“I learnt that passion was not akin to happiness. Passions can be changed; so can ambitions. It’s the environmental circumstances that guide passion and ambition. To chase personal targets may not lead to a fulfilled life; one has to re-target.”
The Reluctant Doctor is Dr Balesh Jindal’s debut in the world of English literature. Dr Jindal shares a lifetime of memories and experiences in this inspiring book, following four decades of clinical practice. Stories seeped in the superstitions of a rural populace. And how their blind faith in the village quacks and voodoo doctors had disastrous consequences.
The book begins with an exploration of the author’s life as she steps out of her medical training as a fully formed, yet reluctant, doctor. At 25 years of age, her young mind is dreaming of a posh pediatric residency in London. But seized in the whirlwind of her father’s love and aspirations, she gives up her dreams to face the challenges of a rural practice close to home.
It is refreshing to witness such unapologetic acceptance of one’s privilege and naivete in a memoir. Readers may be inclined to think that Dr Jindal had no reason to be ‘reluctant’ or unhappy. But the author owns it. Allowing the reader to grieve for quashed aspirations and unfulfilled dreams. Telling us it is okay to hurt if circumstances force us to give up on our dreams.
Dr Jindal invites the reader to cast a critical eye on the big fat Indian family system. The book explores difficult subjects like approved medical practices, physical and sexual abuse, and gender discrimination. It is shocking to witness her scratch the surface of normalcy and probe into that which is unpleasant.
The most significant aspect of the book is how the author brings rural living to life. The story seems to arc outwards from one point on the map: Dr Jindal’s clinic. And from the clinic, the good doctor gives the reader a whole panoramic view of the rural setting, the people, the society, and the country at large.
How they change, how globalization and westernization impact the youth. How politico-economic changes affect the lives of people at the very grassroots in such colossal ways.
Although reluctant in the beginning, the book takes the reader on her journey as a General Physician in a nowhere village as she changes the lives of her patients by treating not only their physical diseases but solving their psychological, marital, and adolescent issues.
The only aspect in which the book falls short is its overall structure. Transitions within chapters are abrupt, jarring the reader out of the narrative and interrupt the pace of the book. The Kindle Unlimited version is poorly formatted and hampers the reading experience. The publishers must fix this soon; it could lower the ratings of an undoubtedly brilliant book.
At the very beginning of the book, Dr Jindal has raised a question – how much compassion is good enough?
And throughout the book, the reader is called to consider and answer this question repeatedly. For a doctor who comes into contact with such a vast pool of people and human nature, at its best and its worst, how does one keep their sanity, their emotions in check? One wonders what all comes under the umbrella of a doctor’s responsibility? Did she really need to go above and beyond her role as a GP to bring change into the lives of her patients? What is a doctor supposed to do when confronted with a patient whose abuser stands unrepentant beside them?
How much compassion is good enough?
Dr Jindal says in the book, “there are bars and graphs to measure economic data but there is no gauge to measure happiness of families, hopes and hopelessness, dreams and failures, and desperation of people.”
Let this book be a gauge of this intangible yet highly significant measurement of the gap between ignorance and understanding, between pain and healing.
I recommend this book to everyone who loves medicine, memoirs and is interested in knowing the struggles of a rural practice. And how one doctor in the right place and the right time can change the lives of thousands of people.
Get your copy here:
- Remembrance - 7 Apr 2023
- Imitation Art - 18 Oct 2022
- How to be a Trainwreck at Relationships - 7 Oct 2022