bother to tell me at that point, so when I eventually found out, I was a little embarrassed.

So what happened after your wedding? Did you go on a honeymoon?

Dr. A: After the Kerala reception, we had a reception for just our friends at Vellore. We were to go to the Registrar’s Office exactly the month after our ceremony to get our Marriage Certificate and that date was the 26th. We miscalculated and went a day earlier only to be asked to realise our mistake. So the next day, we collected our marriage certificate and left for Pondicherry.

Dr. S: We had both written the Armed Forces Services exam, and I had been selected into the Army Hospital at Chennai while he got his posting to the Air Force Hospital in Delhi. But if he were to join, he had to stay at the Officer’s Mess where spouses were not allowed. I had also left CMC, and we were hotly debating what to do next.

Dr. A: That was when I got an offer to study MD Community Medicine at JIPMER. Considering all the factors, I took that up and left my Dip. Leprology and dreams to be part of the Indian Air Force . Mind you, I have preserved the letters from the DGAFMS addressed  to Flight Lieutenant Anil J Purty.

Dr. S: I started working with a WHO trial for a new drug to combat Filariasis. I was posted under the General Medicine Dept. at the Pondicherry Government Hospital and I saw a lot of patients every day. After sometime, I left that trial and joined the Microbiology department at JIPMER just to prepare for PG entrance. But, I liked working there, and when I was offered a PG seat, I took it. That was the year Anil finished his PG.

Dr. A: And no, we never did go on a honeymoon; both of us were too busy and had no leave. Our first getaway was only after our kid turned 3; we went to Connoor.

How was life as a married couple living together for the first time?

Dr. S: He was very adjusting, and we started off together with very little.

Dr. A: She too was very accommodating.

Dr. S: We learned to cook together. When we first got married, all I knew properly was to boil an egg. The first time I tried to make rice in a pressure cooker, I didn’t pour in enough water and the valve melted. But slowly, we both learnt how to make things, and Anil soon became an expert at making Biriyani [open invitation extended to everyone to sample Sir’s Sunday Special: P]. At first we didn’t have anything at home, but every month, we saved up enough money to buy things and our home was entirely self-made.

Dr. A: I still remember our first purchase which was a gas stove. We went to Ranga’s Agency and bought a Butterfly Gas stove (for advertising call Richa Susan Varughese).There was a red cylinder there and I though you could purchase it just like that and so I asked for one of those too. Well, turns out not only do you have to make a booking in prior, it will take a year for the line to be given!

Dr. S: When I told this to my parents, they were laughing their heads off. I had a cousin in Kerala who had an extra cylinder. So he transferred it to Pondicherry and gave it to us. Then, later our line came, and he was thrilled.

Dr. A: After 3 years as an SR in JIPMER while Shashi finished her PG, we moved to Karaikal where I was working with WHO on their RNTCP programme and she worked at Karaikal Medical College. Travelling was a big minus so when PIMS started, we decided to move back here. I joined PIMS right away.

Dr. S: I worked in MGMC for a little bit before joining PIMS in November of 2002. And we have been here ever since.

What attracted you to each other and what do you like about each other?

Dr. A: What really drew me to her was her quiet nature and the manner in which she would conduct herself while treating patients. In the madhouse that is Casualty at CMC, her dignified, dedicated poise was very rare. Even now, her quiet calmness is very endearing. She is very adjusting too, and most of all she puts up with me!

Dr. S: Initially what I really was looking for was a Hindi-speaking boy, and preferably a Malayali. He was a very social person, fun-loving and talkative. And, he was and is a very caring person. He takes care of everything, and in fact, when the children are sick, he gets extremely worried.

Dr. A: Community doctor, no. It’s part of my job.

Dr. S: And he’s very adjusting. Initially he adjusted so well with all my family, and even now he is not fussy about food or anything in general.

What are those teeny-tiny things that you don’t like about each other?

Dr. A: Well, before some time, I used to hate being called and asked “Where I was/What am I doing” if I was a little late. But then one day, I was sitting with someone and Shashi calls me and as I keep the phone down, he quips that he was very lucky since no one calls him and disturbs him like that. Then I realised that the only reason someone calls you to see why you are late, etc is because they care about you. And after that day, I don’t mind her calling me and asking me that.

Dr. S: One thing that we mutually disagree about how things are generally placed at home. I am a stickler for putting things in their appropriate place and generally keeping things in order…

Dr. A: …while I am the exact opposite. I don’t really mind leaving things lying around a bit, you know, because, its fine. But I always manage to find things.

Dr. S: That he will find, but only after tunnelling through the hundred other things he piled on what he’s searching for in the first place. In that way all 3 are the same.

Following the interview, our star couple and us played a few games (with Richa hopelessly Googling questions), realising at the end that Ma’am and Sir know each other too well. In a lot of ways, Dr. Anil and Dr. Shashikala are quite the opposite, but hey, they say that Opposites Attract. Richa, Adrian and I are incredibly grateful to the Purtys for kindly letting us into their home and sharing their beautiful story with us. We wish them all the happiness in the world and may they ever remain in love for all eternity. – Adithya.

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