Ordained by fate

Ordained by fate

“How are you progressing with your thesis?” I asked Sherry, a fellow student at the university in the US where I was pursuing my doctoral studies. Since data collection had to be postponed due to school holidays, Sherry said she was using the interim period to write up alternative chapters on ‘Discussion’ for subsequent use. This exchange prompted me also to think a few steps ahead, which helped me speed up the writing of my own dissertation.

Since joining the university, I had developed a special rapport with one of the faculty members in the department. He would help me out whenever difficulties arose in my academic pursuits. Inter alia, he had intervened to ensure that I continued to get financial assistance when it was discontinued for other students due to a fund crunch. “You are here to pursue your doctorate. Concentrate on it,” he reminded me time and again.

I had very much wished that this champion of my cause would be the chairman of my doctoral committee. Since there were constraints, he was appointed as co-chairman, a new development in the department.

I submitted the first draft of my dissertation. Within a few hours, the co-chairman called me up, a rather unusual step in our three-year interaction. “It’s Monday 11 o’clock. Pick up the draft which has a few corrections. I want to see the complete dissertation on my table on Wednesday at 8 am.” 

Suddenly, a great urgency seemed to have developed. He added, “I have never allowed a student to face the oral defence with their first draft. In your case I am allowing it. Set up the committee meeting next week.” His justification for speeding up the process? “I am going on holiday; I want you to have your degree before I leave.”

I sailed through the oral defence, the final step in the award of the PhD. I sent a telegram to my father in India that I had completed my studies and would be back shortly. My parents had wholeheartedly supported my accepting the assistantship to pursue my doctoral degree. Some had questioned my wisdom in being away from my parents for three years considering their advanced age. But everything had gone well, hadn’t it?

My father, who had purchased the ticket for my onward journey, intended to also buy the ticket for my homeward journey. Alas! It was not to be. On August 28, two weeks after I had completed the oral defence, he passed away. Family members kept the news from me until I arrived home in early September.

Fate seemed to have dealt a cruel blow. But overall, there were some redeeming aspects. Fate had propelled my co-chairman to fast-forward the formalities which the committee members had endorsed. Thus my father knew that I had accomplished what I had set out to achieve. A friend who saw him with my telegram in hand was to tell me later, “He was so happy!” Further, fate ordained that I would be amid my family when I got the devastating news that I wouldn’t be seeing my father ever again.