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.”
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.