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It is commonly believed that patients in India do not need to be told about their operations as they are unable to understand the complexities and forget the salient facts soon afterwards. Obtaining informed consent is therefore considered to be an unnecessary ritual. We studied 100 consecutive patients undergoing elective major abdominal operations and asked them 5 days after their operations to recall certain details about the procedure which had been explained to them preoperatively. Seventy per cent of the patients recalled the relevant data. The ability was the same in males and females (67% and 69%) but the older, less educated and poorer patients performed worse than the others. Ninety-eight per cent of the patients appreciated being given the information as it reduced their anxiety about the operation. Indian patients are able to comprehend and should be informed about the details of their operation. Particular care should be taken during explanation to the old, poor and illiterate. In these informed consent should be a continuous process rather than a single event and the information should also be given to a younger and more educated relative.