Book Review: The Night Theatre by Dr Vikram Paralkar

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I started reading this book on a relaxed Saturday night just before going to bed, only to find that the first few pages of this book had chased my sleep away. The book introduces you to an elderly doctor, who has been banished from the city and is now running a rural medical clinic in a far-flung village. One night, when he is about to retire to bed after a hectic day manning a vaccination drive; a man, a woman, and their young son turn up at his door with an unusual request. On further conversation, the strangers reveal that they were grievously injured on their way back from a fair and lost their lives. Yes, these three are ghosts! Their only shot at resuming their previous lives is if the doctor can surgically treat their wounds over that one single night. The events that follow form the crux of the novel.

The language and syntax of the book are an anatomist and surgeon’s delight due to the author’s detailed and vivid description of the anatomical landmarks and human physiology applied by the doctor while surgically treating his three patients. For the same reasons, non-medicos reading this book may find it a bit tedious and difficult to follow in parts.

I personally found this book an engaging read due to the unique storyline. From the surface, when you start reading, you tend to think that this book belongs to the thriller or horror genre. But as you dive deeper, you realize that the author’s intent is to raise certain age-old philosophical debates that have been haunting medical professionals for years. Foremost, among these is the lack of accessibility to quality medical supplies in villages and how rural doctors are forced to compromise while tending to patients. We see the protagonist using his own hard-earned money to buy antibiotics for patients and yet, receive scant support from his supervising officer.

As we become more closely acquainted with the protagonist and learn about his dark past; we are forced to reflect on whether; “Doctors are capable of always being infallible while treating patients?”  And suppose they fail, “ How harshly do they deserve to be punished for failures?

For the story’s protagonist, the answers to these questions are particularly heartbreaking, as he has no clarity on whether a mistake on his side caused a patient to lose his life or he was wrongly framed by a jealous colleague.

But the thought that resonated the most with me is whether as doctors, we really should try to save patients in all circumstances, no matter what price they may for the gift of life. As the protagonist struggles to suture the wounds of his three patients, he cannot help but wonder whether it is appropriate for him to help them return to life. As health professionals, we too often encounter patients with terminal illnesses and wonder to which point is it fair to give them hope. For those of us grappling with these life-and-death questions, this book is a therapeutic read.

I think it gave me the understanding that sometimes death is inevitable, despite all our efforts.

I would recommend the book to anyone with even a slight philosophical bent of mind, as it will enable you to explore the relationship between Medicine and Death in a wholly different way!

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About the author

Dr.Nikhita Gune is a qualified pediatric and preventive dentist, currently working at NH SRCC Children's Hospital, Mumbai.She is also a consultant at various private dental clinics and charitable trusts across Mumbai. She maintains her own blog on oral healthcare of children on a popular parental guidance website. A bibliophile right from childhood, being a writer has always been her dream.

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