Shilpi Somaya Gowda, Author
The doctor fixed Maya’s [cleft]lip. “Magic. A miracle, really.” Papa looked up, his eyes moist, and said to Anil, “You should be a doctor. You will do great things.”
Jayant Patel, the current patriarch of Panchanagar’s most respected family, lives with his large extended family in the Big House. Following centuries of tradition, Jayant proudly begins to train his eldest and most favored son to replace him. A patriarch is responsible for the family’s farm operations, financial support, and perhaps most importantly arbitrator of disputes and dispenser of advice and wisdom. To have a son is golden.
Beginning at a very young age, Anil follows his father through his daily routines.
The two go out into the fields to hands-on learn to cultivate and harvest the crops. When he is old enough, Anil enters the local public school and quickly becomes the first in his class to read and learn his math tables. As he shows more and more prowess at education, the fewer farm duties he is expected to perform; his share of farm work shifted to his younger siblings.
As oldest son, Anil had more privilege and free time as a young child and was permitted to develop a friendship with a tenant farmer’s young daughter named Leena. The two children spent carefree hours enjoying the freedom of youth; not yet encumbered with time honored gender roles.
When Anil was 10, Jayant witnessed the successful cleft palate repair of a local child. He was so awed by the child’s transformation, he decided that his intelligent Anil should become a doctor and live a life beyond the village. Anil was encouraged in his studies to prepare himself for acceptance into medical college.
Over time Anil and Leena drifted apart as they were unable to spend time together in play. Leena remained at home learning women’s duties, preparing herself for an arranged marriage and family. Their friendship faded behind the curtain of cultural expectations.
Anil’s life looks to be full of hope and promise. Married life for Leena was loveless, harsh and cruel. The “good family” selected for Leena had a false front and she suffered terribly. In time Leena chose to face social disgrace and returned to live with her parents.
Anil efforts were rewarded and he was accepted to medical college in Ahmadabad. It didn’t take him
long to comprehend how disadvantaged his previous education opportunities were compared to the other medical students. Socially isolated, the six years in Ahmadabad were spent studying to prove his competence and eligibility in this world outside the village.
Emboldened by his personal educational success in India, Anil dreamed big. He applied for an internship in the United States and is granted a medical residency at a large metropolitan hospital in Dallas, Texas.
Arriving in America confident yet apprehensive, Anil experiences culture shock and is quickly overwhelmed. Book smart but experience short, Anil makes a medical mistake that costs a patient his life. While struggling to learn his way in a modern fast paced setting, his father suddenly dies back in India leaving Anil stranded between two worlds.
Returning to India without permission from the hospital, Anil has to confront the changes to his life back home. Spoiled as a child, he’s not prepared to become patriarch. Having not completed his medical residency, he’s not prepared as a doctor. The sudden death of his father has left the family in a precarious financial position and as the new family leader floundering around in the dark to find answers. He questions where he belongs.
The reader is charmed by the love and strength of the Patel clan in Panchanagar and the support he receives in the Dallas hospital as Anil finds his way in diametrically opposite worlds.
The ending isn’t quite the cookie cutter finish you might predict but nonetheless very well crafted and satisfying.