'The Long Road' is the debut novel of Dr. Vivek Banerjee who also writes on Rediff blogs where he is known as Ben. It is a tale of doctors, by a doctor but by no means exclusively for doctors.
The protagonists are all doctors who are studying to acquire higher qualifications. That the good doctor is a Hindi movie buff is amply clear given the mention of a famous water tank scene from an iconic movie. Two of his protagonists are namesakes of actors - Dr. Rahul Roy (remember the 'Aashiqui' guy?) and Dr. Priyanshu Chatterjee (remember the doe-eyed chap from 'Tum Bin'?) It is another matter that yours truly feels that the 'Tum Bin' guy can fit into the role of the super sleuth - Feluda - a creation of the versatile genius Satyajit Ray, provided he lost some weight and underwent a makeover. But I digress.
The book feels good to hold; the language flows smoothly and at only 176 pages makes for a breezy read. The chapters are short... much like the pages of a diary... and give the impression that one is reading the book faster than one actually is. However, some tighter editing would help keep the printer's devil at bay and make the journey smoother.
'The Long Road' tells the story of 5 residents with high ideals, passion, and energy... in a difficult and demanding profession. Each has a different motivation to choose this profession and the area of specialization. The story talks about how these 5 young doctors face several trials and tribulations to fight a constant battle against diseases and death of patients... while winning some and losing some and the subsequent psychological highs and the mental lows associated with them. There are romantic subplots yet it attempts to bring out the lives of people who are regarded as God's representatives on earth - but who are actually only too human, with families, lives, dreams and emotions of their own. So, if you think doctors remain unaffected by their 'cases' errr 'subjects' (remember Munna Bhai MBBS?) - think again.
All the blood and gore of operations fade away while they rejoice in the heady feeling of having conducted their first surgery. A joy felt by non-medicos too. For a techie it is having completed a project or the first product release, for example.
The fact that the author himself belongs to the medical fraternity gives him the edge to write authoritatively and knowledgeably about procedures and diagnosis while using the right medical terminology. To his credit he does all that in a language simple enough for a non-medico like me to understand and does not overwhelm the reader with medical jargon. TLR gives us a peep into the world of doctors - a glimpse of the pressures of being in a medical college and the long and grueling hours - studying and working - that doctors need to dedicate... to be an expert in their respective fields. It certainly makes our respect for the people in the white coat go up a few notches.
The first 60-70 odd pages where the characters were introduced and subsequent events narrated are quite well done. Thereafter the plot turns a bit too simplistic, too pristine, too clinical, and too antiseptic. Blame it on Dr. Banerjee's profession! *wink* And titles like 'A surprise encounter', 'An unpleasant encounter', 'Prof. Patil to the rescue'; 'An unexpected shock', 'Hina gives up' just kills the suspense and dilutes the interest. Which is not done. There is even an 'All is well'. The perfectionist Khan would be happy, for sure!
The latter part of TLR gives a feeling that the author was trying to attempt a Karan Johar gharana with this book. Everything is picture perfect and well choreographed. Difficult times and times of distress included. Ummm... very KJo-ish I would say. The American dream is too clichéd and there is no surprise element as to why it no longer remains a dream/turns into a nightmare for Dr. Sagarika. Her reaction when she 'finds out' is very, very filmy and one fails to sympathize with her 'naïveté'. Actually TLR reminded me of 'Dill Mill Gayye' - a TV serial (on Star One) that follows the lives of interns and resident doctors of Sanjeevani. And 'Sanjeevani' is the name of a hospital in the book and the prequel to 'Dill Mill Gayye'!
Much like the serial, the book starts off with the introduction of 5 residents. Dr. Rahul Roy, son of Brigadier Roy is the happy-go-lucky type who has been dumped after a nearly 5-year romance by Dr. Sarika Mehra. Dr. Roy is traveling to Mumbai and Grant Medical College with a mission. Dr. Sarika is ambitious, focused and totally career oriented, or so she thinks. Dr. Hina Sheikh is a misfit... coming as she does from a lower middle class family living in a one roomed house above a mosque in the bylanes of Bhiwandi. Dr. Ranjiv Pathak is the total opposite - very upper class and a rebel without a cause who too is on a mission in Grant Medical College, Mumbai. We do not get much info on the 5th resident - Dr. Sagarika Ghosh except that she isn't very ambitious, belongs to a middle class family and has an American dream. She appears intermittently in the plot... and mostly through her emails.
Does opposites attract? Sure it does! Much like 'Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Naa'. Yet they all manage to remain friends. Which is fine.
What I was unable to understand is how Irfaan - Hina's elder Bhaijaan - barely literate and working in a local cotton loom is able to support her through medical college. While we are told that the family lived in a one-room house above a mosque and barely managed to make ends meet. Perhaps an education loan or a grant from some trust may have sounded more credible. [On page 22 we get to know that Irfaan who volunteered to pay Hina's tuition fee for four and half years of medical college - MBBS - had just started working. While on page 21 we read that he is married as well. Errr... did I miss something?]
Hina's quick transformation is believable but her reaction after her Bhaijaan's outburst is very Bollywoodish. We find that she did not go home for several months... to avoid facing her family... who would have justifiably been shocked at her metamorphosis. But apparently the siblings have been very close all their life. So, it is strange that Irfaan discovers her one fine day riding pillion with her 'good friend' while it never occurs to him to pay his beloved younger sister a visit in so many months!
That a family like that with rigid thoughts, values (Hina walked to her school covered from head to toe in a Burkha), little education and whose head of the family worked as a Maulvi in a mosque - calling the faithful for prayers five times a day - accepts Hina's decision without much ado (read: without any equal and opposite reaction) is (according to moi) akin to 'golper goru gache choreche' as they say in Bengali. Meaning: Cow in stories climb trees as well. That is, too much of a fairy tale or too far-fetched and very hypothetical to be true.
The book has some witty dialogues and the description of the goings on in the OT do not tax the brain - which is a feat in itself, but the drama, conflicts, surprise elements - to hold your attention - are underdone. They end quite abruptly and too quickly... leaving you biting into a somewhat soggy biscuit while expecting it to be crunchy.
Baba Ramdev finds a mention and so does Dr. Ben... perhaps taking a leaf out of Subhash Ghai's book! *grin*
Methinks... the receptionist bit was somewhat amateurish. Receptionists, secretaries, nurses and personal assistants have all been stereotyped for better or for worse, courtesy our films. It is simply too predictable. Dr. Sagarika's character could be pruned out of the plot... or it could be reworked to provide some intriguing third angle or a surprise element in the story. Even the 'potentially fatal accident' lacks emotional connect. With 26/11 as the backdrop a lot more could have happened/been done.
With the right mix: some taut drama, conflicts, surprise elements and a few heart tugging moments and by cutting out the deadwood - clichés and predictable events, this one could turn out to be a very good read. May not be in the league of the Erich Segal classic 'Doctors' but a very good read in its own right. A much meatier read.
My rating: 2.5/5. It is a feel good story and makes for a breezy, light read and at just Rs. 150/ it is light on the wallet too.
'The Long Road' should have been longer with some more content added to it and the journey need not have been so straight. But, for a debut author it is a fairly good attempt. Writing a story about doctors is not an easy matter but TLR held a lot more promise than it actually delivered. Dr. Banerjee can do much better. If you are a fan of feel good stories without complex twists and turns and are looking for a light read you could pick this one. KJo and Bollywood... where are you?
Details of Book: The Long Road/ Author: Dr. Vivek Banerjee/ Pages: 176/ ISBN: 8122311636/ ISBN-13: 9788122311631, 978-8122311631/ Publishing Date: 2010/ Publisher: Cedar Booka - Pustak Mahal/ Price: Rs. 150/- (paperback).
Photograph: Pic courtesy: link.