Rockhampton surgeon Dr Krishna Rao with his book, The Coucal Collaterals.
Rockhampton surgeon Dr Krishna Rao with his book, The Coucal Collaterals. Image Supplied

Krishna cuts a new path

ROCKHAMPTON'S Krishna Rao loves the cut and thrust of his life as a surgeon, but it is his other love - that of books and words - that has led him to a sideline career as an author.

Dr Rao is about to launch his first novel, The Coucal Collaterals, in Rockhampton.

He started the project at his home in India in 2004 when he was about to leave for a sabbatical in the United Kingdom.

Articles started appearing in the news. American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh was revealing graphic images of torture in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

There was talk emerging about the CIA arresting people in foreign countries and sending them off to prisons, citing “extraordinary rendition”.

“It struck me that this was a power that could be abused,” Dr Rao said.

“I thought … I'm going to Heathrow Airport. What if something like that was to happen to me?”

Thus the seed had been planted. The first-time author sorted through the plot in his mind for a few months, bought his first laptop and set to work.

“I used to find time here and there to pen a few lines and then transcribe them and spend time crafting them,” he said. The main character is 50-something-year-old Indian surgeon Ram Sharma. This is no coincidence.

“It's very autobiographical,” Dr Rao said. “Many of the characters are drawn from life.

“They say that your first book is often autobiographical … I'm a doctor who's written a book, not a writer.”

While the character is very similar to his creator, the plot is a work of fiction. Dr Sharma is arrested at Heathrow Airport in London, when he is mistaken for a leader of a terrorist organisation.

He is taken to Abu Ghraib in Baghdad and is subjected to a lengthy period of torture while he pleads his innocence.

The title owes its name to the coucal - a large bird, common in India, and considered lucky.

“It's such a shy thing, but in our area we had several of them. They are quite beautiful - not spectacular to look at, but handsome and regal, with confidence. I think they're magnificent.”

In the book the coucal is like an alter ego to the main character … a voice of reason in his time of terror.

While the character Ram is happily married to his wife Shobhana in the novel, Dr Rao is devoted to his real-life wife Sona.

“I have to acknowledge the role of my wife Sona, who at times did not know if she was a character in the book,” he said.

“The other influence is of my old school, an Irish Christian Brothers College in India, which instilled a love of the English language,” Dr Rao said.

The well-respected surgeon has been in Rockhampton since 2007 and has a whole new set of acquaintances that had heard about his book. Hence the local launch.

The book was published by Writers' Workshop India, which specialises in books in English by Indian authors, and supports first-time writers. The publisher has also printed works by best-selling author Vikram Seth ( A Suitable Boy).

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