As a matter of principle, we don’t like over-achievers around here. But some, we let pass. Rakesh Sharma is currently interning at St. John’s Medical College. He will head to Oxford to pursue a D.Phil in Clinical Neurology as one of this year’s Rhodes Scholars. Like that were not enough, he manages his own show on WorldSpace Satellite Radio. He also writes a popular blog about the pains of juggling medical education alongside culture clashes. Having excelled in theater, music, writing, and academics and, yet, miraculously managing to retain a sense of humor, he talks to me about pulling off studgiri so effortlessly.
Tell us about yourself.
Regular Jack, with none of the bildungsroman melodrama. Grew up mostly in and around Bangalore. Went to Sudarshan Vidya Mandir, Jayanagar. Chose to make study-hard-get-into-NCJ my mantra. Didn’t study hard, got into NCJ nonetheless. Then got into St. John’s, which has been fun until now if not mirthful. ‘Fun’ is such a good fill-in-the-blank word.
Interests have been many and varied. Like most South Bangalore Brahmin Boys, I have done something classical – music in my case. Did Carnatic as a child, and Hindustani much later. But then, I haven’t been able to pursue them with as much vigour as I would have liked. Writing is a much loved interest, but one that requires effort and I have been historically known to not put in any. Films I thrive on, and I read about 12 books at a time. And yes, radio! I am with WorldSpace, a job not so much a job as a pleasant musical weekly diversion.
Now that you should ask, I really have no answer. Seemed like the only viable option that would keep me from the noose. I get bored very easily. The mundane-ness of things gets to me far quicker (and much stronger) than it does most people, I guess. To not be a keyboard-clunking-cubicle-animal was thus a foregone conclusion. Medicine, on the other hand, seemed so hands-on, so inter-personal, and at times full of instant satisfaction. It is true that I have vacillated in extremes about this particular choice given how medicine excites and exasperates in as little time as seconds, but no other profession could boast of doing social good while also challenging one academically, and giving you a strong sense of purpose.
When did you first give the Rhodes Scholarship a thought?
Erm, I had heard of the scholarship, but thought it to be one of those urban myths until when I went to St. John’s. During my first year, one of my seniors won it. And three years later, one more senior (Amal Isaiah) won it. So that’s probably when I first thought of it.
The Rhodes is without doubt the most prestigious award there is in the world for undergraduates, and the many others that have followed in the same mold pale in comparison. What attracted me to it were the selection criteria. I was gladdened beyond belief that the scholarship looked beyond one’s marks cards. Coming as I do from a frustratingly marks-oriented academic system, it seemed like there was hope yet for people who chose to be well-rounded individuals as opposed to academic automatons.
How has studying at St. Johns helped in the run-up?
Immensely. Being one of the few medical colleges in the country that lays emphasis as much on clinical medicine as research, a John’s undergraduate is exposed to a whole range of options very early on. Our research centre (IPHCR) is doing a great job, the hospital believes in ethical and affordable medical care, naturally making it one of the best in the state, and the college, with its added emphasis on ethics, rural health care, student research etc, is with good reason consistently among the top ten in the country.
Besides, John’s has the highest number of Rhodes Scholars for any medical college. Dr. Christoper Mathias and Dr. Salim Yusuf are stalwarts in their chosen fields. Dr. Anoop Sebastian and Dr. Amal Isaiah, our recent Scholars are also doing great. So, the reception to Johnites by the Rhodes Committee is overwhelmingly nice.
So what happened at the interviews?
My nails got shorter.
And when you were told that you’d won?
Right after the interviews. They took about half an hour after all the interviews. Called us in. Said they would announce it in alphabetical order (of surnames). And mine was the last name. I near died.
So what clinched it?
I’d like to say Cheerful Disposition, but that would be lying. I don’t know, honestly. The panel is a smart set of people, and to narrow down their choice of a person to a couple of reasons would be to question their smartness. But, as a blanket statement, honesty would be it. They can see right through pfaffy answers.
What happens in A day in the life of Rakesh Sharma?
A day in the life of me would be boring. Mostly hospital stuff, and red stilletos do not an entry make. The life of an intern on Grey’s Anatomy/ Scrubs is very far from the life of an actual intern. Very, very.
To chill out, I drink coffee at the canteen. Kapish?
Do little things look different now? Tell us about "vindication".
Heh. For one, I am not giving post graduate entrance exams. They had me a tad worried.
Do things look different?
They would probably, if one chose to sit on a pedestal. But one hasn’t.
Vindication is for the vindictive. I am not. See, I’m giving you an interview a good two months later.
Your folks must be really proud!
Yeah, they are. And honestly, a lot of the credit must go to them for letting me be and putting up with all the craziness that’s me.
I head to hospital. And quietly hope for a better tomorrow.