Author Topic: New Book V.Q.E Tale of an Indian Physician in UK of the 1980's  (Read 10252 times)

Offline vivek1972

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Re: New Book V.Q.E Tale of an Indian Physician in UK of the 1980's
« Reply #15 on: November 25, 2018, 06:12:34 AM »
First Chapter


The Beginning

I stood there for God knows how long, transfixed and completely overwhelmed by the sight: multiple escalators gliding upwards and downwards all around, and me, standing paralyzed in the middle. I felt like a village bumpkin who comes to a city for the first time.

With classical Indian music playing in the background, the Air India flight from Bombay stuttered and ground to a rough halt at its designated gate in London’s Heathrow airport. It was July 18, 1980, a day that is still indelibly etched in my mind. I peered out of the tiny rectangular window to survey the landscape outside: my first glimpse of a foreign land, of Great Britain, of a country that I thought I knew so much about; yet I would realize soon how little I really knew.
The scene outside was uninviting: the sky was overcast with dark, heavy cumulus clouds that blanked out the sun’s rays; visibility was hampered by dense gray smog, and droplets of water pattering on to the black, shiny tarmac made the ground look slippery and uncertain. Was the scene outside reflective of my days to come, I wondered.
The decision to come to the UK en route to a possible final destination of the US had not been easy. I had given up a much-sought-after postgraduate slot in a prestigious medical school in India to pursue this uncertain career path. The proverb a bird in hand is worth two in the bush had been quoted at me ad nauseam by my family, my mentor and my close friends. But overriding all opposition, I had embarked on this gamble. The stakes were high. Failure was not an option.
As I sat put in my seat staring out of the window and waiting for the seat belt sign to go off, a host of questions and doomsday scenarios swirled through my mind. What if I stumbled at the very first hurdle that I had to overcome, the PLAB exam? It would mean the end of my journey even before it started. I would have to return home having squandered a sum of money that would take me years to recoup. Such an outcome was not impossible. I had heard of students failing the exam despite two or three attempts.
Looming above all these queries was that million dollar question: Would I be eventually successful in reaching my final destination, the US? Or would I become another addition to the growing number of Indian physicians who had failed in their attempts to reach the US and been relegated to lifelong drudgery working in junior positions in dead-end gloomy,geriatric hospitals of the UK that offered little in terms of professional advancement?
I brushed aside these unnerving queries and tried to focus on my immediate priority: How do I reach Doncaster, where my uncle lived? There was no one to receive me at the airport. What appears simple now posed a daunting ordeal then. I had never interacted with full-blooded Englishmen before; I had never seen an underground train and didn’t have a clue about automatic dispensing machines.
After completing the formalities imposed by the customs and immigration agencies, I made my way to the Underground station, stopping on the way to ask for directions. The first thing that struck me as I spoke to airport officials was the accent: it was a far cry from the perfect intonation that marked the speech of BBC personnel. I had spent months listening to daily broadcasts of the BBC to acclimatize myself to what I had expected to encounter in this bastion of the English language. But what I now heard was a strange lingo that appeared to be English, yet was not English. I had to strain my ears and marshal my mental faculties to understand this garbled speech.
Later, I would learn that this was the famed Cockney accent that is prevalent in East London and is the lingua franca of the London working class. It is a sing-song incantation in which house becomes “ouse” and hair becomes “air”. “Me” replaces “I” and words ending in “er” like dinner are pronounced as “dinna”, an “a” replacing the “er”. The end product is a distinctive dialect that an alien finds hard to comprehend.
I had waited barely a few minutes on the spotlessly clean, well-lit platform when a sleek, silver –colored train promptly arrived, a sharp contrast to the perpetual tardiness of trains in India of that time. Clumsily lugging my suitcase behind me, I clambered on to the train eyeing the automatic sliding doors with fascination and trepidation. Trains in India had manual doors or no doors at all and all this was new to me.
I found a vacant window seat and made myself comfortable. The inside of the train was immaculately clean by Indian standards and the blue cushioned seats were a step up in luxury compared to the hard wooden benches that graced the compartments of even long-distance trains back home. The commuters on the train presented a picture of discipline that I was not used to: an orderliness that was a far cry from the suffocating, overcrowded and disorderly scene common in Indian trains. The men, I noticed, were smartly suited: most of them wore ties and the light bounced off their black shiny shoes. And as for the women, they were almost picture perfect, clad in neatly pressed two-piece business suits or chic dress clothes. They sat straight-backed and staid-faced, some immersed in perusing the Times and others gazing ahead placidly. The silence that reigned despite the crowd was impressive.
The train traveled underground for a few miles before it surfaced to ground level, giving me my first glimpse of London and the UK. What I saw was a complete antithesis of my expectations. Rows of what I would come to know as “council homes” lined the streets on either side. Drab and archaic, these were dilapidated boxy edifices that were stuck together with barely any free space between each dwelling; not a pretty sight. The dirty ochre stain of their exterior walls, the broken windows and the sagging gray roofs made an already depressing sight even gloomier. The roads were certainly not paved with gold! I gaped in dismay and disbelief, where was the Britain I had heard so much about?
My immediate destination was a stop with a regal slant to its name and one that I had committed to memory, King’s Cross. I had to switch trains here to reach Doncaster in Yorkshire, my final destination.
King’s Cross/St Pancras is the biggest interchange station on the London Underground, with multiple commuter tracks crisscrossing at this point. It is also a major railway terminus that connects London with cities in the north and east of the UK, such as Cambridge, Hull, Doncaster, Leeds, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
As I picked my way through this bustling junction, I paused at the foot of an escalator bank for a brief respite; my hands were aching from the strain of carrying an unwieldy, awkward and heavy suitcase. Pull-on luggage was still unheard of at that time, or confined to those Indians who could boast of a relative or two in foreign countries.
That image and that moment at King’s Cross has never left my mind.I stood there for God knows how long, transfixed and completely overwhelmed by the sight: multiple escalators gliding upwards and downwards all around, and me, standing paralyzed in the middle. I felt like a village bumpkin who comes to a city for the first time. The only escalator that I had come across so far was in a cinema hall in Bangalore (my hometown) where it had been installed more for show than out of necessity and made functional only on special occasions.
After a brief moment of cataplexy and a few queries, I gathered myself together, stepped onto the right escalator and managed to find the train to Doncaster.
It was Friday evening and the compartment was jam-packed with sweaty, pot-bellied men engaged in loud conversation with each other, most of them holding a bottle of beer in their hands. There didn’t appear to be a ban on drinking in public places then. Looking back, I realize that the passengers were probably going to or coming from a football match. This crowd was distinctly different from the London crowd that I had encountered on the Underground; they appeared less sophisticated and less well-dressed. Unshaven beards, ill-fitting tee shirts and frayed jeans suggested a blue-collar background. Cigarette smoke diffused through the air making the whole scene hazy and mildly suffocating. I pushed myself into the compartment and located a convenient standing place; all seats had been taken and there was only standing room available.
I stood there amongst this motley crowd feeling no apprehension, no hint of fear of interacting with this football crowd. Were I to be placed in such a situation a few months later, I would have panicked and broken out into a cold sweat.


British football crowds are known for their uncouth behavior. Football hooliganism is almost a tradition in Britain with violent brawls breaking out routinely between supporters of rival teams during football matches. The first instances of football hooliganism date back to the late 1800s. This unruly tendency reached disturbing levels in the 70s and 80s. One notable incident that comes to mind is the Heysel Stadium Disaster. On May 29, 1985 prior to the start of the 1985 European Cup Final between Liverpool of England and Juventus of Italy, a deadly melee broke out at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, resulting in the death of 39 Juventus fans; another 600 were injured. An investigation into the disturbance concluded that English fans were totally responsible for the disaster, leading to a ban on English football teams and their fans from participating in European competitions for a protracted period of time.
Nearly 30 years later, there has been little change in the attitude of the British football hooligan. On March 17, 2013, Indian-origin football fan Prakash Patel, who had been returning home with his 21-year-old daughter after watching a Manchester United football game was mercilessly beaten up aboard a train after he objected to indecent racist remarks. What was even more shocking was that the 200-odd other passengers in the train failed to come to his help and in fact vied with one another to get a better ‘ringside’ view of the bashing.


The train ride was smooth and comfortable with none of the jolting and lurching that one commonly associated with Indian train journeys. About an hour and a half later, after racing past stations like Peterborough, Grantham and Newark, the train pulled into Doncaster. My uncle and his family with whom I was supposed to stay were away on a vacation in Europe but had kindly arranged for me to be picked up at the station by my aunt’s nephew who happened to be working in Doncaster at that time. As soon as we reached my uncle’s place, I threw myself on the bed. Exhausted by the whole experience, the long plane journey, the train ride and the new surroundings, I slept soundly and woke up 14 hours later, disturbed from my reverie by a mechanical purring sound that I couldn’t quite place………

Offline Mark T

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Re: New Book V.Q.E Tale of an Indian Physician in UK of the 1980's
« Reply #16 on: November 27, 2018, 05:37:05 PM »

It's fairly heavy going and exposition-heavy for an opening. The tone is serious, almost sombre. I understand your logic, to be accurate and to build the story from a firm foundation but I don't think it's serving you well in terms of storytelling. I'd be tempted to start around where it ends, pick up the story from there and feed in the background in a more piecemeal fashion as needed.
The excerpt from the writing that forms the chapter encapsulation or quote almost, is dubious. When I read it in the middle of the text it made me pause, thinking there was a bad typo somewhere but then I got it.
The insert  reportage about football hooliganism is also sketchy. The POV seems to shift there, one minute we accompanying someone who is feeling alienated and understands little around him, and then we have an omniscient interjection speaking from knowledge gained later, so the transition in and out of this makes the reader realize you are way ahead on the journey being taken together.

Offline vivek1972

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Re: New Book V.Q.E Tale of an Indian Physician in UK of the 1980's
« Reply #17 on: November 27, 2018, 06:36:46 PM »
Thanks Mark for your input. Will try to incorporate the suggestions in the future


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Re: New Book V.Q.E Tale of an Indian Physician in UK of the 1980's
« Reply #18 on: November 28, 2018, 05:55:33 AM »
I enjoyed the way you described the shock to your system on arriving in a strange country with its own alien culture and the expectations you had beforehand not being met. There's more you could have done here.

I wanted to discover more about how you overcame the obstacles put in your place - a story about your own personal resilience rather than a blanket history of UK society in the 1980s. Unfortunately, there's a great deal of filler that I ended up skipping. By all means refer to various observations in passing, but pressing the pause button and recording the different ways the British pronounce words or the history of football hooliganism comes across as intrusive at best. It seemed to me that these were added to pad out the story or fill the pages.

Just my thoughts - feel free to ignore.