It’s a mystery why so few Indian doctors write their autobiographies. Especially surgeons. But here’s one from a doctor who’s had a most fulfilling career.

Dr Ratna Magotra is a cardiovascular thoracic surgeon. She isn’t your celebrity doctor who “graces occasions” and adorns Page 3. But in her own profession she is very well known with a fine professional reputation.

Cardio, of course, means heart. Vascular means the vessels. Cardiovascular means, roughly, the blood flow activity of and around the heart. Thoracic means chest.

Dr Magotra, as we say in India ‘hails’ from Jammu. She became a doctor in 1970. Then she studied a lot more and held various responsible posts in hospitals in Mumbai.

She had joined the Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi in the mid-1960s and college life proceeded along predictable lines till the babus in Delhi University ruled that she couldn’t take the MBBS exam because she was underage. Fortunately, the vice chancellor overruled them.

The other notable event was the discovery that one of the newly arrived residents in the hostel could be a spy. She had turned up suddenly and was given a single room. She was much older and behaved oddly.

Spy story

One day a student heard strange noises from her room and, as often happens in India, someone knew someone who knew YB Chavan the defence minister. The supposed spy left as suddenly and mysteriously as she had arrived.

Dr Magotra also makes it a point to remember the Sikh tailor who was the only person authorised to enter the hostels. Others, including relatives, had to be content with the visitors room.

With a degree in hand she went off to Bombay on her first job. Her career progressed but not without the usual roadblocks that Indian babudom can create. When she applied for a professorial post at KEM the file went walking.

It kept on wandering in the proverbial bureaucratic park till she decided to find it and push it for further action. Her story of this is as depressing as it’s typical. Ironically, it was another bureaucrat who helped her get the job — but not before she had had to comply with rules that the bureaucracy had made, for no apparent purpose.

Then at the relatively young age of 55 she chose to retire from her job at the KEM Hospital in Mumbai. The job had begun to pall.

Deep insights

She decided to devote herself to the issues surrounding the practice of medicine. This book gives deep insights into that aspect of the medical profession.

These concerns can be found in five chapters in Part 4 of the book. They are about her work. She first got involved in this sort of extension work around the end of the 1980s in Amravati. How that happened is in itself a fascinating story.

(By the way, I can’t resist adding here that my father was the Collector there from 1951 to 1953. The place names in her book are family lore.).

It was around then that she also became interested in the needs of the non-rich. She says the 1991 reforms raised treatment costs hugely, thus putting it out of reach of most people. She prefers state provision to private health care.

The book also has a section called “A Doctor’s Diary” that has some really fascinating (and typically understated) stories about the riots in Bombay as it was called in the early 1990s and more recently the dreadful Coronavirus.

The last two sections are devoted to travels and the people who influenced her. All in all, despite its rather steep price, it’s a book well worth reading. Hopefully a paperback edition will make it more accessible soon.

Check out the book on Amazon

About the book
Title: Whispers of the Heart: Not Just a Surgeon
Author: Dr Ratna Magotra
Publisher: Konark Publishers
Pages: 328
Price: ₹800