DR BRIJESHWAR SINGH’S CALENDAR YEARby Aparajita Krishna January 14 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 19 mins, 53 secs
Aparajita Krishna interviews Dr Brijeshwar Singh, one of the best known orthopaedic surgeons of Uttar Pradesh and understands his tryst with Indian Theatre and its importance.
At 55 Dr Brijeshwar Singh, a resident of Bareilly in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is one of the best known orthopaedic-trauma surgeons of the state. Handling trauma cases in particular means handling accidents, mutilated bodies, blood, fractured bones, ruptured muscles etc. This very same Doctor was the recipient of the Uttar Pradesh Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for 2020! The Indian theatre fraternity and the arts know him to be a very devoted and consistent patron and promoter of theatre at Bareilly.
His theatre repertory company, Rang Vinayak Rang Mandal (RVRM), has been holding annual theatre festivals through the years in its own Windermere Theatre space. It has nurtured very fine local talent in the shape of actors, playwrights, directors, musicians, technicians. His Daya Drishti Charitable Trust helps children born with thalassemia avail regular and life-saving blood transfusions. His first book was titled In & Out of Theatres. His second book, Next Patient, Please, was released on 26 March 2022.
This doctor, writer, poet, theatre activist is always a work in progress. We who know him are grateful. On the home and professional turf, he has the invaluable support and camaraderie of his gynaecologist wife Dr Garima Singh and his two young sons Anirudh and Abhimanyu Singh who are now set on their own course in life. Their beautiful abode, Windermere, houses their residence, the Windermere Indoor Theatre Auditorium, Lavazza Caffe, Windermere Yoga-Meditation Centre and a Beauty Salon.
Photographs of his patients ranging from the very young to the very old tell their own story. Some range in the age group of nineties and some even centenarians.
Apart from prescriptions, the doctor keeps writing affectionate, philosophical notes on these patients who touch his life. Theatre veteran Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry is quoted saying about his writings, “A doctor who is also an artist, combined with articulation can document pain, sorrow, mortality in a layered and complex way.”
Herein I make the good doctor diagnose and summarise his CALENDAR YEAR 2022 medically and creatively. And look ahead to 2023.
In the present, when the curtains have just gone up on the year 2023, how as a Trauma Orthopaedic Surgeon, Author, Theatre Impresario, Poet, do you look back? Especially in the context of the pandemic that kind of changed our world. How did it impact you as a professional doctor? You are quoted saying, “After being a doctor for more than thirty years, I know this much is true that after a certain point every surgeon loses a part of sanity to the struggle of ‘saving lives’ every day. It might sound a bit controversial to some, but to doctors, tragedy and causality become their most normalized reality. Hence, the only emotion I possess in an operation theatre is… rationality." So, how do you medically and philosophically look back at COVID-19? And also, how was 2022 creatively speaking?
As far as COVID-19 is concerned, it was definitely the toughest time faced by the human race. I lost my professors, mentors and colleagues. It was really sad to lose such beautiful people to the virus.
However, I took creative inspiration from my loss. Like everyone else on planet earth, Rang Vinayak Rang Mandal (our theatre company) too had to bear a jolt. Yes, things almost came to a standstill, but we remained in touch through social media. A few fortnights into the pandemic, we learnt to collaborate online. We organized online workshops. So, we tried to adapt to the situation and I believe we did that quite well.
Creatively 2022 was a busy year for me. We started the year with a new play, Zindagi Zara Si Hai, written by me. It is actually part catharsis. The play talks about the time wherein the human race is facing its worst crisis in over a century. The magnitude of the collapse of everything around us was unlike anything we have experienced in our lifetime.
The multi-layered story focuses upon the lives and sufferings in a COVID-hit-world. Interwoven are poems that portray memories, agonies, fears and dreams very passionately. Ajanubahu, the lead character of the play, finds himself confined within the four walls of his room because of the lockdown. He suffers from haphephobia, the fear of being touched. Zindagi Zara Si Hai unfolds his childhood phobia that looms large and overpowers him during the great lockdown. Ajanu suffers more from his memories than his terrible present. Nightmares dance before his eyes. It is only when he looks at the damage done by COVID-19 that he realises the reality of what is happening to the world.
Ajanu's deep sense of loneliness and longing drives him to the ultimate realization that we need not travel to the ends of the universe to experience a pale blue dot, i.e., the mother earth for ourselves. That’s the central idea I had as a playwright. Everything else evolved as I started to write. The play was an effort to also reach out to the bigger community of theatre artists wherein our repertory RVRM collaborates with National School of Drama (Delhi) graduates.
As the month of March 2022 approached, I got busy with the launch of my second book, Next Patient, Please. To my surprise the book became a bestseller in just two months and then I got busy with interviews. The following months brought another pleasant surprise as the Uttar Pradesh Sangeet Natak Akademi nominated my name for the prestigious Padma Shri award. On the 5th of September I got the opportunity to revive my talks in medical colleges. Shahjahanpur Govt. The Medical College invited me to address the students on Teacher’s Day. During the Navratri, our theatre group came back with its three-hour long musical Ramleela. We got the opportunity to stage Ramleela after two very long years. We were overwhelmed with the response we received. All the shows were housefull.
Finally, we hosted the first ever Sunil Shanbag Retrospective of plays at Windermere Theatre. The theatre-maestro came loaded with four absolutely marvellous productions.
In December 2022 I finally got the opportunity as a doctor to attend the ‘AO Trauma Masters Course – Current Concepts – upper Extremity II’ in Davos, Switzerland. In short, I would like to remember 2022 as a year full of pleasant surprises and housefull shows.
In the present has the world and India specifically become Corona-resistant? As in, has mankind learnt to live with the virus variants as a reality?
Yes, we are better equipped today than ever before. Vaccination is our best defence. Also, I hope that we don’t forget the importance of using masks and sanitizers. I believe we should be okay if we follow the protocols we learnt during the previous waves.
The artist in you, the creative, beautifully co-exists with the bone and joint doctor. You are quoted saying on 28th June 2022 (translated), “I often recall the film Ek Doctor Ki Maut (Hindi film released in 1990, directed by Tapan Sinha). It is one of my most cherished films as an audience. My own life has to a large extent internalised it. The ensuing conflict I had to face often. There is a big difference in living life somehow and in living life on one’s own terms. I am very well aware of this fact. And yet I could not become Dr. Roy. Perhaps that is why I am still alive and living.” Do tell us more.
There’s no doubt that I am really spellbound by Ek Doctor Ki Maut as a film. It depicts the ostracism, bureaucratic negligence, reprimand and insult of an idealistic doctor and his research, instead of recognition, by the system around him. I choose to make practical comparisons between Dr. Roy and myself. I believe that idealism is in my core and that’s what inspires me. But maybe I am more real than filmy. Maybe not! I did not take panga, nor have issues with anyone. I believe I am somewhere in-between Dr Roy and the complete opposite to him.
Hindi Films on the medical fraternity, the moral dilemma etc., have been there. Just to name some apart from Ek Doctor Ki Maut. There were Dr Kotnis Ki Amar Kahani, Anuradha, Anand, Khamoshi, and at the other end of the stick a Munna Bhai MBBS. How do you recall your profession in Hindi films, regional and English films? Has Hindi cinema done justice to your profession?
The answer is: No! Indian cinema has not done justice to the medical profession.
On another note, during the recently held International Film Festival of India (IFFI), I came across some of the most beautiful films by Satyajit Ray. The best cinema I saw during the pandemic period was Nomadland (2020). What brilliant cinema! Then there are films like The Shawshank Redemption and Schindler’s List that I keep watching again and again. I don’t understand why I relate Schindler’s List to the situation we faced during the pandemic. I believe we need better cinema to build a better society, or, it could be the other way round. Who knows!
Bernard Shaw wrote the play The Doctor’s Dilemma in 1906. It is said he wrote it as a challenge from theatre critic William Archer who said that he could not be regarded as a supreme dramatist till he had written a tragedy involving ‘the King of Terrors’ - Death. Shaw wrote a play that carried his cast of medicine men to the verge of a farce. He made them more vivid than real doctors and yet recognisable as comic characters in the medical profession. Then he added a subtitle to the play - 'A Tragedy’. The play is set in 1903. Shaw looked forward to the times when doctors as competitive tradesmen were replaced by a medical profession that was bought under responsible and effective public control. He critiqued his time’s medical profession as exploitative. It is a problematic play about the moral dilemmas created by limited medical resources, and the conflicts between the demands of private medicine as a business and a vocation. How ironic! What do you think goes for the nobility of your profession and as a critique?
However absurd and cliched it might sound, the fact is that honesty is still the best policy. Honest communications between a doctor and his patients are essential. But honesty shouldn’t be crude. It should be refined and subtle so that the patient can be told what he needs to be told. It is not correct not to inform the patient about her/his condition, but it must be done skilfully.
When I communicate with my patients, I look at them as human beings and not just as beings. I see a patient as an individual who wants to know what is wrong with him/her. So, I try to do my best.
As far as challenges are concerned, there are many. We have a totally different set of challenges in non-metro cities like Bareilly. Affordability of treatment is a big issue here. There are times when I have to guide the patient to a place where they can get treatment under some welfare schemes. I think it is my duty as a doctor to do as much as I can for my patients.
What are your future plans as a cultural activist?
We are revamping RVRM’s website. It would showcase all the shows we have staged and hosted over the last one and a half decade. We are also planning to offer grants to upcoming talent in theatre. It will be called ‘Windermere Theatre Grant’.
We are in the process of finalizing the plays to be staged during the 14th National Windermere Theatre Festival. The festival is scheduled after Holi in 2023. Then we have another festival lined up. It would showcase solo performances only. We also have plans of hosting an All-Women Theatre Festival at Windermere soon. And yes, we will continue organizing retrospectives too.
In March 2022 your latest book, Next Patient, Please (Stories from the trenches of medicine), got released at a function at Taj Hotel, Delhi. Actor Manav Kaul was the chief guest. The book is a collection of short stories highlighting the medical struggles of ordinary people and the exemplary humanity of those who treat them. It is now also available on Amazon.com and Amazon Kindle. A comment reads, “The true beauty of this book lies in its subtleness and honesty. It takes you on a roller-coaster ride of emotions from unending euphoria to melancholy.” It has a foreword by the celebrated Urdu poet Wasim Barelvi and an endorsement by filmmaker Imtiaz Ali, "Shiny crystals of true incidents in the theatre of ailment and relief, each sends a piercing ray of light to the reader’s heart”.
Share with us its reception and more.
Honestly, I did not expect such a wonderful reception. ‘Next Patient, Please’ became a bestseller within two months of its release. It was a big hit on Amazon too. As orders kept pouring in, the publisher had to print more copies every month. The response was simply humbling for me. It captures the true essence of life with stories inspired by my experiences as a trauma surgeon. It offers stories that touch upon matters of life and death with truthfulness.
RVRM staged in 2022 the play Dayashankar ki Diary, written by Nadira Zaheer Babbar. It is a monologue. Tell us about it.
I had seen actor Ashish Vidyarthi perform Dayashankar Ki Diary at least 10 years ago. So, I had this dream of recreating this masterpiece at RVRM. I am both glad and proud that Ajay Chauhan recently recreated that magic at our Windermere Theatre. It was a difficult play to do for more than one reason. Not only is it a solo play, but also a dark story. So, it was way more difficult than other shows. But we are really happy with the reception. The audience simply loved it.
In June 2022 a comedy play, Lottery, got staged at your Windermere auditorium. Tell us about it.
We’ve been staging Lottery, the play, for many years now. Not only does it bring some comic relief, but the play also offers a chance to reflect upon greed in a light-hearted way. The most interesting thing about this play is that it never loses its charm. People still love it.
Then in August 2022 RVRM presented Traas, based on Amrita Pritam’s Raseedi Ticket and Gulzar’s Raavi-Paar. It was directed by Luv Tomar. Tell us about it.
You would not believe that the artists of RVRM made Traas possible in a matter of just ten days. The administrative officers in Bareilly were planning a series of cultural events under the aegis of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav. District Magistrate Shri Shivakant Dwivedi asked me if we could do a play that could talk about partition and its aftermath. So, I called up all the artists and had a quick meeting with them. The team came up with the brilliant idea of bringing together two of the greatest classics, i.e. Amrita Pritam’s Raseedi Ticket and Gulzar’s Raavi-Paar. Part of these was used and the rest was fiction. Luv Tomar took charge as the director and everyone just got behind him to turn the impossible into possible. Voila! We came up with the show in just ten days. All I can say is that the play is somewhere between a painting and a poem.
Then in September 2022 RVRM staged Manav Kaul’s Park. It was directed by Danish Khan. Tell us about it.
Park is another favourite play of mine. It is actually a thinking man’s play. It talks about one’s existential crisis and the importance of one’s place in the universe. The play is originally directed by Manav Kaul. Recently, Danish Khan (of RVRM) took charge of bringing it to the stage again. I believe we have done some wonderful experiments with the set design and lights. The show has been received well. I feel good when such thoughtful plays get attention in cities such as Bareilly.
In September 2022 Windermere staged the play AshfaqRam: Kakori Loot Kaand. It was a Vimarsh Prastuti. Tell us about it.
The staging of AshfaqRam: Kakori Loot Kaand at Windermere Theatre was part of our effort to provide space and audience to artists from other cities too. It is based on Sudhir Vidyarthiji’s book. It is a solo performance by Manish Muni from Shahjahanpur. He has also directed the play. I think it is an important play because of the fact that it talks about the importance of brotherhood and equality. I believe those are the two most essential identities of a great nation.
In September 2022 RVRM and Windermere staged the in-house production Ramleela (a musical). Do share its attributes, making and the feed-back.
We have put together a three-hour long live theatrical show of Ramleela. The artists of RVRM have compiled different versions of Ramayana. The show is predominantly based on the work of the Bareilly-born and venerable playwright, writer and performer Pandit Radheshyam Kathawachak's rendition of the great Indian epic. It is combined with Ram Charit Manas and Pahadi Ramayana. The three-hour long show of Ramayana is staged not only at the Windermere Theatre in Bareilly and other prominent theatres, but also in rural areas. It is a beautiful, poetic and musical piece of art.
The most beautiful aspect of this Ramleela is that the flavour of Khadi Boli has been kept intact throughout the show. Special emphasis has been given to promoting the moral values that have always been an essential part of Radheshyam Kathavachak's Ramayan.
While the classic version of Ramleela goes on for nine days in parts, the one created by RVRM showcases the entire epic in nearly three hours. The same show is repeated for nine consecutive days (although we did five shows this year) and the most amazing thing about the show is that it remains houseful on all nine days. This special show of Ramleela is both musical and theatrical in style. The set design, the costumes and the props etc. have all been done by RVRM artists.
The play is a celebration of Lord Ram, his ideals and principles, which have long been a way of life for us Indians. It is also a celebration of a collective heritage, one that needs greater reinforcement in this modern era. Another interesting aspect of this Ramleela is that it is as popular among the youth as it is among the senior members of the society. Apart from staging Ramleela at Windermere Theatre, we also travel with the show to remote areas across the country.
In October of the last year, you held Sunil Shanbag’s Retrospective at Windermere Bareilly. Blank Page, Soul, Words Have Been Uttered, Same, Same But Different, got staged. I was in the audience too. It was a very, very fine event. The retrospective consisted of these four critically acclaimed plays directed by Sunil Shanbag performed by Tamaasha Theatre, Mumbai. There was also a masterclass held by Sunil Shanbag. My compliments to you for holding it. How would you evaluate Sunil’s works? You have also earlier invited the group. His work in theatre is one of the most relevant and path-making for our times in theatre.
Sunil Shanbag is a genius. We have had him perform at Windermere Theatre at one of the festivals. This time I wanted to showcase his work only, and therefore I requested him to come up with at least four plays. It was so kind of him to accept my invitation. We hosted ‘The Sunil Shanbag Retrospective’ from the 7th to the 9th of October. He did two shows on the first evening, followed by one show each on the remaining two evenings. Apart from witnessing his fantastic work, we were overwhelmed with the kind of knowledge and wisdom the maestro shared with us. It was really a great learning experience for all of us at RVRM. Then in November 2022 RVRM performed Miss Gulab Jaan in Patna. It was directed by Randhir.
You recently attended in December 2022 at Davos-Switzerland a doctor’s conference on Hand Surgery. AO Trauma Masters Course. Latest techniques and best practices in operative fracture management to deal with complex orthopaedic trauma problems. Give us a summary.
I had gone to Davos, Switzerland, to participate in the ‘AO Trauma Masters Course – Current Concepts – upper Extremity II’. I got the opportunity to learn new techniques from the best orthopaedic surgeons in the world. The list included my favourites such as Dr Sudhir Warrier from Mumbai. He was my professor when I used to study in Mumbai. Apart from academics, I also got a chance, however little there was, to roam around in the open and feel the snow in my lungs. I tried to capture some of the beautiful memories on my phone camera. Now, I am reliving those beautiful memories as I edit those recordings. One at a time!
You interact via video-links and give talks on the medical and the philosophy behind bones, ligaments, blood, muscles, operations of the human body to add to medical-literacy. Is it to break the emotional barrier between doctor-patient? You also hold interactive talks with doctor-colleagues.
I have always wanted to introduce and promote the importance of art in medicine. Earlier, I did so through my talks in medical colleges. Now, I do online talks too. In medical colleges, the topics of my talks revolve around ‘Importance of Art & Theatre in Medicine’ and ‘Putting Humanity & Humanism Back in Theatre’.
I have talked at some of the most prestigious medical colleges of the country including King George’s Medical University (Lucknow), All India Institute of Medical Sciences (Rishikesh), Goa Medical College, IGMC Shimla, RNT Medical College (Udaipur), Himalayan Institute of Medical Sciences (Dehradun), Susheela Tiwari Memorial Medical College (Haldwani). Recently, I was invited to talk at Shahjahanpur Govt. Medical College. My talks are aimed at making medical students appreciate arts and thus inculcate humanity and humanism in medicine.
As far as my online talks are concerned, they are mainly focused on explaining medical conditions in the simplest possible terms. I have just started doing these talks.
What is lined up for the calendar year 2023? Knowing you, you will realize all your plans.
Well, the year has started and so have I. We are planning a lot of events in 2023. It will start with a play wherein our group RVRM will be collaborating with NSD artists. As I am responding to your questions here, artists of RVRM are collaborating with NSD graduates.
We have got Praveen Yedamangala from Kerala and Bornali Bohra from Guwahati to collaborate with us. Praveen is an interdisciplinary artist. He is a performance maker, theatre practitioner and creative director of Infinite Arts Foundation. Bornali has recently completed her Masters in Physical Acting from Kent University, UK. These two artists are working along with the artists of RVRM to come up with something beautiful.
Then we have the annual theatre festival lined up after Holi. We are also planning a festival of solo plays and maybe another one, which would be an All-Women-Theatre Festival at Windermere soon. And yes, we will continue organizing retrospectives too.
You’ll have to wait to witness the magic. I am sure it is going to be a great start.