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My journey to medical college was not easy

Sunday March 17 2019

The colonel’s first words to me were, “Take your dirty elbows off my desk.” He growled, contemptuously. ILLUSTRATION| JOHN NYAGAH

The colonel’s first words to me were, “Take your dirty elbows off my desk.” He growled, contemptuously. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH 

Yusuf K. Dawood
By Yusuf K. Dawood
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The story I wrote last time, and the talk I gave as ‘my job talk’, proved so popular on that occasion that I have used it often since, but like all such stories, there is very little truth in it. The truth in my case is rather mundane.

When my eldest brother Janmohamed’s ambition of joining the ranks of ICS was thwarted by changed family fortunes, he decided to be a lawyer, simply because he could do the course as a part-time student, attending the law college every evening, while doing a full-time job to earn an income to feed his wife, infant son, my sister and I.

Umar, our younger brother, was next in line but being born with paralysis of his right upper and lower limb, was erroneously advised against studying medicine, so he decided to become a lawyer.


When my elder brother Sattar’s turn came to pick subjects for his ‘A’ level, known then locally as ‘Inter- science’, initially he selected subjects which could have led him to medicine but changed midstream to arts subjects and ended up as a lawyer as well.

When my turn came, all eyes were on me; the family had surfeit of lawyers and a doctor was needed in the house! Fortunately, I too was inclined that way. But my path to medicine was not easy; it was paved with pot-holes.


The first hurdle was the fact that being born in Bantwa, I was a subject of Junagadh state and could not apply directly for admission to Grant Medical College (GMC), my preferred college and applicable to me where Junagadh had one reserved seat to which I had to be nominated by the State.

In connection with this, I had to see the British Resident, a high official of the Raj, who made the final decision on who got the State nomination. It was the first time I met an Englishman and I am afraid that my memory of that meeting is not pleasant.


He was a colonel in the army and projected a combined image of a bulldog and a barrasab, the big boss.

As I waited in his front office, I could see an enormous curtain-shaped fan moving like a pendulum to cool him. When I was finally ushered in his office, I sat in front of him for a couple of minutes before he condescendingly talked to me.

While I was waiting, I could see at the far end a barefooted, turbaned menial sitting on the hard floor, pulling a thick string to rock the large pleated fan hanging from the ceiling.

The colonel’s first words to me were, “Take your dirty elbows off my desk.” He growled contemptuously, looking at my elbows protruding through the holes of my cotton jacket, the jacket worn especially to meet him.

I had difficulty in understanding his brash English but with the scowl on his face and not-too-gentle a tap on my knuckles, I surmised what he said and quickly complied.


When the colonel finally came to the subject I had gone to see him about, he said: “As you know, His Highness will nominate one of his loyal subjects to the reserved seat in Grant Medical College.”

Then shifting a miniature Gir lion — they abounded in the nearby Girnar Mountain, where Hindus came in hordes on pilgrimage — he added, “let me tell you that the agreement is so well-entrenched that if we decide to nominate a donkey, GMC can’t refuse to honour the pact made with the Central government in Delhi.”

That meeting put pain to my plans to gain admission to GMC for I was not the donkey the colonel had in mind; the Nawab had already nominated one of his henchmen’s son on the recommendation of the colonel.

But light shone at the end of the tunnel from another direction. My father, who had a ghee manufacturing business in Belgaum, invited me to stay with him for a couple of months to get over my disappointment.


I was happy because I knew Belgaum well and liked it; in fact when my father started his plant, he asked me to stay with him and I studied in the secondary school known as Beynon Smith High School there.

On this visit, I went to make a courtesy call on the Principal, Dr Reddy. While I was seated in the principal’s waiting room, I fell in conversation with a Goan gentleman, who was also waiting to see Dr Reddy.

With typical Goan friendliness, he asked me who I was and what I was doing there.

“I just finished my Inter-science but failed to get admission to Grant Medical College. My father has a business here; I have come to stay with him for a few months and since I was a student at this school, I am here to pay my respects to Dr Reddy,” I told him.

“Ah,” beamed the Goan gentleman. “He is the right man. About 50 miles from here, there is a medical school in Miraj run by American missionaries.


You can get a diploma in medicine there which will make you a doctor. Dr Reddy is a member of the board there and can support your candidature,” said the Goan gentleman. These proved to be the words of an oracle!

When I was finally ushered into Dr Reddy’s office, I could see that he was delighted that one of his old students had taken the trouble to look him up.

After exchanging greetings, I updated him on what I had been doing since leaving Beynon Smith and acquainted him with my predicament.

He clarified that selection for that year had already been made but I could apply for the term commencing in June 1947. I left with mixed feelings at having lost a year but at least I could now see a silver lining in the cloud.

I nearly lost paradise soon after regaining it … but that interesting story will have to wait for another day.