Change of Heart

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Dr Thrills HS Rissam in his Delhi hospital office
Photo: Shailendra Pandey

AS A child, Dr HS Rissam once went missing from a bus en route to a family marriage, because he’d stopped to read a book at a pavement bookseller. This voracious reader’s long love affair with books has now produced The Scalpel, a thriller that tackles the contentious issues of organ trade and medical tourism in India.

The 58-year-old cardiologist heads the clinical cardiac services at Max Heart — one of India’s major private hospital chains. Nobody expected the Padmashree awardee and former medical lecturer to write a fast-paced medical thriller. “A close friend,” chuckles Dr Rissam, “wondered who I’d collaborated with!” He bristles at the suggestion that writing is merely a diversion from his medical gig: “I actually wanted The Scalpel out under a pen-name because I didn’t want people to think ‘Here’s another professional who thinks he can write!’ But the publisher insisted.”

The Scalpel: Game Beneath
HS Rissam
Rupa & Co
322 pp; Rs 195

Straddling the globe from Delhi and Amritsar to Sydney and Manila, the plot follows Princess Harleen — aka Nona Lal, Agent JAK-47 of the “International Law Enforcement Agency” — as she discovers that a high-profile hospital is a front for the mafia-run black-market organ trade and is being used to harbour international criminals and jihadists. Rissam provides us a detailed “menu” that offers various body parts: skin, for instance, is available in “white” for Rs 8,000 and “wheatish” for Rs 5,000 per two-centimetres. Other items on sale include eyeballs, ears, stomachs and windpipes.

Rissam says he’s a “storyteller” and traces his affinity for a gripping story back to his childhood: “I read my father’s Punjabi translation of the Ramayana when I was seven. Good winning over bad is something that’s stuck with my writing.” In The Scalpel, the good doctor spins quite a yarn.

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