The sun has set. A surgeon in a village, at the end of his tether after executing a polio vaccination drive and dealing with a difficult government official for supply of the vaccine, is ready to call it a day when a family of three appears at his clinic, demanding urgent surgeries. The man, his wife and son all suffer grievous injuries after a vicious attack by robbers while on their way back home from a fair.
Strangely, none of them is bleeding despite serious knife wounds that have even exposed internal organs. A perplexed surgeon asks them how they managed to survive and walk to his clinic in that state. The answer: they didn’t survive!
Ghosts, afterlife and death are all topics that have infinite mystique around them, and imaginations can run riot, as anyone would have encountered in the various horror films, TV shows, literature and even news items and video clips. Most of them are absurd and even laughable.
Vikram Paralkar’s book, The Wounds of the Dead, is neither, weaving medical plausibility with plausible imagination in a book that delivers one hundred per cent in terms of thrill, drama, atmosphere and eeriness that you almost believe it. The reader can almost see the green lizard on the wall, hear the sounds of the autoclave or smell the musty blankets in the dim, dark clinic.
A depiction of afterlife, which perhaps is the most sought after answer by humanity, seems almost conceivable, and utterly depressing. In a state of infinite and never-ending hopelessness, the dead crave for the smallest things those of us alive take for granted. The pleasure of cold water going down a thirsty throat; to feel the satisfaction of that gulp. A dead man would do anything to feel it again. The young boy wants to eat again; a mutton curry his mother makes, “with lots of coconut just as he likes it”. Hope, the only emotion that drives us all, and here, even the dead, makes his hapless mother promise him the treat once they live again.
But this is not just a story of the dead coming alive. It is as much about the hopelessness of human vices that refuse to wash away even after death. We are told that the afterlife is as rife with red tape as the living world. So inherent is corruption in our beings that it carries on beyond our bodies. And, even the most resistant are forced to succumb. As does the surgeon. Having preferred a life of ignominy in a village clinic after allegations of medical negligence and bribery in the city, he is finally forced to part with all his savings just to keep a petty government official quiet regarding his dead visitors.
As the story progresses towards its dramatic finale, the reader is overwhelmed with mixed emotions. The one that prevails is that seizing every moment is the ultimate truth; if only we didn’t take the next minute so much for granted.