26 March 2022
“Autobiographies are not so different from auto-rides” says Mr. Zac O’Yeah, bringing the audience to a hush and some scattered laughter. At seven in the evening, the street lamps are just beginning to light up on Church Street and the cool summer evening has drawn out a crowd comprising mainly teenagers in their clackity heels and heavy Bangalorean-chatter. At The Bookworm, just a hundred metre walk from the MG road metro station exit, the vibe is quite the opposite. There’s a certain poise in the crowd that has assembled, voices are low and a lot of pleases and thank-yous.
A small wooden table is stacked with fresh milky blue paperbacks of Dr. Kavery Nambisan’s soon-to-be launched A Luxury Called Health: A Doctor’s Journey. If one had to look Mr. Zac O’Yeah, just as he is, without the context of a book launch one might assume one was at a Steve Irwin cosplay. His canvas-coloured Bermuda shorts and Panama hat are a sharp contrast to Dr. Nambisan sitting across him, whose rose linen kurta and white dupatta conceal a glossy Chanel classic flap at her side.
The surgeon-novelist (a hyphenation that that has expanded itself into 389 pages of story that took almost two years to complete) is finally attending the book launch of her first non-fiction release, A Luxury Called Health: A DOCTOR’S JOURNEY THROUGH THE ART, THE SCIENCE AND THE TRICKERY OF MEDICINE.
After a host of novels that Dr. Nambisan has written over the years — telling stories and spinning characters out of her imagination, there is one character the author has confessed she has considered the most unimportant and least noteworthy- herself. It tells the story of Dr. Kavery Nambisan, the graduate from St. John’s Medical College, the UK resident, the Patna based surgeon and finally wife of Vijay Nambisan the poet, who fought his battle against cancer. This is the story as the author has seen, observed and lived.
O’ Yeah justifies his rather startling statement, which, as the audience will come to understand, is very on brand with his bangalorean sense of humour. His explanation is that the auto-rides take you to multiple places before you reach the end. Luxury indeed takes us through multiple phases of Nambisan’s life; whether it forgives his pun, we don’t know as yet.
A career that was largely dedicated to serving rural life in Patna sounds a lot more thrilling than Nambisan gives off from her demeanour. In a region where dacoity and crime mixed with ordinary life in a homogenous composition of calm and fear, Dr. Nambisan found her calling treating gunshot and knife wounds along with other trivial surgeries that she performed during a work day. “You learn because you have to.” Patna trains to the city were notorious for crime and theft so much so that even the seats had been ripped out of the metal frames. It was in these travelling conditions that Vijay Nambisan and she would attempt to make an evening out of the days she had off. “I would surrender every piece of jewellery on my person and Vijay would never let me carry cash.”
Mr. Zac O’Yeah briefly steps away from the topic of her book to ask her a different question. As an author of thrillers and fiction himself, he wants to know if Nambisan finds the medical fallacies vexing, like those related to impossible recoveries from or fabricated tragedies that result in survival. (“But does it frustrate you to see some rather ridiculous situations concocted by other fiction writers?”)
“Very rarely. I love a racy thriller. Of course my expertise will sometimes point out some obvious mistakes or unrealistic descriptions, but that doesn’t hinder my reading experience in any way.”
The switch from fiction to non-fiction was painfully personal in places where she had to write about fighting for and losing the person she loved the most – her husband, the poet and journalist Mr. Vijay Nambisan. For Dr. Nambisan, her extensive anatomical knowledge proved to counter any usefulness because it overfed her imagination of what the cancerous growth was doing to her husband’s body. She could not interfere in another doctor’s diagnosis because she knew how frustrating it was when patient’s relatives tried to intervene. Her husband knew about her book and had offered to illustrate for it at the very beginning, when her book was nowhere close to completion.
Some in attendance are here as a tribute to Mr. Nambisan himself. Talking about him makes Mrs. Kamini Mahadevan, a retired editor for Penguin Publishers bring out a delicate sense of nostalgia in her. She worked closely with Mr. Nambisan, editing a lot of his collections until her retirement in 1990.
The audience’s question segment introduces into the discussion a lot about the current situation in the medical professional world. The pandemic, Dr. Nambisan hopes, has taught people common sense. She also points to the lack of role models in medical colleges today; it’s one of the primary factors to why corruption is so deep rooted in the private sector of the healthcare industry right now.
What started off as a task from her publishers with a looming deadline soon became an auto-ride to visit her past lives and with it a rush of memories, the good, the bad and the ugly.
After a long book signing queue, I am able to meet with her and talk. From there I learn that the cover illustration which features a caricatured Nambisan poring over a doctor’s chart in a room full of patients was the publisher’s idea.
When a final question from the audience is put forward about the process of reminiscing and taking note of the thoughts that come to mind when writing such a memoir- Dr. Nambisan simply responds, “A part of me is just happy to be done with it”
Latest posts by Zoe Philip (see all)
- Kavery Nambisan’s non-fiction debut probes the conundrums of healthcare - 6th August 2022