Thursday, 28 December 2017

Book conversations: The Nanologues

The Nanologues
Vanessa Able
Hachette India, 2013

If I were to tell you that somebody bought a Tata Nano car... you are likely to react by saying, 

Why!! Of all the things...

If I were to add that that somebody went on a round-trip of India in the Nano... 

Whaaaat!! No way...!

And if I were to add that that somebody happens to be a woman... 

Gettouttaa here...!

And... this gets better... that somebody is a British woman; a foreigner who has no driving experience in India... 

Aaaaargh!!! [while jumping up and down in disbelief and banging your head against the wall...]

That's just what this is about: a single white woman on a trek around India in a Tata Nano car, and somehow completing the journey to tell her tale. 

In this engaging account, Vanessa Able combines statistics, politics, culture, lack of road etiquette/discipline/decorum/courtesy that is all too familiar an Indian trait, and of course, the experience of driving a Nano which is symbolic of India's economic rise. 

Or at least it was, when it was first launched. It has since lost its place in the arch-lights in the wake of other brand innovations.  

To be fair to Nano, this review is four years too late.  In this period, the leading car maker, Maruti has come up with its own technological marvel that is holding sway currently: Maruti Celerio - the gearless wonder, which I happen to drive currently.  And I can vouch for the ease of driving experience of the Celerio (but not the lofty fuel efficiency that the company claimed at the time of its launch). 

The AMT gear technology of Celerio has caught on so well that Maruti has forced other companies to include this in their own models.  Tata Nano recently has followed suit recently.  Also, Nano is no longer available as the Rs-one-lakh car; all of its variants are now priced above two lakhs. 

This book is also about driving, and the exasperating experience that driving is in India. In a reverse of Able's experience, I have driven for eight years in various parts of the UK during my days in the NHS - sometimes up to 100 miles in a day - and I can fully empathise with her predicament.  

The difference in driving experience in between the two countries is the same that exists between chalk and cheese.  Don't even try to understand the absence of any road-virtue in our culture, although I did make an attempt to address this issue in Angst.

Able's love for the Nano is evident throughout the book, whom she personifies by naming 'her'.  This is essentially a road-book, akin to a road-movie; if that's the genre that appeals to you, then this is right up your street...!

I hate driving on our roads... but it is really awe-inspiring that somebody 'enterprising in a good way' such as Able has taken the bull by its horn and survived - if you leave out a few bumps and scratches. 

Therefore, it gives me immense pleasure in saying that Vanessa was Able to fulfil her Abhilasha before saying Tata to India...  Sorry, couldn't resist that one...!

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Sunday, 3 December 2017

Book conversations: Fatal Margin

Fatal Margin
Umanath Nayak
Hachette India 2014

I had written about how rare it is to find a fellow doctor-writer, given the fact that doctors have to surrender themselves to their demanding schedules and recalcitrant patients.  Not only have I, through the course of my diverse readings, managed to unearth a gynaecologist-writer, but now I have discovered a surgeon-writer! 

And if the said writer happens to be a relative of a doctor colleague/family friend, the curiosity level reaches a new high. 

Fatal Margin, therefore, was a highly fascinating prospect for me; more so because Dr Umanath Nayak attempts to do the unthinkable: enter the realm of Robin Cook and churn out a medical thriller.  While this in itself is an admirable undertaking, Dr Nayak also manages to add to the premise such ill-discussed issues as medical-political-corporate intrigues, and nepotism and corruption in the medical world. 

The result is a heady mixture of medical protocols and statistics, political manoeuvring, and courtroom drama.  Dr Nayak utilises his considerable surgical oncology expertise to etch a character called Veer Raghavan who is an ambitious surgeon looking to establish the foremost cancer centre in the country.  In the process, he circumvents a few rules and rubs a few powerful people the wrong way, and courts trouble.  Rather, trouble takes him to the court! 

How he manages to save face and emerge victorious in the face of seemingly insurmountable evidence against him, is what the story, leading up to the climax is all about.  

More than the thriller and mystery elements, to me, the standout feature of the story is the courtroom debate about what constitutes truthful and untruthful, acceptable and unacceptable, and ethical and unethical practice of medicine. 

Is it alright to overlook a few medical errors for the sake of the larger good of society?  Is evidence-based medicine superior to and preferable to value-based medicine?  Dr Nayak tackles these issues, which fall within the medicolegal grey area, admirably.   

Lay readers can look forward to an introduction to medical jargon and standard medical practice.  Fatal Margin is a valuable addition to the cause of Indian medical-fiction.   

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