The author is a truly amazing doctor, a surgeon, and a writer of fiction. But many doctors write fiction, the most famous of course being Chekov, who I just discovered was not Russian, but Ukrainian, like Tchaikovsky. But unlike Chekov and most clinicians like Oliver Sacks, who mine their case histories for stories, Kavery Nambisan has a deep appreciation of the need for public health. I had the opportunity to meet her two years back as she organized the Vijay Nambisan memorial lecture at the Bangalore International Centre. The lecture was delivered by my friend Dr Amar Jesani, editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics. It was titled ‘From Conflict to Cooperation: Redefining Healthcare’. I was asked to moderate the discussion, and Kavery Nambisan very graciously gifted me a copy of her late husband Vijay Nambisan’s collections. He died tragically young.
Amar Jesani, in that lecture, pointed out many structural features of the Indian economy, society and health system, that made the practice of ethical medical care almost impossible. Reading A Luxury Called Health, I see how strikingly similar some of Nambisan’s concerns are, above all the quest for equity and justice. But this is a remarkable memoir, and not a lecture. It is the story of a small-town girl in Nehruvian India indeed, but in Karnataka. Her story echoes also the history of Karnataka till the last two decades, although this is not covered in the book.