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Brotherhood - Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream by Deepak & Sanjiv Chopra
Writing a double memoir was uncharted territory for us. We had no model to follow. When two people write together, they combine their voices as one. Why didn’t we? Deepak could have controlled himself and not bossed his little brother around (he promised). Sanjiv knows how to hold his own and stick out a gentle elbow when in danger of being pushed out of the nest.
Instead, we chose this novel way of presenting the story of our lives, because it proved more exciting for us and, we hope, for the reader. One brother is free to tell how he remembers early days in Jabalpur and Shillong, seeing through his set of eyes memories, nostalgia, denial, and fantasy. Then a second viewpoint is offered. The facts, as it were, don’t change. A big colonial house in Jabalpur where our father saw a stream of patients every day and our mother quietly fed the poorest ones is what it is. Facts are no more than the seed of a memoir. It was better to let each brother sow his own seedlings, free to let the past unfold in its own peculiar way. We didn’t look at each other’s chapters along the way. There were no arguments over who was right.

Another reason to write as separate voices came from our publisher, who felt that beyond the Chopra brothers lay the larger world of immigration and the American dream. The two of us chose to leave India with no money or property except the intellectual property of a medical school diploma and some dreams. Not many Americans were aware of Indian immigration in the Seventies, much less an “Indian diaspora.” They were focused on their own troubles, for one thing, especially the Vietnam conflict that created a severe doctor shortage and opened the door for two young foreigners to practice medicine here. The general view, to be blunt, was that foreign doctors were necessary but not welcome.
India didn’t want us to leave, either. The government had banned the written examination that a doctor needed to pass before America would grant a work visa. Only a pittance was allowed to be exchanged into dollars for travel abroad. There was a much deeper resistance at work, however. India is a mother culture that actually mothers, that holds its children tight and very reluctantly lets go. As young — and eager to prove ourselves — as we were, we heard tears being shed behind us at the Delhi airport, and not just by our parents. Our choice to step away made us neither fully Indian nor fully American. We had seized a double fate.

At birth, a pair of identical twins shares the same genes, but by the time they turn seventy, their genetic profiles are dramatically unalike. The actual DNA hasn’t changed, but its activity has, rising and falling, recombining thousands of on-off switches. This divergence happened to us, only it was a set of cultural genes that we shared. As you will see, our lives took drastically different paths. Deepak played a major role in bringing Indian spirituality and the medical tradition of Ayurveda to the West. Sanjiv continued on the path of Western medicine to become a professor at Harvard Medical School. There have been times, frankly, when we wondered whether we understood each other’s reality. Such is the fascination and pain of beginning so close.

Today a double fate is more common than ever. By current estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, 20 percent of Americans have at least one parent who was born abroad. The fabric of America has changed, bringing mixed feelings on all sides. So a double memoir made sense for the Chopra brothers. Doubleness remains true for us forty years on, piling up richness and loss, consternation and clarity. Like everyone else, we can look back on lives unlived. The life we did live feels symbolic, however. Brotherhood is universal. A self gets built, two selves find an orbit around each other, a society absorbs them into a collective fabric that is never the same tomorrow as it was yesterday. We wanted to share our journey with everyone who is building a self in the same complex and oft en mysterious way.

Purchase Deepak's new book BROTHERHOOD

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