Alternate Careers And Life Lessons

“It’s time Robby! It’s time! They knew and they let it happen – to kids! Okay? It could’ve been you! It could’ve been me! It could have been any of us! We gotta nail these scumbags. We gotta show people that nobody can get away this- not a priest or a Cardinal or a freaking Pope.”

Mike Rezendes (played by Mark Ruffalo)

So, there I was on a warm summer evening, watching Spotlight. For those of you who don’t know, Spotlight is a movie based on the true story of how the Boston Globe, with ‘Spotlight’- it’s investigative sub-journal (so to speak) exposed the large scale of child abuse within the Catholic Church system in the Boston archdiocese and the lengths to which the Church went to cover up the story.

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Stellar acting by Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and co aside, this movie carries deeper meaning to me on a very personal level. I’m a doctor now but there has been many a time when I’ve often wondered what I would’ve taken up if I wasn’t really interested in biology. And every time I think about it, I come up with two kinds of answers. Once the ridiculous answers are past my head, I settle on the two most realistic ones- a historian or journalist.

Therefore to me, Spotlight is a movie that, in a way, shows what my life could’ve been. I know I am good at writing. And I know I would’ve loved investigative journalism. Obviously, anybody starting out in the print media or any kind of media for that matter, doesn’t start off like Mike Rezendes or Sascha Pfeiffer. They start out at lower levels but eventually, I would assume they reach the specific stage that they show in the movie. But here’s the thing, I would’ve loved working my tail off to get to that level and maybe even higher.

I don’t regret the choice I have made. I love medicine and I know I made the right call. I am good at this subject- very good, in fact. But sometimes, my mind likes to think what could have been if I had just taken a different road. And movies like these, they help me think of myself in different light.

But more than all this, there’s something else in the movie that has made me watch it umpteen number of times. And quite surprisingly, it does not have anything to do with a certain Rachel McAdams- a person whose fan I have been ever since she played Irene Adler. In fact, this “something else” that I spoke about, was encapsulated by one particular line in them movie.

“I can’t speak to what happened before I arrived but all of you have done some very good reporting here- reporting that I believe is going to have an immediate and considerable impact on our readers. For me, this kind of story is why we do this.”

Marty Baron (Played by Liev Schreiber)

Anything in life, I’ve believed for quite some time now, is about making a difference. It’s about being different. This is why my farewell speech was different from previous years, for example. The reason is simplistic. If you take the same road that a thousand others took before you, nobody is going to remember you. If I had just gone to the podium and spoken what I had to, my speech would not be remembered. It would be any other speech. Anything I do has to be different- because different is what is remembered. That has, for some reason, been my driving force. It need not be a world-shattering, glass-breaking difference. It need not result in a Nobel Prize, a Fields Medal or a Pulitzer but it has to be something that makes a difference to society, however small.

Spotlight also taught me one more thing. It taught me that achieving anything takes time, hard work, perseverance and most importantly, overcoming red tape. And I don’t just mean bureaucratic red tape. It is both the visible and the invisible red tape that we have to fight. The Globe took on the most powerful institution in the world- The Catholic Church. The Church is an institution that transcends government and has powers not even organisations like the EU or the UN have. So, for a newspaper- which is not even the biggest in America- to take on an institution like that in one of the biggest Catholic hubs in America in the form of Boston, Massachusetts, it took a lot of guts. I felt this aspect of the movie was more important than a lot of other things, especially because of what happened recently in my life.

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As part of my internship, I am posted in the Department of Community Medicine. And as part of the latter, I have to work in a Taluk hospital in Anekal, a small town about thirty five kilometres from Bangalore. Now, when in Community Medicine, we have to do a research project which may or may not get published later on. Here’s the deal. I wanted to do a project on patient satisfaction with healthcare given at the hospital. It’s not something that hasn’t been done before. It’s something which governments across the world use to evaluate their healthcare system. So, to that effect, we (me, my co-intern and our post-graduate in-charge) had prepared a questionnaire- part of which was our own and part of which was an international standard questionnaire- and planned to ask patients about various aspects of healthcare.

So where’s the red tape, you ask?

The catch in this whole situation is that we have to get the permission of the Medical Officer in charge of the Anekal hospital to do our study. And he just flat out refuses. We try to have him look at our questionnaire a little in detail. He does that (I assume he did) and two days later, he still flat out refuses. And subsequently, we are forced to change our project. So, now I am stuck doing data entry in a dead-end project which is going to give me statistically insignificant results- I’m cutting a long story short here.

But what irks me more than the fact that I have to do this, is that we didn’t fight for what was the right thing to do- to go ahead and do a study that depicts the true state of healthcare in Anekal, good or bad. We didn’t raise a finger in protest. We didn’t persist. All of the things that the Boston Globe did, we didn’t do. Of course, people can counter saying the Globe is a newspaper with huge resources and we are just interns. But they were taking on the Church and we had to take on a Medical Officer who refused a legitimate study similar to what had been done in at least three other places in India over the last ten-fifteen years. He refused to let us do a project which would bring out the truth about our primary healthcare system. I don’t know if that truth is good or bad for him but his fear of the truth being bad was what forced him to say no in the first place and prevent it from happening. The situation is similar to the Globe- the scales are different. That’s all there is.

I like medicine and I want to go into research. Research is that thin line that divides better from the best form of medical healthcare. I want to make a difference and I want to be remembered for making a difference. Some people will call this ambitious. I disagree. This is who I am. This is what I am and this is what I want. And as long as I am in India, I am not sure I will be able to do this- to fulfil what I want to do. I am not saying I will not face red tape elsewhere in the world. Heck, the Globe itself is an example from America. But there is a reason why India hardly has Nobel winners from here while the UK, USA, Japan and other countries have more. And it is not that they have more brainy people than us.

Sometimes, though, life is unfair and we just have to deal with it. At the end of the movie, prior to the credit scenes, we learn that Cardinal Law- the man accused of covering up many cases of child abuse- was “reassigned to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, one of the highest ranking Catholic churches in the world”. After having seen so much and learnt so much from the Globe, it makes us question the Church’s logic in that decision. More importantly, it makes us question the humanity of protecting a known abettor of child abuse in that decision. And that is not just an isolated incident. Many a time, in many a situation, I have seen this happen- the wrongdoer walks scot-free with barely minimum punishment, if any.

Spotlight is a movie that will forever be close to my real self, for multiple reasons. On the one hand, it gives me insight on what I could have achieved had I not taken medicine. And on the other, it teaches what I have to get through and what I have to do in order to make it. It tells me that there will be times when the going gets tough. There will be times when everything seems stacked against you. But break through that artificial ceiling that I set for myself and maybe, just maybe, I’ll see the sun shine.

P.S. This article is not my best work by a long shot but it’s just the noting down of a slew of thoughts that I had as I searched within myself the reasons why the movie was so important to me.

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