Dr Ciraj A.M. writes about ‘An Unusual Annual Day’ in an Indian Medical School

This write up will share the experiences of an educational intervention with a difference.  It narrates the story from a medical school located at the southern tip of the Indian peninsula. For the annual day celebrations of this school, the faculty used to host a cultural show as a mark of their love and reverence to the students. The cultural performances used to take different forms, ranging from songs, skits, dances and a lot more. On this year’s annual day, they decided to perform something unique. The movement was spearheaded by microbiologists who incidentally had many of their members involved in medical education research and cultural coordination committee.  A meeting was convened and the medium of theatre and dance was finalized to depict certain educational themes.  As usual, the process gained momentum just two days before the event.

Finally the day of the event arrived! The faculty of microbiology marked the beginning. Against a pitch dark background, with lighted diyas (traditional lamps in India) held in their hands, the women folk from the department made a graceful entry with traditional ragas being played as background score, demonstrating the concept of negative staining. The theme was portrayed as a supreme act of sacrifice where one illuminates against a dark, vicious and brutal world. As the arena lighted up, the men clad in purple entered and it became evident that the women wore shades of pink.  The gram positives and negatives perfectly danced to the tunes of dandiya raas (a featured dance of Navaratri evenings in Western India). However the harmony did not last too long. With artful subtlety, deceptive intentions and jarring music entered a bacteriophage (a virus that infects bacteria) which started seducing (transducing) the female microbes and then chaos supervened. Audience could witness a dramatist’s perspective of transduction and lysogenic conversion with fun and clarity.

The department of Physiology used tunes from Bollywood (the Indian equivalent of Hollywood) to portray the developmental mile stones. Various phases of growth starting from infants, toddlers, adolescents, puberty to adult stage were screened. The final stage that depicted the fate of a shelter less old man trying to find a space in the main spectrum was thought provoking and sharp enough to raise social conscience towards a pertinent issue.

Pharmacologists preferred to use a story board that featured the fate of a break dancer who lands up in grandmal epilepsy. Even while portraying this dismal condition, they were successful in using humor to drive home the significant points in diagnosis and management. They wound up their act on a lighter note of a paradoxical effect setting in due to dose variations where in the break dancer gets metamorphosed into an Indian classic dancer and starts dancing to the tunes of Bharatha natyam (a form of Indian classical dance).

The next scene shifted to Prof. Popular’s laboratory where the medium of ballet was used to dramatize Benedict’s test. Using an adage performed with fluidity, ease, balance and beautiful poise, the dancers from biochemistry sprung into an array of colors ranging from green to yellow to orange to red to depict the levels of glucose present while performing the test. It enthralled the audience as students cheered from the crowd; “Biochemistry was never so exciting!”

Biochemists gave way to the Pathologists. The saga of the benign and malignant portrayed the role of pathologists along with surgeons in combating the menace of the malignant. Initially the cuddly, cute, benign made a very rhythmic appearance. This was followed by the entry of the ugly, monstrous malignant who resists to surrender to the man in green (Surgeon). As the malignant try to cow down a bewildered surgeon, there enters a pathologist with his magnifying glass. Surgeon and the pathologist together with their hand lens and sword decimate the malignant. The performance highlighted the importance of incorporating the basic science knowledge in clinical diagnosis and management.

The finale of the event was marked when anatomists started marching along with the tribal tunes. They narrated with humor, the story of a primatologist working in a jungle who gets devoured by a man eater during his research. The climax of the story unfolds when the tribal priest is called in to perform rituals that would bring the scientist back into life. Fiery steps and chants along with flames and fumes give a tantric feel taking the audience far away from the mundane routine. However the mantras cited were with a difference. They were composed of the names of nerves, muscles, vessels and bones relevant to the region interspersed with tantric words used during such rituals. With humor, dramatics and with the sensational background scores the body parts of the scientist get rejuvenated and the he recuperates back into life by dancing to the tunes of the tribal folk.

Now let us focus on the outcomes. The short term outcome; anecdotal responses indicate that students enjoyed a great deal and expected curricular delivery by theatrical modes also. Greatly influenced by the outcome the faculty council has decided to organize a theatre competition for the students, utilizing the concepts in medicine and public health, the details of which are being finalized. A long-term outcome of including art, theatre and music for educational delivery is seriously being considered by the curriculum development committee of the medical school.

Dr. CIRAJ A.M.

Associate Professor of Microbiology,

Member, Curriculum Development Committee,

Melaka Manipal Medical College,

Manipal University.

Karnataka State.

INDIA

PIN: 576104

Telephone: 00919845170953

Fax: 00918202571905

Email: cirajam@gmail.com

  • I’m a professional stage actor and arts educator from the US who works regularly with international medical educators to hone their in-class communication skills. As such, I was absolutely delighted to read the account of this extraordinarily creative, lively and inclusive event! I think all the participants can be extremely proud of themselves for linking together the “facts” of medical education with the wonder of the human imagination and the joy of community collaboration. I suspect many of your students were inspired by this event to focus even more closely on the principles involved, and to bring their most imaginative selves to their studies. You illustrated beautifully the lasting truth that science is neither dry nor “academic”–science is LIFE in all its grand color and complexity! Well done, all! I regret enormously that I was not present to see the performance, but thank you so much for sharing this blog with me.