Reviews

‘Making Excellence a Habit: The Secret to Building a World-Class Healthcare System in India’ review: Always on call, a doctor’s life

The unravelling of a life well-known will rank among the more fascinating aspects of life for the curious. Imagine, as the person travels back in time, you get a ringside view, what a ride that could be. Dr. V. Mohan’s autobiography is all that, plus written in a style that engages you from start to finish.

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Swapping tales

It’s nearly breathless, the book, and it is charged with an energy that anyone who knows Dr. Mohan has come to understand. Harnessing the advantages of a non linear narration, he weaves in and out of several phases of his life, school classrooms, anatomy labs, the roads of Madras, car-shed clinics, hospital rooms, ICUs and glittering award ceremonies, through joy, failure, triumph, disaster, empathy, love and compassion. Armed with a prodigious memory, Dr. Mohan draws his readers willy-nilly into his life as it played out, providing details of what happened decades ago in such minutiae, these incidents and people emerge out of the pages of the book with a vitality that one expects only of the present. The book is a conversation he has with every reader, perhaps sitting across the table, enjoying a post-prandial session swapping stories, tales of the past, as time stands still around them.

But that is not all that he does. With every incident there is a lesson to be learnt, one that is not forced down the reader’s throat, but one that smacks of significance and replicability because of its lived value. The book seems part Tuesdays with Morrie, part The Monk who Sold his Ferrari — the best lessons on achievement and victory, failure or grief and joy are narrated with utter honesty, sincerity, and a deep desire to help others, but also clinched by a touch of the dramatic, even poetic. The story itself begins with one such episode, (prologue) as a taste of things to come. It is a classic introduction scene, one the best of writers struggle with — all the key dramatis personae in his life are introduced, at a nearly dreamy event marking a significant achievement, it establishes the character of the protagonist in two-and-a-half pages, and sets out the purpose of the book. No wonder then that readers are tempted to immerse themselves in the subsequent pages of charming prose, and some poetry too indeed.

High standards

While Dr. Mohan’s relationships with his wife Rema, family, staff members and spiritual guru give us a sense of his character, his interactions with peers and colleagues highlight high standards of professionalism and healthy competitiveness, but it is in his relationship with patients that this book has a million lessons for young doctors. Not all the learning in the world, or the intimate knowledge of clinical practice can confer on a doctor a good bedside manner, or empathy. It’s a natural trait, one he possesses in abundance. The joy he feels at every decimal point knocked off an HbA1c reading, the celebration of every year of living without kidney disease, the kindness that allows an elderly mother to pass on peacefully in a hospital room, the disappointment at the loss of a life — that is not easy to tell. That itself, that sharing, makes this book a valuable addition to your bookshelf, and life.

Making Excellence a Habit: The Secret to Building a World-Class Healthcare System in India; V. Mohan, Penguin Random House, ₹699.

ramya.kannan@thehindu.co.in


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