Dr HS Rissam, a cardiologist, is quite passionate about his scalpel. He gets pretty animated when he talks about it -- what it feels like to hold it, how it changed him as a person and doctor. A little difference -- ‘The Scalpel’ he talks about is not the surgical instrument but his bestselling book that has gone into its fourth reprint.
Buoyed by the success of his book, which he calls a ‘medi-thriller’, Dr Rissam, director of cardiac sciences at Max Heart Institute, Saket, is already working on a sequel.
Writing, as one finds out, is his heart and soul. “I grew up reading Tolstoy and Charles Dickens and have always had literary aspirations. My book is a fiction with some sordid facts about the medical profession. I am happy it is a bestseller,” says Rissam.
‘The Scalpel: Game Beneath’, which deals with the murky world of the medical mafia and ‘the malpractices in his profession’, moves from Delhi to New York, London, Chicago, Sydney, Barcelona and Istanbul.
“When I wrote the book, I was worried about how it would be received by the medical fraternity. But its response made me really happy. Many of my patients have read the book and are quite appreciative of it, “ says Rissam, who gets up as early as 3 am to write.
Rissam is not the only doctor-turned-writer. There are many cardiologists, physicians, general surgeons -- quite a few of them are Delhi-based -- wield the pen as skillfully as the stethoscope. From medical thrillers to murder mysteries, to historical fiction -- they are writing it all.
Ambarish Satwik, a Delhi-based cardio-vascular surgeon at Ganga Ram Hospital, has to his credit ‘Perineum: neither parts of the empire’, a work of fiction which, in his own words, is a rogue and deviant sexual history of the British Raj. It is a happy union of fraudulent history and excitable hokum.
The book charts the colonial arc from Robert Clive to Jinnah through 13 disparate stories, all about the perineum -- the part of the body between the thighs.
Satwik spent several evenings at the National Archives in the Capital for a year and a half for the novel.
“Research was important: first to get the ethnography right, then to get the anthropology right, third to get some semblance of historical verity, not to have any clangers, finally to get the pornography right,” says, Satwik, known for his imagery and subversive style of writing.
Satwik is now working on his second book -- a graphic non-fiction, which he describes as ‘a new species of writing’: the short, burlesque, illustrated essay. It is smutty, salacious, medico-sexual -- partly pornographic, partly scatological and one that is against popular opinion.
“I have no qualms in introducing my project as the gutter of essays and I hereby anoint myself as its dedicated guttersnipe,” says Satwik, who has collaborated with renowned graphic artists such as Sarnath Banerjee, Vishwajyoti Ghosh, Orijit Sen, Priya Kuriyan, Prabha Mallya, Kriti Monga for his book.
Then, there are doctor-writers who are experimenting with the form. Take for example Ghaziabad-based cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Vikram Batra, who wrote his first book Perfekt Anger, in a style that can be called a fusion of poetry and prose.
The story, which is part science fiction, traces the tumultuous tale of the trials and tribulations of a young man, a medical student.
“My book is not just about anger, it captures the entire spectrum of human experience,” says Batra, who is currently working on a children’s book. This growing tribe of doctor-writers derive their stories from their own experiences in Indian hospitals, which they say are full of emotional drama.
Says Dr Kaveri Nambisan, the author of six critically acclaimed novels, including ‘The Story That Must Not Be Told’, which was shortlisted for The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2012.
“Every experience is a key to story-telling. Doctors are fortunate in being able to see life’s drama in its raw elements a lot of the time. We see people at their best and worst moments and this somehow helps the understanding of what life is all about,” says Nambisan, who works in a hospital in rural Karnataka.
But most of these doctors say their first love is medicine. “I’m a doctor first. I started writing when I was already established as a surgeon and I still work full-time. Having said that, the passion I have for writing matches my passion for medical and surgical work.
"So it’s a Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation since the two fields demand very different sensibilities. The two things common to both are discipline and an ability to take risks,” says Nambisan.