She was fashionable and rich. She wore stilettos and danced at the latest clubs and had dreams of going to London to become a famous paediatrician. But her destiny was elsewhere — in the dusty little village of Kapashera. This is a compelling and honest memoir of a young doctor who had to give up her dreams to face the challenges of a rural practice. She goes on to change the lives of her patients by treating not only their physical diseases but solving their psychological, marital, and adolescent issues. In four decades of her practice, the author watched as India woke up to globalisation, and the new farmland wealth that exposed the highs and lows of human behaviour. There are horrific stories of the villagers’ superstitious beliefs and blind faith in the village quacks and voodoo doctors, with disastrous consequences. Yet there is joy, celebration, and hope amidst despair. Each story is part of a thirty-eight-year unhurried journey that holds you spellbound as you turn the pages.
A graduate from Lady Hardinge Medical College, Dr Balesh Jindal has practised medicine for the last thirty-eight years. She has been a pioneer in providing a one-stop health facility at low cost and single-handedly changing the mortality rates for the children in Kapashera. Her work in treating Tuberculosis and HIV is well documented. She has been the recipient of the Award for Compassion by Stanford University’s Centre of Compassion. BBC has also featured her work The Most Compassionate Day in the World. In addition to her outstanding achievements as a Doctor, Jindal is also an accomplished artist, poet and badminton player.
Every memoir tells a personal story but does every memoir serve as a social commentary that gets straight to your heart?
When I put down the incredibly interesting memoir, The Reluctant Doctor by Dr. Balesh Jindal, this was the thought foremost in my head. Every life is unique and special but the lives of doctors, specially sincere, dedicated ones, are invaluable to a large cross-section of people, particularly those who live in underserved areas in India.
This wonderful memoir recounts the professional life as well as personal thoughts of Dr. Balesh Jindal who couldn’t fulfill her dreams of a doctor’s life abroad but instead served the people who needed her the most, the rural population of the village of Kapashera (and it’s neighbors) for almost four decades.
Most medical memoirs are written from the point of view of the patient, but in this one, we have a General Practitioner who finds herself with a clinic in a farm owned by her father. The good doctor is not too keen initially to follow the path laid out for her because it meant giving up on the life she had envisioned for herself. As the story unfolds, through the eyes of the patients as well as the burgeoning experience and wisdom of Dr. Balesh herself, you see the wisdom and foresight of her father who gently guided her to a life of service.
The memoir is an honest recollection of the typical difficulties faced by a young, solitary woman doctor trying to provide for the needs of a largely illiterate and gullible patient pool many of whom are cheated by local quacks and faith healers. As Dr. Balesh learns to stitch broken fingers and limbs, provide gynecological services to village women and attend to a variety of common but deadly diseases exacerbated by ignorance and blind faith, she also learns how to communicate with her patients so that they can not just be treated but also learn about nutrition and hygiene.
Dr. Balesh keenly observes the subtle and not-so-subtle changes in her patients as first globalization and then quick money obtained by families that sold their farms to make way for modern-day Gurgaon enters into her rural practice. From simple problems that were solved through education, good nutrition and access to basic health care services, the focus changed to the negative impact of lack of activity, easy money and exposure to drugs and other harmful behaviors.
Parts of the narrative are shocking and heart-wrenching but there are stories of miracles as well. It will be difficult for any reader to walk away from this book without being affected by the many truths that are shared with honest and simple storytelling.
My opinion: Socio-economic problems cannot be solved by one person but each one of us can make a difference in the lives of those who cross our paths. Read Dr. Balesh’’s book for a practical lesson about how one person found her purpose by dedicating her life to the service of others despite entering into it reluctantly.
Question 1: Do you have a formal background in writing?
No, I don’t have any formal training in writing although I have been writing since I was nine or ten years old. I regularly published my poems and short stories in journals and magazines.
Question 2: What came first? The idea for the book or the material?
I was lucky that I didn’t have to search for any material. It was always there, goading me to write. Since my book has true stories about my patients and how the economic changes affected families and the disease pattern, I had enough material.
Question 3: How did the idea to write this book originate? Did you come up with it or was it in response to some event?
A few years into my medical practice, I realized that the lives and times of the rural people needed to be told and heard. The incidents and the difficulties faced by them made me uncomfortable and I knew that I had to write a book about them.
Question 4: How do you classify your book – memoir or something else? Who/what were your primary motivations for writing this book?
My book The Reluctant Doctor is classified as a memoir although there is not much about me in the book. The original title of the book was GP Diaries which describes the book more aptly.
The motivation to write the book was extremely strong and I lay awake many a night. I had my material and my stories but had no time to write because of my busy practice.
Question 5: Did you write parts of this book in parallel as events transpired or much later?
There were events that disturbed and discomfited me. I made notes of some events as they happened but the book was written in its entirety in one and a half years. I referred to those notes at times.
Question 6: How long did it take from start to finish for the book?
I wrote for eight hours a day every single day for one year. The editing took another six months. The year was when Covid struck and the world came to a stop. The loss of close friends and relatives was disturbing and I wrote as it kept my mind away from sadness.
Question 7: How did you organise the chapters – did you write chronologically or at random and then pieced them together?
No, I wrote as and when any idea wanted to be written. I organized the chapters chronologically much later, at the editing stage.
Question 8: Were you inspired by other similar books before choosing this narrative style?
I had most of my material and even the headings of the chapters in my head. I did get inspired by a book which I read by default as it was in my daughters college reading list and she needed my help for a project. I realized that the story was very similar to mine. It’s called Mountains beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.
Question 9: How did you decide what goes in and what stays out?
Now that’s the most difficult part for any author especially who is writing a memoir. I had twice as many stories to write about but my publisher gave me a strict word limit. I was also sure that I didn’t want my book to be repetitive, self congratulatory, bitter or wallowing. A lot of writing that came under these categories so it was easy to cull these parts.
Question 10: What was the easy part?
Easiest part was the writing, no doubt. I would write in a hop skip and a jump.
Question 11: What was the difficult part?
The most difficult part comes after one finishes the book. Take my word for it. The editing and negotiating with the editor begging for certain words and phrases that need to be in the book. Finding the right publisher as one is full of doubts if one is signing one’s baby with the right one. The nightmare starts after the book is published. The marketing. It’s a war that a few can win.
Question 12: What was your path to publication? Did you have an agent?
No, I didn’t go through an agent. I sent my manuscript directly to publishers till I got acceptance from a respected publisher.
Question 13: Did you learn any lessons – during writing and after publication of your book – any surprising or unusual takeaways?
Marketing and asking for reviews. I realized that book marketing was another entity of a business model.
Question 14: What is the one thing you want the reader to remember from the book?
Passions are not akin to happiness. Even if oneself in less than perfect situations just adjust the lens and one can see another rainbow.
Question 15. Any words of advice to aspiring writers?
Anything that you write has to be from the heart. If it doesn’t rip your heart open, it won’t do anything to the readers too.
Question 16: Would you recommend any similar books by Indian authors?
When Breath Becomes Air
Book is available for sale at: The Reluctant Doctor: Stilettos to Stethoscope-True Stories from inside a Clinic https://amzn.eu/d/h4IJ26L
The author can be contacted at: