By senior year he would become one of the College's most poised and spirited students, but Mohan M. Nadkarni '85 had an inauspicious start.
During his first Harvard hour exam, he fainted.
Suffering from a stomach flu, Nadkarni began a test in Chemistry 10, an intense pre-medical course. As he worked the third problem, the room started spinning and he passed out, but other students remained too preoccupied to help.
Cecelia C. Meagher '85, a fellow Chem 10 student, came to Nadkarni's rescue after 45 seconds, summoning an ambulance to convey the stricken freshman to the hospital. "He was still breathing," recalls Meagher, a certified Emergency Medical Technician who does not forget the extreme irony of would-be doctors ignoring their unconscious comrade.
None the worse for the experience, Nadkarni recently laughed while recalling rumors that he had taken heroin before the test. Some classmates, he adds, asked for extra points because his fainting broke their concentration.
Nadkarni recovered to continue his atypical--but very successful--pre-med career. Some remember him as a picture of calm amid brutal conditions, sitting bemusedly in the back row of Organic Chemistry lectures while 300 others furiously fumbled with four-color pens while taking notes.
He used his energy in other ways, assuming the social and intramural mantles for his freshman and upperclass dorms, becoming an All-Ivy athlete in an unfamiliar sport, refereeing some 1000 intramural basketball games, and making plans to marry his high school sweetheart later this month.
Not Your Normal Pre-Med
"Sometimes he's just too rah-rah for me," says one classmate who proffers amazement at Nadkarni's energy. Certainly he defies the stereotype of the pre-med, hunched in a corner of Cabot Library, coming out for meals and sacrificing social life for future rewards.
But Nadkarni admits to a fair chunk of book time cramming for exams in Cabot. A high school friend. Rachel J. Givelber '85, says that Nadkarni "for as long as I can remember has been pre-med." As his lab partner in high school, Givelber remembers that Nadkarni "would always fudge the results so it would come out perfectly."
During freshman year Nadkarni lived in Weld, which gained a reputation as a wild and crazy dorm in part from his initiatives. As Athletic Secretary, charged with organizing intramural, Nadkarni proudly recalls that Weld set a new record for total points. Gilad Y. Ohana '85, a member of the Weld contingent, says, "Mo must have gone through 500 sheets of oaktag, posting notices on his door. He is very good at getting people to do what he wanted in a very nice way--when other dorms would show up with five people, we would show up with 20."
Nadkarni and his roommates treated their entry to tea-bag philosophy every morning with a "Thought for the Day," including gems like "I should have gone to Stanford." Some, however, found Nadkarni too enthusiastic. "He expects everyone to be interested in doing what he's doing," says one classmate. Nadkarni agrees that he offends people sometimes, takes on too many responsibilities, and is "not always the most humble guy."
But he adds that he is "not afraid to make a fool of himself," if he can help others loosen up. After Nadkarni moved to Winthrop House, be became House social chair and added such diversions as jello wrestling to more traditional activities. Once he dressed as Cher for a lip-synching contest. A devout fan of the Washington Redskins. Nadkarni donned a tux and hosted a party during the 1984 Redskins-Raiders Super Bowl.
The "Hinjew" Family
Nadkarni traces his compulsive enthusiasm to his family, where he says he learned the "spirit of brotherhood" under the influence of Ghandian principles his father brought from India.
His Hindu father met his mother, a Brooklyn Jew, in the unlikely state of Iowa, where they attended graduate school. Hence Nadkarni camed the title of "The Hinjew" form his friends. At home, his family celebrates Chanukah, Christmas, and Divali, the Hindu festival of lights. Because of this diverse ethnic background, Nadkarni feels distant from "the blue blood sense of Harvard," and he says this sense of not belonging may explain "why I've strived to excel and become part of a social circle."
Nadkarni became president of Winthrop's House committee, as well as House athletic secretary. He takes credit for helping create Winthrop's campas reputation as a "high school house" fraught with enthusiasm and spirit. Many Harvard students look cynically on this environment, but Nadkarni expresses pride, seeing his role as "psyching people up."
No Time to Rest
"I hate a day when I sleep till one." Nadkarni says, but he rarely rests so much. He has played three years for the Harvard Classes, a barn-storming campus basketball club. After a frustrating freshman year playing with Harvard's IV team "in front of only three fans." Nadkarni jumped to the Classics and even assumed coaching responsibilities, handling the delicate task of coaching ex-varsity players with his JV background.
Nadkarni calls the Classics program a "godsend," and teammates speak similarly of him. John D. Solomon '85, who jumped from the JV program to the Classics at the same time as Nadkarni, remembers that "he put together a trip to France in 10 days for 12 lunatics, dealt with the language barrier, and did a tremendous job."
Nadkarni, a friend of Harvard's volleyball captain, decided to try that sport in his sophomore year, persuading the coach to "take him on as a little project." The "little project" turned out spectacularly, as Nadkarni made the All-Ivy team the last two years and served as co-captain this year. "I've got springs," he says.
Throughout this success Nadkarni maintained his interest in House sports, becoming the College's coordinator of intramural athletics and head referee for the intramural program. Floyd Wilson, director of intramural athletics, calls Nadkarni "a very, very outstanding young man [who] has a great ability to get along with other people." Wilson estimates that this year Nadkarni refereed 400-to-500 basketball games, and more than 1000 during his career.
Long-Distance Love Affair
Nadkarni plans to attend medical school after Harvard, but he has put these plans on hold because of his impending marriage. Nadkarni was accepted by Columbia's top-flight medical school, but he and his fiancee decided against it because of the unsafe neighborhood.
In three weeks Nadkarni will wed Jean Blake, his high school sweetheart, who attended college in Maryland. Nadkarni says that that five of his freshman roommates had "hometown honeys," but he and Jean are one of the few couples who survived. They saw each other about once a month and during the summers. He admits that restraints of the long-distance romance tempered his optimism, but smiles while adding, "we put each other in our place."
"People here wear their tuxes more than anyone else in the world," says Jean of Harvard. The newlyweds plan to live in either Pennsylvania or Maryland, while Nadkarni attends a nearby medical school.
Nadkarni says he often ponders the commitment needed to become a doctor, but he adds that "even if I won a million bucks in the Megabucks lottery. I would still go to medical school. I feel that you're making a big contribution to society being a doctor.