Good Reads / Community Library Notes
Review by Priscilla Comen
Review by Priscilla Comen
Night Theater, by Vikram Paralkar, is the story of a surgeon in India. He stitches up a gash in a farmer’s arm while a cockroach scuttles across the floor. He stomps on it. A crowd of mothers and children arrive for vaccinations which he's not yet received. The female pharmacist’s husband comes to fix the electrical circuit. Author Paralkar sets the scenes and characters. The man who brings the vaccines is the clinic supervisor. When the surgeon shows him the ledger, he says there are irregularities. But the surgeon has paid for the clinic needs, and shows him more needs the head office should pay for.
The author describes the end of the day in terms suitable for the medical theme: “the sun was a bag of blood”; the ground was “covered with a rash” of weeds. Suddenly, a man, his wife, and young son appear before the surgeon. They have non-bloody gashes in their bodies. They say they are dead, but must be stitched up before day break in order to be alive again in the morning. The man says an angel has enabled them to come here. The surgeon can not believe what he is hearing. This is “magical realism” writing at its best.
The pharmacist weeps, terrified of the ghosts. The surgeon needs her help, and her husband’s. Because the woman who has appeared is pregnant, and her son is eight years old, he feels he must help them. The son goes first, the surgeon opens his chest. The boy feels no pain, no blood spills out. During the procedure, the father tells the surgeon how they were murdered, and how they went to the afterlife. They wanted to be sent back and told their angel this. The angel refused their request.
The surgeon sends the pharmacist’s husband to the city for supplies. This whole event must be kept a secret from the villagers. He gives the husband money for syringes, gauze, bandages, antibiotics, etc. The pharmacist fears they will be punished for breaking the law. The surgeon says no one knows the truth, that everyone has a different truth.
A drunken man comes to the clinic. His leg is bloody. Although he tells the man to leave, he sutures the leg when the man will not go. After he does leave, the surgeon takes the pregnant woman to the operating room. Her carotid artery had been severed by the knife wound. He does a tracheostomy on her and inserts a tube. The author knows all the correct terms. The surgeon thinks it might be better if these people all died, and how simple that would be to accomplish. Instead, he wraps her in bandages. The pharmacist talks with them as she is not afraid of them now. The mother promises to cook her son his favorite dinner. As she sobs, no tears fall down her cheeks. The dead have no tears.
The surgeon operates on the man who is a teacher. The author has given them no names. As he works, the surgeon tells the man his story. He had been accused of making a mistake in a surgery by another jealous surgeon, and when the patient died, accused of bribery to cover up the mistake. He was blacklisted and resigned. This is how he ended up in this isolated clinic without modern tools or facilities.
The teacher says his angel is an official in a bureaucracy worse than government offices. No one knows who is at the top of the ladder. The surgeon does a Caesarean procedure to save the wife’s baby. The official who had brought the vaccines returns and the surgeon gives him a bribe so he will stay away for at least six months. He takes the ledger with him. When the surgeon looks around after the official leaves, the family has gone. Only the baby remains. She lies in the crib the pharmacist has made for her.
Where has the family gone? Will they be alive at break of day? What will happen to the baby? Will the pharmacist care for her? Author Paralkar was born and raised in Mumbai, he is a physician and scientist at University of Pennsylvania. This is his first magical realism book, and we hope to see more of him. Find this interesting story at your Mendocino Community Library.