‘Next Patient, Please’ by Dr Brijeshwar Singh offers stories that touch upon matters of life and death with unflinching truthfulness.
A writer, poet, theatre activist, and a leading orthopaedic surgeon based in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, Dr. Brijeshwar Singh was conferred with the U.P. Sangeet Natak Academy Award for the year 2020 by the Uttar Pradesh state government. In his new book ‘Next Patient, Please,’ Dr. Singh tells how patients are cured by humanism and healing touch as much as they are by medical acumen.
Dr. Singh fell in love with theatre during his days at New Delhi when a friend introduced him to the play ‘Tumhari Amrita,’ starring Farooq Sheikh and Shabana Azmi. When he came back to Bareilly, he established a theatre repertoire and named it Vinayak Rang Mandal (RVRM). In 2009, he built a black box theatre at Bareilly. The auditorium is called Windermere Theatre. Each year, Dr. Singh organizes the annual Windermere Theatre Festival at Bareilly. So far 13 editions of the festival have been organized.
In a world where truth can be stranger than fiction, ‘Next Patient, Please’ offers stories that touch upon matters of life and death with unflinching truthfulness. The book was recently launched in Delhi by the noted Indian actor Manav Kaul. Dr. Singh’s first book ‘In & Out of Theatres: Heart-Warming Vignettes beyond the Operation Theatre’ was released back in 2014.
In this interview, Dr. Brijeshwar Singh talks about his new book ‘Next Patient, Please,’ his writing process, the importance of humor in his life as well as in his writing, his love for theatre and the ability to don multiple hats.
Q. Tell us about your book ‘Next Patient, Please’. How did you conceive it?
A. To even imagine that my patients see me worthy enough to share their vulnerable moments, allowing me to become a medium, astonishes me. Striving to provide them with the best care possible is what my practice has been all about. But getting to hear their stories in exchange is my biggest motivation. That’s how the book was conceived.
Q. As a medical practitioner you would have had countless experiences to share and so how challenging was to handpick some and filter out the rest?
A. Written over the course of 4 years, I came across many special cases. From these chapters, there were some patients, whom I deeply connected with while the rest were just too memorable or bizarre to not include. Each chapter reflects upon the unique relationship of a patient and doctor, and so, it wasn’t very challenging in that sense. Being a doctor, I meet a number of patients every day who have their own stories. But the duties of a doctor, the long working hours and sometimes the dramatic, heart-wrenching patient encounters, are what led to each story.
Q. Some of the episodes in the book are very serious while some also offer an undercurrent of humor. How do you look at humor as a writer and also as a medical practitioner?
A. Life is always 50-50 for us doctors. On a Monday, a life saved makes us smile; the very next day, a life lost makes us want to give up on ourselves. Sometimes a patient’s death disturbs me even beyond imagination. But more often than not, I catch myself looking through the rainbow lens. The doctor-artist combination residing in me creates a rift. But it also equips me with the ability to look at everything, as if on a stage. And not even a hospital bed is ridden with misery 24/7. I have seen astounding people laugh through their pain, smile through their sorrows. So who am I to keep them from spreading it to my readers?
Q. Tell us about your writing process. How do you choose your subjects?
A. My philosophy as a writer is quite simple. Whenever I come across a special case I simply jot it down in my phone. I follow the case closely. And I write what I feel in the moment. Later on, these small drafts get compiled and polished and a new chapter is born. And, so, I do not choose my subjects. The subjects choose me.
Q. Your first book ‘In & Out of Theatres: Heart-Warming Vignettes from Beyond the Operation Theatre’ came out eight years back 2014. What took you so long to write your second?
A. The operation theatre is my ‘karm bhoomi’ and I achieved the best by involving myself personally into it. I am also a passionate theatre person. Just as how the operating room is my ‘karm bhoomi’, promoting Indian theatre is my soul. I had to take my profession and passion together. But it still did not satisfy me. I wanted to share pain and emotion of my people, my patients and my acquaintances. That’s how I came to write in the first place. And since my profession and passion take up much of my time, writing becomes cathartic to me. So I do it at my own pace, and hope for the best.
Q. You also write poetry and have had a long association with theatre as well. How do you balance your work and passion? What’s next on your mind?
A. When I am practicing medicine, I miss theatre and when I am at theatre I miss medicine; the fear of missing out constantly ticks in my brain. I can’t live without either. When you love something as much as I love theatre and writing, needing to balance your work and passion is no more a choice. It’s inherent in you, like a body clock. It tells you what to do and when to do. But I have never compromised medicine because of theatre or my writing. Medicine is above all for me and my first priority.
More responsibility falls on your shoulders once you start to get recognised like this, to do more for the society and to prove that you are really worthy of your name. The work I do in future will be directed towards helping the people of my city in more ways. Maybe even write another book from those experiences… you never know.
Q. What advice would you like to give to aspiring writers who are struggling to get published?
A. There are many writers that I admire including Paul Kalanithi, Abraham Verghese and Atul Gawande. All of them have one thing in common with me. All of them have written and continue to write about their own experiences from the medical field. The stories I write are a testimonial of the patients that have come and gone in my life throughout the 20 years of my medical profession. I am no expert in this field. I just write what I know best. And I don’t sit to write, believing that my books will become bestsellers one day. But writing from experience surely gives you an upper hand because there’s no one in this world who will write about your experiences better than yourself. But just how creative you get with those stories, is what truly makes a book stand out on the shelf.