I went to the book launch of this personal story, thinking I recognised the author’s name and then discovered he had been the Vice-Chancellor of Sussex University where I’d studied as a mature student! Out of context at a small bookshop and not using his doctor title it took some time for the penny to drop! I certainly had more time to chat to him that evening and discovered so much about his life and career.
This is a self-published book and my only criticism is the format – neither a hardback or paperback, it is quite a clumsy hold and the print is grey (not black) on white so may put off readers with eyesight issues.
However, there is no issue with the content.
Farthing was a young medical doctor, not fully trained, when he decided to travel beyond his previous visits to Europe and applied to a mission hospital in an impoverished village in South India to undertake some wider work experience.
Conditions, as you might imagine, are tough and basic but along the way he meets some remarkable people: dedicated Indian surgeons and nurses struggling to do their best with limited resources, the clash of cultures and the echo of the past colonial British Raj. Real-life descriptions of surgery and treatments may not be for the squeamish but then it does us good to remember how so much of the world doesn’t have the access to the wonderful free NHS that we do.
Perhaps the weirdest anecdote is when he later returns to India as a doctor paid to spend time on a film set alongside Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson (from Brief Encounter) now filming the pilot for the forthcoming series that would become The Jewel in the Crown.
Farthing is, of course, by trade a precise medical doctor and perhaps his style is too minutely descriptive. But as readers we are completely drawn into India from his perspective as it was a country with which he still continues to have links and we see 50 years of changes and challenges across politics, health education and the economy.
The photographs (many from his own personal collection) are fascinating and give a wider view of India and its people. It was 1969 when Farthing first set foot on the Indian continent. Times, of course, were very different from today’s fast pace interconnected world. The use of letter writing and ‘chits’ (all of which he has kept) give a magical intimate insight into how special the country and its people came to be for the author.
An enjoyable read which gave me a wider knowledge of a man with obvious well established connections across academia and the arts. Book club members who may have travelled to India or perhaps have links to the medical profession would I think be intrigued in the revelations but overall it may have a limited appeal.
Philipa Coughlan 4/3
Finding India by Michael Farthing
Unicorn 9781912690473 pbk Oct 2019