Rendezvous with  Dr. Soumeek Chowdhuri

-Dr. Akanksha Mahajan

Dr. Soumeek Chowdhuri is an accomplished author and dedicated medical faculty residing in the historic lanes of Kolkata. With three novels to his credit, including “Howz Murder for an Experiment,” “Silent Execution,” and the recently published “The Devil’s Surrogate,” Soumeek crafts narratives that seamlessly intertwine real science with mystery.

Growing up surrounded by the verdant landscapes of the IIT campus, Dr. Soumeek’s childhood love for reading and writing found inspiration in literary luminaries such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. This influence evolved as he delved into the works of modern crime writing doyens PD James and Ruth Rendell.

In addition to his literary pursuits, Dr. Soumeek is a faculty member (Assistant Professor Dept. of Forensic Medicine and toxicology) at one of India’s oldest medical schools, Calcutta National Medical College, Kolkata. His dedication has resulted in over forty published research papers and earned him accolades, including the prestigious Scottish award from the Indian Academy of Forensic Medicine.

Q1. With your impressive qualifications, including an MBBS (Hons 1st medal) and MD in Forensic Medicine, as well as being a Scottish awardee by the IAFM, could you let us know about a specific moment or experience that fueled your passion for forensic medicine?

A: The subject of forensic medicine is diverse, interesting, and closely related to the series of novels I have written thus far, featuring a protagonist who is a professor of forensic medicine. However, unlike the heroes of yesteryears, he does not always emerge victorious. As for my choice of the MD subject, known for my plain speaking, it was the NEET PG rank that could have determined my specialization in paraclinical or preclinical disciplines, among which forensic medicine stood out as an intriguing option. The fact that I have performed well in it seems destined, considering my strong performance during my undergraduate studies.

Q2. Despite having tremendous commitments as a medical professional, researcher, and educator was there something particular that fascinated you towards the world of literature? Were there specific authors or books that inspired your love for literature and storytelling from an early age?

A: From a very early age, I was drawn to Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Later, I developed a similar fascination for Agatha Christie, and I ended up devouring all their books multiple times until I knew them almost by heart.

Q3. Given the unique nature of forensic cases, how might expressive arts, such as poetry or literature, be incorporated into the grief counselling process for families dealing with loss? Are there instances where creative expression has played a role in helping families navigate the aftermath of a forensic investigation?

A: In the realm of forensic medicine, the power of literature extends beyond clinical procedures, playing a crucial role in advocacy and fostering empathy. While medical examinations are indispensable, literature, in the form of articles or novels, enriches our understanding of loss and grief associated with forensic cases.

Autopsies, often dealing with sudden deaths, provide a unique interface between science and human emotion. Literature enables medical professionals to approach these situations with heightened compassion, drawing insights from shared human experiences documented in narratives. Figures like Rabindranath Tagore exemplify how personal grief can be channeled into creative inspiration, offering a profound perspective for those in forensic medicine.

For medical students, integrating literature into their education provides a holistic view of patient care. Beyond technical aspects, literature equips future professionals with a more nuanced understanding of the emotional complexities surrounding forensic cases. It becomes a bridge between the scientific and human dimensions of their work, advocating for a compassionate and insightful approach to the challenges they will face.

Q4. Effective communication is crucial in both literature and medicine. Can you share specific communication strategies you find valuable in your role as an educator and researcher, and how can these skills be honed by medical students?

A: In the convergence of literature and medicine, effective communication is paramount. As an educator and researcher, key strategies have emerged, offering valuable insights for medical students looking to refine their communication skills.

Public speaking, integral to an author’s role, enhances articulation and presence—essential attributes for both literary presentations and medical consultations.

Active listening, fundamental in crafting engaging dialogues and crucial in patient care, improves diagnostic accuracy and fosters meaningful connections. Medical students benefit by integrating this skill, elevating their standing among patients.

Character analysis in the literature highlights human diversity, a valuable asset in clinical practice. Recognizing differences allows medical practitioners to tailor communication to individual patient needs.

Literature’s role in developing empathy proves crucial. By transcending judgment and appreciating diverse perspectives, individuals can enhance their ability to connect with patients facing challenges.

Q5. Forensic medicine often deals with challenging and sensitive cases. Could you discuss a case or situation that posed unique challenges and how you navigated through it, highlighting the importance of both medical and communication skills?

A: In forensic medicine, navigating challenging cases requires a delicate balance of medical expertise and effective communication. A poignant example that underscores the significance of both occurred in a death-by-fire case.

The scenario involved a fire in a building where individuals on different floors succumbed to the incident. Complicating matters, the lower floor housed a chemical storage unit. To address the sensitive concerns of grieving relatives, we needed to provide not only medical insights but also communicate with empathy.

Medical knowledge played a pivotal role in determining that the victims had already died from smoke inhalation before the fire reached them—an instance of postmortem burn. Communicating this finding to the bereaved family required not only clinical precision but also a compassionate approach.

Drawing inspiration from literature, we shared narratives of similar incidents, such as those in Charite Bazar, Paris. This not only contextualized the situation but also offered solace by indicating that, in such cases, death was likely to be less painful. The blend of medical expertise and empathetic communication aimed to provide comfort to the grieving family.

This case exemplifies the intricate dance between medical and communication skills in forensic medicine. While medical knowledge led to a conclusive understanding of the event, effective communication, guided by insights from literature, played a crucial role in offering solace and understanding to the bereaved family.

Q6. Your writing often navigates the intersection between realism (from your medical profession) and fiction. How do you strike a balance between incorporating real-world details and allowing for creative liberties in your storytelling? How do you weave ethical dilemmas into your fictional narratives, and do you believe exploring moral quandaries in literature can help students develop a deeper understanding of medical ethics?

A: Readers who have perused my writing often comment that my characters resemble real-life individuals. Of course, this doesn’t imply that they are directly extracted from reality, but rather, there is a blend of daily experiences and the anecdotal essence of real life woven into my fiction. All three novels I’ve written explore ethical dilemmas to some extent. The first, “Howz Murder for an Experiment,” unfolds in a medical research institute, delving into the moral principles of medical research. The second, “The Silent Execution,” which garnered significant acclaim, revolves around the moral principles of relationships in the post-COVID era. It intricately weaves genetics and real-life science into a captivating narrative, earning it the Best Plot Award. The third, “Devil’s Surrogate,” tackles same-sex relationships and gay surrogacy, navigating the associated laws and ethics within a mysterious storyline. My writing is an original blend of real science and literature, offering an engaging and educational experience for readers of all ages.

Q7. Among the characters you’ve created in your novels, do you have a favourite, and if so, what makes that character particularly special to you? Characters in your books might often be faced with moral choices. How do you navigate the moral complexities of the characters’ decisions, and do you believe the choices they make reflect broader ethical challenges in the real world of medical research?

A: The main character, though crafted in a newer mould, doesn’t always hog the limelight. For instance, one such character, Ryan Ray, MD, an assistant professor of forensic medicine in a government medical college, holds a special place for me. He resonates with me in many aspects — a strong academic, and knowledgeable, yet a misfit in the system. Consequently, he grapples morally and ethically, engaged in a perennial battle. To some extent, there’s a detached philosophical aspect to his character as well.

Q8. Having traveled and collaborated internationally, do you think literature, beyond academic journals, can serve as a bridge to understanding diverse cultural perspectives in medicine?

A: International work opens your mind. Reading literature broadens your views and provides a sense of perspective, challenging the preconceptions often instilled in medical schools. In a way, it becomes easier to navigate the challenges in your medical practice. Travelling and collaborating internationally offer opportunities to connect with more people, expanding your repertoire of characters as a writer, so, the more you know people the more characters you meet as a writer.

Q 10: Winning the Best Faculty Prize (II) from IAFM in 2019 is a remarkable achievement. How do you balance your responsibilities as a faculty member with your contributions to the field of forensic medicine that led to this recognition?

A: I’ve had the privilege of being recognized with various awards throughout my career, including the Best Faculty Prize (II) from IAFM in 2019. Balancing faculty responsibilities while contributing to forensic medicine research has been a journey guided by dedication.

Consistently, I’ve aimed to produce 5-6 research papers annually, resulting in a total of 50 publications over the years. This commitment is simply a part of my effort to navigate both teaching responsibilities and contributing meaningfully to forensic medicine. Through a disciplined approach of compartmentalization and prioritization, I seek to seamlessly integrate my faculty duties with my commitment to advancing the field.

Q11. What advice would you offer to the budding medicos who are passionate not just about practicing medicine but so much more like research, teaching, creative arts, etc.?

A: For budding medicos passionate about more than just medicine, my advice is to embrace diverse interests like research, teaching, and creative arts. Recognize the vastness of the medical field, allowing room for exploration. Engage in research for a deeper understanding, consider teaching to share knowledge, and explore creative arts for balance. Having more skills adds depth to your capabilities and provides comfort during challenges. Embrace a multifaceted approach to your medical journey, finding joy in diverse experiences.

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