Thursday, 13 August 2015

Of Venerable Veterinarians And Other Incredible Indians.

'What a summer this has been!' Summer because it's an American School so it was the children's summer vacation. But since we were in India, it would be technically correct to say 'What a Monsoon this has been!'And because we live in Kenya below the equator, the correct phrase applicable here would be 'What a winter this has been!' Irrespective of the name that we accord to the last two months, the fact remains that it was one of the busiest but most fascinating times in my life and the children's lives.
The story that culminated in this experience has its origins in the routine visits to the veterinarian for my parents' dog, the cutest looking dachshund imaginable and it all began more than sixteen years ago. When my daughter was a toddler, I used to drive my mother down to the vet's clinic many a time, puppy and baby in tow! I thought it was a good chance for our little one to see various breeds of dogs that she used to look at only in books. And to see a few cats too, for her love of animals was apparent even as a fifteen month old when she used to fearlessly hug and cuddle our dog and enjoy being licked, while carefully turning her face away as she knew our strict rule where her face was concerned!
Should we have been surprised then, when as a mere five year old, she declared with absolute conviction and confidence that she wanted to be a veterinary surgeon? That's an age when kids are still struggling with their ABCs and 123s... And to top it all she went and declared it outright to our vet during our dog's next check up, also coolly informing her that she would practise with her, except on the occasions when she took a holiday to model! Model??!! This was one of the most embarrassing moments for me as a parent and I fervently hope our vet has forgotten it!
And so time flew and we moved to Kenya when she was in 8th grade. The American system allowed her to choose subjects that would be absolutely required for veterinary medicine and she persevered on her chosen path. When we began meeting representatives from colleges around the world last year, we discovered that to apply to colleges outside India, she would have to include some experience of having worked with animals on her personal statement. And so the agenda for our 'summer' was set!
As an educator and an educational entrepreneur for the last seventeen plus years, I have become used to people coming to me for help and advice regarding schools, colleges, coaching classes, the various education boards we have in India and the biggest hurdle 'how to face a school admission interview.' I have been tirelessly giving my time and energy, without charging a dime, as I always said it was my way of giving back to society for the fact that both our children got into Pune's top school, without influence or shelling out capitation money, on sheer merit alone. And now, I found myself holding the other end of the stick! I had to contact people and ask for advice and request them to accommodate my daughter, so she could fulfil a college application requirement! Now all the help I had extended to countless people seemed to be coming right back to me!
The system in India works differently. You are admitted to Veterinary College on the basis on your marks in 12th grade and the entrance exam. No one asks for experience before hand, unlike the rest of the world! So first we had to explain in painstaking detail why she needed to do this. Then we had to work out suitable timings with each person, as the colleges require varied experiences. Club this with her Advanced Placement Biology and Calculus coaching classes and our hands were more than full, well they were overflowing actually!
The first person to give her permission to observe practice was our own dearest vet, the lady who, along with our dog, was responsible for setting our child on this path. She is one of Pune's busiest vets but gladly accommodated a vet-to- be, giving her the vantage point to view the surgeries too and making her feel needed in the clinic! There is no concept of veterinary nursing in India as far as I understand, so she has trained two ladies to help her and these two were kindness itself to us, often signalling to me from inside to wait for just five more minutes, when I went to pick up my daughter and even telling us on which days surgeries were scheduled so we could come accordingly! Since I had my own students to teach too, my mother often went to drop her along with my son and my three year old niece, with all of them sitting outside the clinic for hours, observing animals ! So in essence, the whole family had to be included for the sake of one aspiring vet, but we never heard a word of complaint!
The Pune zoo was a different story altogether. It covers hundreds of acres and has many animals all of which are under the 'wild' category and so there is little routine vet care given. The Deputy Director was sweet enough to give us a quick call when they had to treat an animal as an emergency or when they had to, sadly for us, post mortem one. My daughter, son and I had to rush there then, just so she would not miss a minute of the action and once again we were made to feel very welcome. We invaded their kitchens, morning and noon so she could observe how food for herbivores and carnivores is prepared, (Twenty sacks of carrots alone, no joke!), asked inane questions like 'Why are you adding saw dust?' (It turned out to be wheat chaff!),  all of which were answered patiently. From the Director to the Education Officer, from the Head Animal Keeper to the Tiger Feeding In charge, everyone was gracious to us and eagerly shared their roles with us, never making us feel superfluous or unwelcome. We got to see tigers, and leopards and bears being fed with just an iron grill separating them and us, and saw the intricate locking systems used, making us realise afresh every job is important and should be given your utmost, just as these people were doing!
My sister in law's super kind friend's husband owns nine race horses and he got us into the hallowed precincts of one of Pune's most famous colonial landmarks - the Race Course. And we suddenly found ourselves face to face with thorough breds! My daughter got to see India's top equine surgeon in action as he castrated colts as adroitly as we would chop our daily veggies! Wounded horses were expertly dressed, yet others X rayed and a few injected. And again we got a close and personal look at the whole set up, a warm welcome and lots of advice! They were all genuinely interested in her aspirations and desires and gave candid advice, despite their obviously busy schedules. It was the first time I had seen six or seven veterinarians together and I was awed! The Pune races had just got over and we had barged in into what was a super busy day for them all, but not a "neigh' did we hear! We will always be grateful for this.
I drove the fifty odd kilometres down to the veterinary college closest to our city. A professor I met there welcomed my son and me warmly and deputed a student who had just finished her final year Viva Vocce to take us around the college. She and another post graduate student spoke to us at length about the merits of various colleges in India and abroad, the struggle for seats for a Master's Degree in India for people like us who belong to the 'Open Category' and the woes of sharing a bathroom with many other girls in the ladies hostel!
At the end of a summer of blood and gore, healing and death, I asked my daughter ' You are sure this is exactly what you want to do?' The answer was a resounding "YES!" Why was I not surprised?
My son, on the other hand, categorically declared that veterinary medicine was one field that was definitely NOT for him!
The holidays were an eye opener for me because I realised anew that there are lots of people out there in this world who are willing to help you and go out of their way for you. Incredible as it may seem, we were never turned down, though these were their work places that we were invading and their personal territory that not just one, but most of the time three of us, were trampling on! If there is a lot of evil in this world, there is a ton of good too. You just have to open your mouth and ask and sure enough the good flows your way! Regardless of whether she gets accepted next year into veterinary medicine or not, we will never forget this 'vet' monsoon/summer/winter!

                                                                Pune Race Course
                                                           Pune Wild Life Centre


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