I blame the Virus.
I was halfway through a particularly challenging shift in Intensive Care. Outside, the first wave of the global pandemic was crashing against the steely grey facade of Big Ugly Hospital. Inside, we swept up the survivors.
My colleague Peter and I had just transferred another patient from the Emergency Department to the ICU. It was 3am around Good Friday. We were seated at the workstations overlooking the ranks of beds occupied by unconscious, intubated patients, each patient tended to by one nurse wrapped in a disposable blue surgical gowns, eyes the only visible things under facemask and plastic visor. In the half-darkness, monitors beeped and ventilators sighed.
To say I was uncomfortable was an understatement. My FFP3 mask was eroding the bridge of my nose. I was sweating freely under my own layers of fabric and plastic. I had lost sense of where I ended and my clothing began, having reached that sticky, undesirable nirvana of becoming one with my Personal Protective Equipment.
Peter turned and said something I couldn’t quite make out through his mask. I pointed to my ear and shook my head. He leaned in and raised his voice.
“There’s got to be a better way to make a living!'” he said.
I couldn’t have agreed more. I’d come to that realisation myself a year before anyone had ever heard of SARS-COVID. After nearly two decades as a hospital doctor, it was time for a change. I took stock of what (few) other skills I had and settled on writing fiction.
My first two novels had done the rounds of literary agents and collected an impressive array of rejections. I signed up for an online course in novel writing and, as it turned out, the first assignment was due at the end of that second week in Intensive Care during the first wave of COVID in the UK. Inspector Chatpati already existed in my head. He’d been the protagonist in my first failed attempt at novel writing. It seemed simple matter, then, to write a prequel of sorts, one that introduced the Inspector and his Civil Nuisance Unit to the world. That much was clear but how to begin?
For some reason, my thoughts settled on a random tender coconut seller I’d passed on Mahatma Gandhi Road in Bangalore. I’d lived and worked in the city for a year before I moved to the UK. I’d always been struck by its energy and its buzz. The new jostled with the old on practically every street corner. It was a microcosm of Emerging India, a squint-eyed juggernaut rumbling forward into the future, one eye fixed on destiny, the other drifting ceaselessly back to the past.
All told, I had a setting, a character, a plot, an incentive and a deadline. Plausibility was cast to the wind and the thing was begun. Once started, The Tender Coconut Tamasha continued to be written, in between ICU shifts, as light relief for heavy hearts.
The writing of it has brought me much enjoyment and much learning. I hope the reading of it gives you some of the same.
If not, I blame the Virus.
I blame the Virus.