Eye surgeon Dr Shibal Bhartiya, who specialises in glaucoma and ocular surface diseases, has launched her first novel, Bena’s Summer. A trip down the memory lane for those who grew up in the 80s and 90s, the book is about simpler and happier times. Set in Gaya and Sultanpur, this is the story of the four odd weeks that eight-year-old Benazir, Bena to friends and family, spends in mofussil India, visiting her grandparents.
Bhartiya, 46, who works as a Senior Consultant at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, has more than 10 textbooks on glaucoma, and ophthalmology to her credit.
She is the founder of Vision Unlimited, a bootstrapped social impact organisation involved in skill development, disaster relief, food security and healthcare access for all.
She also runs the Vision Unlimited After School Club in Badshahpur, Gurugram, with the aim to make the children of migrant labourers school ready.
Is Bena’s Summer autobiographical?
Aren’t all first books almost always autobiographical? I have drawn extensively from experiences I had while growing up in small-town India, as I spent a few years in Patna. The book started off as a series of WhatsApp conversations with friends and cousins, about how my growing up was different from theirs. It inspired a lot of wonderful heart-to-heart exchanges, and many of us remembered different versions of the same event, from our own lives. And during these conversations, it emerged that one summer vacation was etched graphically in all our memories. The book is about that summer.
How was the experience of writing it?
I started writing it four years ago, and abandoned it many times. One day, suddenly it took a life of its own and I completed it in three months. My friends would wait for the next chapter, as would my son, and I was writing between patients, surgeries and while waiting at traffic lights.
This book is aimed at kids of which age group?
While HarperCollins thinks the book is for children above 12 and young adults, I think it’s a book that cuts across generations.
What are the takeaways from the book?
Bena’s Summer inspires the kind of conversations that I hope all parents get to have with their children. Our national narrative has been hijacked by the loony fringe, and I really believe that my generation has messed up big time, allowing it to happen. We have given too much space to the irrational and rabid, and it is time to set it right. Talking of communalism and riots, and how these rip apart friends, families, homes and nations is important, just as it is to acknowledge how we are one people, how our dreams and fears are the same. Also, our children need to know, and understand that inclusivity is natural justice. Hopefully, they will ensure that this self-perpetuating cycle of hatred and bigotry, that we have not been able to fight very effectively, comes to an end.
A doctor’s profession is a busy one, how did you find time to write?
When you like something enough, you make time for it. Having a life, and a profession are not mutually exclusive.
What kind of experience are the coming generations lacking?
Well, life today is culturally homogenised. While there is merit in all that has changed, there is no denying the sense of loss all of us feel. There are cookie cutter houses, nuclear families, helicopter parents and children who live in protective bubbles. Our childhood was far less antiseptic, and a lot more fun. We skinned our knees, scraped our elbows and broke a bone or two, and learnt a lot of life lessons. Our children today have been denied all of that. Their world is more virtual.
Are you working on any other book?
Yes, I am. It has some of the same characters as Bena’s Summer, but Bena is not the protagonist here.
TITLE: Bena’s Summer
PRICE: Rs 239