Shirahatti recounts tales from his career as a Mumbai, India–based surgeon in the mid-1970s in this debut memoir.
When the author showed up on his first day as a surgical house officer at Mumbai’s Sion Hospital, he had no idea what lay in store for him. The personalities among his colleagues were big and numerous: Dr. Praful “the Prof” Joshi, who “chew[ed] iron nails and residents for breakfast”; Sister Georgina Thomas, a nurse who loved patients and hated new residents; the triage-obsessed Dr. Vilas; and the wisecracking resident Prakash. In the surgical ward, members of all classes of Mumbai society cycled in and out in an endless dance of life and death. The author was forced to shed many preconceived notions of what it meant to administer aid while simultaneously opening himself up to the rawness of humanity in its many forms. (The author would quickly be nicknamed “Guru” by his colleagues for his “expert advice.”) Once, he writes, he was nearly stabbed by a gang member for not administering to a dead man; another time, he sewed up a suspected rapist despite the anger of a mob. At one point, he writes, a colleague said that a patient was “waiting for the train to Guntakal”—a euphemism for being on one’s deathbed (“Who would want to go there?” asked Prakash). Throughout this memoir, Shirahatti writes in the formal yet easily readable prose of an experienced raconteur, which highlights the wryness and frequently dark humor of some stories. The lighter moments are offset by moments of probity, and the sincere affection that Shirahatti has for his colleagues is apparent. At fewer than 150 pages, the book makes a quick read. This works in its favor, as does its setting—the Mumbai of an earlier era—which will be unfamiliar to many readers. Although this book is not quite at the level of Richard Hooker (of MASH fame), Shirahatti presents surgery from an appealingly irreverent point of view that calls to mind larger questions about how significant, solid, or indispensable any of us really are.
A charming, well-crafted memoir of an Indian doctor.