Racy medical thriller
Reviewed by Cookie Maini

The Scalpel: Game Beneath
by H. S. Rissam.
Rupa. Pages 321. Rs 195.

The Scalpel: Game BeneathTHE genre of Indo-Anglian writing has catapulted to the international literary map from its post-colonial mode with many authors like Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth and Aravind Adiga bagging coveted national and international awards. From being a curious smattering of native explosion in the days of yore, Indian English has become a new form of Indian culture, a voice in which India speaks and the world listens, owing to the massive profusion of Indian English writing in the international market.

Dr H.S. Rissam, an interventional cardiologist, has added his rendition to this growing repertoire, filling in the lacuna in Indo-Anglian writing of medifiction, somewhat on the lines of Robin Cook’s thrillers.

The Scalpel: Game Beneath is set against a backdrop of his medicinal environs and traipsing across continents Paris, Istanbul, Chicago, Sydney and New York, he calls it the first "medifiction" in South Asia.

The novel opens in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, where Rashid Khan meets with Nambiar. Interestingly, the story then races on to New York, London and Paris. Besides spanning several continents within a few pages, the book simultaneously spans across years, as the author retraces the protagonist’s meteoric rise from Chhapra in Bihar to Champs Elysees in Paris. Within this reconstruction of Rashid Khan’s life, he has woven in the text his stay at Patna Sahib Gurdwara as well as subtly extolling some virtues of Sikh philosophy like the philanthropic aspects like ‘langar’.

Unpredictability and excitement are laced throughout the book. In the chapter Cardiac Cath Lab to Kabul, the doctor has used his niche area as Dr Tejwani facilitates an airlift for the protagonist from Kabul in an air ambulance; for which there would be a quid pro quo of establishing the Med World Hospital network in the oil-rich states. Through the excitement of the modus operandi of the eviction Rashid Khan out of Kabul, the author’s subtle barbs at how doctors facilitate their own networking evinces: "I will ask the Indian Ambassador in Kabul to get us a suitable place, particularly in the suburbs where it will be easy for you to move him in and out quietly, along with his personal guards. The Indian Ambassador in Kabul, like many other foreign-service chaps, is obliged to me. I operated on his father without charging a single penny. I transferred that bill to our Poor Patients Welfare Fund. The ambassador will be on his head over heels to do anything for me because his socialite wife, the night-butterfly, is now pestering me to operate on her mother this month, free of any charges. That is how we help the mankind and the mankind helps us in return. ..."

Throughout the book, the language in the text is simplistic. The read is most engrossing as he has a good insight into Delhi’s glitterati and his reconstruction is so realistic that one can identify such persona on Page 3 of metro newspapers. Similarly, his character of Nona Lal can be easily identified on Delhi’s social circuit: "At midnight she woke up with the solution to her turmoil. During sleep her brain had computed the data, fed in the questions marks, gone to recall mode, till it had accessed the time frame `85 ."

This intriguing, absorbing and unusual novel criss-crosses continents four people—a pretty princess, a dreaded don, a noble physician and the opposite his arch rival. A late spur with multiple threads of love, lust, deceit and scandal with warp as high society and the weft the medical arena. The hospital in the hub where the clandestine transactions are taking place, organs and tissues are sold as per the commercial demand of the wealthy patients from Europe, America and oil-rich Arab countries. Under the garb of medical tourism, a part of the hospital is being used as a haven for terrorists.

The chapter Organ Trade shows the callousness, avarice and manipulative pursuits of those who are adherents of the noble ideals of the Hippocratic Oath. The plan, as it unfolds and is implemented, sends shivers down one’s spine and one wonders if a similar thought processes occurs in the minds of those one trusts with one’s life.

Quite obviously, the author has gleaned this information from his long stint in the medical profession. Apparently, beneath the veneer of these plush hospitals with their ‘state-of-the-art gizmos’ and clusters of medical expertise, there are seedy, ambitious, mercenary and barbaric individuals.

As we approach the end of the book, the author enumerates the lists of the organs removed and the sales transactions. These gory details exacerbate the revulsion for the architect of this scandalous business. The characters have been crafted with such dexterity that besides fervently loathing the villains, we feel that they are probably lurking somewhere amidst us. Essentially, the book is an expose on the medical profession and the glitterati of society in the metropolis, so it must be read.