A Mumbai doctor without borders

Updated: Sep 01, 2019, 07:58 IST | Anju Maskeri

In addition to being a renowned cancer surgeon, Dr Vijay Haribhakti is also the author of both fiction and non-fiction books

Dr Vijay Haribhakti wrote the parable when he was a medical intern. Pic /Ashish raje
Dr Vijay Haribhakti wrote the parable when he was a medical intern. Pic /Ashish raje

Long before he became a top cancer surgeon, Dr Vijay Haribhakti, director of the oncology service at the Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, had written a parable during a bus ride to Poynad, Raigad. He was a 21-year-old intern then. The now 60-year-old, who has treated celebrities such as Rakesh Roshan, kept the book in deep freeze for four decades. "I was not a known writer, or even a doctor, but a young man who was struck with thoughts that had to be penned down." But, a serendipitous sequence of events have ensured that A Journey Forever receives a grand release at the hands of Mukesh Ambani and wife Nita.

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Alongside the parable, Haribhakti will also release a medical textbook titled Restoration, Reconstruction and Rehabilitation in Head and Neck Cancer. Incidentally, both books have been illustrated by his friend and orthopaedic and spine surgeon, Dr Shekhar Bhojraj, proving that surgeons can wield pens as skilfully as their scalpels.

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Excerpts from the interview.

What inspired a cancer surgeon to turn to fiction?

A Journey Forever is special for several reasons, one of them being that it is my one and only work of fiction. My other published works are professional in nature. It was inspired by a sudden, powerful and overwhelming experience of love while on a bus ride, and written over three days in 1979, in a near frenzy during my internship in Poynad. I have never found the need to change anything from the original, and have only added the preface and the epilogue. Some people say it reminded them of Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, which was written 35 years ago.

Tell us about A Journey Forever. What is it about?

It's a parable that people of all ages can relate to, right from my 90-year-old father to a friend's child, who is all of 15 years. I am convinced, deep down in my heart, that this is everyone's story. Although the content of my life has evolved and transformed, the essential context remains very much the same: life presents us with a choice. Either we choose to stay attached and safe, or we choose to [become] free and vulnerable, and live. When my daughter Sanjana read the book, she loved it was convinced it would appeal to many. Almost serendipitously, I ran into a dear friend at a social dinner, who introduced me to the publishers of Vakils, Feffer & Simons Pvt Ltd.

How did writing help you deal with a serious profession?

Growing up, we were exposed to William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens, but I never read a lot of poetry. I realised along the years that writing comes easily to me, especially poetry. It comes from within and I enjoy writing short poems on a recreational level as well; it flows naturally. However, I do not have much time to devote to the same and do so on a minimal level.

You're also releasing a medical textbook. What was your experience working on this?

I always felt most books, especially multi-author books, were drab and did not focus on outcomes. We see so many complications but are never taught how to prevent or manage them. We are never taught the importance of detailed planning. In order to understand how many similar books have been written or released in the past, we ran a detailed Google search and found that till date, no author working in India has ever written a book on these lines, ever. Moreover, none of the books from the West give any details about the commonest cancers in Indian males, namely cheek and gum cancers.

Hope is the common theme in both books. Could you elaborate?

The books outline the power of faith. As a doctor, one must have faith in his ability and the patient must have faith in the doctor. It is the most important thing in our profession, as patients trust us to do massive surgeries on them and it's the faith that reassures them. On a spiritual level, you need to have faith in yourself to make things happen.

What are your future plans with writing?

In terms of medical writing, I do plan on working on my atlas of surgical techniques and original methods devised over the years. However, in the fictional realm, nothing was decided 41 years ago and nothing is decided now. If I get the same inspiration, I surely will but it will not be planned.

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