I traveled to the beautiful and historic land of India when I was 18. Now I wasn’t traveling to visit my grandparents and become the next Shreya Goshal; I traveled in search of knowledge and inner peace. I went to spend the next five years of my life in a girl’s hostel at NRI Medical College located in the beautiful and serene city of Vijaywada, India. Looking back, I can say that my stay in India to have metamorphosed type my spiritual soul. I went as a fragile girl; mentally, physically, spiritually unaware of the world outside my suburban Los Angeles home, and came back five years later a woman with a strong sense of identity and self-empowerment.
To be completely honest, my journey to India and medical school would have to be by far the biggest life adventure. Living in a completely new environment, learning a new language, meeting so many different people, traveling to different states within the country, and most of all graduating from medical school? Sounds like one epic adventure! It wasn’t easy fun and games though. We all want to hear and be present for the happy ending.
However how many people actually know the real story that happened along the way? When I see my medical degree hanging in that glass frame in my room now, it’s much more than just a piece of paper. It represents the endless days of introspection, sleepless nights in isolation longing for anything or anyone familiar, the confusion and frustration of having no one understand a word of the language you are speaking, scared that electricity and water could be cut off at any time of the day, mortified at the thought that one meal could cause a week of gastroenteritis, hours and hours spent conceptualizing material and medical conditions despite going through your own emotional and mental turmoil. But at what point do you say enough is enough and take control of your life and emotions again? For me, it was the end of my second year of medical school when my life literally changed forever.
At 10 p.m. one night I boarded an AC bus headed for Hyderabad, as I was on vacation. A friend and I decided to sit in the front row of the bus instead of our designated seats, as we would have more legroom. Since no one else was sitting on these seats, the bus conductor gave clearance and we were en route to Hyderabad. About two hours into the journey, the bus stopped at a local bus stop, which it usually does not stop at. An elderly couple boarded the bus and to my surprise insisted that we return to our assigned seats instead of sitting on their assigned seats. My friend and I pleaded with the couple to just let us be as our seat was simply the ones behind. But the couple put up quite the arguement and eventually we gave in to their request. So now that everyone was situated, the bus continued to Hyderabad and slowly the lights dimmed and everyone began falling asleep. At around 4 a.m. in the morning, I remember a loud crash like a wave crashing in the water and frantic screaming. It felt like a dream but as I was vigorously shaken out of my sleep, I knew this was far from a dream. My body was thrown out of my seat and my head was jammed underneath my seat. As I began to realize what was going on, I kept hearing screaming, and saw chards of glass everywhere. I finally pulled myself from under the seat to see chaos and mayhem. An oil tanker had crashed into our bus! “What?! Is this really happening?! Please, God, just let this be a horrible dream!” That’s all I could keep telling myself over and over again. But very quickly I realized this was far from a dream. I finally stood up and realized my friend and I needed to get off this bus immediately. I grabbed two random slippers that I found on the ground only to find a shard of glass stuck in my foot. Knowing my only option was to pull it out, I closed my eyes pulled it out, grabbed my things and rushed out of the bus. As I was leaving I saw the elderly couple seated in the first row. The old man was literally crushed into the bus as metal penetrated through his chest. The elderly woman had flown out of her seat into the windshield, and was bleeding from head to toe. I tried to coax the elderly woman to come with me, but she refused to leave her suffering husband. She told me to get out of the bus as fast as I could. Scared for dear life I left, crying, weeping, and devastated at how drastically my reality had changed. My friend and I were able to hitch a ride on a bus that was passing by and thanks to a gracious swami who stopped the bus, we were able to make it Hyderabad.
Days, weeks, months have passed and I cannot forget the image of the elderly couple who literally saved my life. What could have been a case of serious post-traumatic stress shone a very different view of life in my eyes. Life is precious and short. We should be thankful for every breath we take, every moment we live, and make the best of every situation. Before that couple’s reality changed, they were laughing with one another, joking, talking about their youth. What if they didn’t board that bus, or if they didn’t insist on switching seats with us, how different both our lives would have been? They saved the life of my friend and me, the lives of two medical doctors who will go on to cure and save the lives of many others. And that’s when my perspective of everything in life changed from negative to positive. Be good, do good, live happy literally became my life mantra.
Before I knew it, conceptualizing medical conditions wasn’t a task anymore, but an interesting puzzle to complete. The nights of isolation soon became nights of introspection and musical composition, the language barrier soon became a way to approach more people to help master yet another puzzle and make new friends. My entire life had flipped upside down and there is not a day where I live with regret nor a day that passes by without me saying a prayer to those two angels in heaven who protected me on this earth.
This is just one of many of the life changing events that took place during my stay in India. I have learned so many important life lessons, gained such perceptual insight, made some amazing friends, met inspiring people, learned the importance of self-discipline and endurance. I have acquired wisdom as a person, gained medical knowledge, and grown from a teenager to being in my mid twenties. Those five years in India were a huge stepping-stone to everything that I further proceeded to do with my life and future. It was also a platform for much musical inspiration and depth as an individual.
What is a journey? It is a voyage seeking truth and knowledge. We must eventually leave behind everything familiar. Be open to everything and anything positive or negative.
Everything we experience on this journey is a clue leading us to the truth we seek, every individual or guru teachs a lesson that will make sense later on, but most importantly, this voyage or journey is a testament to ones self. We can never find ourselves, unless we’ve been completely lost. In that, together my friends, we experience comfort, joy, sorrow, victories, failure, anger, love, confusion, betrayal, happiness; but what happens after all this? Are we left to feel numb to everything or an influx of everything? Maybe neither, maybe both. To me, as with most of you, my journey of truth and knowledge still continues.
Dr. Amrithavarshini Muralikrishnan is a recent medical graduate currently studying for her boards. A singer and keyboardist she has performed her style of global sounds in several prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and Walt Disney Concert Hall. Coming from a musical family, she learned classical Karnatik singing under the tutelage of her mother Rose Muralikrishnan and keyboard and veena from her father NMK Muralkrishnan. Varshini hopes to integrate her passion of both Music and Medicine to bring about forward movement and enhance the science of music and the art of medicine.