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Dr. Arunachalam Kumar’s Student for Two Days

I am Amogh, Dr. Arunachalam Kumar’s student for two days. And here’s my story:




I was preparing for the final exams of my second MBBS in the gloomy days of November, and my mother, Dr. Chandrika, told me that her anatomy professor at KMC had lung cancer and that she was going to Mangalore with her MBBS friends to visit him. On her way back, she told me that he was a very interesting and inspiring character, and she strongly insisted that I meet him. I was so bored of studying for my exams and I thought this was the right excuse to go on a solo trip to Mangalore, meet my childhood friend, and maybe, say hi to this old man just to please my mother.


11th  January 2017: I reached the outskirts of Mangalore and Ravi was promptly waiting to pick me up and drive me to Kumar sir’s home. I texted my friend that I’d have breakfast with this old gentleman and leave for Mangalore to have some fun. So I walk into the house, Kumar sir greets me and tells me to rest and freshen up. I then walked into his room to figure out why my mother was hyping this anatomy guy so much… There he is, with a tumor in his lung and a cigarette in his hand! I was disgusted. “How dumb,” I thought to myself…


I started the conversation, “I’m Amogh… doing my MBBS is JJM Medical College… and I’m just done with my second-year exams.” He told me he had failed in his first year. Wow! And that he took 10 years to complete his MBBS! I was wondering what sort of an idiot this man is, but I couldn’t reason why there’s so much hype around him. I was curious. I started asking him questions, and a lot of them because I had nothing to lose. A decade for completing MBBS and a chain-smoking man with a diagnosis of lung cancer, I had formed my judgment of this man already.


My mother had spoken highly of his research papers and his varying interests, so, I took the conversation along those lines. He started telling me about how he predicted Sachin Tendulkar’s knee injury based on the biomechanics of his batting stance while hitting the on-drive. “Not bad,” I thought. He told me about how the peculiar behavior of whales stranding on the beaches indicated an impending earthquake. He spoke about the accelerated nail growth in diabetics, the Fibonacci sequence in bone lengths, the reptilian vision mechanisms, and how the world we see is actually a quantum kaleidoscope! He spoke about ankle deformations in coconut tree climbers and postulated that itching is a form of immunity. He has it published in The Lancet! Wow! He told me wearing a bra increases the incidence of breast cancer and that smoking cessation precipitates lung cancer! He talked about how paper shredding is influenced by cerebral dominance and why we make funny facial expressions while performing dexterous activities. He told me how his interest in ornithology almost took him with the Prime Minister’s delegation to his experiences in judging a beauty pageant and refereeing a wrestling tournament. “Why does the chest wall protrude when the heart contracts, the so-called apex beat?” “Why does insanity make one immune to viral infections?” “Why do infants and extremely old people look like each other?” “Why does the left testis hang lower than the right?” He just went on and on and on…




I was flabbergasted. He twisted my brain to such an extent that I was absolutely dumbstruck! He’s crazy but he’s the most intelligent man I’d met in my life. He features in the Limca Book of Records for the widest range of scientific publications! I thought I was a very intellectual guy but every neuron in my brain was in a state of awe and shock. He was intrigued by my relentless questioning and started probing me about a lot of things. I was telling him about my visceral disdain for microbiology and how the practical sessions were merely case dictations and not at all hands-on. I was complaining about the “system” and was justifying my stance. He interrupted, “Boss, did you go to the lab and ask if you could try out some plating techniques?” I said, “That’s not a part of my curriculum.” He laughed and chuckled! One after the other, he burst my bubble, smashed my ego to the ground, and trivialized all the justifications of my idea of life! He deconstructed me piece by piece. I was devastated and angry, but confused. He has all my admiration and respect, and I am looking for some inspiration but this man bashes the hell out of my soul!


Well, I spent the whole day just sitting in his room and talking to him… The next day, we began the conversation about something called “Chaos Theory” that he had mentioned. I quizzed him about it for over three hours and he broke my idea of the human body. “Homeostasis is bullshit,” I happened to realize. He introduced me to the world of fractional dimensions, or fractals, and wonderfully described how he perceives the human body as a non-linear system. He recommended a book on Chaos and THAT was the turning point in my life!


I ended up talking to him about anything and everything that came to my mind and the sun was already setting. I left Bangalore thinking I would spend half an hour with this old man and two days with my friend. It was just the opposite!


During one of the initial conversations, he mentioned: “A lot of my students worked on some research under my guidance, and that has transformed their whole lives.” An overstatement, I thought, only to delightfully realize I am one amongst them. I started looking at the human body and understanding medicine from a much more mathematical perspective. I delved deeper into the math, began learning how to code, and started working on various clinical research projects. I realized that the right tools to accommodate the non-linearity of the human body are through Machine Learning, specifically, deep learning. After my MBBS, I got into Carnegie Mellon University (#1 in the world for AI and computer science). I finished my Master's in Bioinformatics, and I am graduating next month. In August, I am going to start my Ph.D. in Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania. I thought I left for Mangalore, but I came to an Ivy League school for a PhD. All the credit goes to the man, the myth, and the legend: Dr. Arunachalam Kumar!



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