The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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TRANSPLANTED MAN By Sanjay Nigam, Viking, Rs 450

“Not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves...”

The epigraph, from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, invokes the essence of Sanjay Nigam’s novel, Transplanted Man. It sets the ground for questions to be raised about loss of homeland, conflict of cultures, nationalism, and a philosophical bewilderment within.

Although the novel mainly focusses on the young, dynamic, rebellious, medical resident, Sonny Seth, it is not just his tale. It is a story of some “transplanted” people whose lives are somehow linked with the hospital in which Sonny works. The character of the transplanted man, from whom the novel gets its name, is fascinating. He is terminally ill, yet he possesses a wonderful sense of humour.

The most striking feature about this character is the way he turns his physical weakness into his political strength. An unidentified disease having attacked most of his organs, they have been transplanted. Hence the name. He believes that noone represents India better than he does, because each transplanted organ of his body has been taken from people from different regions of the country.

All the other characters in the novel have been uprooted from their native land and are trying their best to accommodate themselves in their new surroundings. Just as the transplanted man’s body is made up of parts taken from different people, the novel too is made up of parts of the lives of the characters. As a result, the novel addresses a vast number of issues through the stories of each character. It speaks of various careers — medicine, literature, psychology, and films — while being subtly critical.

The multiple narratives and meta-narratives reflect the complexity of this “community of eccentric expatriates from India”. The effect however, is not localized. Together they weave a story of perplexity, struggle, dreams and nightmares, relationships, and the agony of being “transplanted”. The sense of uprootedness runs through the book, although there are incidents that reaffirm faith in life and its beauty. Sonny expresses his belief in humanity when he compares his immigrant dilemma with the phenomenon of continental drift.

The novel is well knit and manages to engage the reader’s attention. Several medical technicalities are made easy by Nigam’s skilful narrative style. There is an amazing degree of precision in his descriptions, which makes the entire novel visually evocative and charming. The author deserves credit for achieving a lyrical effect despite using a detached, “clinical” narrative tone.

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