It will not be an exaggeration to say that the physician turned novelist A J Cronin inspired many of us older doctors in Nepal to join the medical profession. His description of patients with tuberculosis which is still rampant in our part of the world is fascinating to read. He cleverly spun a story around these characters in 'The Stars Look Down' where his opening paragraphs describe a cough in a character which has profound implications as the story unfolds. His timeless stories about coal miners with TB in Wales in the early 20 th century ( 'The Citadel', for example) has echoes of stories of patients in present day Kathmandu, Karachi to Kerala.
After graduating from medical college from the University of Glasgow in 1914, he visited India as a ship's surgeon. This trip probably had a profound effect on him as he witnessed how humanity in distant lands eked out an existence. It was fortunate for his readers that later due to an illness, he serendipitously found his calling in writing with his first book, 'Hatter's Castle'.
The oral medical exams for his MRCP that he describes in his autobiography 'Adventures in Two Worlds' is very reminiscent of exactly what goes on in many medical colleges throughout Nepal ( indeed South Asia) even to this day.
Many factors are dependent on the whim of the examiner. When one realises Cronin is not a graduate of Oxford or Cambridge but rather from a Scottish University, the disdain on the part of the examiner is apparent. Cronin suddenly feels ill at ease in his inexpensive suit. What follows is some of the finest and most relevant writing that many Nepali doctors can easily identify with and will love to read.
In the seventies no Western book store would be complete without a collection of Cronin's books. Many of us that were fortunate to read his books fervently discussed the various characters as they continued to hold us spellbound.
Many of his stories also dealt with social injustices where the protagonist is a lone fighter for the rights of the disenfranchised. In Nepal where there are too many examples of social inequities and selective application of the law, the selfless character of Francis Chisholm in 'The Keys of the Kingdom' will continue to inspire long after you have finished reading the book.