Eighteen-year-old Siddanth Nair starts his day like any other student at the Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore. He wakes up, gets ready and rushes to his class by 8 am. However, this is where things get bizarre. As Siddanth takes his place in the classroom and turns to his professor, all the seats around him are empty and will remain so in the forseeable future.
This first-year student is the only medical aspirant to be admitted into the 2017 batch for an undergraduate MBBS course that usually hosts about 100 pupils. CMC admitted only one candidate in UG this academic year under the defence ministry quota as it suspended admission for the remaining seats, as an expression of its displeasure over common counselling based on NEET scores. For almost 100 years, the medical institute has been following its own admission process.
By admitting one aspirant, CMC has effectively turned on its head the teacher-student ratio. What was earlier one teacher for every 10 students in the class, has now become 10 teachers for just one student.
"I really like the personal attention because it means I leave the class with no doubts," says Siddanth, who had just attended a half-day session on Saturday before talking to TNM. "The teachers are extremely friendly and helpful. They make sure I am very comfortable," he adds.
But we had to ask him an important question regarding college life. How does he bunk classes?
"Well I can't really bunk," laughs the 18-year-old. "If I am unwell or have some prior commitments I have to call the professors in advance and let them know," he adds. Siddanth attends regular classes that include lectures on anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and practical sessions. A typical day starts at around 8 am and goes on until 5 pm.
The Principal of the institution, Dr Anna Pulimood, tells TNM that both senior students and the staff were given instruction ahead of Siddanth's arrival. "We've informed the seniors to take him under their wing and include him in their extra-curricular activities as well. But yes, everybody will always know what he is upto," she laughs.
Siddanth has a room to himself in the college hostel but shares a floor with senior students. "They have been very supportive and lend me notes. But I am really hoping that more students join my batch," he says.
CMC had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against common counselling under NEET, pleading for exemption. It argued that this curtailed its right to select suitable candidates for upholding its motto which is to serve the public.
"We usually conduct personal interviews, group discussion and activities before we select students for our courses," explains the Principal. "We are willing to take students who crack NEET. But after that, we want to test them based on our existing systems," she adds. The institution's case is coming for hearing at the apex court in October.
Siddanth was admitted because the institution allows for the Centre to nominate one candidate every year and this time they had suggested that the son of a martyr be educated at CMC. His father Rajesh was attached to the BN 4 Rashtriya Rifles Regiment. He was martyred in an attack on November 15, 2001 at Doda in Kashmir.
His mother Supriya Nair, a psychologist who resides in Mumbai says she is extremely happy with her son's decision to join CMC.
"Siddanth has been reading medical journals from the time he was in the seventh standard. He wants to become a cardiothoracic surgeon and I am sure the institute will mould him accordingly," she says. When asked if she was worried about her son having no immediate peers, she says, "All the seniors have been very cooperative. But we are hoping more students will join soon," she adds.
For Siddanth, this medical education, is his way of serving the country. "I have always been interested in biology and believe that medicine is a field of biology that is best suited to give back to humanity," he says.