Author and surgeon Kavery Nambisan, in a free-wheeling chat, talks about her latest novel The Story That Must Not Be Told, her work and her concerns for the country.

It is not every day that a doctor trades her scalpel for a pen. It is not often that we come across an author who wants to unite Bharat and India; and does so without shouting from the rooftops. Of course, it not very often when Kavery Nambisan, author and FRCS surgeon, comes to New Delhi to attend a school reunion and yet take time off to speak about her new novel, The Story that Must Not Be Told, which was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize. Excerpts from an interview:

How do you blend medicine and literature?

My relationship with words goes back to my school days. I've been reading since I was 12. Around the same time I started writing too though initially in Kannada. I had also decided pretty early in life to pursue medicine. So I've been enjoying both worlds from the beginning.

Bharat is being converted into ‘India' but actually both are drifting apart.

The problem is that nobody is serious about what is attempted. Both Bharat and India live side by side but we fail to recognise that. We don't want to confront reality. The moment we are inside the closed comfort zones, we switch off the stark realities of life. That is precisely what I have tried to explore in this novel. Most of us have complex personalities and the main character portrays it as he reflects over his life.

Your reaction to rubbing shoulders with Siddharth Shanghvi, Syjuco, and Yu Hua?

Oh, wonderful! Seriously speaking, it helped me a lot in improving and evolving. I found it very positive, a kind of constant learning. Regular criticism from the judges and important personalities was a part of learning process. As such, it is nice to be seen among famous people, sharing the limelight, isn't it?

Your take on medicos fighting hard to become overnight millionaires today?

To me, the problem lies within. We are all run by one mafia or the other. The system is like that. All of us are responsible for the ills: the Government, the medical fraternity, the bureaucrats and, of course, the politicians. I believe half the diseases responsible for deaths in villages are preventable. The solution is very simple: just focus on the basics. Personally, I have done it at the places where I have worked.

On paper, the compulsory rural practice for medicos sounds good but will it work?

The government health system is creaking. I still hope the people and the new generation will one day confront the system and the mindset. The constant pressure from different quarters, however small, will certainly bear fruit. There are people coming together. I am a member of one such body - Association of Rural Surgeons of India.

If you had to choose, would you choose medicine or literature?

Impossible to answer. In fact I was always worried about this question as I cannot leave either.

Is The Story that Must Not be Told a contrast between two worlds only revisited?

It is, but I tried to shape and build my character who is a widower. And there is Sitara that becomes a character itself. To me Sitara is as disturbing as it is interesting. I have tried to find out what Sitara thinks of my hero, Simon. I was wondering if the media would react sharply but to my amazement it turned out otherwise.

You bring affordable treatment to poor. Who will bring low cost books to children?

The exorbitant cost is criminal but this is not the job of printing industry because that is business. Abroad, governments have solved this through chain of libraries. We can also do it here.

Often novels have sexual anecdotes. Is it a necessity?

If we deal with the realistic characters of our society then a writer can not shirk the basic traits. But ‘sexual content' should not be used as a gimmick.


Sunday MagazineJune 28, 2012

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