As a fresh graduate, participating in the international conference of Psychology Postgraduate Affairs Group, UK to submit a research paper is no mean task. But Khyati Tripathi has learnt to tread the path less travelled. When her peers took up project work on upbeat subjects such as happiness, adolescent sexuality and creativity; she chose one of the most dreaded subjects — death. “I get fascinated by death and the afterlife, so I was determined to carry out research on this,” she says.
And the task was not set to be easy. For example, last year, after a gruelling five-hour wait in Delhi’s hot summer sun outside a hospital director’s office, Tripathi was able to persuade him to grant her access to the cancer ward. There, she interviewed dozens of patients in different stages of cancer.
“I divided my sample of 60 subjects into three equal sizes — terminally ill, chronically ill and healthy,” says Tripathi.
But access was only part of the uphill climb. What was more difficult was to persuade them to participate in the study, which was dauntingly called Death: Alleviating or distressing?
Tripathi explains that even if patients are in the final stages of cancer, they sometimes are unable to accept the fact that they are on the threshold of death. “Not only patients, many a times, even relatives used to feel devastated by those uncomfortable questions (that I asked). There were a series of 60 questions related to death. Some patients used to feel disappointed, some cried and some abused me for being intrusive,” she adds. Her first interaction continued for six hours at a stretch. It moved her so much that she cried a lot once she reached home. “I discussed this with my supervisor, who insisted that I should maintain objectivity in the interviews. To make my work simpler, I had no choice but to follow his advice,” she says.
To carry out her research smoothly, she used to take a break between the set of uncomfortable questions to help patients “de-stress”, as she calls it.
“During the break time, I used to crack jokes, read books to them and sometimes discuss cricket with them,” she says.
What really drew her to such a difficult project was her passion for psychology. The passion was palpable since her school days when she had no qualms before changing schools in Class XI to join one that offered science with psychology. She’s made such tough choices time and again. When she entered her third year in college, she had a choice between taking up a practical subject (with psychological testing as part of it) and project work. Proving her intrepidity, she chose the difficult job of project work, which involves a lot of running around and normally gets one fewer marks than the practical subject.
Tripathi’s research was not only limited to hospitals and patients. She used to frequent libraries at JNU and AIIMS, apart from DU’s own facilities. “I had to take special permissions to sit in JNU and AIIMS but the journals I wanted to read regularly (such as death and dying) are not subscribed by DU,” she says.
Tripathi has high expectations from the conference because senior officials from the British Psychologists Society will be present there. “It will be a good platform wherein I would give a presentation of my project in a gathering of eminent professionals from around the world,” she says.
But what put her off a bit was the lack of funding options for young undergraduates/ graduates. Thus, her family will bear the expenses, but her father, a DDA official, doesn’t seem to mind.