Review – CHILLI, CHICKS & HEART ATTACKS (The Misadventure of an intern by Dr. Manjula Mendis) by Sanjaya Senanayake
This novel is the story of a non-resident Sri Lankan doctor, in his first year on the job in an Australian hospital., fresh from his graduation from medical studies. Sri Lankan by ethnicity and culture, Manjula has lived and been educated in Australia, and although Australia may be ‘down under’ in geographical terms, it’s pretty much a prosperous ‘western style’ nation to all intents and purposes. So this is the classic ‘east meets west’ tale in a slightly different setting.
Manjula is not completely eastern. He’s sensitive enough to know that his roots are Sri Lankan, but at the same time, he’s not blind to the nuts and bolts of modern, urban living. He speaks with particular insight about the dilemma faced by the children of Asian immigrants, coming to terms with life in the ‘new world environment’ (for want of a better term) as well as trying to live up to the expectations of Asian parents. He blends in well with his fellow interns, who are a bunch of people of varied ethnic backgrounds. The novel covers that year of internship and charts the joys and sorrows of the interns, Manju in particular.
There’s a ‘good versus evil’ pattern story, with the somewhat naïve interns growing up fast as they find themselves pitted against the big, bad, corrupt specialists, who are on the make and trying to get as much kudos and money as possible, walking over patients and interns included in order to achieve their aims.
Some of the characters are named with comic aptness. We have the television presenter Fabulus Hipz, longing to be taken seriously as a journalist rather than as an attractive television presenter, who stalks St. Ivanhoe’s Hospital for a scent of a scandal. There’s the misogynist homophobe, Professor Monty Bonkzalot (I’ll bet he does) and the sympathetic Dr. Precious Thyme. But the real humour reveals itself in a series of hilarious stories about life on the wards, most of which involve our intrepid hero, Dr. Manjula Mendis. Take the time Manju takes sleeping medication to knock himself out after a night shift and accidentally takes some ‘happy pills’, waking up early in what could be described as ‘one hell of a pre-dick-ament’. I’m not going to reveal what it is, you’ll have to read the book to find out.
Manju comes across as a lovable if sometimes overly smart fellow. The kind who everyone thinks is very simple but who is extremely insightful underneath. His concern for the culturally misplaced intern Lucky King, who disowns her Indian heritage warms the heart, as does his friendship with the lesbian intern with schizophrenic dress sense, Dr. Alternaria Molde. It’s Alternaria’s wisdom which helps Manjula make up his mind about his love for Sundari, a Sri Lankan girl whose background is not good enough for his snobbish mother.
This heartwarming, hilarious and sometimes outrageously farcical story has found its way on to my keeper shelf and it shall stay there forever. Get a copy and read it for yourself. Actually, Manjula’s humour reminds me that laughter really is the best medicine. I think he would agree.
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