I attended my first writing workshop five years ago. As we started talking about the finer points of writing fiction, I remember how I felt the quick resistance of anxiety. I bluntly blurted “Fiction? I have never written a story in my life!” I was there, in my mind, just to foster a hobby, a past-time. I mean, what stories I had to share, after all.

I had started writing in a prosaic register between taking notes in medical college. I had left home when I was a young seventeen, and was desperate, thrown into what felt like a crazy world. In a span of six years, I saw more death and suffering than most do in their entire lifetimes. And, medical education being what it was (and still is), there was no room for sensitivity, save in the blank pages between Anatomy diagrams and Physiology algorithms.

In front of the Bada Taalab in Bhopal, with a steaming cup of chai, I would scrawl in that notebook to save my life. I was a child learning to be a woman, a physician and a person.

And, medical education being what it was (and still is), there was no room for sensitivity, save in the blank pages between Anatomy diagrams and Physiology algorithms.

After internship, there were other challenges. Love and marriage and motherhood happened. I continued to write. Now, more to keep in touch with myself between the myriad roles I was expected to fulfil. Writing continued to give me space to reinvent, to dig deeper and feel harder.

Motherhood is one of the central themes I have explored in my writing.

I am a neonatologist and I manage small premature and sick babies as part of my practice. I work with women becoming moms in the worst possible way. Mothers to babies so small they wouldn’t make it without modern medicine. Far away from the pink-hued baby powder smelling images of motherhood we are fed with, in my everyday life I see babies being coerced to somehow, anyhow stay alive. “My” babies are born with the smallest of weights, some without a food-pipe, an improperly made intestine or a severe infection. In my world, babies are cradled not by their mothers but by a beeping machine.

I work with women becoming moms in the worst possible way.

It is an alternate Universe. I see the worst and the best of humankind in that little room with its blinking monitors and tiny patients.

Miracles abound, of course. The 650 grammer who is now a talkative four-year-old and the baby who it seemed would die of a surgical complication, and is now the naughtiest munchkin ever.

Tragedies are an inextricable part of my work. The baby that died even after I stayed up three nights in a row, ignoring the hurtful mews of my own fever-riddled daughter. The mother that transferred her baby after an operation only because she knew I would give her a chance to hold him for the few hours he had left to live.

It’s difficult to retain perspective, intense as my life is. I write to preserve my humanity (and sometimes my sanity).

As I have started to write fiction, egged on by a wonderful band of women, stories started to pour out. My smartphone (my instrument of choice) is suddenly filled with the horrors and the wonders I have witnessed.

I am still learning. Now, I am trying to weave stories that are cathartic for me and, hopefully, catalytic for the reader. I hope that the very process, the very effort makes my art a bridge into my world.

Megha Consul is a neonatologist and practising paediatrician. When she isn’t attending to life and death scenarios, she is gardening, farming, singing on stage, writing, holding women’s and girls’ circles and reading. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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