After Adiga win, Nambisan in race for Asian Booker

November 12th, 2008 - 11:28 am ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Nov 12 (IANS) One of the five authors shortlisted for the 2008 Man Asian Literary prize that will be announced Thursday, Kaveri Nambisan says she gives precedence to her medical career over her literary pursuits.”The doctor comes before the writer. I’ve been at it longer and it is full of challenges,” Nambisan told IANS in an e-mail interview ahead of the announcement of the winner of the prestigious award, also known as Asian Booker, in Hong Kong Thursday.

Her book “The Story that must not be told” is about Simon Jesukumar, an ageing widower who lives in a housing colony in Chennai. Stirred by guilt about the slum, optimistically called Sitara (The Star), next door, Simon, with the reluctant help of a young journalist and his ’surprise’ girlfriend, embarks on a journey that ends in an ugly episode with the slum thugs.

Another Indian writer, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi’s “Lost Flamingoes of Bombay” is also a contender for the $10,000 prize. Other shortlisted books, chosen from a list of 21, include “Brothers” by Yu Hua, “Ilustrado” by Miguel Syjuco, and “The Music Child” by Alfred A. Yuson.

“I have always enjoyed writing and am honoured to be shortlisted for the prestigious award. But, being a surgeon, especially in rural areas of India with varied challenges, is a huge responsibility and I feel privileged to serve my people,” said Nambisan, who has worked in rural areas of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.

She admits it is her “migratory tendencies”, working in various rural areas, that have shaped her writings.

An alumnus of St John’s Medical College, Bangalore, she began her career at St Nazareth Hospital in Mokama, Bihar. That was her first experience of working under difficult conditions to provide medical care to people who have little access to it.

“I’ve been a surgeon for more than two decades, much before I began writing; perhaps that is why it is much closer to me,” added Nambisan, who currently lives in Lonavala near Pune in Maharashtra with her journalist husband, Vijay Nambisan, and runs a medical centre for migrant workers.

Beginning her literary career by writing for women’s magazine, she is a popular writer of children’s books and won the Unicef-CBT (Children’s Book Trust) award for her story “Once Upon a Forest”, which was later serialized on television.

Her first novel was “The Truth (almost) about Bharat” (1991), an account of three months in the life of a medical student. Her insightful writing on Indian lives and living continued in several of her novels, including “The Hills of Angheri”, “Mango Coloured Fish”, “The Scent of Pepper” and “On the Wings of Butterflies”.

“‘The Hills of Angheri’ is the only novel which has a great deal about my professional life while the personal account is fictitious. Having said that, each time I finish a novel, I realise that many characters have something of me or someone I know in them. I guess it is inescapable for a writer,” Nambisan said.

She also writes about healthcare issues in various journals and is vocal about the ills plaguing the Indian healthcare system and the scourge of female foeticide.

Her next venture is a non-fiction book about healthcare problems.

“I’m still working on my non-fiction book. The next novel is still in the planning stage; so naturally I cannot say anything about it,” she said.

On her mood ahead of the announcement of the Asian Booker winner, Nambisan said: “Winning and losing is a part of life. But I will continue writing. Novelists will and should write in order to tell a good story.”

The Man Asian Literary Prize is sponsored by the Man Group that sponsors the Booker Prize and the Booker International Prize. The inaugural prize in 2007 was awarded to the bestseller “Wolf Totem” by Chinese writer Jiang Rong.

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