|Medical student Shreya Pal looks at a portrait of her late father and role model Sushil Pal, a gynaecologist who was murdered in 2004 allegedly because he refused to carry out an illegal abortion. Picture by Amit Datta
She was in Class V when her doctor father “left for work and never came back”. In the 10 years since, memories of her murdered father have shaped Shreya Pal’s life. Now 19, she is a first-year student of medicine, determined to carry forward Sushil Pal’s “legacy”.
“People say I look like my father and we have identical handwriting. But I didn’t want the similarities to end there and pushed myself further,” Shreya told Metro, sitting in the Singhee Park flat where she lives with her mother and sister Sreeja.
“When I lost my father, my world fell apart. I had to make him proud of me. I was determined to be a doctor,” the teenager said.
Pal had left home for his workplace on the morning of July 2, 2004, and his body was found near a canal in Howrah the next day. The post-mortem report showed that he had been brutally assaulted before being strangled, allegedly because he had refused to carry out an illegal abortion.
The family had shifted to Calcutta three months before Pal’s death and Shreya believes that her father “paid the price for his honesty”.
“He was a dedicated doctor and I still remember that after a hard day’s work he would not hesitate to rush to hospital at night if a patient needed him…I have to carry forward that legacy,” said the 19-year-old, whose maternal grandfather was also a doctor.
Shreya had always wanted to be a doctor like her father, but her ambition became the “only aim in life” after he was murdered. “There were no second thoughts. Just that the incident made me more determined to pursue medicine,” she said.
Shreya was ranked 691 in the West Bengal Joint Entrance Examination nine years after her father’s death, which earned her a seat in one of the reputable medical colleges of Calcutta.
She had started crying while checking her JEE result, making mother Kanika worried that her daughter might not have made it. “I had thought with that rank I would not get a chance in a medical college in Calcutta,” Shreya said of that moment.
Kanika had always advised her daughter to have “a second option” in mind, lest there be a hitch. “I would often tell her, ‘What if you do not get through to medical school?’ She would always reply that medicine was her only calling,” she recounted.
The first-year MBBS student hasn’t decided whether she would go on to specialise in gynaecology like her father, but her mother is sure about not wanting her daughter to choose that subject. “It would mean a lot of toil and irregular hours,” she said, her mind possibly travelling back to her late husband’s hectic professional life.
For now, Shreya’s only aim is to be “a good doctor” and not do anything wrong, “just like my father”.
But how difficult is it for a young girl to pursue her goal without her main source of inspiration around her? “When I was a kid, I would grab my father’s stethoscope and other instruments, sometimes sitting at his desk as if to treat patients. I have those photographs and I look at those to feel motivated,” Shreya recalled.
She has started missing his presence more than ever after getting into a medical college. “I miss him more these days. I know that if he had been with me, he would have guided me,” Shreya said.
But she feels lucky to have at least more memories of her father than younger sister Sreeja, who is three years younger. “I try my best to hold on to the memories,” she said.
Monday, she hopes, will bring with it some healing. “It has taken so many years…We won’t get our father back but what we can hope for is justice.”
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