THE Cost Of Mistakes

Dr Barnali Basu,Senior

(Disclaimer:This is entirely a work of fiction.Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental)                                                  

She stared at the email message on her computer, her mind racing so fast that the words blurred together and no longer made any sense. Just three lines, but enough to make her life–the life she’d worked so hard and sacrificed so much to build–begin to crumble around her.

Rangoli Mitra Roll No.12114 , Obstetrics and Gynecology

Theory 198/400, Practical 215/400


Everything seemed to be passing in a rush in front of her eyes.Her mother beaming with happiness at her clearing the premedical entrance. All her friends warning her of wasting her youth, starting her living grey haired and wrinkled. The gruelingfour and a half years of books and clinicals and those weekends in the library. The clerical internship mainly spent writing case sheets and discharge summaries. Even those two years of grappling with coaching classes for postgraduate entrance as well as Rupen’s continued annoyance at her firm rebuff on marriage seemed nothing in comparison to the ordeal waiting for her as she walked back through the gates of her old college to pursue gynecology.

Was she really not cut out to be a doctor? This question had haunted her many times even during her MBBS days. It had turned out to be a bitter reality today. Maybe she should have taken up law as her father had suggested, she could have easily joined his firm and might have started a small practice by now. Or joined Rupen in his journalism course and worked her way up like he had. Or gone for MBA.Maybe she shouldn’t have taken gynecology, just settled for a preclinical subject and into a peaceful 9-5 job as a professor and researcher.

But wasn’t it a professor herself who had eventually hammered this realization in? Her Professor and Head of Department,Dr.Soundarya Rao, who, to her misfortune was also appointed as her thesis guide. Even during Rangoli’s undergraduate days,Madam had been famous for her lofty ideals and perfectionism. She had wasted no time in proving taking up Medicine was the worst mistake of her life.

That Madam was impartial to everyone not even sparingassociate professors with her scathing criticism and biting taunts was an open secret. But Rangoli had to receive double of these gifts thanks to Madam’s dual roles in her life. Add to this her sky high expectations with an old student of the college and it was a disaster waiting to happen.

Not that she hadn’t contributed herself to the whole fiasco.Rangoli’s mild mannered nature had often landed her in many troubles. Madam found it an ideal opportunity to subject her to absolute torture. She had tried her best, God knows she had. To fulfill madam’s every command, follow her teachings to the hilt and serve the patients to the best of her abilities. But nothing helped. Dr Rao’s knack of taking offence at every mistake she made and her hurtful outbursts made her plunge into the abyss of depression and perform worse. Madam only seemed to see all the wrong things she did, she never bothered to praise her if she did it right. Nor could she see the meals she skipped, the nights she didn’t sleep and the relationship she had further strained by postponing her marriage.

All her endeavors had come to naught. In Madam’s eyes she had failed to be what a doctor should. She did not deserve to realize the only dream she had had since her childhood.

That dream of serving the poor and relieving them of disease and suffering had anyway dissolved with the behavior of these very people. They treated doctors worse than hotel waiters, cursing them for the slightest of delays and openly calling them robbers and murderers when all efforts failed. They would follow advices as per their convenience, said no thanks for your perseverance and walked away grumbling about their bills,hailing the 12th pass actor who had defamed the medical community on national television for ‘opening their eyes’. She learned it the hard way that even people like these could afford making mistakes. But a student of Dr.Soundarya Rao could not.

She had never been among Madam’s favorites but two incidents happening in rapid succession made her the most hated student. Two patients lost their babies all due to her fault. Of course it had been her fault that she had let the first patient off not finding anything remiss but not the patient’s for not reporting despite not feeling the baby move for three days and being told repeatedly it’s a danger sign.

Her fatigued mind failed her in the case of the next patient.Shepassed off an ambiguous looking cardiotocogram (graph paper depicting the fetal heart rate) and asked for a repeat after 3 hours. It was retrospectively found as abnormal (even though debated by some professors) as the baby was born papery pale at birth. It died three days later and though pediatricians were never able to find any cause, those three hours of delay and not the patient’s decision to come in the evening when no professor was around to see her report were adjudged the reason for the baby’s death.

The pain and hurt she felt at not being able to save two livesapart, the daily humiliation and accusations just short of calling her a murderer by Madam and her sycophant assistants left her totally broken and scarred. Her father had threatened to sue the department but she tearfully told him to hold his horses lest they wreak vengeance by failing her. Not that it helped.

How could someone with a fractured confidence and self esteem make through an examination? Her colleagues had consoled her the first time she had fumbled at the formidable looking examiners, Madam included. Her father too had snapped and told her to not give up hope reminding her of the numerous cases he had lost. Madam had insulted and taunted her when she had left to study for the repeats. No, she wasn’t responsible when her student failed; it was Rangoli who hadn’t prepared well.

It was not just Madam but also the Gods who seemed to be conspiring against her now that her third and final attempt allowed by the university had been a washout. No one had told her that the cost of a few mistakes was much higher than one’s dreams, ambitions, nights, meals, sweat, blood and tears. What could explain that she had failed by four marks in theory in her second attempt and now by a measly two marks in her third?

Tears rolled down her cheeks. There was nothing she could do. Her repeated requests at the university office to check her papers of her second attempt despite there being a rule had yielded nothing. Nothing was going to help now either. Madam had been right. She was a 32 year old failure with no degree, career or future.

She yawned .She was tired, tired of it all. She wanted to sleep without any worries or tension. She stretched out her hand towards the bottle of anti-depressant pills her Psychiatrist uncle had kindly prescribed her and emptied all the 40 tablets on her palm, some bits falling on the floor silently…….


Soundarya Rao nodded to the morning greeting of her secretary and stalked inside her chamber. She looked through her schedule for the day. In another hour she had to go greet the new batch of postgraduate students. She had heard about Rangoli Mitra not making it but she couldn’t care less about cowardly and irresponsible people. Not everyone in this world was meant to be a doctor and it was not her problem that some people learnt it late. That girl had been nothing else but a source of embarrassment to her in her three year old tenure, something best forgotten. She would have to work harder on these new students so that they don’t end up as disappointments like her.

Suddenly there was a firm knock on the door. Startled, she looked up at the overhead clock. She had given strict instructions she wanted no visitors at this time. She coughed annoyed and was astonished when the door swung open wide and the person outside walked in. She stared angrily at the audacity and then her eyes narrowed when she realized who it was.

“So?”she asked icily,”What are you doing here?”Rangoli’s smile was the brightest she had ever seen in her life. She looked almost unrecognizable standing taller than her usual hunched form, plumper than before. That’s what comes of sitting home idle, Dr Rao noted in disgust. The smile however made her feel uneasy. It looked a little too radiant ,even a little devilish.

”I have come to you madam regarding…...””If you have come to ask for permission to see your answer paper  …”she began furiously but was left astounded when Rangoli cut in in a firm tone “No madam I don’t wish to challenge that. When I got less marks, it must have been my fault. “Was she being sarcastic? Dr Rao wondered, her fury rising but Rangoli’s calm gaze left her totally disarmed.”Then what is it?”she snapped, “ Have youcome to request me to ask the university….””No Madam “she said even more strongly ,”I don’t have any more requests for you” Now Dr Rao looked in bewilderment, Was this the same Rangoli Mitra who quavered while talking to her in a single straight line? She continued, “I have finally realized what you had wanted to say for quite some time. That I don’t deserve to be a doctor. Hence I have decided to take up another career. Iwant to become a writer.”

A writer? Failures are failures everywhere. With a condescending smile, Dr Rao muttered, “You want to be a writernow? Are you trained for it?”She grinned, “My fiancé happens to be an eminent journalist, Madam . He will give me all training that I need. Besides anybody can be a writer today, bored engineers, verbose politicians, flop actresses then why not a failed doctor?””Well then why have you come to me?””Since this is my first novel I decided to write first on familiar territory.I want to write on the perfect teacher and doctor. You.”

What was all this in aid of? Smoke literally billowing out of her ears, she hissed “I am afraid I…””I am afraid you are not in a position to say no Madam. I have this letter from the university Vice chancellor directing you to allow me to follow you throughout your working hours.”

The letter indeed bore the Vice chancellor’s signature and stamp.”What makes you think I am going to obey this order?”She nearly screamed.”I don’t think Madam, I know.”Dr Rao glared at her .She had a good mind to throw this manner less girl out of her room. But she could not get into trouble with the university. There were only a few years left for her retirement.Alright”, she got up, “Do as you want. Though I doubt you are going to learn anything as usual.””I am not going to Madam, I have to now.She smiled.


Chapter 1: There’s a way only where the head wants

“No, Saumya! Don’t! “Rangoli called out to the nervous postgraduate,”don’t tell Madam where to go.Dr Rao frowned at the foot of the stairs “Why are there patients in the other building too? she asked. The other building housed the super deluxe wards occasionally taking in gynaecology patients.

The girl nodded dumbly.”Then why didn’t you tell me before?”She snapped. These idiots! But Madam, you had warned me not to teach you when I had done the same. You said you always know where to go” Rangoli put in with a smile.Rao’s anger was raised manifold as she discerned the smiles the other professors were hiding. She had a good mind to throw this girl out like her usual way. But would the vice chancellor object? Besides she was known to a journalist she could easily defame her in print media ,what was there to be scared of now?   ”Of course “she said in a huff, “yes I know. We’ll do it my way”


Chapter 2: Conclusions are always made on instincts not evidence

“See the patients don’t even trust you. They would rather tell me their problems”Dr Rao roared at a shamefaced postgraduate.”Oh really?”Rangoli wondered out loud. She approached the patientand asked her sternly, “Why didn’t you tell this doctor you have headache in the morning?” The patient cowered. Of course why would she agree now she felt entitled to only speak to a professor not a yet learning postgraduate? “Because I developed it now…” she finally relented.

Rangoli turned to Madam with a smile.”Who gave you the permission to talk to my patients?”she countered.Uh!!,Rangoliexclaimed,”That’s the word. Your patients.That’s why they wouldn’t talk to anybody else but you.”she then started to scribble in the small notebook she carried.Dr Rao walked away,teeth clenching.




Chapter 3: Rules are not the same for everyone

“Aren’t you ashamed to be called a gynecology student? How dare you get pregnant?” Dr Rao screamed at the married senior postgraduate student who sat sniveling opposite her.”Get it terminated!!”

“But Madam”Dr Rao closed her eyes in frustration. This girl was really getting on her nerves now.”A few minutes back you were scolding a second gravida patient for asking for a termination.” “Who will do her work during her maternity leave? You?””Why do you want to kill your patients Madam? “Rangoli grinned, “Even that patient wanted a termination as her child is very young and she wouldn’t be able to care of him in her pregnancy. Who will do that? You?”

“Okay fine. I will see what I can do.”Dr Rao said hurriedly and then fumed as the girl gave a grateful look to Rangoli and left.


Chapter 4: Mistakes are only mistakes depending on the perpratrator

“You have only to blame yourself for what has happened Dr Rao ended her lecture.”But Aunty,”the woman sobbed, “Don’tcall me Aunty!!”She screamed, “How many times did I tell youyou have diabetes. You have to control your diet properly, monitor your sugars but you didn’t heed my advice. You are responsible for the death of your baby nobody else.”

“Anything you have to say?”She said irritably to Rangoli who sat smiling mockingly at the patient, Madam’s friend’s daughter who always treated postgraduate students as servants whenever she came here.”Just wondering when is it the patient’s fault and when the doctor’s? You had tersely shut me down when I had tried explaining how my patient sat at home despite not feeling her baby move. Or when that other patient with the pale baby had got admitted in the evening and not morning as she had been advised when a professor and not a mere student like me could have seen her CTG. You had told me then you will never ever forgive me if the baby died. Is it only the patient’s fault if it is your personal patient? Oh but all patients are your patients isn’t it?”Just get out!”Dr Rao screamed,”Get out of this room!””Yeah it’s anyway getting late,”Rangoli let out a yawn and got up.She patted on the patient’s shoulder,”Mycondolences.” The patient shamefacedly watched her leave.


Chapter 5: It’s the past which defines not the present

“Such irresponsible people.”Dr Rao laughed with Dr Rajan her friend and head of Dermatology Department, pointing at the newspaper article talking about the doctor’s strike in Rajasthan. Both had met in the canteen over a cup of tea, “This younger generation I tell you, they cannot do their job properly. Theydon’t have that will to serve people like we did in our times. Small wonder patients don’t trust them at all.”

“You are absolutely right Madam,” Rangoli walked in with a glass full of juice as Dr Rao pulled a face, “I heard in your PG days you didn’t bother checking on some patients and one of them became serious. You know, research and all….””That was….”Dr Rao protested but Rangoli continued, “But your senior protected you and pacified the attendants. After all there was no internet that time to cross check or CTGs to file cases on. These juniors, how dare they make mistakes? Why should you protect them?”Dr Rao reddened.”How…How dare you look into my past?,”she demanded.”But I have to Madam. I have to make my readers see how we mere mortals have learnt our way through making mistakes and how an illustrious soul like you never made a single one in her life.”

Dr Rajan was trying her best to hide her grin. Fuming, Dr Raogot up and left.  


Chapter 6: All follow the terrorist logic

“You’re trying to be very smart aren’t you?” Dr Rao looked menacingly at Rangoli in her chamber after another instance of embarassment.”With your ways of branding me the worst teacher there’s ever been? Do you know we had it much worse than you? Not only did our professors humiliate us they even used to beat us up.””You know Madam you are not the only one to say this.”Rangoli grinned,”Our seniors used to rag us in college saying their seniors treated them worse. Mothers-in law ill treat their daughters-in law saying their mothers in law treated them worse. I wonder why do we blame the terrorists for bombing and killing us? Don’t they too say we had it worse?”Dr Rao looked as if she would explode any moment but was taken aback to see a wave of sadness creep over Rangoli’sface.”But while terrorists are always excused with how their parents were school teachers how unemployment and frustration lead them to stone pelting and bombing but no postgraduate was ever forgiven for misreading a report in disorientation ,after sitting up all night working on their thesis or missing a patient in hypoglycemic crisis not having eaten all morning.”

Mannerless girl!,”Dr Rao hissed under her breath.

Chapter 7: The only proof is documentation

“For not writing this in the report book you people will have to take 1 week’s leave and work” Dr Rao was dishing out her favorite mode of punishment as four drained out girls murmured in protest.”Don’t worry girls!”Rangoli beamed, recording the scene on her mobile camera, “Madam is teaching you a very important lesson. The importance of documentation. Whether you saw the patient or not, if you write it, you have. Just like the university has no idea Madam has been making you waste the leaves they sanctioned you. But now that we have documentation, she has.”

Dr Rao felt the ground beneath her giving way. If the universityfound out she had been engaging in this practice, there would be hell to pay. Beads of perspiration forming on her forehead, she tried to snatch the mobile from Rangoli who deftly put it in her purse and ran out of the labour room.

Hours later,she turned up in Madam’s chamber without the purse or the mobile. Dr Rao, had been pacing the room in agitation having totally failed in tracing her whereabouts. She planted a resounding slap on Rangoli’s cheek before she could say something, “What’s your problem, you irritating pest? You think I like scolding people, punishing them? I am doing this for theirown good. Why are you painting me like a monster in front of them?”

Unflinchingly Rangoli muttered, “Yes Madam, making people live in fear, that’s what terrorists do. It’s for their good. Wonder why the armies all over are shooting them down? Constantly belittling people, humiliating them and decreasing their self respect, that’s what trolls do. Probably for their good. Wonder why laws are fining them gigantic sums for defamation? Running your own sets of rules and keeping people on their toes, that’s what dictators do for their good. Why are people being so stupid in overthrowing them? Not teaching students well and putting the whole blame on them when they make mistakes…..,”Rangoli gave an ironic smile.

”How dare you speak to me like this?”Dr Rao could take it no longer,”Haven’t your parents taught you any manners?”Rather than get angry she only smiled,”Just thank your lucky stars they have Madam. You are not talking to a person who shoots terrorists and dictators. She would rather let the law take it’sown course. It was a great learning experience madam,thank you very much.”She turned and left.

Getting the whole import of her words, Dr Rao rushed and grabbed her arm,”You can’t do this to me,”she said pleadingly,”Iam like your mother….””No Madam,”Rangoli snapped, freeing herself ,”You are too perfect.Please don’t insult my mother by comparing yourself to her.”  And she was gone.

Dr Rao stared behind her for a few seconds,then reached for her car keys.She had to be quick to beat her at her own game.    



“I am not going to take it anymore.”Dr Rao was shouting at the Vice chancellor, “So what if she is not a student anymore, she gets the rights to argue with and insult me? She may be the daughter of a topshot lawyer but I am no street beggar. To hell with your order, if she ever steps into the hospital anymore, I’llcall security and get her thrown out.””Soundarya?”the burly man replied incredulously, “What are you talking about? Whatorder?””Your order! To allow Rangoli Mitra to tail and observe me.””What are you talking about? I didn’t pass any such order. Besides how can I give such an order to Rangoli Mitra?”He sounded flabbergasted.

“Because of her father! He threatened to sue us for failing her,didn’t he?””Get a grip Soundarya. Rangoli Mitra died three months back. She committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills.”

Dr Rao’s eyes nearly popped out of her face.”What are you talking about? That girl’s been following me for the past 3 months!! Making my life miserable!”The man was quiet for a moment, “I did hear you have been acting strangely for sometime. I think you should take some time off…””I am not mad! She was with me! I swear she was! Why are you looking at me like that? She is still alive!”She was screaming at the top of her lungs.


Nothing helped. The head of Psychiatry,an old family friend,confirmed he had attended Rangoli’s funeral .All professors and students admitted they couldn’t understand who was Dr Rao talking to all the time but were too scared to ask. Dr Rajan was abroad and the patients who Dr Rao claimed had seen Rangoli had been discharged.Dr Rao’s personal patient refused to testify.Dr Rao went into hysterics and had to be hospitalized. Shedeveloped high fever and tremors and remained away for quite sometime.


When she finally returned she remained totally subdued and silent. The hospital work went on as usual but the students appeared more happy and cheerful.

Soon it was examination time and Dr Rao was chosen to be the internal though now she dreaded the event more than the students themselves. She would pass everybody whether they deserved it or not. She didn’t want to be committed again.

She entered the hall and gave a small scream. Standing before her was Rangoli in a lab coat and holding a test paper in her hand, “Hello Madam,”she said cheerfully,” The university has kindly allowed me another chance. I am pretty sure I will pass this time.”

Dr Rao’s head was spinning as she walked in. She had failed the chancellor’s daughter in MBBS for not answering one question …….rejected the thesis of Dr Rajan’s niece wasting her 6 months…….all the professors and students hated her anyway…….The head of psychiatry had had a showdown with her ………”There’s another good news Madam. A leading publisher has accepted my manuscript. Even if I fail, I still have a chance of an alternate career. Thank you for the lesson you taught me. The power of documentation.”

Documentation……Documentation…..Everything would have been documented as something else…..Rangoli still had thatmobile clip with her………



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1 Response

  1. Yona says:

    Hats off !!! This has a postential to become a movie!! Just wow

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