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Life in England beyond the surgical wards (Part 2)
Rathin Datta FRCS (England, Edinburgh & Glasgow).FFIMS (Athens)
Life in England beyond the surgical wards (Part 2)
PHOTO : Royal College of Surgeons, England

During Chrismas '62 two of my colleagues and myself, who were on duty in emergency caught a lethal viral infection of the liver while treating & dialysing a comatosed patient.Among us three, one died,the second survived after exchange transfusion but became a cripple and the third i.e. me went upto hepatic coma but was revived my physician colleagues. The very considerate hospital board, granted 3 months of leave with full salary plus the states sickness benefit with the assurance that after 3 month I could walk back.

I had  checked into an Indian run guest house in Golders Green in North London  .The landlady tried her best to make my stay comfortable  but certain factors beyond the control of Patel Aunty, the land lady, compelled me to  leave the place. There were very few people in London that I knew. The Indian High commission in Britain, at  Aldwych in London  bravely  stood up  to the reputation  of  all Indian Govt. offices  anywhere  in the world
where  no body ever picked up the phone  or  in the office, in was difficult to enter  &  if   in, by chance, one could enter, the clerks would  pretend to be deaf,the officer never came to his office   or played hide   and seek ..Unfortunately the students welfare officer, who was supposed to help the Indian students was my relation, but never helped. I was a constant visitor to the RCS library.One of the Senior librarians was a known face. We  once had  our lunch in the same table  in the RCS  restaurant. She felt  curious when she   noticed  two of us ( Das .we travelled together to UK   in the same ship)  using the knife & fork correctly i.e.   as they should be,  where as she never saw any other south asian doing so.Indian style ,as  her description went   was  that  the knife be  held as if the chap wanted to stab some body on the chest and the fork held as if trying  to stab his own tummy. I was offended but looking around I was convinced as quite a few brown skinned students were in that  hall eating using the technic just   described. Venue  was the dining hall of the Royal college of   surgeons'  basement restaurant. Name plate on the door said the senior librarian was  called Elizabeth Scott.
"Secret of our excellent British manners:
1960 when we sailed from Bombay in the P &O ship Corfu in it's last journey before going to the scrap yard to be broken or converted as a cargo ship. Corfu was a medium sized ship,till then a luxury ship, it
was  of 15000 tonnage & travelled from Sidney--Colombo-Bombay-Aden--
Port Said --Malta--Gibralter and finally to Tilbury Dock in the south coast.Then a special train took the passengers to the Liverpool st Station of London. In the ship all were given a booklet titled "how to behave while  in
Britain".In the ship in every breakfast table & lunch table a British  Ship personnel,  usualy an women used to join the passengers, intention was to demonstrate correct table manners--We learnt  a lot."and hence the correct use of the knife and the fork  and all the table manners  Elizabeth was middle aged, very prim with hair greying.She once asked  me" son how old are you.My reply was sub-thirty”  (was 27 then) ,she  smiled and said " I am sub sixty by one year"  ie 59. What she said next was interesting " I will say, you are like my son,but never say I am like your mother,that  would  make me feel as if I am an  old hog".Since the first encounter  with her in the dining hall  to get    journals  /books  /references,   required  to prepare for the ensuing
battle ie  the Primary & the final FRCS exam  became easier.  

Never  asked her about her family,knew it is not done in Britain. But slowly secrets came out.Elizabeth was a divorcee,her only son, much older than me was a FRCS ,a consutant surgeon in a hospital in the  Midlands, He meets the mother twice a year as is customary in Britain.  I built up courage one day and told her about my problem re an abode to stay. She thought over and said 'give me two days'.After two  days she handed   me a sealed envelope with the direction and map of the district drawn on the envelop .The place was near the  main  University  building.The Hyde park was within striking distance, where later I practiced running trying to regain my shattered health.
With difficulty  I found the place  with a  brass signboard  displaying "university flats". Met     the receptionist who handed me  the key and  said " I have been told you would be here doctor,
welcome!  I would take full care of you,you will have to just tell me anything you need . Here is the key,  rent includes electricity,the room is centrally heated,pay extra for parking   and be careful about the unwanted  guests. I paid for three months. It was peanuts (I was flush with funds, thanks to the Manchester RHB.).  She continued  --The room will be cleaned with change of sheets once a week.I was delighted.  For Grocery, no worry-just hang the list outside your door at night ,early morning you will get the supplies, keep the money outside your door with the next list. Done --I said.In the next three months, I never  saw the grocer,man or woman, I never knew.I knew it was all mommy's long arm.

The unwanted guests:
It was a huge stone building  with a narrow entrance  but a very wide courtyard where cars were parked.There were series of  one room or two room flats  and central courtyard,my  aparment was in the third  floor.The room was fairly big with  old furnitures,cooking corner at  the end. And attached bath/toilet.I was a skilled cook as far as  boiling an egg and making Nescoffee..Lunch would be in the  RCS canteen  any way ,I won't starve.Tried hard to remember how mother at Shillong cooked the khichri.Light fry the Lentil with onion shreedings,then pour the washed rice ,boil till ready add salt and then  finally break and pour two eggs,boil little more and switch off the gas  ,  add some butter,keep there to cook on it's own. When cooled serve.It was delightful,proud of myself.
The doorbell rang  in the evening  when it was dinner time in Britain.Half opened the door,a bengali guy!'.Is Amit Das in ?he lived in this flat when I last came.Where has he gone? I  knew   it was all
bull-shit.' Let me come in', I let him in as he looked harmless".Won’t you have your dinner,I can join you I am hungry.Help yourself I offered  the pan.He polished  off the pan.I checked his
credentials-from Howrah, graduate from Calcutta university,now a student of London school of economics.  His identity  card from London University was genuine.  Had very shallow pockets.
literally pushed him out.He did not want to go,admitted he has no  place to stay.I was firm.
Next morning I thanked the receptionist for warning me,took away my card from the boarder's list.The datta surname gave me away[as a bengali].I wanted no more guests. Summer was approaching,it was examination time.As usual I had cold feet,I  should postpone the exam. till autumn,what is the harm ?I keep asking myself ?

Mommy was firm-appear now  or donot come to RCS library again. Reluctantly filled  in  the forms,paid the exam.fee, appeared in the so called toughest exam. and passed.It was smooth and easy.'You were over prepared, mommy told me, I agreed .  Maa-Elizabeth was holding me,for I was nervous when the results were announced on the same evening, same day. I had the best dinner of my life in the underground French restaurant near the Trafalgar square.
I had to promise that I would complete the Final FRCS before June 1965,because mommy will retire in June '65 and go back to her home in the Scottish high lands I was in England with my wife in 1982 summer wanted to show her where I lived in England   but could not find the large building  with the
narrow entrance called the "London University flats, but did not miss talking to Mommy  over phone, she  was comfortably settled in her Highland home reluctant  to come down to London,she was past 80 then and had found her truant husband. 

[ Every episode of the story is true story. Name changed for privacy ]

Rathin Datta, FRCS (England, Edinburgh & Glasgow).FFIMS (Athens) 

Padmashree Awardee, winner of the Bangladesh liberation war honour 


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