The Bear Wore a Swimsuit: Recalling vignettes from the past the way they should be | Book Review

Most events narrated in the book will remain etched in memory for long. Photo: Book cover

“What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember it,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez revealed — albeit discreetly — the secret of good storytelling.
His pen weaved magic, leaving readers across the world spellbound and making them wonder where reality had merged into fantasy. His works recreated memories, images that keep revisiting the reader even at the most unexpected hours.

Yet, the magician who wielded his pen like a magic wand that created lasting memories, slipped into a world that erased the past from his mind as dementia bogged him down with an envious vengeance in his sunset years.

It, however, failed to leave a void. Marquez lives on in millions of hearts that raced with each sentence he penned, creating everlasting stark images that provide a feeling of lightness to all who have been touched by the literary genius.
"One Hundred Years of Solitude", too, begins with Colonel Aureliano Buendía recalling a distant innocent event as Marquez introduces him with a remarkable and evocative opening for a magnum opus, "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad..."

The Colombian great retold his life from 1927 through 1950 in his memoir, "Living to Tell the Tale", with an opening that again went back down memory lane to that day when his "mother asked me to go with her to sell the house". Marquez's literary life was testimony to the creation of epics from memories.
Marquez came to mind with such a force while reading Dr Susie Baboo Samuel's memoir, "The Bear Wore a Swimsuit."

Like the South American maestro, she too has kept memories close to her heart, and painted a wide canvas with words, sedately depicting her family tree of several generations, before taking the reader through the fast lane, traversing several countries.
The journey started from a village in Central Travancore and crossed over to Singapore via Madras, and to Bhutan, Nepal, the UK, and back to Madras (now Chennai).

Dr Samuel tells a tale in her "The Bear Wore a Swimsuit." The tale is not fiction, but real-life vignettes of an affectionate family of several generations — both living and dead — spread over different times and countries.
Some poignant events narrated may make the eyes well up, but a lingering smile sparked by the innocent love for life, empathy, brotherhood, and compassion will wipe away the tears.

The book becomes dearer since it acknowledges setbacks and finds satisfaction in small joys in life, reminding us that life is worth living, and to live and love better.
Several non-resident Keralites have left an indelible mark abroad and at home. They all have tales, and memories to tell. Yet, Dr Samuel stands apart with her narrative skills. She has presented each memory with unparalleled beauty and in a unique, captivating style.

Dr Samuel and her husband were born to doting parents in ordinary families. With their hard work and determination, both became doctors and dedicated their lives to nursing poor tuberculosis patients in remote villages in India and abroad.
The message of compassion that the author's father, a Christian priest, had passed on, prompted her to take a path less travelled. She also had the support of her family who taught her the values of love and dedication.

Most events narrated in the book will remain etched in memory for long. Some bring smiles, others tears, like the ups and downs in the rollercoaster ride called life. The chapters on the death of her parents are the most poignant.
Despite being a doctor, the author was just a daughter when her father breathed his last, a girl could not accept the truth and waited for a miracle to prevent her father from following her predeceased mother.

Each word in "The Bear Wore a Swimsuit" is passionate, and sincere. Even a microscopic look will not find a word of hatred and anger. The narrative begins with the incidents before Dr Samuel was born, the incidents that she later heard from others.

"A story that almost never happened. My Dad was presumed dead during the Japanese occupation of Singapore during WW-II. When he returned unannounced to India many weary incommunicado years later, no one recognised him. Not even my Mum, who had assumed that she was a war widow. Only his faithful K9, a German Shepherd named Sundar, did."

The incident of Daddy accompanying Mummy to Madras for her medical education, too, needs a mention. Other priests were against him taking up the journey. They misled the bishop.

The bishop and others boarded the train to Madras at the last moment and asked Daddy not to travel. Daddy agreed to listen to the bishop, and aborted the trip on the condition that his wife would travel to Madras. He stood firm on his stand that he would support his wife's wish to pursue medicine.

Dr Samuel, who proved that love will be rewarded with love, has saved many from death. Even in her book of memoirs, she is providing treatment with words, nursing those suffering from pain and misery. For them, Dr Samuel's words are a panacea, each narrated event, a painkiller.
When she wraps up memories spanning over several years in a single sentence, even non-believers might say, "Thank you, God!"

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