Rhea Banerjee wore her best dress and her brightest smile on the day of her medical entrance counseling. She was minutes away from securing a seat in a medical school, something she’d dreamed of for as long as she could remember. And not to forget the hard work of the past two years when she put her life on a back burner to achieve what she wanted.
As she scanned the faces looking for the familiar and familiarizing with the others, her gaze stopped for a bit on a simple salwar kameez clad girl who seemed a little unsure and out of place in that room full of prospective medical students. She would have given some thought to it had it not been for her mother who nudged her to go inside and go through the final formalities. In the flurry of all the paperwork and nervous excitement, the girl faded away from Rhea’s memory until the first day of medical school.
There she was wearing the same look…. a little more desolate this time around. Rhea could not understand what it was that drew her towards the girl. That had to wait because the hostel allotment list was up and curiosity got the better of her. She browsed the list which said her roommate was one Tara Pawar. So off she went looking for her. Tara, as it turned out was the same salwar kameez girl with the hesitant smile. As the girls introduced themselves, Rhea was a tad disappointed. Tara seemed a little out of her league. All that fun she had imagined with her roomie seemed a little difficult with Tara. Brushing the thought away she stuck out a friendly hand which Tara was grateful to shake. The girls continued their small talk with the unpacking and homing in. By the time lunch hour arrived, they were both quite at ease.
Studies took over in the coming days and they were happy to share the same table in Anatomy dissection hall. Weekends went in a blur with movies and window shopping over endless pani puris. Tara would sometimes tag long but often preferred to stay back. When all other girls would be chatting away, Tara would be found deep in her textbooks. Phone calls home were also not so frequent and unusually brief. She never talked much about being home sick neither did she speak about going home. But there was always an air of calm that surrounded her which soothed Rhea and the other girls. She was the Rock of Gibraltar for her batch mates.
Rhea admired her maturity and both seemed to gel well despite their obvious disparities. One evening over coffee, which had since become a ritual, as the conversation progressed, Rhea asked, “So Tara, tell me about your village. I’ve never lived in one, not even seen one.” Tara gave her that Zen smile of hers which made Rhea a little impatient. “Tell me please. Is it as romantic and beautiful as they show in the movies?”
Tara shook her head and said, “No Rhea, village life is not as it looks. It’s much harder not just in terms of physical comforts but also the regressive mindsets that some people have. In fact physical discomforts can be ignored, it’s the collective psyche that’s tough to handle” Before Rhea could say anything, Tara went on, “My father is a farmer, and you know that. It’s a lot of hard work but by the grace of God, we have enough to take care of ourselves. Thankfully money is one less thing to worry about unlike some of our neighbours. There are other troubles though. Our village school is only till fifth grade even till today. Middle school is a good eight km away in the city’s outskirts.”
Rhea’s eyes widened as she couldn’t help remembering the tough time she would give her mother, just because she had to walk some 200 meters to the school bus stop. “Why can’t you ask the school authorities to schedule a stop outside our gate?” She would rant every morning till finally she made peace with the fact that it wasn’t happening. Tara’s voice brought her back from her thoughts. “Both my parents are not that educated and most kids my age dropped school after fifth. Some parents would cycle their kids to the middle school but their number also dwindled with every passing year. All the girls my age are married off by the time they are 13-14 years old and hardly any boys also continue their studies. But my parents were very clear that they will see me and my sister through this.”
Rhea was almost embarrassed by now on how she’d considered her MBBS admission a big deal. Rhea’s parents were both Professors in IIT, Delhi. Hers was a protected life within the cocoon of the campus. A simple but charmed life nonetheless. Academics was a given in the Banerjee household. For Rhea and her brother it was the most natural thing to do.
Today more than ever before Rhea realized there was a world beyond hers that she never knew existed. When she found her voice back, she asked Tara, “It must’ve been so tough. What made you think about cracking the premed entrance?” Tara smiled, “I took the plunge with a leap of faith. And I’m not alone in this pursuit. It’s a leap for my entire family. When everyone around me was advising my father to marry me off, he brushed them aside and trudged with me to coaching classes and then college. And that meant accompanying me all the way to the city and back because it was unsafe for any girl to be out on her own at odd hours. If it wasn’t for the faith, God only knows how we would have carried on. The ladies in the village would taunt my mother how I’ve gone beyond the expiry date in the marriage market. And what a wasteful life when I don’t know how to cook and do house work. I am not sure how much got to her but she never allowed all that to reach my ears lest it should distract me.
The leap of faith is what it took to bring me here. And that is what makes me move ahead. And you know what the icing on the cake is? My success has given others the faith to take a leap. The village elders are now trying hard for school expansion and as we speak, a pukka road is being built from the village to the city. So I can hope for many more Taras to follow”, said Tara, her face shone with excitement
Rhea could only look at Tara with eyes brimming with admiration as Tara cleared the table and got up to go back to her books.