Curtain calls, encores to Doctor Brijeshwar Singh!by Aparajita Krishna March 11 2021, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 15 mins, 32 secs
Here, in this piece, Aparajita Krishna talks to Dr. Brijeshwar Singh, a renowned orthopedic surgeon who is leading the way for theatre to become a thing in the very interesting city of Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, India.
An orthopedic and trauma surgeon of Bareilly gets the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award UP (2020) for his work in Theatre. It is an honor most deserved. Dr. Brijeshwar Singh also justifies his first book titled ‘In and Out of Theatres’ - for he is constantly in and out of his operation theatre and his creative theatre space that he has built and nurtured for years at Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh. He is a night doctor who performs his surgeries in the quietude, tranquility of the night and a theatre-man among other engagements in course of the day. He knows as intimately the bones, ligaments and muscles of theatre-drama-creativity as he knows the human body. For him medicine is humanities. This theatre enthusiast, nurturer, the behind the scene man who has put his town on the Indian Theatre Map says on the occasion of being conferred with the award, “I’ll try to fulfill my role more enthusiastically by doing better work and understanding my responsibilities.”
Talking about his book and his multitasking in life the doctor says, “My debut book talks of the inner and outer world of the doctor in me.” Shabana Azmi’s valued assessment of the doctor’s book said, “Dr. Brijeshwar Singh is a doctor with the spirit of an artist and his boundless commitment to both the worlds shines through the book.” Actor-playwright-director Manav Kaul surmised, “In our country, we seldom encounter the real experiences a doctor goes through every day. Dr. Brijeshwar Singh is able to tell stories that sound like fiction, but is nevertheless the truth. I hope you enjoy these short stories as much as I have.”
A lovely endorsement-tribute from Sanjna Kapoor in an article - The Festive Season of Theatre in The Week – read, "Unlike 30 years ago when theatre festivals were few and far between, today I am spoilt for choice of which festival to attend across the length and breadth of our country. I have just returned from celebrating the inauguration of the 11th Windermere Theatre Festival in Bareilly, where I finally got to meet Dr. Brijeshwar Singh, the wonderful, unassuming orthopedic surgeon whose love for theater prompted him to spend over a decade bringing theatre that he loved to Bareilly. The momentum of his junoon gradually propelled him to build a theatre above his new home, and thus Windermere came into being. Rangvinayak Rangmandal, his in-house theatre group, inaugurated the festival with a marvelous production based on Ismat Chugtai’s life and work, Kaghazi Hain Pairahan, directed by the talented young Lov Tomar and brought to life by over forty energetic performers in the magical confines of the black box theatre.”
On the occasion of the festival at Bareilly in January 2017 Sanjna Kapoor had as a special guest told a houseful audience, “This is such a beautiful theatre! What I do want to say is one thing - (It) is the wonderful madness of this man and his family. We should meet more mad people like him and his tribe. I believe a lot of doctors have helped realize this dream and people at Bareilly; his family has helped realize this dream. No theatre in the world can survive without you (the audience). You have to play your role really seriously. You have to come back again and again. You have to let him cry on your shoulder. This job is very painful. The labor time has happened and now the birth time will take place (Dr.) Garima will have to help. You (the audience) are so lucky; you’ve this beautiful home for theatre. I wish every town, city, neighborhood in our country had a space like this to give birth to art and creativity.”
This doctor’s beautiful abode ‘Windermere’, at the junction of Civil Lines and Bareilly Cantt, houses along with the residence, the Windermere Indoor Theatre Auditorium, Lavazza Caffe, Windermere Yoga & Meditation Centre, Beauty Salon.
Bareilly town’s rich cultural past rests in this most pro-active citizen of Bareilly. On the cultural-literary front Pundit Radheshyam Kathavachak’s rendition of the Ramayan and his own contribution and participation during the early years of the Parsi Theatre, nurtured the soil on which Bareilly Theater would grow through the decades. It is said that Munshi Premchand would frequent Bareilly to watch Pundit Radheshyam Kathavachak’s plays.
The Bareilly archives speak of poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s association with the town. It is said that he first met his wife Teji Bachchan here and it was at Bareilly that their engagement took place. Urdu poetry and literature has taken such flights here. Urdu’s celebrated afsaananigaar Ismat Chugtai has spent some of her years here. She was the first Principal of Islamiya Girls School.
Bareilly College campus, a heritage British period construction, was established in 1837. In 1857 it saw its professor Qutubshah get banished from his land. The young revolutionary college student Jaimigreen was served the death sentence and hanged here. The reputed Communist leader Com. Shiv Singh was a citizen of Bareilly for years. His presence and participation gave the town’s progressive movement a thrust and direction.
Bareilly town, famous for its soorma, maanjha and jhumke, has also got itself sung and stamped in countless folk songs and Hindi film music. The noted Urdu poet Wasim Barelvi carried the place in his name. It is said that Kundan Lal Saigal, wanting to become a singer, left home in Jammu and spent eight years doing all sorts of jobs in the cities of North India including Bareilly, while picking up music seemingly from everywhere.
Carrying the legacy of his town forward, our doctor and theatre-man also gives talks and interfaces with audience at different gatherings of medical fraternity, medical colleges, schools, theatre events, seminars and other varied platforms including Ted Talks.
We had an exchange post his getting the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award UP (2020)
Do inform about the merit of the award as it now rests in you and your spontaneous reaction?
I was overwhelmed. It naturally feels good to receive an award; moreover it is a big honor. I had no expectations of winning it, whatsoever, mainly because people with many years of experience in the field are chosen for it. Although I have almost 15 years of experience myself, I didn’t think it would be enough. I came to know about it through Mr. Praveen Shekhar of Allahabad who sent me the news on WhatsApp. He congratulated me and kindly remarked that my hard work was paying off. The kind of response that followed was amazing. Every newspaper and social platform published it and importantly it was the first Sangeet Natak Akademi Award for Bareilly.
More responsibility falls on your shoulders once you get recognized like this. It prompts you to do more for the cause and to prove that you were really worthy of the award. The work in the future will prove if you deserved the honor.
Beyond the OT and my medical practice, I am an ardent theatre lover. The stage at my Windermere Auditorium is my favorite space. I remain off-stage, but am adept at being ‘In & Out of Theatres.’ For me medical practice and theatre practice are both self-healing acts. It is a common sight to find me, a doctor in the white apron, shuttle between my worlds: add limb to a patient in my OT, then switch over to the light and sound on the stage and also do some social work. My medical staff and team have got acclimatized to watching the plays and cultural events in the daytime and then straight walking into the OT for the surgery.
This constantly in & out of theaters doctor is credited to have performed the maximum number of orthopedic surgeries, which he carries out only amidst the tranquility, and calmness of the night’. The doctor husband-colleague acknowledges his pediatrician doctor-wife, Dr. Garima Singh, to be the stable backbone of his profession and passion. His sons Anirudh and Abhimanyu Singh are now youngsters set on their course in life.
It was on the 1st December 2004, that this young doctor opened his multi-specialty hospital at Bareilly - Shri Siddhi Vinayak Hospital. With his dynamism and effort, he built a medical infrastructure and practice that his town and state are proud of. Shri Siddhi Vinayak Hospital functions as a trauma center that undertakes critically injured patients under advance trauma life support. His pro-activism and a ticking conscience made him set-up the Daya Drishti Charitable Trust in 2006 as its chairman. True to its name the Foundation looks with an eye of empathy while rendering very commendable medical treatment to the under-privileged. These include: extending charitable service of free blood transfusion twice a month, to the thalassemia afflicted children, ophthalmic consultation and cataract surgery, rehabilitation of spine injured patients or paraplegics, blood donation camps twice a year. Daya Drishti has been conducting the Casualty & Accident Relief Services – CARS that station ambulances on the highways and at strategic sites of Bareilly in association with the police. It was for this service that the doctor was awarded the UP Ratan in 2008.
For his social participation and pro-activism as a citizen he was made the brand ambassador of Bareilly in the election campaign - A Voter Icon! Amidst his most hectic and life affirming activities he penned his book - In & Out of Theatres (Heart-warming Vignettes beyond Operation-Theatre) - a book of medical cases, the characters, his own riveting life account and the inner and outer world of his medical practice and artistic theatre nurturing. He has also written a play.
You are also a playwright. Paladin’s making tells a sensitive story.
Our drama company staged the play Paladin, based on the book (memoir) When Breadth Becomes Air, by Dr. Paul Kalanithi. (The book is about his life and illness with stage IV metastatic lung cancer. It was posthumously published in January 2016). When I had read the book and about the life of Paul Kalanithi I was so moved and motivated, especially by his life. His work in medicine not only motivated me, but also changed my perspective and my attitude towards my patients. I used to keep it by my side when I went to sleep and read a page when I woke up. It had such a profound effect on me that I changed as an individual. I wondered how I could make a book by this wonderful American neurosurgeon more reachable to the people in India. So I shared with someone my intention to make it into a play and came to know that it takes at least a year to do so. However, I wanted to present it in the year itself, so I immediately got to writing and formed the first draft within the said year. I got in talks with Mr. Ashwat Bhatt thereafter – he is a distinguished theatre personality, and he agreed to direct it.
In conclusion Paladin came to reality because of the combined effort s of amazing people like Mr. Bhaskar Jha, Ashwat Bhatt, Mr. Sangeet Shrivastava, Mr. Vikram from LAMDA and NSD and many more people. I made the basic structure, which was then turned into a beautiful script by Mr. Bhaskar Jha. So, I won’t give the credit of playwright to myself, but to the whole team of Rang Vinayak Rang Mandal, Mr. Ashwat Bhatt and Mr. Bhaskar Jha.
Topics such as Putting Humanity and Humanities back in Medicine, Learning & Mastering the Human Side of Medicine, The Inner & Outer World Of Medicine, Good Medicine Does Not Just Happen, It is Thoughtfully Planned & Practiced’ etc. - pre-dominantly feature in your talks and articles and in your book. Simultaneously you have attended seminars at the National School of Drama to speak on ‘The role of a theatre promoter, impresario, in the movement of Indian theatre and advancement of society.’ Your endeavor in interacting with school students, doctors-in-the-making and students across disciplines is to share the inherent nobility of your profession as a doctor. It may in some small way guide them in their own future choices within the profession and outside while negotiating the world. Do explain your philosophy as a doctor.
My philosophy as a doctor is quite simple. Whoever comes to me, believes in me. So it becomes a double responsibility, considering that they pay me as well. Their trust means more to me than the fee they pay, hence, I'm not supposed to break it. So I believe that I should go to whatever extent to treat my patients who trust me with their life. I want to leave no stone unturned, if there's a possible treatment in my capacity for any of them.
You are a doctor who also chronicles his patients’ case-stories as a narrative to share. They carry emotions. Do share a medical case or two that most visibly rests in you. Something that will resonate with the readers?
The cases that come to my mind are that of two very young people named, Gunjan and Bhrungesh. Gunjan came to me with acute pain in her hips, which later got diagnosed as AVN (Avascular Necrosis of Hip) right before she was to get married. Her story was published in India Today's Sahitya Varshiki Magazine as well. Bhrungesh was the survivor of a train accident, who got injured so badly that we had to amputate three of his limbs. But I will always remember him as the brave boy who never cried. Throughout his painful ordeal, he didn't cry once and always had a smile on his face. Truly a magnificent boy!
Your association with the artistic theatre, building an infrastructure at Bareilly, running a theatre group for decades, holding annual theatre festival of plays from India, workshops with Thalassemia children have been noted. Do update us on your recent and present theatre activities - also of your other cultural activities.
This year brought unrest and uncertainty for our company alongside COVID. But we still managed to stage the play Park, for army personnel on the celebration of the arrival of Vijay Jyoti in Bareilly in December with proper social distancing.
Before that was the Windermere Theatre Festival of January 2020, where we staged Gulab Bai, directed by Mr. Randhir Kumar of NSD with Anamika Tiwari, Sayan Sarkar and with Danish Khan in the lead role. As of now, we are trying to slowly get back on the track. And the first move is an upcoming workshop for kids on public speaking.
Who are the theatre practitioners in India or abroad who you admire?
Manav Kaul, Gopal Dutt Tiwari, Abhishek Majumdar from Bangalore and Ashwat Bhatt who directed Paladin are some of my favorite playwrights. As for the foreign plays, I haven't seen any, except the one time at Globe Theatre in London where they staged Shakespeare's Measure for Measure.
Who are your favorite literary writers and playwrights? And books, plays, films?
There are many writers I admire, including Paul Kalanithi, Abraham Verghese, Atul Gawande, Andre Aciman and David Sheff. Some of my favorite movies are The Shawshank Redemption and Talk to Her, Catch Me If You Can. And Hindi film October, featuring Varun Dhawan and Imtiaz Ali's Tamasha; also, Abhishek Majumdar's play Kaumudi is one of the best plays I've ever seen.
How is the cultural scene in India 2021?
It's only been 2 months into '21, so I can't say much as of now, but I really hope for the best.
Is there ever a tug of war between the doctor and the creative nurturer in you?
When I'm practicing medicine, I miss theatre and when I'm at theatre I miss medicine; the fear of missing out constantly ticks in my brain. I can't live without either. But I consciously put in efforts to not let anything affect my work. For instance, I performed continuous surgeries even during the busiest festival events. So I've never compromised medicine because of theatre or my writing. Medicine is above all for me my first priority.
What is your future plan as a doctor and as a cultural activist?
Sometimes I wish that my medical work could be documented and published. In a way, I'm academically poor, since I don't keep proper records of my cases. And when I do, I wish to get the case reports published. But then laziness takes over me or it gets sidetracked because of lack of time. In the end, the only records that remain are the pictures, which I take in my phone.
Other than that, my fellowship in Davos Switzerland, allows me to take a course that I want to continue, so that I can keep on studying about trauma and keep myself updated. I've submitted the script of my new book - Next Patient, Please - to Rupa Publication, which is under process.
I want to take our 3 hour-long rendition of Ramleela to small towns and villages in the near future. Also eradicating the stigma towards theatre in Bareilly is a long-running mission of mine. I strongly believe that without the culture of sahitya (literature), sangeet (music) and kala (arts), man would be mere animal even if without horns and tails. As a doctor I know how important mind-health is. It needs professional and creative stimulus. While my medical practice is the elixir of my life, it is also some source of pain and depression. Promoting theatre is my tonic of vitality. Perhaps, it was to assuage the borrowed tension of the medical profession that I consciously and passionately became a theatre activist and a creative arts enthusiast.
Dr Brijeshwar Singh’s future plan of taking a 3-hour-long rendition of Ramleela across the country will bring full circle Pundit Radheshyam Kathavachak’s rendition of the Ramayan and his own contribution and participation during the early years of the Parsi Theatre that nurtured the soil on which Bareilly Theater would grow through the decades.