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A Village Boy at Heart

Subrahmanyam Boyareddi


A Village Boy at Heart


A Village Boy at Heart

An Autobiography

Subrahmanyam Boyareddi


LifeTime Private Autobiography

The experience of sharing your stories in a private autobiography for the family

Copyright © 2022 Subrahmanyam Boyareddi

First produced in the U.S.A. in 2022 by Private Autobiography Service, Inc. for the Author’s private circulation.

This book is produced for private circulation and is not for public distribution. The accuracy of the content is the

sole responsibility of the Author and is based on the Author’s perceptions of his experiences over time.

All opinions and statements of fact are those expressed by the Author as his personal recollections,

and dialogue and thoughts are consistent with those recollections.

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system,

or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior

written permission of Private Autobiography Service, Inc., nor be otherwise circulated

in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is produced.

Spelling, punctuation, and grammar contained in this book have been approved by the Author

and may not be in accordance with contemporary accepted styles and usage.

Typeset in Goudy Old Style.

Printed and bound in the U.K.

www.lifetimememoirs.com

info@lifebookuk.com

Private Autobiography Service, Inc., 503 E Summit Street, Crown Point, IN 46307, U.S.A. +1 800 453 0199

A LifeBook Ltd company


Dedicated to my father and mother, whose love knew no bounds,

who shaped my future. I am what I am today because of them.


CONTENTS

Acknowledgments

ix

Family Trees

xi

Introduction 15

1. The Village 17

2. The Beating That Set Me Right 55

3. Sixth to Eighth Grade 65

4. The Slap That Turned Me Around 81

5. Tenth and Eleventh Grade 87

6. Medical School 95

7. A Marriage Made in Heaven 113

8. ECFMG Preparation for USA 127

9. America: My Destiny 133

10. First Experiences in America 143

11. The Road to Residency 155

12. Residency and Fellowship 183

13. Prophecy Fulfilled 207

14. Society and Nature in Mineral Wells 231

15. My Spirituality 249

16. Boya’s Peace Passage for Meditation 277

17. Philanthropy, Family, Friends 289

18. Medical Practice and Patient Interactions 325

19. Reflections 347

Appendix: Pithru Runa 373

vii


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This memoir is a true reflection of teamwork.

I want to thank my wife, Subhashini, for pushing me to complete my memoir when I was

procrastinating.

I want to thank Madhurantakam Rajaram and Kethu Viswanadha Reddy, Telugu writers who

encouraged me to write my autobiography.

I want to thank Neelima Yelamanchili for patiently taking the time to help me properly convey

the special generational and cultural details of my story. Her help made a big difference.

I want to thank Manisha Macksood, my wonderfully enthusiastic and encouraging interviewer

with whom I enjoyed the process of sharing my memories. She went beyond the call of duty.

I want to thank Isabella Samuels, project manager at LifeTime Memoirs, for her patience and

advice throughout the entire process.

ix


BOYAREDDIGARI

FAMILY TREE

Chinna Reddy

Boyareddigari

Meenamma

Mucheli Venkata

Reddy

Eswaramma

Nadhamuni

Reddy Boyareddigari

Leelavathamma

Sivarami

Reddy

Narayana

Reddy

Lakshmipathi

Reddy

Chenchamma

Subrahmanyam

Reddy Boyareddigari

wife: Subhashini

Venugopal

Reddy Boyareddigari

wife: Surekha

Manjula

hus: Venkata Reddy

Prashanth

Reddy Boyareddigari

wife: Allison

Prabhath

Reddy

Boyareddigari

wife: Arthi

Charan

Boyareddigari

Gushyalatha

("Kitty")

Chandramouli

Rekha

Eli Sebastian

Boyareddigari

Jay Arun

Boyareddigari

Ravi Asher

Boyareddigari

Dev Ram

Boyareddigari


Vadavala Narayana

Reddy

Mutyalamma

Sithamma

Krishna

Reddy

Sreeramula

Reddy

Vadavala Rami

Reddy

1. Kodandarami

Reddy

2. Umamaheswara

Reddy

3. Narayanamma

Mogali Devan

Bahdoor

Ramakrishna

Reddy

V. Adinarayana

Reddy

Subbamma

(“Pedavva”)

Muthyala

Reddy

Meenamma

Chinna Reddy

Boyareddigari

1. Janaki Rami Reddy

2. Suseelamma

3. Kamalamma

4. Hemamma

5. Ramana Reddy

V. Gopinath

Reddy

Saraswathamma

Nadhamuni

Reddy Boyareddigari

wife: Leelavathamma

Mallika

Sumathi

Sreenivasula

Reddy

Continued on

next tree


BOYAREDDIGARI

FAMILY TREE

Padmanabha Reddy

Boyareddigari

wife: Susheelamma

Venkatram Reddy

Boyareddigari

wife: Sarojinamma

Narayana Reddy

Boyareddigari

wife: Sujathamma

Koteeswara

Reddy B.

wife: Anvradha

Kailasanatha

Reddy B.

wife: Manjulatha

Kasinatha

Reddy B.

wife: Sunanda

Lakshmi

hus: Madhusudana Reddy

Prathiba

hus. Sreenivasula Reddy

Kamalakar

Reddy B.

wife: Sowjanya

Sreedhar

Reddy B.

("China Babu")

wife: Sudha

Satish Kumar

Reddy B.

wife: Sreedeyi

Anil Kumar

Reddy B.

wife: Vani

Suneel Kumar

Reddy B.

wife: Prashanthi

Harshitha

1. Puneeth Kumar

2. Spurthi

1. Ramya

2. Rema

1. Mounika

2. Harshavardan

Pavan Kumar

1. Bharathi

2. Krupanand

1. Sudheera

2. Sameera

1. Manvitha

("Dollie")

2. Grishmitha

("Millie")

1. Sri Pallavika

2. Sai Azaad

Reddy

1. Karthik

2. Sai Pranav


INTRODUCTION

कर्मण्येवाधि कारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन।

मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि॥ २-४७

Karmanye vadhikaraste Ma Phaleshu Kadachana,

Ma Karmaphalaheturbhurma Te Sangostvakarmani

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 47

Writing this book is a way of reliving my memories, and I find the experience to be very profound.

It’s easy to go through life mechanically, with the comfort of being able to support my family,

and sometimes it feels as if my success was handed to me on a platter. In reality, though, that

platter was made by a variety of life experiences. Reliving my memories makes me more aware

that I should not simply go through the motions in life but enjoy making new experiences.

The COVID-19 pandemic from early 2020 to the time this book was published provided

the perfect opportunity to take this journey down memory lane. I rediscovered myself, and

learned more about myself through each of these memories. I was the first from my village

and my family to emigrate to America. They lived simply, not understanding the true concept

of going to “foreign” lands, but their faith in a prophecy made at my birth has allowed me

to make a big difference to my family and community. For future generations, this book

captures their roots and lays the foundation for the legacy upon which they can achieve their

own destinies.

15


I wrote this memoir for my grandchildren and future generations so that they would know

more about me and my life, although I feel that it will also give my family members and close

friends a larger understanding of me and what has influenced me, with details and stories

I was not able to express before.

Perseverance, spirituality, humor, and philanthropy define me. Throughout the following

pages, I share jokes, spiritual passages for meditation, and the basis of my philanthropy.

Subrahmanyam Boyareddi

August 10, 2022

16


CHAPTER ONE

The Village

The soul of India lives in its villages.

Gandhi

You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.

Desmond Tutu

The best thing about living in a small village is, when you are not sure what is going on

in your own life, someone in the village usually does!

Anonymous

At heart, I am a village boy. Although I have flourished as a tree in the United States,

my roots remain in the village. These roots have continued to nourish me over the years

and across the continents, with the long-lasting inspiration of my family and experiences of

growing up in the village. This village—my hometown village in India—is called Thondavada,

in the Chittoor district of the southeast state of Andhra Pradesh.

17


Thondavada was a village of less than 1,000 people when I was growing up, with, I would

estimate, around 150 families. As I share my memories in 2021, it now has about 3,000

people in 700 families. Family meant a great deal in the village, and this was typical of small

village life. Everyone supported and could rely on each other, as most of the community was

well-connected. It was not uncommon that the majority of the village people all knew each

other in some way, either being related through marriage or because of the close friendships

that develop between neighbors. We were raised in a very healthy and caring atmosphere.

My mother told me that before I was born, the village was divided into factions. For lots of

different reasons, people got into brawls and some had trouble with the law, but within the

space of a couple of years, this fighting subsided, and as the factions disappeared, the villagers

became closer and congenial again. In fact, one of the members of a rival faction helped our

family when my father asked for a loan to start his business—something that was a common

request in those days. Ultimately, the villagers forgave and forgot their disputes, and the

factions no longer existed by the time I was born.

The village had a structure. Everybody knew their place and, very interestingly, everybody

lived in harmony; however, abuse within the caste system began to arise and eventually got

out of hand. Society had been divided into four castes for hundreds of years, and although

people were initially classified under these categories based on their individual aptitudes,

over time, the classifications became hereditary, so that people were born into the castes

of their parents and ancestors. The Brahmins were highly educated people, such as priests,

Sudras were the agriculturists and represented most of the working class, the Vaisyas were

the businesspeople, and the Kshatriyas were the warriors. The Untouchables were outside

the caste system and were assigned to menial jobs. They lived separately from the rest of

the village but worked close to us and played a key role in the village—raising the cattle and

working in the fields, for example.

Today, the caste system is very much like tribalism, and although there have been efforts to

diminish and remove it, it is still going strong. These days, however, there is a much more

significant overlap of the castes, and inter-caste marriages, which used to be very rare, are now

common.

The villagers mainly worked in agriculture at first, but as more people began to continue their

education, they gravitated toward various professions. The hallmark was excellence, hard

18


work, and ethics for everyone in whatever they did. We focused on these values because they

also reflected on the reputation of the family, and because having a good family reputation

was tied into our value system, we felt a great responsibility to make sure that we worked hard

to develop and maintain a good family name.

My grandparents lived into their 90s, but my father and uncles all passed away in their 60s.

I think this is because my grandparents lived a simple village life that was mostly free of stress,

whereas my parents and uncles, as they made a transition to business and other professions,

subjected themselves to immense stress. I believe this stress took a toll on their longevity.

Large families were common, and we all lived in a shared family spirit in houses on our

combined property. The agricultural land that our family owned had never been divided and

was worked on by the whole family; however, the time came when my generation (myself and

my cousins) had to go through bureaucratic hurdles to divide the property formally. The older

generations had never kept a formal record of how the property should be divided among

their children and grandchildren. Through the generations, we have changed from being a

close family, to a loose coalition, to distant connections who visit occasionally. Generations of

families no longer live together under one roof with relatives in nearby homes. As each new

generation has grown, they have traveled, relocated, and settled down in jobs further away

from home. Now we see more nuclear families that focus on their own immediate families

instead of the extended family.

There is a joke that goes, “To save money, I suggested to one of my grown sons that we

all live together in one house. I could tell he didn’t think it would be cost-effective when

he asked, ‘Who’s going to pay for the therapist?’” The way we grew up, we never needed

a therapist; the family was always together, so whenever we had a worry or needed some

guidance, we turned to each other. You could say we acted as therapists and provided a

support system for each other. The closeness of the relationships within the village and the

strong extended family bonds meant that we all had many people upon whom we could rely.

My father

My father, Nadhamuni Reddy, was the eldest brother, with three younger brothers and one

younger sister, and he and my mother helped raise both his youngest brother and his sister.

19


My father originally started out as an agriculturalist. Later, he worked as a forest officer for

a couple of years and then began a job as a clerk for the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams

(TTD), an independent board that took care of all aspects of the temples around Tirupati

and Tirumala. The Sri Venkateswara Temple is the most well-known temple in the area

and continues to be one of the richest temples in India, receiving thousands of visitors and

donations every day. As a clerk in TTD, my father came to know some of the ins and outs of

how it worked. That knowledge helped him become a building contractor for TTD, building

many educational institutions and a hospital in the area. Just as my father moved away from

agriculture, my uncles became teachers, headmasters, and principals. Although my father and

uncles went into different professions, they continued to be involved with agriculture on a

part-time basis. At heart, they were all agriculturalists, in keeping with the traditions of the

family.

The story of my birth and of the prophecy

I am not fully certain about the true date of my birth. My mother, Leelavathamma, would say,

“You are born under the Rohini star.” This is how she remembers my birth. In those days,

the star under which we were born was more important than the date. Following tradition,

after a child was born, a family member would take the time of the day and the star under

which the child was born to get an astrological reading called a Jyotisha, that mapped out

how the child would evolve in life. This is how the older generations documented the births.

Surprisingly, they did not care for the calendar date. With my generation, it was common

that the actual birth date was not written down until it was time to register for school, and

that is when parents or grandparents would estimate the day of the month. May 1, 1950 is my

official birthdate. In astrology, the month of May does fall under the Rohini star; however,

the exact day of the month could be different.

My mother had a difficult labor with me, and I was not born in the village. Instead, they took

my mother to the neighboring town, Renigunta, where she received a higher level of care

at a Christian missionary hospital. I was delivered by a doctor named Dr. Matthews, who

was originally from England. My grandmother had trouble pronouncing his name correctly

and “Indianized” his name, calling him “Mutthayya.” When I was born, weighing in at 8 lb,

Dr. Matthews took me into his hands, looked at me and announced, “He’s going to be a

doctor like me and go to foreign countries.” His English words were translated into our

20


Telugu language for my grandparents. My grandparents and my parents truly believed what

he said would come true, and his words, and much of Jyotisha, did indeed become true. When

I was growing up my grandmother’s elder sister, Subbamma, to whom I was very close and

who was called Pedavva, which means elder grandmother, always told me I was going to be

a doctor and go to foreign countries and, therefore, had to study well. My mother and father

also reinforced that idea in me. My family believed that what Dr. Matthews said was going

to come true because of the faith they had in him, and the faith people have in the words of

another person can be very powerful. There was no religious division or influence, just the

trust they placed in the words of Dr. Matthews. The world was very simple, and people were

secure in their beliefs. They were not threatened by others. Not only did Dr. Matthews deliver

me, but with that one sentence he also laid a strong foundation for me to be where I am today.

We had two homes right across the street in Thondavada, and within those two homes were

all of my relatives. Everyone had been told of the doctor’s words and they were all excited

by this proclamation. I was the first son born of my father’s generation and marked a bridge

between the old and the new. The older generations’ strong concept of family bonds meant

that everyone would be involved in helping me achieve this dream. My uncles used to tell me

that I was going to be a doctor, saying, “You need to study hard.” My uncles were teachers,

so they had a good insight into education and how it could help me advance and succeed.

All of my uncles treated me as their own child, and they used to reinforce the importance of

education. My mother also kept reiterating the same sentiment, and my father made plans

early on of how to fund my education.

I did feel I was different from my siblings. Compared to my younger brother, Venu, I was

more disciplined and more focused. I listened to my parents more. My brother was a little

wilder, although he grew up to be a very successful businessman in Chennai. My parents tried

to treat everybody equally, but sometimes people did get the feeling that I was getting special

treatment. I was expected to excel in education and take a different path.

My beloved village, enshrined in my heart

Standing on the roof of my house in Thondavada and looking around, I could see the seven

majestic hills of Tirumala, abode of the God divine Lord Venkateswara, the majestic hills

of Chandragiri and its historic fort, prominent as one of the capitals of the Vijayanagara

21


empire. These sights were so calming and centering, bringing even a splintered mind to

laser focus. The village sits on one side of the Swarnamukhi river. On the other side of

the riverbank was a famous temple called the Agastheeshwara Temple, devoted to Lord

Shiva. The village, to me, is like a child lying in the lap of Mother Nature; the river, the

hills, the trees, the rice paddies and sugar fields, and the gardens were all so beautiful and

embracing.

I was an avid reader and one of my favorite Telugu stories, which I read in ninth grade, was

titled Chalichelama. This translates to, “The fresh, clear water that springs from the sands

in the riverbank that you dig into to get rid of dirty water, until clean water rises and which

you scoop into the palms of your hand to drink. The taste is divine and refreshing.” This

story appeared in a popular magazine and was written by my favorite Telugu language writer,

Madhurantakam Rajaram. The story was about a very poor village boy whose marriage fell

through owing to his poverty, and who then leaves his village and converts to Christianity so

that he can have access to higher education, which he receives in London. There, he marries a

British woman, and although he has children and a good life, he still thinks about his village

and his fond childhood memories of playing in the gardens and on the banks of the river,

and he has the deepest desire to return to the village and live that early life. During a visit

to India, he accidentally meets a boy from his village and, feeling happy to learn news of the

village from the boy, he shares his own childhood memories, which he had cherished, even

while living in London. He tells of how he and his friends used to play along the banks of

the river and how they would dig a hole and get rid of the dirty water and finally get to the

clear drinkable water: Chalichelama. I still remember seeing the illustration in the magazine

of the man with the village boy; he was facing the window, looking up at the sky as the child

raised his head to observe, and the man said, “My utmost desire is to go back to the bank of

that river and dig through to the clean water and drink a handful of water and experience

that indescribable feeling.”

When Madhurantakam Rajaram came to the USA in 1995 as a distinguished invitee of

the Telugu Association of North America (TANA) for its biannual conference, I came to

know of his visit and participation at the event and got in touch with him through a friend

to invite him to my house in Texas, an invitation he gracefully accepted. I described how

much the story of Chalichelama meant to me. He helped me understand the story had

resonated with me so powerfully because my heart was primed to receive it. Sometimes

I feel just like the character in the story. Even today, I would love to go to my village and

22


visit the mango gardens to pluck and enjoy the delicious fruit, and play in the streets with

my friends. It was my honor, after that visit, to help him publish more Telugu stories.

Festivals

The village culture was galvanized by the role of the Agastheeshwara Temple. Every year we

had a grand festival called Mukkoti, which is celebrated on Karthika Poornima, (the day of a

full moon). An elaborate worship of Lord Shiva is carried out on that day. The festival brought

the whole surrounding area together, and it was a major event for the village. Beginning

early in the morning and throughout the day, relatives and friends from neighboring villages

would come and make a visit at each and every house to exchange pleasantries and spend a

little time. They always gave the kids a small amount of money to buy toys and as children

we looked forward to receiving the money. We went to vendors around the temple, buying

various noisy toys, which we all enjoyed playing with. The elders enjoyed visiting with each

other as well, spending time in conversations and deepening their own connections.

Throughout the day and into the evening, everyone also visited the temple to receive

darshana, a chance to see the god and receive a blessing from the priests. Then, after a full

day of visiting family and visiting the temple, everyone gathered on the white sandy banks

of the river under the beautiful, shining full moon and the light breeze of the evening to

carry on conversations with those near and dear, while the children ran around playing

and having a good time. When the procession of the god Shiva began, we stood in silent

reverence as the god was brought outside the temple and carried to the bank of the river

and then back again. It was such a festive atmosphere. The temple and festival spirit brought

the whole of the surrounding area together, and the happiness of that time was simply the

essence of being together.

The festival of Sankranthi is a major three-day festival that is celebrated in the village and

across India, and takes place around January. The first day starts with the Bhogi festival

which, as children, we all loved to celebrate. Usually, early in the morning on this day, at

around 5 a.m., a fire of wood and dry leaves was lit in front of every house and we threw

away any old stuff that was combustible, making the fire rise to a good height. We would

compete with the neighbors to see whose fire was highest. Adults took part in this with their

kids. Because the temperature was colder, the fires helped us warm up. After a few hours of

23


eing around the warmth of the fire, we went to take a head bath, as washing our hair was

an important cleansing rite for any special occasion. We then looked forward to enjoying a

good breakfast before the festival. It was such a wholesome atmosphere when my parents,

grandparents and relatives were all together. When we all sat down for lunch to eat together,

we would be about 30 to 40 family members of all ages. It was so much fun. Later on in life,

here in the U.S., I shared this memory with one of my patients, who made the observation

that we were all so happy because we were all together, fully enjoying each other’s company.

The togetherness was the key element of these happy memories.

On the second day of the festival we celebrate Sankranti. It was a very colorful festival

because women in the village drew many-colored chalk designs, called muggulu, in front

of their homes early in the morning. They sang old village folk songs while drawing the

designs and the melodies continued throughout the morning. The whole village woke up

to a very colorful atmosphere. On this day, performing nomads visited villages and towns

with their decorated cows, while singing and playing music. In the spirit of the festival,

we usually offered them money, or food such as rice or other dried goods. Inside, the

households would be busy cooking tasty, special dishes, both savory and sweet. All the

kids had fun running around inside and outside, and sometimes we ran into the kitchen

for a taste of something only to be told to keep away until it was mealtime! For lunch we

all sat down and ate together (parents, grandparents, cousins and other relatives). There’s

a saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” In my case, this was very true. Everyone in the

village knew everyone, so if I did something mischievous at festival time—or at any time—

somebody always saw and was ready to report back to my parents. That was a part of the

close community of village life.

The third day was Kanuma, or the cattle festival. Celebrating the harvest season was a very

important part of the village life. On this day, the rich landlord of the Mogali family in

the village, who had several cows, would decorate the horns of the cows and place garlands

around their necks. Sometimes they placed money in a cloth and tied this to the garlands and

then unleashed the cows in the streets to the sounds of loud drum beats that scared the cattle

into running. Many people had a great time trying to catch the cows to see if they could take

the money from the garland.

A couple of years ago when I visited India with my wife, Subhashini, we spent a day visiting

our relatives’ home and re-experienced the festival atmosphere. We enjoyed Bhogi by lighting

24


the fire in front of my father-in-law’s house during that visit. It was a very nostalgic experience

of my childhood village memories.

The simplicity of village life

Thondavada is a highly educated village because my parents’ generation encouraged their

children into education so that they could have a prosperous life. From my generation, many

doctors and engineers came out of Thondavada. Many are currently in the U.S.

Thondavada was the first village in the area to get electricity. This was not available to all

homes, and only a few homes could operate it at first. Electricity was also not available all

the time, because it was rationed. In my mother’s village, Chiguruvada, located four to five

miles away from the town of Tirupati, it was a different story—it didn’t have electricity at all.

The road to my mother’s village was primitive and usually my siblings and I walked there

with my mother, although sometimes we rode in a bullock cart. We would enter the home of

my ammamma (maternal grandmother) and I can still remember exactly where and how she

would be sitting on the floor in the center of the house, grinding betel nuts and leaves and

taking a little batch of it to chew.

My mother had three brothers and one sister. Two brothers and their families lived in the

house as a combined family. Another brother was an engineer and lived with his own family

in the town where he was employed. My aunt lived with her husband’s family in a neighboring

village. We always enjoyed visiting this side of the family. My mother’s family owned a large

mango garden, where we kids played and, of course, plucked and enjoyed the tasty mangoes

when they were in season.

Both at my ammamma’s house and at home in Thondavada, a couple of kerosene lamps were

lit after dark, and we sat around that light on the floor to talk and eat dinner, which was

served on banana leaves or a biodegradable platter stitched together with small leaves. We

went to bed very early, at about 7 p.m., because there wasn’t much else for us to do after dark.

Perhaps we would stay awake for a little while to talk in the dark, but other activities like

reading or writing would require the use of kerosene, and that was something we wouldn’t

want to waste unnecessarily.

25


When I think back to life at that time, it amazes me how happily we were able to live and

get by without electricity. Now we can’t function without electricity as our iPhones and other

electronic gadgets depend on it. Back then, life was different, of course, but it was simpler,

and we were very happy. This concept of being happy with so little is something I want my

grandchildren to understand about me and about their roots, but I have difficulty describing

it to them. Modern technology has advanced at such a fast pace from the time I was a child,

to my sons’ experience and now, as my grandsons’ generation comes of age. I hope they realize

that no matter how much or how little you have, you can always make something wonderful

out of your experiences.

We also did not have running water. At the center of my father’s village, we had a well from

which we gathered the daily water for the households. The morning routine began as early as

6 a.m. when the women brought a bucket and pots to the well. They tied the bucket to a rope

and lowered it into the well to fill with water, and used the pulley to bring the full bucket

back up, and then poured the water into the pots. They filled their pots one by one in this

manner. They then carried these full pots and the bucket back home on foot. To do this, they

balanced one pot on the head and one pot under each arm on the hip, and there was an art

to balancing and carrying this load home. It was a lot of hard work, and good exercise. This

was most of the water used throughout the day for cooking and baths. For baths, they boiled

some of the water, and mixed it with cold water to bring it to a comfortable temperature. For

bathing, the houses had an open area where men would wear a towel and bathe, but women

were given more privacy. We only used a minimal amount of water to bathe.

When the power outage hit Texas in early 2021, the water froze throughout the pipes, and

we lost electricity and running water for a week. My wife was in Houston with our kids and

grandkids and I was alone at home, where I used the water from the swimming pool to

take care of commode-related needs, and used water saved earlier for drinking and bathing

purposes. It is amazing how little water we need to use to get by. Whether it’s to bathe, brush

our teeth, or shave, we use a much smaller amount of water when it’s not easily accessible.

This reminded me of my village well, and how hard the women worked to pump the water

and carry it home, and just how precious each drop of water was.

Buying fresh vegetables was different back then. Every day, vendors walked through the streets

of the village carrying baskets on their heads and, with loud and sonorous voices, announced

what they were selling. This could be okra, spinach, mango, or any fresh fruits and vegetables,

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and grains like rice and lentils. Women were the main cooks of the house, and they would

stop the vendor to buy the appropriate amount and item for what they wanted to cook that

day. Food was cooked fresh every day. We also had so many different types of tropical fruits

then—I do not remember all the names now—and by mid morning, farmers had come from

the forest to sell them. Nowadays, deforestation means that the variety of fruits available is

much reduced.

Nobody owned cars when I was growing up, except the sons of the rich landlord of the

Mogali family in our village. They lived in a nearby town, and when they came to visit their

family in the village, they arrived in a sky blue Plymouth car which they parked in front of the

house. This car fascinated us, and we always tried to touch it, but the driver would chase us

away. There was a great thrill in touching the car. In those days, I don’t think I even imagined

owning a car, and I remember the pride when I purchased my first car, a white Plymouth

Volaré, in the States in 1975. Today, in the States, we own a couple of European luxury cars

and almost think nothing of it. The thrill and excitement are not the same.

There was a similar feeling of excitement when planes flew over the village. They were loud

and all the kids would run outside to watch them fly by. I don’t think I imagined at that time

that I would ever fly in a plane.

My Chinnavva (my father’s mother)

On a typical day in the village, everybody woke up before sunrise, usually by 5:30 a.m. I used

to sleep with my grandmother, lying next to her on a wooden cot that was placed in the center

of the path in front of the house. It was common to sleep outdoors and there were no motor

vehicles or anything like that to worry about. We had fresh air and good glimpses of the full

moon and, on the dark nights, the stars. My grandmother would tell me stories until I fell

asleep, and in the morning I woke up to the sounds of birds, cattle and farmers going to the

fields. In the morning, the fieldworkers who worked specifically in our fields would come to

the house for soup before going to the fields and working in the hot tropical sun. This soup

was made of rice and millet along with a pickle that had high salt content which, as well as

giving it a better taste, made up for the sweat lost when they worked under the sun in the

fields. My grandmother poured this soup into the field workers’ outstretched palms for them

to sip and they then washed their hands and went on to work.

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There was a small Rama temple on the next street to my house and at around 5:30 every

morning the priest rang the temple bell to initiate prayers. I always got up and ran to the

temple to be there for the prayers because, afterwards, the priest served a very delicious yogurt

rice dish called perugu annam prasadam. I enjoyed eating that dish, so it was a motivating factor

for me to go to the temple. When I think about it, I always have a chuckle.

While the men were at work in the morning, the ladies prepared lunch to send to the fields,

and everybody took a nap in the afternoon. During leisure time the ladies got together and

gossiped and, if we children were around, we listened to them. In the village streets the

chickens, sheep, and cattle moved freely. Sometimes we saw baby chicks and the mother hen

walking in the street until, suddenly, a hawk would descend, catch a couple of chicks, and fly

away. The mother hen would frantically try to protect the chicks while all of us kids watched

the scene helplessly in horror, wishing we could do something.

In the evenings, just before dark, the men, would meet in a central place in the village which

was called racchabanda, a raised platform on which they could sit, where they talked for about

a half an hour before going home for dinner and bed. They caught up on local gossip and

news, and discussed topics like the crops for the next season. This was their way of unwinding

at the end of the day.

The village, then and now

The culture of the village has changed so much from my childhood days, and the close-knit

feeling of the community has lessened. Now, instead of gathering under the tree, people

stay indoors to watch TV in the comfort of their homes. Huts once lined the neighborhood

streets, but today, not a single hut remains. As the value of the agricultural land increased

drastically, real estate development boomed and people became more wealthy and now enjoy

a more comfortable life.

Functional aspects of village life

Twice a year, we had new clothes for the major festivals. These were stitched to our size by the

tailor, Ganga Munaiaha, whose shop was located in the next village, and we would be so excited

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to receive these new clothes and try them on. Growing up, I always wore knickers—I never

had long pants until I entered college around the age of 17. These days I can go out and buy a

very nice $100 shirt, but it doesn’t give me the same happiness and excitement as those special

clothes from the tailor during festivals. Financially, not many people in the village were welloff

and money was scarce; everyone was dependent on agricultural income so, naturally, they

were tight with money. This taught me to appreciate my blessings and how I choose to share

them. Some people may think I am being too generous, but my charity was born out of my

own experiences, which were different from those of others.

When someone in the village got sick, they would be taken by horse buggy to the doctor, who

lived in a nearby village. Mr. Madar, a Muslim and the owner of the buggy, was reliable and

helpful.

To get immediate health care for anything serious was not easy, and it was quite primitive

compared to today’s standards. I observed this with a middle-class family who lived across

from the Rama temple. The wife was widowed and had two children with disabilities. When

her son suffered a stroke, there was a big commotion as the family and community worked

together to call the horse buggy to take him to the doctor. Unfortunately, he passed away soon

afterward. Reflecting on this with my medical knowledge, the healthcare was very primitive,

and there were no facilities nearby able to diagnose or administer the necessary care.

We also had a washerman, known as a dhobi, and his was a profession that used to be passed

down through the family. They washed clothes for homes in the village.

Our village also had Untouchables. They lived at least a half mile away from the main village

in separate quarters. The reason for that, we were told, was that they did menial jobs and were

not clean. They worked in our fields with the farmers and we interacted with them, but we

were never allowed to touch them. When they came to our homes, they had to stand outside

the doors or gates. When we gave something to them, either food or other things, we would

gently drop it into their outstretched palms or into bags they held open. I still remember

pouring water into their outstretched palms, out of which they used to drink.

At that time, I never thought deeply about it because it was what had been done for hundreds

of years. Now, when I think back, it really is an unbearable thought, but it was just the way

things were back then. We had a loyal Untouchable worker, Kannigadu, who worked alongside

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my father all his life, accompanying him in the fields for agricultural work and helping to

supervise building works. He visited our house often but was never allowed to come inside.

We had conversations and he gave us advice occasionally. He took care of all our agricultural

lands and he was well connected with our family, yet he was treated as an Untouchable. We

showed him affection and care, but the distance was maintained.

Village schooldays

On school holidays we played in the streets, but otherwise, we attended school from

Monday through to a half-day on Saturday. We had an elementary school right in the

village, and boys and girls attended together, but the village did not have a high school.

This was located in a nearby town two miles away, and students who attended there had

to walk back and forth daily.

I only went to the village school for first and second grade, and then we moved to the town

of Tirupati, which is 6.8 miles from my village, for my father’s business. At that time, I did

not feel anything about the move, as we always followed our parents and were disciplined

to do so without question, although I did miss playing with my friends. However, we came

back to the village for the summer holidays and other festival holidays to celebrate with

all my uncles, aunts, and cousins. Because we visited frequently and stayed in touch, I did

not entirely miss the village life after we moved. It was almost like I lived a town and a

country life.

The school in the village was very strict, and in those days teachers used physical punishment

to make us focus. If we goofed off or provided incorrect responses, they would have us stretch

out our hands so that they could slap our knuckles with a wooden ruler, or we were made to

kneel in the corner. They believed that to shape us into better students, they needed to instill

fear so that we would not repeat our mistakes.

The focus on education was strong throughout the village, and especially at home. Some

children helped their parents in the fields, but most of us focused on our education. If I ever

wandered into the kitchen for a snack or to see what was going on, my mother would shoo

me out, telling me to go finish my homework, and if I did not bring home good grades, my

father got angry. My grandfather’s cousin, Mr. Venkata Muni Reddi, was the head of the

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village, and this meant our family held some status in the village at that time, but only a

couple of landlords were really wealthy. Many people there worked hard on the farms, under

the hot sun. Our parents presented education as a choice: if we did not study well, we would

have to plow the fields. That was a contrast and concept that made sense. Seeing these people

working so hard in the fields, sweating, and not making much money, motivated me to study.

In these ways, I received support and encouragement from everybody in the village, from all

the uncles, the neighbors, and their friends. There was a competitive spirit that existed, too,

because our village was the most educated in the entire district, and we wanted to maintain

that reputation.

In my school days, the common and accepted thought was that for children to be disciplined,

we had to feel fear. In second grade, my teacher, Mallam Muni Reddi, was a very strict

disciplinarian. If students did not complete their homework or made mistakes during

the lessons, he would punish us by using a ruler to slap our knuckles, or another form of

punishment intended to bring us back into focus. While he was teaching one day, I was

talking and giggling with a friend. Mallam Muni Reddi sent me to the corner of the classroom

to stand with my back straight against the wall with bent knees until I was basically in a chair

position. I had to hold myself in place like this for 15 minutes, after which I was wobbling.

I was scared to make mistakes but was not emotionally traumatized by these punishments,

and I held no grudges. This discipline helped mold me and the intent and affections of

the teacher were still clear. After the class the teacher would gently pat me on the back and

encouragingly remind me, “You need to study hard and focus.” Teachers were not paid that

much and lived in the village with us. The parents never interfered with the teachers, not like

they do now, and the parents fully supported the teachers and their methods. The teachers

cared for us and our education, and they were highly respected. If we ever complained or

felt that a punishment was unfair, parents sided with the teachers, believing they had a good

reason for doing what they had done.

My father was always busy with agriculture and working to build a future for us. He was very

affectionate, but also quick to get mad if I was mischievous. When many of my friends and

I saw our fathers coming home there was often an element of fear, and we tried our best to

avoid them by quickly scattering out of their view. We were closer with our mothers. That

was how parents maintained the balance. One parent, usually the father, had to keep some

distance in order to maintain discipline and the other was softer and more lenient. Until

I went to college, I never dared to talk back to my father.

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Both my parents felt education should be our primary focus, and both had their own

forms of discipline. Our family bought a new Murphy radio, which, to my young mind,

was very exciting. My father would return from the fields at around 7 p.m., and when he

came home one evening, he saw me sitting next to the radio, enjoying a broadcast without

studying. Furious at coming home to find me relaxing, he whipped me a few times with a

slender branch that he had grabbed from nearby.

My mother often had to break up skirmishes between me and my brother. Sometimes, when

our fights got too rowdy, she made a thin paste by mixing water with ginger powder and garlic

powder and rubbed it over our eyes. As our eyes stung most painfully, she locked us into a

room for what felt like an hour! This definitely calmed us down.

People seem to think these instances surely left emotional scars, but this is not the case. I felt

no resentment towards my parents.

Rebuilding the village school

The elementary school in the village went from first grade through fifth grade, and after

elementary school, children had to go to a neighboring town for their formal education.

When I went back to India in the late 1980s and visited the elementary school in my village,

it was falling apart. The roof was leaking and the structure was not safe, so the students were

studying outside under the trees. The government didn’t provide the funds to fix it as India

was not booming economically then, and there was not enough money. I told them, “Demolish

the whole thing, and we will rebuild it.” Even though I only attended first and second grade

there, I was left with such good memories and a strong foundation that I built a brand-new

elementary school in my mother’s memory. It is named Leelavathamma Elementary School,

after my mother. It is a nice building and about 100 students now attend there.

I had thought about rebuilding the elementary school for a while, and my wife is the one who

coaxed me into actually going ahead with it, with the support of other family members. My

wife had wanted me to do it while my mother was still alive so that she could see it, and my

mother did see us start the project, but she died before the school was finished. The strong

foundation for my education began there and I wanted to build a school in my mother’s

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name. Today, it is a place for children to receive a good education, and it helps those who

cannot afford private education to have the same opportunity I had as a child.

Childhood friendships

In our village, we could go to any house and everyone there would treat us as if we were

their children. I played in the streets with my friends. My good friends were Soma Sekhara

Reddy, and my neighbors, Gopal, Madhu and Munikrishna. We played together all the

time, making up games with sticks, climbing trees, and whatever activities we could think

of, enjoying ourselves with the small, inexpensive items we had around. Two popular

group games we played were golis, a game involving flicking marbles and round stones, and

bongaralu, which was a wooden top with a thick string that we spun competitively against

others. We were also a bit daring and would jump into the smaller wells on some of the

properties around the village to practice swimming, without the knowledge of our parents

or other adults. While playing, one or two of us would jump into the well while the others

watched. We taught ourselves swimming skills by floating and kicking around. This was

not something we were supposed to do and, of course, our parents always found out and

punished us.

My Untouchable friend, Narasimhulu

I became close with one Untouchable boy whose name was Narasimhulu. We couldn’t be

seen together too much, because if we were, people would say, “Don’t touch him,” and,

“Don’t be too close to him.” But no one prevented us from spending time together. He

would sing a couple of songs and I remember this one in particular: “Bhali Bhali Deva

bagunnadaya nee maya.” I had not realized that he had left such an impact on me. I still

remember the song, which translates as, “Oh Great God, your maya is so mesmerizing.”

Narasimhulu could take a stone and chop it up to make a nice goli for us to play with.

Untouchables were allowed to come to school, which is where I met Narasimhulu, but

many of them were not sent—they worked in the fields instead—and the ones who did

come to school sat separately from us. After we moved from Thondavada, I no longer

saw Narasimhulu, though he remains vivid in my memories, and I often wondered what

became of him.

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Soma Sekhara Reddy’s family were relatives who lived on the next street, and Soma’s sister

and mine were also friends. When I visited their house, Soma’s mother made us steamed

lentil rice cakes called idlis, a popular South Indian dish that I would say is the best food for

breakfast. Soma and I would compete to see how many idlis we could eat and usually, he won.

We are still close friends to this day. Right now, I am rebuilding part of the high school in

Thondavada in my father’s memory, and Soma is helping me with the project. He is a very

successful businessman now, and settled in the village.

Just before Soma’s mother passed away a few years ago, I happened to be in India and went

to the hospital to see her in the ICU. I took care of her medically and made some of the final

decisions in her terminal care. I told the family when she was at the point of no return and

that she should just be kept comfortable. They took my advice and took her off life support. It

was very sad for me to see her on her deathbed, but I was glad to be able to play a role in her

care as a physician and help the family make the right decision. It was really hard for them to

take her off the respirator, but my advice as a doctor helped take the burden off of them in

making the right decision.

Pedavva

A grandmother is a little bit of a parent, a little bit of a teacher, and a little bit of a friend.

Pedavva (Subbamma)

I was very close to my paternal grandmother’s elder sister, Subbamma. I used to call her

Pedavva. Her husband had passed away, and she didn’t have children. She was very fond of

me and made a big difference in my life. She remains very vivid in my memories and I think

of her as my spiritual teacher. Her pure, genuine, unadulterated affection touched my heart,

although at the time, as a child, I didn’t fully grasp all the emotion that was laid out and

took many things for granted. Our bond was strong and, as I look back on this later in life,

I appreciate it so much. She was selfless.

My brother and I had a reputation around the village for being mischievous and stubborn.

Our grandparents spoiled us and we got away with a lot of naughty behavior when we were

with them. My grandmother, Pedavva, used to take us to buy fresh, hot idlis from a lady

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named Yellamma in the village, who made them fresh every morning as part of her business,

but if she served us idlis that were not hot, we would throw them out and make a big fuss

about it, like spoiled brats. Pedavva never scolded us or told us not to behave this way. She

put up with us, spoiling us grandkids, as grandparents like to do, and letting us take these

liberties when we were with her. When we built the new elementary school, Yellamma’s son

was president of the village Panchayat (local governing body) at that time, and he laughed

about these memories, saying, “Remember what you were like as kids, and now you are able

to build a new elementary school in our village!” We had grown up to be responsible and

appreciative adults.

Pedavva played a great role in our family, offering mature advice to all the family members.

Of all the grandchildren in the village, I must have spent the most time with Pedavva. She

was always compassionate and I never saw her get angry. She was a very pleasant and calming

presence to be around. I used to always walk with her around the streets of the village, and

she would hold my hand. One of my relatives had a big garden that we often walked through,

where I would pluck some of the pomegranates. She would also take me to where the vendors

in the village sold fresh tropical fruits such as neredu and ragi, that she bought for me to enjoy

as we walked. We also visited the mango gardens and the rice field. When she took me to the

sugarcane fields, I watched, fascinated, as the workers used a machine to crush the sugarcanes

to squeeze out the juice. The remaining by-product would be used to make bellam, which is

the jaggery (cane sugar) used in sweets. In the neighboring town, there was a celebration of

the Mahabharatha every year, with lots of singing and acting performances. We would go and

I would sit beside her to listen and watch. The celebration lasted several days.

Harikatha and Burrakatha performances were popular evening pastimes in the villages,

specifically in Andhra Pradesh, and I reluctantly went along when Pedavva asked me to

accompany her when these came to Thondavada two or three times each year. Harikatha

was a form of art that told religious, philosophical, and cultural stories through music, songs,

and narratives that were delivered by a haridasa. Burrakatha focused more on mythological

stories, with a troupe of two to three people who performed solo drama scenes, dances, songs,

poems, and jokes. These performances took place in the late evening and lasted for a few

hours. I usually dozed off in Pedavva’s lap and had to be woken to walk back home.

Life is impermanent and we must make it a priority to enjoy our experiences. Once the

people are gone, we only have our memories. I will never forget Pedavva’s tender loving care

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and genuine affection throughout my childhood. The auditorium of the high school I am

building in Thondavada will be in her name. She was my spiritual teacher.

My paternal grandparents

I used to sleep by the side of my paternal grandmother (my father’s mother), Meenamma, who

we called Chinnavva. At night, like most of the villagers, we slept outside on cots placed on

the street in front of the houses, and every night she told me stories. Under the dark sky, lit

only by the moon and stars, she used to tell me the story of “The Devil and the Thief.” I don’t

remember the whole story, but both characters ended up in the same house—the thief first

and the devil second. They fight with each other, and the way my grandmother narrated the

scene was very scary. I would cling to her and then slip into sleep. I would wake up in the

peaceful, early morning rhythmic orchestra of birds quietly chirping and roosters crowing,

as the cattle and goats walked quietly by with the farmers, who were careful not to disturb

anyone still sleeping. Slowly we would wake up and carry the cot to the house.

My grandfather (my father’s father), Mr. Chinna Reddy, was a very peaceful man. He

relinquished all his major responsibilities in his 70s, as some members of the older generation

would do after they felt satisfied that they had completed their familial obligations and that

the family could continue to function without them. My father, as the eldest son, took over

those responsibilities, as was expected at that time. My grandfather always remained available

for advice, but he did not interfere in the day-to-day family affairs. I describe him as being

affectionately detached. What I remember most about him is his devotional songs. Every

morning, he either sat or lay on the porch, singing his songs, and breakfast would be brought

to him. He would then sometimes sleep, or spend time writing “Rama Koti,” which is writing

“Sri Rama” one crore (ten million) times.

One day when I was in second grade, I witnessed first-hand the quiet vigor with which my

grandfather stood up for me. I was playing with a matchbox at the corner of our neighbor’s

property next to their hay bales, and when I struck a match, I accidently set fire to the hay.

The neighbor noticed and began yelling as I ran home as fast as I could. My grandfather

saw all this and listened as I shakingly told him what happened. When the neighbor angrily

came over to the house to scold me, my grandfather maintained his calm as he firmly

told the neighbor, “You will be compensated. There is no need to continue to yell at my

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grandson.” Then, with a gentle tenderness, he consoled me and told me not to play with

matches.

I was also very close to my Aunt Saraswathi, who also lived in Thondavada. She used to take

good care of me, and I was very attached to her. My father was the eldest brother and she was

the youngest sibling, so he was like a second parent to her. I used to call her Saraswathi Akka,

which means “older sister.”

My grandparents’ selfless love and attention left a beautiful and lasting impression on my

early childhood and village life.

For a good laugh

A protective grandmother’s love runs deep.

A grandmother is watching her grandchild playing on the beach when a huge wave

comes and take him out to the sea. She prays, “God, I beg of you, save my grandson.

Bring him back.” A big wave comes and washes the boy back onto the beach, good

as new. She looks up to the heavens and says, “He had a hat.”

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Me, my brother Venu (sitting) and sister Manjula with my mother, Leelavathamma

My family. From left: My wife, me, my first son Prasanth, my father, my brother,

my mother, and my sister, Manjula

38


Me with my grandfather’s photo in the Thondavada house

A family photo after a marriage celebration with my cousin Kamalakar’s family.

My grandmother is in the center, wearing a red sari

39


Me, my father, my brother, my sister, and my son, Prasanth

Me with my grandmother during a visit to her house. From left: Me, my brother’s daughter Kitty,

Prasanth, my grandmother Chinnavva, Subhashini, and Prabhath

40


Prasanth, Prabhath, Kitty and Charan with grandmother in Tirupati

Social visit to my aunt Saraswathakka, at her house in Thondavada village

41


With my mother’s sister, Chenchamma

My brother and cousins. From left: Anil, Suneel, Kasi, Chinnababu, Venu, Koti, me, Satish, and Kailis

42


Me with my uncle, Padmanabha Reddy

Me with my aunt Saraswathamma and my uncle Venkatram Reddy

43


My grandmother and my uncle Narayana Reddy

My mother’s brother, the librarian Lakshmi Pathi Reddy (in the center),

my close relative Muthyala Reddy, and me

44


Visit to my brother’s home in Chennai. From left: my brother’s wife Surekha, my brother,

my wife, me, my cousin Koti, and his wife Anuradha

Having dinner with my cousin Kamalakar and family in Chennai. From left: Dollie, Sarath, Kamalakar,

Sowjanya, Millie, me, and Subhashini

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The precious cooking vessel my mother used to make the “famous” delicious idlis

Subhashini’s family. Subhashini is sixth from the left, seated on the ground.

In the center is her grandfather, Venkata Reddy, and her grandmother, Seshamma

46


Subhashini’s grandparents and the children. From left standing: Chinnakka, Dr. C.L.N Reddy, C.R Reddy,

C.M.K Reddy, Mohan Reddy, Babui Reddy, Bajjakka and Dyakar Reddy. From left seated: Venkata Reddy

and Avva (Subhashini’s grandfather and grandmother)

Family group photo in Mineral Wells during my in-laws’ visit to America. Subhashini’s side of the family.

Left to right: Tanuja, Chinni, Raja, and Charith, Praveena, Silpa, and Pallavi with Sreedhar, and

my father-in-law, and mother-in-law

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Cruise vacation with my in-laws, Adi Reddy family and Viswanatha Reddy family

My extended family in America. Back row from left: Suni, Sashi, Vasu, Raghu, Radhi, and Prasanth.

Front row from left: Me, Subhashini, Parandhama Reddy, Jayalakshmi, and Prabhath

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The soul of the Boyareddigari family: our house in Thondavada village, where we grew up

Thondavada village

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Our home and the street where we grew up in Thondavada, across from the main house

Agastheeshwarar Temple in Thondavada

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My mother’s home in her village, Chiguruvada

My mother’s village, Chiguruvada

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The whole family riding in the bull cart in the village

Our house in the compound in Tirupati

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The village well

Me and my brother at his house in Chennai. “Pithru krupa” means “Father’s Grace”

53


Playing golis in the village

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CHAPTER TWO

The Beating That Set Me Right

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking

backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

Steve Jobs

By the time I started third grade, my family had moved from Thondavada to the town of

Tirupati, which was, and still is, a very famous pilgrimage center. We had to move because

my father began a new job as a clerk at the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD). TTD is

an independent trust that manages the temples in and around Tirupati and Tirumala with

the mission to promote Hinduism and spirituality, and take up social projects that benefit the

community at large. It oversees the facilities, the logistics, and the structure of the buildings

that are purpose-built for visiting pilgrims. TTD also oversees the budget and finances for

everything connected to the temples and how they spend the money they receive. The most

well-known temple within TTD is Sri Venkateswara Temple. It is also the richest temple

in the world, and the TTD board manages the money and all that is necessary to run it

smoothly. TTD has been able to erect many buildings, including various hospitals, a medical

college, schools and other educational institutions that benefit the community at large.

TTD works to promote Sanātana Dharma, which is another name for Hinduism. Hinduism

is not considered a religion; it’s more of a way of life. God manifests in many ways and there

is a common thread between belief systems around the world. When Christians are asked

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who formed Christianity, they say, “Jesus.” When Muslims are asked who formed Islam,

they say, “Mohammed.” When Hindus are asked who formed Hinduism, nobody knows

because the culture became intertwined with the religion, and cannot be attributed back to

any one person. Instead, there is a multitude of gods that take on different incarnations so

that people can identify and connect to the abstract form of God through something that is

more familiar to them. That is why we see many forms of God throughout Hinduism. One

of my friends’ daughters married a Muslim man, and when my friend’s young granddaughter

visited them, she looked at all the gods in the prayer room and asked her grandma, “Who is

the boss god?” In Hinduism, there is no “boss.” They are all equal to each other.

When my father made his change in career, we had been living with my extended family.

As each of his brothers started to get married, they started their own families, but my father

believed we could still maintain a cohesive family unit. Everybody could make money,

everybody could care for their children, and that spirit could be maintained, even if we were

in different places. He thought moving from agriculture to the job at the TTD would lead

him to a better life and would allow him to provide a better life for his children. We moved

to Tirupati and started our life there in a rental house on Kapu Street.

After we moved, I started third grade at the elementary school across the street. My thirdgrade

teacher’s name was Mr. Sampath, and he was very strict. When I joined the class, I was

given new books with colorful pictures to read. I always liked the crispness and smell of a

fresh book. After a few days, though, it would lose that new book scent, so I would tell the

teachers I had lost it, and then they would give me another new book. After the third or

fourth time I did this, Mr. Sampath realized what was going on, so he asked me to stretch

out my hand, and he beat my hand with a ruler. That quickly set me straight. Before I went

to America, my father invited that teacher to our house, and I bowed to touch his feet and

received his blessing. Respect was taught to us through fear, by beating and shouting at us, but

it was effective, and we learned to show respect to the parents and the teachers. That is the

way it was, and it worked. We don’t have any emotional scars from those experiences.

From clerk, my father transitioned to a new role of building contractor for the TTD. As a

junior partner, my father joined a wealthy person who invested in a project called the choultry,

which provided free temporary quarters to those visiting the temple. For this project we moved

close to the construction site. The choultry was a large building with many rooms where the

people who came to visit God could stay for free. Pilgrims stayed one or two nights at most.

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We lived in a couple of rooms that were part of the choultry. I would see my father working

very hard, trying to concentrate on the buildings and concrete work, and working with the

engineers. My father was a nice man, but he had a short temper, even with his supervisors at

work. If they did not see his point of view, he could get very angry and this used to frighten

us, but he had a kind heart and commanded great respect.

I remember how insensitive we could be toward those who were underprivileged and poor

when we lived in Tirupati. I could be walking by a hotel restaurant with friends around noon

time and see the staff throw away leftover food wrapped up in banana leaves in the dustbin.

There were dogs waiting for this, and there were also human beings—children—who fought

with the dogs for the same food. It didn’t register at that time that throwing out food was

wasteful, and that other people right beside us were starving. I feel so guilty, even today, that

I didn’t realize until I came to the U.S. that we’d grown up with poverty all around us in

India and we walked right by it. Ironically, my move to a first-world country taught me more

about sensitivity and awareness towards poverty, cruelty and pain. I realized that growing up

in India, with its enormous population, had, up to that point, made me desensitized to the

suffering around me. This guilt may have been the reason I started to take on more projects

later in life to help those who are more underprivileged.

Cook Obul and me

Where my father worked, there was a great cook named Obul, and he cooked for all the

supervisors, engineers, and building contractors, including our family, at the site. He would

come out of the kitchen in between cooking and light up a beedi, an unfiltered tobacco leaf,

which was his way of releasing tension. Obul was very nice to me, carrying on conversations

and serving delicious food, and I became close to him.

One time he took me to a movie called Suvarna Sundari, which I still remember vividly because

there were very few movie theaters at that time. Inside the movie theater, there were different

categories of where people could sit. The cheapest area was the floor, next were the ordinary

chairs, and the luxury seats were in the balcony. I sat on the floor next to Obul as he blew

smoke rings. We sat so close to the screen that we had to lift our heads to watch the movie.

The plot of the movie was that an angel visited Earth and fell in love with a mortal man.

When the man wanted to meet her while she was in the heavens, he was instructed to call for

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her so that she could come visit him. One of my favorite songs is from that movie, and it is

sung when the man calls and the angel cannot come to him because she is with other angels,

giving a dance performance for the king and queen of the Devas. As part of the song and

dance, she responds to him, “Pillavakura alugakura naligurulo oh raja” which means, “don’t call

me, don’t be mad at me, I’m in the midst of people.” Eventually they reunite. Movies were a

rare experience at that young age.

No barriers to friendship

In the few rooms we lived in at the choultry, there were sweepers who continuously kept

the floors clean for the many pilgrims, and as part of cleaning up, the sweepers took home

whatever food was left behind so that nothing was wasted. One sweeper, Adilakshmamma,

worked very hard and she became particularly close to our family. I still remember how

she and my mother would sit and talk, and she was my mother’s best friend to the end.

Adilakshmamma shared confidential information with my mother, even though many

people would not have talked so openly with workers in that way. Her husband was an

alcoholic and abusive man who didn’t work, and she was the main financial supporter of

the family. She had a son and daughter who she wanted to have a good education and a

better life, and she asked my parents to save her money for her kids because otherwise her

husband would swindle it away. My parents helped her and her children financially and

with their education. Her daughter became a university professor, and her son, Rammurthy,

has a great success story. He studied information technology, moved to England and

later to the U.S. for a job at IBM. He is now like a brother to me. In fact, in 2021 when

my brother, Venu, visited me from India, the three of us spent a few days together at

Rammurthy’s home in Philadelphia. We talked and laughed together, reminiscing over

our great childhood memories. We were friendly with everyone and helped when and how

we could. My parents were like that; those were my family’s values. Kannigadu, the loyal

worker from Thondavada, also moved with us when we came to Tirupati, and my father

helped secure a job for his son.

My parents knew that deep human connections mattered most and were willing to share

their time and wealth with others who needed it. That was a characteristic of our family.

There was no income or class barrier, and the people they supported had great qualities and

a common desire and dedication to work hard and do their best.

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Spiritual beginnings and the beating that put me on the right path

I’ve always had a spiritual inclination. In Hinduism, vasanas mean the inclinations you carry

from a previous life. For example, three siblings born of the same parents might all have

different personalities and according to the scriptures, those different tendencies come from

vasanas.

I had a big spiritual turning point in my life before I entered fourth grade. As a child

I developed some skin lesions. This condition was treated with Ayurvedic medicine back

then, and as part of my treatment I had to be on a strict diet. During this time, my parents

sent me to Thondavada to stay with Pedavva to help care for me. She kept me on the diet

and took care of me every day by rubbing herbal medicine on my lesions. I stayed with her

for the entire three-month treatment period. Many of my relatives were still in the village,

so we never lost that connectivity and going back was not difficult at all. My father would go

back to the village at times to take care of the agriculture. He never left agriculture completely

because it was close to his heart.

There were still a few homes in the village that didn’t have electricity yet and Pedavva took

me to one of these houses every evening. It belonged to the karanam family—an occupation

that was similar to the village accountant and passed down through the family. The family

had a lamp in the center of the room that everyone sat around, and the lady of the house read

Mahabharata stories to the village people they had invited to come and listen as a peaceful

evening activity. As I sat next to my grandmother and listened intently, I was quickly drawn

into the stories and attended these readings for the three months that I stayed with Pedavva.

I loved those stories and felt my spirit ignited by them. I got to know all the characters,

everything they went through, the wars they fought, and their dialogues with each other.

There was a famous ashram, Vyasa Ashram, in the nearby town of Yerpedu and close to the

town of Kalahasti, a very spiritual pilgrimage center with a large Shiva temple. Toward the end

of my treatment and after listening to the Mahabharata stories night after night for months,

I told my grandmother, “I don’t want to go back to school. I want to join the ashram.” The

ashram had a spiritual atmosphere; the scriptures were read daily there, and I wanted to be a

part of that, to continue the experience and feeling I had after hearing these evening stories.

My grandmother reminded me that it was important for me to go on to fourth grade to study,

but I really did not want to. I was adamant that I needed to hear more of the stories from

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scriptures and very stubborn about going to the ashram. This became a serious issue. My

father came and told me, “There is a time for everything, and this is your time to study.” He

gave me one day to think, and then sent some muscular men in a lorry from the construction

company to my grandmother’s house to collect me. I cried, and I fought them by thrashing my

hands and feet, saying, “I don’t want to go!” but they put me in the lorry and took me home to

the choultry construction site. There, my father tried to explain again that joining the ashram

was not the right thing for me to do right then, but I still wouldn’t listen. Finally, he started

hitting and slapping me to try to break me out of my compulsive insistence on going to the

ashram, while my grandmother, mother and brother watched helplessly.

When my father decided I had received enough punishment, he became more tender. His

anger yielded to compassion and true love, and he stopped the beating. Putting one hand on

my shoulder and one hand on my brother’s shoulder, he took both of us to the cafeteria and

ordered us a dosa each, which I ate as my sobbing slowed down. He explained that I could

still do spiritual things, telling me, “Education is your first priority, but then you can do

anything you want.” That made some sense to me and I ended up starting fourth grade, as

my family wanted. My father took me to the school, had me sit on the bench and introduced

me to the teacher, explaining what had taken place and that I had to get back into the flow of

my studies. My intense desire to join the ashram was not to escape rigors of school—because

I continued my spiritual practices along with my studies and even became a vegetarian on my

own account—it was more a reflection of my vasanas.

My family made me realize once again that my destiny was to become a doctor, and they

reminded me of the story of Dr. Matthews to motivate me. They said, “You don’t need to

sacrifice one for the other. Every day, you can have a couple of hours for spiritual activities and

still become educated.” They presented the choice of getting an education and having a better

future than that of plowing the lands in the village. Our village was highly educated and we

had a reputation of being highly motivated people. I did not want to plow the lands, so this

certainly motivated me. At certain times after school, I could go to the nearby temple for pujas

and participate in some of the other activities, and in this way I made time for both my studies

and spirituality. They complemented each other. I also became vegetarian and even enforced

this on my brother and sister. I was vegetarian until the third year of medical college.

I understand now that if I had joined the ashram, I would not have realized my dream of

becoming a doctor. The success I have achieved today has allowed me to connect the dots

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ack to my childhood spiritual beginnings and spearhead the construction of a temple here

in Fort Worth. These dots also include my father’s discipline, the perugu annam prasadam,

Pedavva’s love and Dr. Matthews’ declaration. The dots from the past are connected to my

present. My spirituality is like a cosmic force that I didn’t choose—it chose me.

Faith at Tirupati

I remember Tirupati as a small town that was very easy to get around, but it has grown

significantly since my childhood. It sits at the bottom of seven mountains, known as the

Seven Hills, and on top of the seventh hill is Sri Venkateswara Temple. Looking from

Tirupati, one can see an ornate structure called Gali Gopuram that resembles a temple but

marks the entrance to the divine temple grounds. This gopuram is a visual indication of the

path to the temple, which is reached by walking through the hills or by climbing thousands

of stairs to the top of the mountain. Many people walk these Seven Hills as they chant

the holy name, Govinda. It is a very difficult walk, but they have a lot of determination.

We children also used to climb the stairs to the top. It was fun, and we could challenge

ourselves. At that age, it would usually take at least one hour to climb up the stairs to reach

the temple.

At the top is Tirumala, where there are gardens, waterfalls and well-kept roads, chanting and

devotional songs, so the whole area is very inspiring. There are many cottages for the pilgrims,

some of which are rented and some built using donations from various people. Near the

temple there are many stables and pews that sometimes thousands of people go through in

any one given day. Prayers are administered traditionally, so only men and Brahmin families

are in charge of the pujas and the rituals; however, the temple and services are open to

everybody, including the Untouchables. People who are not Hindu and want to visit have to

sign a statement saying that they believe in God; they don’t welcome people who don’t have

faith. As a child, I went at least a couple of times a year.

I saw pilgrims from all over the country—northern, southern, and central India—and I could

hear them speaking many different languages, but their common goal was to visit the Sri

Venkateswara Temple. Their faith impressed me and made me realize how valuable faith is.

People, then and now, hold a deep belief that Lord Venkateswara will protect them and bless

them with boons. They offered donations to the god in return for these blessings.

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One of our spiritual traditions was that if we prayed for something, such as to pass an exam,

and we successfully passed, we would shave our heads. It was a temporary sacrifice for the

blessing we had been given by God. Many families also do this when a child has their first

birthday. The hair is then exported and made into wigs. Whenever I had an exam, I would

pray, and that always gave me confidence. I’m a bit emotional and reactive, so whenever my

emotions started to get a little out of control, my faith in Sri Venkateswara would calm me

down. The infinite is so abstract and can be hard to connect with, except through a finite

form. God is omnipresent, but also abstract. God is shapeless, formless, and beyond time,

space and causality. For me, Lord Sri Venkateswara is the connection. That faith continues

to form the basis of my life.

The good of God’s money

All the pilgrims to Tirupati and the temple would make a donation, some small, some very

large. All this money was overseen by the TTD and considered “God’s money.”

The Chittoor district was primarily agricultural and the population was not very wealthy, so

a lot depended on the rainfall. Without rain, the rivers and ponds dried up and the crops

suffered. Without crops, there would be no income. That was why so much emphasis was put

on education—to help families improve.

Because of God’s money, many institutions could be built in our area: an agricultural college,

a veterinary college, a medical college, a music college, and a Sanskrit college. It was a real

boon for us. If we hadn’t had the temple of Lord Venkateswara, and if the money from the

temple donations hadn’t been spent usefully through institutions, we would have had to go

to Madras, which was at least 100 miles away, for higher education. That would have been

prohibitive for many of the families. Instead, we had many educational opportunities close to

home. I consider myself a beneficiary of that faith, the well-managed temple, and the TTD’s

careful and judicious spending of God’s money for the greater benefit of the community

through those projects. I attended sixth grade at Sri Venkateswara High School in Tirupati,

which was built with TTD funds. My father, as the building contractor for TTD, not only

helped the family, but his projects uplifted the whole area.

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For a good laugh

There is no right way to practice one’s faith.

A teenager approached the pastor at his church and asked, “Father, can I smoke

while I am praying?”

The pastor sternly scolded him and replied, “No, that is completely unacceptable.”

The teenager thought for a minute and rephrased the question. “Father, can I pray

while I smoke?”

To that the pastor responded, “Of course, my son, any time is a good time to pray.”

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CHAPTER THREE

Sixth to Eighth Grade

You cannot change your future, but you can change your habits, and surely your habits

will change your future.

Abdul Kalam

I started my sixth-grade year at around the same time that my father’s next contract began in

Tirupati. We moved from the choultry to a house on Nehru Street owned by my father’s first

younger brother, Padmanabha Reddy, and we rented the house from him. I enrolled in S.V.

High School, where I completed sixth, seventh, and eighth grades.

My uncle was a teacher, and he would stop by frequently. During those visits he observed me

and my brother behaving naughtily and without much focus on our education. He shared his

thoughts with my father. My father was a busy man, so to support our studies, he arranged

for private tuition.

My father and his business partners began construction of Ruia Hospital, which is still the

major hospital in Tirupati. Mr. Ruia, a wealthy man from northern India, had given a major

donation to TTD to build the hospital. The TTD matched the funds for this project, and

construction began.

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I did my house surgency, also known as internship, in this hospital after finishing medical

school in Kakinada. Working there was nostalgic for me because I had seen it being built

from scratch, and I trained in it after medical school. I remember the barren land when

construction began. On days when we did not have school, my mother packed my father’s

lunch in a metal tiffin carrier, which I carried by foot to him at the construction site, about a

mile from our home. Other days, his lunch was delivered by a coolie. It was a hilly area and a

hot walk. I saw my father working very hard and under the hot sun and under quite a bit of

stress. He still went to the village periodically for agriculture, and was also working hard to

build a name for himself as a junior partner in Tirupati.

My brother and I helped my mother with shopping; she would give us a list and we then

had to walk to the bazaar, which was about a half-mile away. The bazaar was a street of

shopping stalls with doors that opened to the street. We went to a specific store owned by

Mr. Chakrapani. I read the shopping list to him and as he gathered the items, I waited,

joyfully munching on the nuts that were on display in open containers, so it was more of a

fun chore that was easy to do.

In those days, Tirupati was not as congested as it is today, and we could walk freely and roam

around. The streets were wide, and the population was not as crowded. We met our cousins

periodically when they visited our house with their father. We had maintained a close family

bond, even though we were not living in close proximity, and we were still there for each

other, cared for each other and participated in each other’s lives. My uncle also encouraged

me to become a doctor. He felt it was part of his family responsibility to see me succeed.

Our dreams

My brother, my cousin Koti, and I would sit on the porch and talk about what we wanted to

become in the future. We would point to one another and say things like, “You will become a

businessman,” “I will become a doctor” and “I will become an engineer.” We shared ideas of

the different things we could do, with the professions complementing each other. We pushed

each other forward with these talks and plans.

My brother, Venu Gopal Reddy, became a successful businessman. My cousins all became

doctors, and unlike their fathers, none of them became teachers. I am sometimes asked, “If

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you didn’t become a doctor, what would you have liked to be?” I always reply, “Teacher,”

without hesitation. I like to converse and enjoy connecting with people. I’m good at explaining

various topics, whether it is medical, spiritual, or general, in a simple format. I also have seen

my uncles being very influential teachers. They made an impact on my life and I saw how

I could follow their example and do the same for others.

As the elder brother, I tried to keep a tight grip on my younger brother and sometimes tried

to discipline him. Of course, as brothers do, we used to fight, but my brother and I remain

very close to this day. We are less than two years apart in age.

Daily spiritual practices

With my spiritual inclinations, I followed a routine when we lived on Nehru Street. Renters

lived in a two-story house across from ours, and a family comprised of businessmen lived

on the main floor. On the upper floor lived a lady doctor, Dr. Lakshmi Kanthamma,

and her family. I think she was the second lady doctor in the area. She was Telugu but

was raised in Tamil Nadu. We became close family friends. That house across the street

had a parijatham tree (in English this is called night-flowering jasmine), which had small

beautiful white flowers with a nice smell. The neighbors gave me permission to pluck

the flowers because they understood and appreciated my spiritual inclinations, so every

morning after waking up and brushing my teeth at around 5:30 or so, I took a plastic

woven basket and plucked flowers from the tree, returning home when I had filled my

basket. I then prayed to God, reciting the Suprabhatam, a very famous sloka for Lord Sri

Venkateswara, which I read from a small book. I did this every day in sixth grade, and

after a few months of daily reading, I had memorized all the verses. Now I only remember

part of it. Slowly, as I progressed in life, I did not have as much time in the morning to

pray and limited my prayer time to 15 minutes. It still surprises me when I listen to it

that I was able to memorize it. I now listen to the Suprabhatam on Saturdays, which is

called Venkateswara day. Suprabhatam is chanted in Sanskrit, and as a language Sanskrit

resonates with me. Even if I don’t understand all of the words, they are constructed in

such a way that the melodious chanting has a soothing effect.

After prayers, I got ready and went to school. I walked a mile both ways, then came home and

studied. My parents let me go to the temple some evenings and I devoted half to one hour,

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two or three times a week to this. After those prayers, we carried a small oil lamp on a plate

to the nearby houses—called harathi—so that the occupants could receive God’s blessing by

touching the smoke of the flames to their eyes, nose and chest. Some would also offer a small

donation onto the plate that was meant for the temple.

Deepavali, my favorite festival

Deepavali, also known as the festival of lights, remains my favorite festival. On Nehru

Street, we used to have a Deepavali celebration, and the kids used lots of differentsounding

firecrackers, filling the whole street with the noise. We lived dangerously! My

father would bring us a big box of fireworks packed tightly on the back of his bicycle—

more than we use on the Fourth of July today. We would wait for him to arrive, take the

firecrackers, and run into the house. In South India, Deepavali is usually celebrated in

the later part of October or November. Its significance is Lord Krishna’s victory over the

demon, Narakasura, and the triumph of good over evil. We celebrate the Telugu New

Year, called Ugadi, in March.

I looked forward to Deepavali with a great deal of excitement and wrote letters to my youngest

uncle, Narayana Reddy, for several months before the festival, asking him to send money so

that I could buy firecrackers. My father’s youngest brother was still studying at the time and

didn’t have much money, but I still wrote to him and he sent me a few rupees. We saved

the money, bought the firecrackers, and pooled them all together. During the day, we had

delicious food, new clothes, and everyone was in a good mood, and at night we had the big

celebration with the fireworks.

Life around the streets

I and my brother began making friends with local boys. They were not the best type of

friends, but they were around. We played several games together, including bongaralu and golis,

as we had in the village, and we ran a little wild. My father was busy and my mother was easier

on us, so when our friends called us to go out and play, we just went along with them. We

played cricket along the side of the railway tracks using wooden bats we had created ourselves,

and after playing we walked around the streets some more.

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There were several streets—Nehru, Kapu, Kola—and there were some rowdies, like a modernday

small street gang. In these groups, a couple of the boys were strong. I remember one name,

Bagawan Reddy, who was the leader for the Kapu Street Gang, and my brother and I followed

behind him. We were almost like mavericks, roaming around freely. There were some minor

non-violent scuffles between the groups, and because my brother and I were short, we stood

behind Bagawan Reddy and shouted at the others during such encounters.

A brand-new movie theater called Prathap Talkies was built a very short distance from our

house, and they advertised upcoming movies on posters that were pasted on the walls around

the streets. These posters were very colorful and my brother and I had the idea that they would

make very good book covers for our textbooks. We would stand around very innocently while

a man put up the posters, but as soon as he was gone we quickly peeled the poster off the wall.

After a while, he caught us doing this, yelled at us, and then complained to our mother. We

received a beating for this.

Private tuition: the dog and thodabellam

My father wanted me to pay attention to my studies, but because he did not have the time to

focus on this, he arranged for us to receive private tuition. Our parents made every effort to

provide extra coaching, giving us the opportunity to move up educationally. After the school

day, we went to a teacher who provided this extra coaching. His name was Mr. Gurava Reddy,

and he was unmarried, had a pigtail, was spiritual, and a strict disciplinarian. A veterinary

college principal also wanted his son to receive coaching from this teacher and wanted the

lessons to take place at their home, so myself and a few other boys attended there. The son at

this house, Balaji, had an Alsatian dog that sat with us during the lessons, and Balaji and the

dog were very fond of each other. Any time the teacher tried to scold Balaji with some sort

of slap, the dog growled deeply to intimidate and threaten the teacher, so the teacher made

an unsuccessful attempt to remove the dog from the lesson. It was such a funny situation

and gave us a good laugh. Of course, because the teacher was very strict, he got mad at us for

laughing. This tuition kept us busy and allowed me to move away from spending so much

time on the streets with undesirable friends.

In seventh grade, I had one tutor, a Brahmin teacher, whose name was Dikshitulu. He

was very strict. At that age, we only wore shorts at that time, not pants, and this teacher

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would punish us if we did not study, do homework or answer appropriately by giving us

thodabellam, a big pinch and then a twist at the back of our thighs. It was a very painful

reminder not to make the same mistake again. We attended tuition in his house, and while

we studied we could hear what was going on in his house. His children sometimes listened

to the radio. One time the radio was playing the Hindi song Khoya Kyo at the same time as

he was giving me the thodabellam punishment, which must have appeared like a symphony.

As the crescendo of the song increased, he increased the intensity of the pinch and twist,

while I cried along loudly in pain. My cries were in tune to the music, just like a symphony.

I can only describe this now as harmonious punishment! A very similar scene happened

another time with another song, Aadhahai Chandrama. Both are beautiful songs. Whenever

I listen to either song, I remember my tuition experiences!

When I look back, I see how they instilled discipline using fear along with an explanation

of our wrongdoings and how this punishment would serve to help us. This method kept us

on track as we pursued our education. When I wanted to join the ashram and my father

beat me, he made me fearful. Then he gave me the explanation later on, tenderly taking me

to a cafeteria and sitting with me and putting his hand on my shoulder. He explained why

I should not go to the ashram at that point and how we could work it out. When people

talk about being traumatized by these things, I have nothing but respect for those who used

punishment for improvement—I knew the reason behind it. We understood, the parents

understood, the teacher understood and that was why it worked. That was how we had to

be shaped.

New friendships formed

At this time the nature of my friendships changed as I developed friendships with more

intellectually-oriented friends. I began to walk every evening with these friends and we

discussed all kinds of things. We all used to go the public library and read.

My closest friend on our street was Vasudevan. Our house was at the beginning of the block

and his was at the end, and it was a small house in which he lived with several of his siblings,

his parents, and grandparents. They were not very wealthy, but they were all very smart and

knowledgeable.

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Another friend, Ramana, made everything interesting. He used to invent stories and

explanations which sounded so true. For example, he once described a new terlin (shirt) that

he saw at the market. He acted like it was nothing great, saying there was another better type,

called “Merlin shirt.” There was no such thing as a Merlin shirt, He had just made it up, but

he told the story in such an interesting way that we listened intently. We used to call him

“The Bluff Master.”

Vasu, Ramana, Krupanadhi, and I walked together every evening, and I still remember these

long walks. As we walked, we talked. We talked about yoga, science and general knowledge

topics. I started doing surya namaskars then.

I was shorter than most of my friends, and I wanted to be tall. Vasu, on the other hand, was

very thin. His goal was to get into the army, but no one would let him because he was so thin.

We used to read all the magazines, and they had false advertisements about pills to make you

taller or fatter, so we used to apply to get them and started taking them. My mother gave me

the money because my father would not have done so. Vasu eventually gained enough weight

and exercised and was recruited into the army, where he became a photographer in the Indo-

Pakistan war. I rediscovered him after coming to America. He got bigger, but I never got any

taller. He had succeeded in his pursuit.

Vasu and I had very intellectual discussions. We also argued quite often. Some arguments

upset me enough that I would tell him he was no longer my friend, and I stopped talking to

him. When this happened, my brother and my cousin, Koti, acted as mediators. I would write

a letter to Vasu explaining why I was upset and give it to them to deliver to his house. They

placed the letter in a small empty groove in the outer wall of Vasu’s house. Vasu delivered his

notes to me as he was walking by my house by tying them to a small stone and throw them to

my balcony on the upstairs floor. Even though we were fighting, we looked forward to each

other’s letters. With our mediators’ help, we were able to shake hands and become friends

again.

The role of the public library in my life

The public library in Tirupati was run by my mother’s brother, Lakshmipathi Reddy. He

played a great part in my life because the library played a major role in changing my habits.

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Because of my uncle, I could go to the library after it closed and borrow anything I wanted

throughout my summer holidays. I read on a wide range of subjects: mythology, scripture,

short stories, novels—my interest was across the board. I also developed an interest in Telugu

and English stories at this time. In tenth grade I borrowed a series called Maya Mai, which

was about illusion. The books had fascinating plots and I spent the whole of the summer

reading that series. After a good breakfast and a short nap, I would put a book close to my

face, and hours went by as I read and got lost in the stories. I don’t think I can read that

much now.

During the school holidays, my friends and I went to the library. There was always a crowd

there to read the magazines because the library only received two copies of each magazine

variety. We would want to be the first ones there to get a copy. If someone else was already

reading something we wanted to read, half a dozen guys would be standing around reading

along with him. If he finished one page and started to turn it before I had completed

reading it, I would ask him to wait to turn the page until I had finished reading. Once the

boy finished, he handed the magazine to the next available person. What an excitement to

have the magazine in our hands. We would jump to be the next in line. In those days we

had to wait our turn for everything. Things were so scarce, and we appreciated the value

more.

Chandamama was a very popular monthly magazine which featured colorful pictures and

fascinating stories of kings and forests. It was equally popular with children and adults, and

we all looked forward to reading each new issue. The stories were mainly from mythology,

and featured village life and current social subjects to help instill values, and each story

always ended with a moral. I still remember some of the stories, such as Bhetala Kathalu,

which was about a king named Vikramaditya who could never complete his quest because

he always had to answer a question. All the Chandamama stories were eye opening—not just

for children, but also for adults, and there was always a message. Each generation has some

type of story form they love. I had Chandamama in early life and the stories still stay with

me. My kids had different stories and cartoons that might have stayed with them.

The Rama temple was near the library, so we sometimes walked there while discussing

the stories and novels we had read. I developed my reading habit further during this time.

Listening to the Mahabharata stories with grandmother made me want to read these stories

myself and I read all 18 volumes. I also read the Ramayana and other scriptures in English

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and in Telugu. Then I continued to read storybooks by Telugu writers, and more novels in

both Telugu and English.

I was also interested in story writing and wanted to write some stories myself. All these books

inspired me, opening up a world that was not known to me. We read about everything: kings,

America, England, the way of living in foreign countries. We didn’t have TV and we could

imagine and create our own experience with the words on the pages. When I read a phrase

like, “a forest so dense a bird cannot enter, so dark,” I closed my eyes and pictured this—it

was not something created and shown to me on TV. I used my vivid imagination to show

these scenes. All the stories were fascinating, and I put my heart into a book and entered that

imaginary world. This was where I differed from my brother. He was more playful and didn’t

have the same interest in books and reading as I did. We were still close and played together,

but now I had friends, the library, and my own interests.

My father also loved the stories from Chandamama, and my brother and I read them to him

as he dozed off in the afternoons. We also fanned him with a type of wooden fan made with

special herbal roots that we mixed with water to blow cold air, and we had to do this without

disturbing him. A little later, the drill master from the high school who lived on our block

bought an oscillating table fan which used electricity to blow cool air as it moved. I found it

amazing—until then we had no idea what a table fan was. We also bought a fan, and it was

wonderful; it just moved and the air flowed and we massaged our father’s legs as he rested.

Along with tuition, the library, and the intellectual discussions, my friends and I had many

fun experiences on Nehru Street. We did not have expensive toys, but instead used what we

had or made up. We played a scavenger-hunt type of game in the moonlight, during which we

hid toys for the others to find, and a game called Ice Boy that was very similar to hide-andseek:

while one boy stood at the lamp post with his eyes closed and counted to 30, the others

went to hide and had to be found.

Subba Rao, another friend on the street, was a medical student staying with his brother and

sister-in-law. I used to watch as Subba Rao left for medical school each morning wearing a

white coat and stethoscope around his neck and then return again in the evening, still wearing

them. Seeing him, I realized that was what a doctor in training looked like. In the morning a

bus picked up all these people wearing white coats, and watching them was a real inspiration.

Doctors in those days were very dignified. Subba Rao was very nice, very intellectual. I had

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learned chess and played it well, and when Subba Rao asked me to play chess it was exciting

to win a game against him. We played a couple of times a week and I felt privileged to have

a medical student as a friend.

Even with my new group of friends, I still was not concentrating as much on my studies as

I should have been. This exposure to doctors and professors in my neighborhood stimulated

me to pursue my medical career goal.

Some of our friendships evolved into deeper relationships. The neighboring doctor,

Dr. Lakshmi Kanthamma, and her husband, Srinivas Reddy, who was a biology professor

at the university, became good family friends to my father and mother. After they moved

from our neighborhood to another street in town to open a medical practice, we visited

their new house often. I remember the affection of Dr. Lakshsmi Kanthamma’s mother

as she always made sure to serve sweets and snacks during our visits. Mr. Reddy was a

great photographer, and I remember that he always had a cigarette between his lips as

he took pictures with a nice camera. They later went to Paris on a research scholarship

where, unfortunately, he died of lung cancer. Dr. Lakshsmi Kanthamma then came

back and we were a big support system for her. She was a very sharp lady and had a very

organized way of taking care of things. Her daughter, Anuradha, was raised with her

family’s great values, and her hand was later given to my cousin Koti in marriage. Thus,

friends became family.

The village connection also extended to our house in Tirupati. We rented out a couple of

rooms upstairs in our house to the famous landlord’s son from Thondavada and a couple of

his friends. They were going to college and I used to hang around with the three of them.

I went out with them in the evenings, and they took me to a restaurant where they bought me

dosa or idlis, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Learning to ride the bicycle with my brother, Venu

One very exciting experience of this time stands out. Before eighth grade, my brother and

I did not know how to ride a bicycle and we wanted to learn. There was a place that used to

rent small, colorful bicycles for children, and we liked a particular red bicycle and wanted to

rent only that one. We looked forward to renting that bike and going to the park to practice,

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taking turns at learning how to ride, running and falling and slowly learning. My brother

is now a successful businessman, and has an Audi and a BMW, but he said, “Nothing beats

that bicycle experience.” I agreed. The thrill of fancy European cars cannot beat the thrill of

riding the bicycle and sharing that fun experience with my brother.

Reflections on life on Nehru Street

At the corner of the street there was a water pump where everybody came daily to fill their

buckets and pots for the needs around their homes. This was similar to the well in the

village, but only one person at a time could fill their pots at the pump. Mostly it was the

ladies who came to do this task and they arrived at around the same time in the morning

each day. Often there were quarrels—shouting matches—about whose pot was next in line,

and we kids used to stand with our hands clasped behind our backs, watching and enjoying

these juicy arguments.

We also saw some horrible situations. Once, cholera hit the whole town and so many

people died. We all had to be very careful with hygiene. People felt that a goddess had

cursed us, so people used to pray to the village goddess and give offerings. It was sad to see

so many people emaciated, dehydrated and dead. It was a little like Coronavirus is today.

The drinking water was not pure and sanitation became less optimal as the population

started increasing.

During this three-year period in Tirupati, my habits changed and I was prepared to start

ninth grade. By this time, my father’s hospital project was completed and a new project was

beginning in Kalahasti, a nearby holy town. My father was concerned about my education

and thought I needed more discipline, and because he could not supervise me, he discussed

my situation with his younger brother, Padhmanadha Reddy, who was the headmaster for

the high school in the village of Puthalapattu. This was about two hours away by bus from

Tirupati. In the combined family spirit, my uncle agreed to help with my education and

invited me to live with his family so he could oversee my studies. My father offered the same

opportunity to my brother, who was not interested. By this time, I had become inspired and

stimulated by the influences around me, like Subba Rao and the other doctors on the bus,

and I agreed with my father’s plans for my education.

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My best friend, Vasudevan

I met Vasu during this stage of my life. As I started ninth grade, I had to move away from

him, but although we still stayed in touch through letters, we drifted apart. He had to help

care for his large family while also concentrating on his studies to achieve his goals. I became

more focused as well, working hard to realize my own dreams. Ultimately, we both achieved

our goals: I went to medical school and he went into the army.

After I settled in America, I completed my training and started my practice. The first thing

on my mind as I began my career was to go back to my roots. Just like the character in the

Chalichelama story, I wanted to go back to my village, and I had a strong urge to reconnect

with Vasu. I did not know where he was, but his brothers were working in the university in

Tirupati, so I asked my cousin, Koti, and my brother to talk to them to find out where Vasu

was and how to contact him. We learned that he had retired from the army and settled in

Delhi with his wife, son, and daughter. Finally, when we were reunited, we were so excited. He

still loved to read, and had gained the knowledge and training to become a reiki practitioner

in Delhi in his retirement, and had even written a book on the concept. When I visited India

over the holidays, I asked him to come from Delhi to meet me in Chennai. From there, we

went to Tirupati, wanting to experience the streets we used to walk. Unfortunately, it was

so different—the wide-open streets were no more, and the town was much more businessoriented.

We felt bad because we saw the same lamp posts where we had once played Ice Boy,

but they were now surrounded by so many more houses and with so much more congestion

because of the booming real estate. It just didn’t have the same openness we had enjoyed as

boys. Still, we walked the streets together with an inexplicable feeling of nostalgia and we

became very close again. That same trip, I went to my village and he tagged along. Whenever

I visited India, he traveled around with me. He visited my sister’s house in Tirupati, where he

was treated just like a family member.

We stayed in touch by phone and through letters, but once, I tried to reach him to no avail—the

communication just suddenly stopped. It turned out that he had gone to Ramanamaharshi

Ashram in Tamil Nadu, a famous ashram known for its peace and tranquillity. The main

character of The Razor’s Edge, a novel by the famous British author W. Somerset Maugham,

spends three years at this ashram in pursuit of enlightenment. Vasu and his wife had decided

to stay in the ashram, and had cut off all contacts as he entered meditation and absorbed

the spiritual mindset. He probably thought about spiritual detachment and was preparing

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himself for it. I think he thought he would be away from the worldly life and experience

spiritual sadhana for a few years, and that he would be able to share his experience once he

returned to daily life, but he did not take care of his health, especially his blood pressure.

One day I was surprised to receive a call from his wife and children in India. They explained

that Vasu and his wife were taking care of their grandchild and that he had suffered a stroke

and quickly deteriorated. He asked his son and wife to call me and let me know he was dying.

He knew his end was near. He made sure they informed me because he could no longer talk,

and he knew I would want to know the situation first hand. This news really broke my heart.

Those three years when I was in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades were packed with

experiences. I thoroughly enjoyed that part of my life and I had a mix of experiences from

that time that helped to shape me. We cannot change our future, but we can change our

habits and the habits in turn will change your future. And I think that’s what happened.

Family and friends helped. The library helped.

For a good laugh

Fear can lead to discipline and the focus to excel in education, even in the naughtiest

of boys.

There was a very mischievous boy whose parents had great trouble managing him.

He was expelled for bad behavior from every school they put him in. Finally, they

enrolled him in a Catholic school. There, he earned excellent grades and became

one of the best-behaved students. His parents were surprised and asked him how

this change came about. The boy said, “I don’t know why you put me in the Catholic

school. In every classroom, I see this guy nailed to the wall on a plus sign, and

I know this place means business!”

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The house in Nehru Street in Tirupati, where we lived

My best friend, Vasu

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Lord Venkateswara, who guides me

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CHAPTER FOUR

The Slap That Turned Me Around

Once you have the commitment, you need the discipline and the hard work to get

you there.

Haile Gebreselassie

As my family moved to Kalahasti to work on the choultry construction project, I moved to

my uncle’s house to begin ninth grade. My uncle was a headmaster at the high school in the

village of Puthalapattu which, at the time, had a population of around 3,000. My uncle was

known as a strict disciplinarian and was very well recognized in the entire district as a great

headmaster, so my father asked his brother to take me in and shape me up. I accepted these

plans and agreed to move. I had made the commitment to academics, and now I needed the

discipline and hard work to succeed. My father thought my uncle would be the best person

to help me on this path.

My uncle was always friendly with me when he visited us in the village, so I was happy to

go to his home, and for the first 10 days or so after I arrived, he was nice and let me do

whatever I wanted as I got accustomed to living in his home. Mostly, this meant enjoying

playing around and being silly with my cousins, Koti, Kailash, and Kasi. Of the moment he

decided that lessons needed to take priority over fun, I had no warning. One day, early in

the morning before school, he was sitting in his recliner chair looking at some books, and

as I passed by he called me over. He asked me a question and I looked away from him and

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scratched my head as I thought of the answer. All of a sudden, the next thing I remember, the

room was spinning. He had slapped my cheek so hard that I was stunned. That was literally

the slap that turned me around. My uncle unquestionably asserted himself as my teacher in

that instant. I had to show discipline and focus from then on. After that, whenever I saw him

coming, I would run the other way. I did not want to be surprised by a question I might not be

able to answer quickly or correctly. His sons were also scared of him. From then on, at 5 a.m.

we woke up and studied, and we were very punctual. When he asked a question, we held up

our heads and answered appropriately and obediently, with full attention.

At school, where he taught English and grammar, all the other students also feared his

discipline and worked hard to please him. Very few schools achieved the same success results

as his school, for when exam time came, 100 percent of the students passed with excellent

results. Some students came from nearby villages, walking two to three miles to attend

school. As headmaster, my uncle constantly made the rounds around school, making sure

all the teachers were teaching properly and the students were studying well. In addition to

academics, a drill master ran the physical education program, and we learned sports like

kabadi, volleyball, and softball. We received a well-rounded education.

Boys and girls attended the high school, with the boys sitting on the left side of the classroom

and the girls on the right. We didn’t mix much, and rarely talked. It was a very competitive

atmosphere. For English, we had to memorize two pages of poetry by the next day to recite

in class. Some students could only memorize part of it, maybe one-fourth or half, but one

student, Reddamma, was outstanding. She would memorize the full two pages and recite

the poem from start to finish, and we could not compete with her. She was the top student

in high school and I and two others were just behind her. Of the four of us, three became

practicing physicians in the U.S.

Public speaking

In the middle of November, India celebrated Children’s Day, which coincided with the birthday

of India’s then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, who loved children and was a strong advocate

for children’s education. For that occasion, the school conducted an elocution competition

for which we had to prepare and give a speech on a particular topic. We would then be judged

on who was the best speaker. I was so fearless and confident then that I delivered a speech

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in front of the whole school, which included about 300 students and teachers, in an open

auditorium. Later, I became nervous and developed stage fright, which I have read is one of

the worst phobias. I think this was because I was insecure and diffident, which became more

evident in America when I had to give presentations in the medical grand rounds during

medical residency training. Through persistent effort and using techniques like pranayama

and yoga, I ultimately overcame this fear. Today, I no longer hesitate when asked to give

inspiring speeches, and I do so with reasonable confidence.

Writing in my diary

I missed my family very much while I was at my uncle’s house, and at times I felt very homesick.

My mother visited me periodically and spent a couple of days with me. She would bring gulab

jamun, a fried dough ball soaked in sugar syrup, which is still one of my favorite Indian

sweets. I enjoyed every minute of these visits and always felt they went by too fast. She missed

me and I missed her. That was the first time I lived away from my home.

I used to write in a diary, which is quite amusing to think about today. I recorded things

that happened during the day that seemed important to me. In one entry, I was very detailed

about the division of sweets. My aunt bought all of us children chocolates, but she gave extra

pieces to her children. This offended me enough that I made an entry in my diary, noting

how many more pieces, maybe one or two, she had given to her kids and that she was being

partial to her children. I kept the diary in my suitcase in my room.

I attended Boy Scouts, which many children did at that age. India placed emphasis on the

Boy Scouts program, and later the National Cadet Corps (NCC), during the Indo-China War

in 1962. The camp was held on the Horsley Hills mountain range, a beautiful area with nice

cottages and dense forests. There we had fireside chats and lots of singing. We also focused

on outdoor activities and one activity was to run through the woods, something I was scared

to do because I thought there might be snakes. I used to think I wasn’t mentally ready for

this. To complete the trail, I grabbed tightly onto the shirt of the boy in front of me, closed

my eyes and blindly ran alongside him through the forest. Overall, I had a good time at camp.

After returning home from camp, I discovered that my aunt had for some reason opened my

suitcase, found my diary, and showed it to my uncle. My uncle addressed the situation in a

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very calm way. He said, “I understand what you wrote. What is the purpose of writing it? Do

you want to show it to your father? Make us look bad?” That was not really my intention, it

was more to capture my thoughts and feelings at the time.

While my uncle and I had a good conversation about the reason for what I wrote in the diary,

my aunt was very angry because it painted her in a bad light. I remember this took place on

a Sunday because she grumbled over it and as she helped me and my cousins bathe and wash

our hair, she slapped me on the back in frustration. In this home, as in most villages, mothers

helped the children with their head baths. Usually on that day, the barber would come to the

house, trim the men’s hair and give them a close shave with the razor. He brought oils that

he used for a relaxing head massage as part of the service, and would also give us a full body

massage, similar to a spa treatment today. My uncle has since passed away but my aunt is still

alive and in her late 80s. We have no hard feelings over this little incident so many years ago.

Whenever I visit India, I stop by and pay my respects to her. I know now she must have had

a hard time back then, basically caring for a fourth child in the household.

I stopped writing in my diary after that, later resuming it for two years during medical school,

but I lacked the focus and was too busy to continue writing more diligently. I still have my

diary, and it’s interesting to read now because it reflected on the day. I wish I had maintained

that daily habit.

During the holidays from Puthalapattu I visited my family in Kalahasti, where they had

rented a house during the one-year project to build a choultry for the pilgrims who visited

the famous Shiva temple. Shivaratri was a very fun time in Kalahasti. Fasting for 24 hours

and staying awake all night are important parts of participating in Shivaratri celebrations. We

stayed up until very late, playing board games and card games and enjoyed our time together.

As ninth grade ends

I finished ninth grade successfully, one of the top three students in the class, with a well-rounded

education and a stronger sense of discipline in my studies. I moved back to Thondavada at the

end of the school year as my father’s choultry project in Kalahasti finished up and my family

also moved back to the village. At this time, my uncle accepted the headmaster position at the

high school in Chandragiri, a small neighboring town of Thondavada.

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For a good laugh

A good public speaker should try to speak in a way his audience understands.

Following a very inspiring church service, one member of the congregation praised

the sermon by telling the pastor, “Father, you are smarter than Einstein.”

The pastor felt a little pride in hearing this, but as the man moved on, the pastor

wondered to himself if it could have been a sarcastic comment. He called to the man,

“Son, come here. What did you mean when you said I was smarter than Einstein?”

The man replied, “Father, when Einstein explained his theory of relativity, only a

couple of people understood him. But when you spoke, not even a single person

could understand.”

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CHAPTER FIVE

Tenth and Eleventh Grade

You are what your deep, driving desire is. As your desire is, so is your will. As your will

is, so is your deed. As your deed is, so is your destiny.

Upanishads

I began tenth grade in 1963, enrolling in the high school in Chandrigiri where my uncle,

Padmanabha Reddy, was now headmaster. I walked two miles each way to and from school

from Thondavada to Chandrigiri. After around four months, my uncle suggested that his

younger brother and my second uncle, Venkatram Reddy, who was a headmaster at the high

school in Papanaidupet, might be better suited to help me continue my studies, and my father

agreed with this change in the course of my education. Both uncles were excellent teachers

but had different approaches to education.

After I moved from Puthalapattu to Thondavada, my sister’s wedding took place in

Thondavada. My future brother-in-law, J. Venkata Reddy, was an electrical engineer who

was also from the village. This marriage was a major event for the family and in the

community and I very much enjoyed it. In general, marriages were always very special

occasions, but having the first one from our own family, and in our own village, was

great fun. The whole community became one big family for the occasion. In those days,

wedding planning was very different for plans were coordinated by the elders. All the

relatives from nearby villages and towns attended, some arriving two weeks in advance

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to help plan and arrange all the aspects of the traditional Hindu wedding, and we felt

the festive atmosphere develop around us as the guests came, staying in our house and

our neighbors’ houses to be close at hand and ready to work. Everyone in the village

helped with preparations however and whenever they could, and it was common to hear

everyone talking and bonding as they made plans and cooked in preparation for the

joyous celebration. The savory aroma of the delicious meals and the smell of sweets like

laddu and mysor pak filled the air. After the wedding more traditional customs took place,

and we enjoyed this hustle and bustle for nearly a month. It was a beautiful experience

for me, and the whole process was successful, with the help and support of relatives and

friends in the true combined family spirit.

After the marriage, and once the excitement and celebrations settled down, my father’s

attention returned to my academics. He reminded me that to fulfill my destiny, my second

uncle was the best person to help me take the next step in my journey. I knew I would be

homesick and I dreaded leaving home again after such a wonderful event; however, that was

the sacrifice I would have to make if I wanted to reach my goal. I agreed and moved in with

my uncle and his family in Papanaidupet.

Papanaidupet was a small town known for its glass bead factory, which produced small

beads for necklaces and bangles, and the population consisted of weavers who created

the materials that we used for our clothing. The beads had a distinct, lasting effect on

me. In those days, and I do not remember exactly why, we walked around barefoot and

I developed corns on my feet because of the glass beads strewn along the ground. Later,

in America, when I would ask my older son, Prasanth, who was mischievous just as I had

been, to massage my feet, he would happily oblige and apply a deep pressure right on the

corn and make me jump in sudden pain. It was very funny for him, and he got a good kick

out of it. The corns on my feet always remind me of my life in Papanaidupet.

I was very aware that my uncle played two distinct roles in my life, one as my family

member and the other as my educator. At home, I called him Chinnanna (which is what

we call our father’s younger brothers), and at school, I always called him sir. I felt loved

and cared for in his home, and both he and my aunt took good care of me. They had

two daughters, Lakshmi and Pathi, who were much younger and liked to hang out with

me. I’m still very close to them, treating them more like my younger sisters than my

cousins. My aunt made sure to feed us well. I remember her excellent dosas and I still talk

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about her chutney today. There was something very special about the chutney, which she

made a little spicier, using capsicum for a nice hot flavor. Later they had two sons named

Kamalakar and Chinna Babu.

My parents both visited me, sometimes together and sometimes separately. My mother always

brought sweets and my father used the time to check on my progress with my uncle to make

sure I continued to do well. I received constant motivation from him to stay focused and do

well. Periodically, I felt homesick for I really missed living with my parents. My brother, Venu,

stayed with my parents to study.

Everyone in town cared about education and held great respect for the headmaster—my

uncle—and took good care of him. There was an intense pressure from every side to do well

in studies: from parents, teachers and the students themselves.

My uncle was a very dedicated headmaster and an expert in his field, but in those days

there was no financial renumeration for educators. They taught for pride and were driven

to help students reach their academic potential. The level of attention and focus they placed

on studies can be compared to a focused, private school education today and in which, in

contrast, teachers make much more money than public educators.

My uncle was a strict but compassionate disciplinarian. He spent a tremendous amount of

time and energy focusing on the school and students, conducting private coaching classes

at night in the school to help students in any weak subject areas, so we stayed late at school

and studied. We woke up early every day, at 5 a.m., went to the school and read for an

hour, and then returned home for breakfast and a bath before the school day began. We

went back to school again, where I attended daily lessons alongside the other 15 students

in my class. Before lessons began, we recited a prayer and then, as I had been elected class

leader, I stepped forward with the other class leaders to report attendance. Because there

was a limited number of students, we were very close and worked very hard together.

I did exceptionally well and came in first in the class. I was thrilled and made my parents and

uncle happy. In fact, all the students passed their exams that year, meeting my uncle’s goal

and expectation for a 100 percent pass rate. He was delighted.

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Golden jubilee

A few years ago, the school celebrated its 50th anniversary. While I was not able to attend the

official ceremony because of an illness, I went one year later to unveil a statue of my uncle,

who had passed away a few years earlier. I had the privilege of being the main speaker and

sharing my experiences of the school, so I told everyone about the streets I walked and how

much the school had progressed and grown. Inside, I looked at all the old documents and saw

there was a board that still shows me as the number one student; I held record exam scores

that were not beaten for many years. I raised myself into the top one percent at the school

by working very hard. This was a big transformation from being the naughty boy of Nehru

Street in Tirupati.

Pre-university college education

The next step in my education was to prepare for medical college. After the final year in high

school (S.S.L.C.), students enrolled in the arts college to complete one year of pre-university

courses. We called this PUC. I was the first one from my generation on the path to college

and my family was happy and proud, and shared in my excitement. After the successful final

year, I visited the village for the holidays and then joined my parents in Tirupati, where they

had moved permanently because my father had received multiple contracts and was very busy

with his work.

My father had bought a big plot of land next to a church in Tirupati at the suggestion of one

of his friends. With his experience as a building contractor, he planned and constructed a

nice house on the property where my parents settled permanently.

My father always told me that if I were to become independent, I needed to be away from

home, so instead of living with my parents in their new home in Tirupati, my father suggested

I move in with my sister and brother-in-law. By this time, they had also moved to Tirupati and

lived in another part of town. My father felt I could study well there without the distraction of

the construction on the land around the house. I moved into my sister’s house and lived with

her and my brother-in-law while attending PUC. Of course, I could much more easily visit my

father and mother, but my day-to-day life and studies took place from my sister’s home. The

college was about a mile and a half from her house and I rode there on my bike.

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My grandfather

While I was a PUC student, my grandfather passed away peacefully on the porch in his sleep.

This affected my father greatly and his pain was visible to me. He grieved for nearly a month.

My only regret was that I was never able to tell my grandfather I got into medical school. His

spirituality—the singing of the slokas, and chanting the mantras, “Rama”—rubbed off on me.

I had memorized a couple of slokas from his copy of Bhagavad Gita, and although I didn’t

know the full meaning of the words very well, I understood the ideas. Even today I use these

slokas in my prayers, and when I recite them, I think about my grandfather. To me he is a true

sanyasi. He was detached from worldly affairs and was at peace with himself while living in

the midst of the family. He was a great role model to me.

My pre-university college, Tirupati S.V. Arts College, was a famous one and competition for

entry was fierce. Everyone wanted to get into medical or engineering school, which were the

main career choices then. The training at S.V. Arts College was super.

Special alarm clock

I committed to studying very hard, waking up at 2 a.m. every day, so my brother-in-law, as an

engineer, devised a special alarm clock for me that rang very loudly—it really could wake up

half the street! Our neighbor across the street, Guruva Reddy, who was the chairman of the

municipality, used to comment, “This boy is really working hard.” Two other students, my

brother-in-law’s brother and his friend, also lived in the house with us. The three of us lived

upstairs where we had space to study, and my sister and brother-in-law lived downstairs. My

sister, Manjula, was just a few years older than me but she and my brother-in-law took care of

me very well, enabling me to focus my attention and effort on my studies. My sister was like

a mother to me.

First class scores, but not enough

I passed in first class at the end of my first year. The results were posted on a wall in front of

the university for everybody to see, and that is how we found out our scores, often pushing

to the front of the crowd to find our name, score and rank on the paper. Unfortunately,

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though, science scores for admission to medical school had to be in the top 1 to 2 percent,

and my score was not high enough. The government medical schools reserved 40 percent of

the seats to fill a quota for women and students from underprivileged circumstances, and the

remaining 60 percent was open to intense competition. Because of this quota system, many

capable students could never get into the government medical school. I was very disappointed

with these exam results, but my father put his arm around me and reassured me, saying,

“Subrahmanyam, don’t worry, I will make sure you will become a doctor. You passed in

first class. There is nothing to be ashamed of.” He then asked me what I would like to do.

Similarly to the MCAT, students could take the entrance exam again to try for a better score.

He said, “Whatever you want to do, I will support it.” I always remember these encouraging

words he gave me. I was fully confident in my abilities and knew I was a very good student.

I wanted to retake the exam and increase my sciences scores.

I had to repeat PUC, enrolling for a second year to improve my scores. I focused and worked

hard, receiving extra coaching, with three private tuitions for chemistry, physics, and botany.

Studying became my life. I took the exam the second time and passed, in first class. Again,

I missed getting into the government medical college, this time missing the cut-off score of

78 percent by just half a mark. I was very disappointed. My father consoled me and told me

not to worry. He said, “We will get you into the private medical school.” I will never forget my

father’s efforts to help me with private school admission. His support made a big difference,

and without it I would not have become what I am today.

In the 1960s, Andhra Pradesh had two private medical schools, one in Kakinada, and one in

Warangal. The southern neighboring state of Karnataka also had a school, which was located

in the town of Gulbarga. My father thought the local MLA could help us and, with my good

score, I could gain admission to Gulbarga. He said he would go to Gulbarga to meet with the

principal, and with the recommendation of the MLA, they might admit me. I followed him to

the railway station to see him off, and as he boarded the train to Gulbarga, I was anxious and

literally crying. On the platform before the train arrived, he pulled me close to him, tenderly

put his hand around my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Subrahmanyam, don’t

worry. I will get you into medical school, whatever it takes.” That scene is imprinted in my

mind. I reflect on it, off and on. What a great father he was!

Unfortunately, I did not gain entry into the Gulbarga medical college. The MLA could make

only one recommendation and had recommended another student whose family was also

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close to him but had more influence. Luckily, though, I was selected at Rangaraya Medical

College (RMC) in Kakinada.

RMC was a highly competitive private medical college. Of those who received a score between

77 percent and 77.5 percent almost 150 students were selected to attend, and I was one of

the lucky ones. I was so elated to receive this news. As part of the admission process, students

had to pay a donation—what they called the private college entrance fee—of about 8,000

rupees, a significant amount in 1967. As a businessman, my father always made sure we lived

comfortably and had anything we wanted, but we did not have the cash readily available

because funds were tied up in investments for the various building contracts in progress.

Despite this, my father assured me that he would be able to support me and my studies and

help me achieve my destiny. He never doubted me; he never flinched in all the moral and

emotional support he provided along the way.

I had the confidence and was a very good student, but I was more drawn to the arts, I think,

by nature. I liked language. With science, if I’d had a higher score I could have made it in,

but because of the reserved seats and the quota system, a lot of capable students could never

get into the government medical school.

I thank all the people who started the private medical colleges. They provided a great service

to society. Because of their vision, so many students became successful, well-trained doctors

in Andhra. Many also began successful practices in the USA. We were all high-achieving

students, very competitive and extremely hard working, and we excelled at RMC.

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For a good laugh

Disciplining is not easy, and takes effort from both sides.

A father puts his child to bed. The boy calls out, “Dad can I have a glass of water?”

The father says, “It’s past your bedtime. No water, go to sleep.”

A little while later the son asks again for water. The dad tells him, “I told you to go

to sleep. If you call me again, I’ll slap you.”

The son calls for a third time, and this time asks, “Dad, when you come to slap me

can you bring me a glass of water?”

Me and my wife at unveiling ceremony of my uncle’s statue at the school where I studied, Papanaidupet

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CHAPTER SIX

Medical School

Communication—the human connection—is the key to personal and career success.

Paul J. Meyer

The need for connection and community is primal, as fundamental as the need for air,

water, and food.

Dean Ornish

I joined Rangaraya Medical College in 1967. From Tirupati, my father and I traveled by train

to Kakinada. Near the admissions office, my father and I stood under a tree as we waited for

my turn to finish the admissions process. From beneath this tree, we watched as the other new

students and parents arrived, just as we had. My father used that precious time to give me an

inspirational talk. I could see how excited he was for me to start a new profession, to become

the first doctor in the family. He remembered Dr. Matthews’ words on the day I was born and

reminded me that I must continue to work hard and stay focused to achieve my dreams.

In 2018, when we held the 1967 batch reunion, I stood at the same spot as I had on my first

day on campus and reflected on the moment I had with my father. This time, I stood there by

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myself, but although he is not with me physically, I can still feel him in all my achievements.

I was able to organize our reunion program from the States, and two friends in India helped

to coordinate it. It was a great reunion, during which we raised money and donated a bus to

RMC to transport medical students to the poor rural villages to treat patients.

The words my father said to me under the tree are still fresh in my ear. He was a farmer and a

self-made man, and he became a businessman. Now, I am a medical doctor. He fully supported

my path, so much so that he went to Gulbarga to meet with a medical school principal whom

he did not even know, just to help me get in. Even though he was not in the medical field

and did not know many people in the sphere, he knew how to connect with people very

easily. This was a great attribute of his, and he used it to help me. He was instrumental in

pushing me onto my career path and supported me on the journey throughout. Without him,

I don’t think I would have been a doctor. I would have gone into some other profession. His

support—financially, emotionally, in every which way he could provide—got me here today.

My father was such a special person. He was a self-made man from the village, and highly

intelligent, wise, very charitable, and a strong family man. He supported his brothers in their

education, working hard so he could put them through school. He sent them to Madras,

which is now Chennai, because there was no college in the vicinity.

My father played a large part in everybody’s life. When my grandfather became detached, my

father took over the role of caring for the family because it was structured so that the eldest

brother took over and cared for everybody else. Eventually my brother inherited my father’s

business and he is now one of the famous contractors. He became a successful businessman

in Chennai, where he built a nice house with a plaque on the front that says Pithru Krupa,

which means “father’s grace.” It is our belief that our father’s kindness and his charity helped

us achieve success in our lives. My father’s last wish was for all his children to be together

wherever we were and to support each other. We try to follow this today, and it is the main

reason we built the high school in his name in Thondavada.

Settling in at medical school

The hostel at RMC, our dormitory, was a very nice building. Students who came to this

school were wealthy enough and smart enough to be there. Everybody paid a hefty entrance

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fee to attend, and although my family was not as wealthy as others, we were able to afford

the fee. The hostel was up to a very high standard and the teachers were of high calibre. Two

to three students lived in one room, and we were only allowed to live there for three years

because there was a high demand for room and board. After the first three years, we had

to find a room in the town. My hostel room number was 60, and although my roommates

changed, I stayed in that same room for the full three years.

My first roommate was named Gurukul and his father was the main priest at the temple

in Kalahasti, where my father had met him while working on the choultry there. My father

introduced us to each other when we first met in our hostel room, made sure I was very

comfortable, and prepared to leave, but as he did so I couldn’t stop crying. I had worked very

hard to get to this point, and now I was farther away from home than ever before and without

family nearby to offer support to me. He placed his hand on my shoulder, and I felt comfort

as he told me, “Your goal is to study well. Don’t worry at all about the money you need.” Every

month he sent me a money order for any expenses, and throughout my medical college years,

we kept in touch by letter. I wrote letters to him and he always wrote back to me. I saved all

the letters, stacks and stacks of them, and my goal in retirement is to read each letter and

relive that time.

Ragging encounters

I felt very homesick after starting medical school. The older students, whom we referred to

as seniors, tried to alleviate these feelings for the newer students through ragging, which is

similar to hazing in the universities here today. It was meant to help everyone get to know

each other better in the first few months at the start of school. Groups of seniors approached

the new students and asked us to follow them, instructing us to perform silly stuff like singing

a song or dancing and other such actions, and we had to do everything they said, otherwise

they would find ways to embarrass us loudly. My goodness, I did not enjoy being ragged on

at all! Once, as I walked to the dining hall with another junior student, two seniors joined

us and pressured us to dance as we walked, and then to sing as we ate. They came up with

all sorts of things. I thought, “Man, this is really traumatic.” My friend Obul Reddy, who was

one year senior to me, shielded me from the majority of the ragging, allowing me to stay in his

room, where I could interact with him and some of his friends who were not so interested in

bothering the new students. It was abusive and very traumatic, and overall it felt lousy to be

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treated that way. When I became a senior, we did engage in some ragging on junior students,

but much more gently. For example, I would ask for a conversation on a topic, or ask them

to tell me a joke in an effort to really get to know them, not to be rude or berate them. We

maintained the tradition of ragging in a way with which we were comfortable, and we made

it a friendly experience that enabled the junior students to become more friendly with the

senior students.

Hostel life

We worked hard at medical school, but also had time for fun and relaxation. The hostel fee

included a private bus and driver to take us to the college, the hospital and into town, and

a dining hall for our meals. Everything was well kept and lived up to the high standards of

the fairly wealthy people who attended RMC. We enjoyed these luxuries and were pampered

very well because of the richness of the place. I mixed in well with the wealthier students,

but I remained aware that I had to live within my means and so did not spend money in the

same way as they did.

Kakinada was a beautiful, well-planned city near the coast. In the evenings and on weekends

we could go shopping and to the movie theaters using our private bus. Saturday was usually

movie day and Kakinada had around 14 theaters at the time, all lined up on the same street.

The bus driver would drop us, theater by theater, for the movie we wanted to watch, and pick

us up similarly after the movie. We hungrily boarded the bus back home for dinner, which

I very much looked forward to on Saturdays, enjoying the hostel’s signature dish of chapati

with potato kurma. The dining hall had great cooks who, throughout the week, served all our

favorite dishes, like dosa and idlis for breakfast.

The hostel and grounds were beautiful, with a nice park at the front where we sat and relaxed

while listening to English, Hindi and Telugu songs over the speakers during the lunch hour

and in the evenings. On Tuesdays at 8 p.m. we enjoyed a weekly radio music hour, Binaca

Geethmala, sponsored by the popular toothpaste, Binaca, which featured popular Hindi songs.

After dinner, we gathered on the rooftop of the hostel where, in the company of good friends

and in the darkness and stillness of the night, sometimes with the shining moon in the sky,

we lay down on the hostel roof as we enjoyed the lovely songs. It is an experience still fresh

in my mind and heart. The school reserved admissions for students from out of the state and

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out of the country, and we had classmates from Malaysia, northern India, and neighboring

states to Andhra, which brought much diversity. I was surrounded by many inspiring students

and excellent teachers during medical school, and evolved socially and academically.

Ideological inspiration

My friends exposed me to different ideologies. I became close to Bathaiah, a classmate

from Kalahasti, who was interested in communism. In the evenings, he read the writings of

Vladimir Lenin and Karl Marx while wearing a white cotton shirt and white cotton pants. He

lived very simply and showed compassion to others, especially those such as rickshaw pullers

from the working class. We even conversed about this while riding in a rickshaw, recognizing

how we were sitting in luxury. Bathaiah’s friendship inspired me, and because I was spiritually

oriented, I was similarly compassionate. We held the same philosophy, looking out for the

downtrodden, but from different angles. Our friendship represented another interesting

analogy because he was much taller than me. Other students made fun of it, saying, “You

are the long and short of everything!” We had excellent conversations, like I did with my

childhood friend, Vasudevan, and Bathaiah was a very good friend. I started writing in my

diary again at this point and wrote many notes about him and our discussions.

My junior classmate, Mithra, came from a family that followed the communist ideology and

was well-known in Nellore district. They operated a free hospital that cared for the poor and

they also took good care of their hospital staff. Mithra spoke English very fluently because

he went to English-medium private schools from the beginning, and was a little different

from the rest of the students. Although he and I were friendly we never became close, but

I used to admire him. Later in life, he went to Russia, and was there during the revolution

that put Boris Yeltsin in power. Mithra went underground and broadcast through the BBC,

reporting on the collapse of the Soviet Union. I met him years later in Hyderabad. He had

been involved in politics, but retired from political life because he could no longer see the

ideological pureness that had once existed in politics in India. Politics today are murky.

I also had some friends from my village at medical school, one of whom was the rich landlord’s

son, Srinivas Reddy. We nicknamed him Samson. His father and my father were close buddies.

There is a saying in Telugu, “If you are a close friend, you eat from the same plate and sleep in

the same bed.” Their friendship was like that and because of our fathers, we also became very

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close. Samson was an excellent conversationalist and we always had something to talk about.

He had a good command of the English language because he had attended private school,

and he loved to watch Western movies. For example, we watched American films such as For

A Few Dollars More and Von Ryan’s Express. Samson also came to America and became director

of psychiatry at a hospital in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Once, he visited me in Mineral Wells

and for two days we talked continuously, breaking for only a few hours of sleep before picking

up again. Luckily, our spouses let us enjoy catching up, keeping us fueled with tea, coffee,

snacks, and delicious dinners while we were engrossed in conversation. Our friendship was

on a different plane. He passed away a few years ago. I truly miss him.

Life lessons from college days

Life has many lessons to teach which help one’s personal evolution. My father’s dream was

for me to evolve as an individual and become independent. He saw me as childlike because

we had always been sheltered, and he felt that I needed real world experiences to grow and

become independent. He advised me, “If you like somebody, say four sentences. If you don’t

like somebody, still say one sentence, but never move away.” I remembered that advice, and

I have never avoided any interactions. This advice helped me in my personal relationships

later in life so that I could live harmoniously with those around me.

Once, we went to watch a popular movie in Kakinada to find that there was a long queue,

with everyone pushing each other to get tickets before they sold out. I thought one person had

cut the line in front of me, but he may have just been pushed out of the spot and was trying

to get back to his position in line. I got mad and shouted at him. In response he turned to

me very calmly and said, “Why don’t you just take my place. Don’t worry, I will move back.”

He was a stranger, someone I had never met before, but the way he responded so calmly to

diffuse my agitation and anger, has stayed with me. Today, in situations when I find myself

losing balance, I remember how we calmly switched places without argument. The way he

handled himself was an example to me on how to manage a volatile situation and how not to

lose that balance. Some interactions, such as this one, are imprinted on my mind and heart.

With the influence of these friends, I learned how to be a good conversationalist, enjoyed

meaningful discussions, acquired inspiration from the people and environment around me,

and developed as a student. I believed that through hard work and discipline, any above average

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student would succeed, but not everybody could handle the pressure and competition, and

some students dropped out. I made deep connections from medical school which enriched

my experience.

Lasting friendships from medical school

In my second year, I had a new hostel roommate called Venkata Ramana Reddy, who was two

years junior to me and was from Peluru, a village near mine. He never called me by name. It

was always, “Roommate, how are you?” or “Roommate, let us go to a restaurant today”, or to

a movie or take a walk. We did so many things together and had many shared experiences

during our student lives. We were roommates until I had to move after third year, as required,

but we remained very close friends. He even became a very close family friend because he

always made time to stop by my house in Tirupati on his way home for holidays from college,

and became acquainted with my parents and my brother and sister.

After medical school, Venkata Ramana Reddy started his medical practice in his hometown

village, and I fulfilled my goal of coming to America. He practiced for a few years but had to

stop after a major car accident in which he suffered multiple fractures of the lower extremities,

lost his ability to walk, and was confined to a wheelchair. This was a sad development, as he

was an active, vibrant man with a bright future. We remained in contact, and he still called

me “Roommate” during our international phone calls.

I visited Venkata Ramana Reddy on every trip to India. The drive from Tirupati to his place

is less than an hour, and another classmate, Sankar, and I would leave in the morning to

spend a half day with him. These visits always brightened his day. His wife cooked a nice

breakfast or early lunch, which we enjoyed, then drove back home. This was my routine

whenever I visited India. During one of my visits, he made the effort to come to visit me in

Tirupati, which required at least two people to assist him to get in and out of the car, store

his wheelchair, and help with any other accommodations. I appreciated this effort, but felt it

was an unnecessary hassle for him. Seeing him disabled like that pained me, and from then

on, I always made sure it was my pleasure to visit and cheer him up.

Venkata Ramana Reddy once traveled to America, to visit his son in Atlanta, Georgia. This

was around the time the temple we built in Fort Worth opened and he really wanted to

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visit us and see it. During his visit to Dallas, one of our mutual friends brought him to the

temple and it was such a great feeling to show him the result of our hard work. He admired

our accomplishment—a joy we celebrated together. I would define our relationship as a true

friendship because we connected as two people who held no expectations of each other. We

simply enjoyed each reunion.

As I began capturing these memories, Venkata Ramana Reddy was diagnosed with stage four

lung cancer. He then suffered a stroke and was admitted to the ICU. We had a good phone

conversation about focusing more on quality of life than continuing treatment. He wanted to

be surrounded by family and friends and enjoy his remaining days to the fullest. His children

helped us connect through WhatsApp video so we could see each other one last time, and

I shared an old photo of us. He passed away two days later, and I am still mourning his loss.

Venkata Ramana Reddy stayed positive in the face of his disability. He looked forward to

enjoying the company of others and was always cheerful when we visited. His sons were well

settled, he had fulfilled his household obligations, and could pass on gracefully. He was at

peace with himself.

I made another lasting friendship in the hostel that continues to impact my life today.

Puchalapalli Srinivasa Reddy, two years my senior, was very interested in Telugu literature

and read a lot of novels and magazines. We went to the library together and conversed

about many of the topics we came across. Not many friends shared the same interest, so

he and I became very close friends through this love of reading. He got married in his

final year of medical school and many classmates attended the marriage, a grand event

we enjoyed very much. His wife, Sandhya, is like a sister to me. She calls me Anna, which

means older brother. Srinivasa Reddy’s plan was to practice in the US, but he did not make

the 1977 immigration deadline, even though he passed the qualifying exam. He practiced

as an ophthalmologist in the town of Kadapa, where Sandhya was an English professor at

the college.

In the mid 1990s, Srinivasa Reddy suffered a mild heart attack and required bypass surgery.

At that time, such heart procedures were not common in India, so he and Sandhya scheduled

his surgery in California. The surgery was successful and, afterwards, they both came to stay

with us in Mineral Wells for two weeks to recuperate. We took a drive to San Antonio and

along the way they experienced the beautiful Texas bluebonnets in the landscape, a very

unique sight.

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Prior to their USA trip, Sandhya had quit her job at the college and switched her focus to

social work, something she was very passionate about. She explained the cause and her vision

in greater detail. She started an orphanage called Aarti Home that originally took in girls

whose parents may have died or abandoned them, and she dedicated herself fully to this

service. Today Aarti Home is a big place, having expanded to include an English-medium

school for 800 underprivileged boys and girls alongside the orphanage, which cares for 100

children.

During their visit to our home, Sandhya told me, “Anna, you need to be involved.” I was

inspired and got involved, actively donating and continuing to support the tremendous

work at Aarti Home. Subhashini and I adopted two girls, Sowjanya and Sowbhagya, whose

parents had died by electrocution, and we helped with their education, paid for all their

expenses, and celebrated their marriages. Both call me Nanna, which means father in

Telugu. We remain close and happily meet with them during our visits to India. They are

part of our extended family.

I served as one of the board members at Aarti Home and Subhashini is now on the board.

Whenever we go to India, Sandhya invites me as the chief guest for school functions and

I actively participate, addressing the children and inspiring them. My last visit coincided with

the international girls’ day celebration, and addressing these 800 students was an inspiring

time. On one visit, as I toured the orphanage, we stopped to meet a group of children. We

also wanted to take a group photo and one boy ran to his room and quickly returned with his

face covered in talcum powder. He wanted to look nice for the photo, and that usually meant

dabbing a small amount of powder on the face, but in his rush, he had applied extra. It was an

endearing moment. As funding has increased, the place has progressed very well. I donated

money for a library, and we continue to raise funds in America in support.

My wife and I became deeply involved in charity because of our friendship with Srinivasa

Reddy and Sandhya. Reader’s Digest India named Sandhya as one of “Seven Extraordinary

Indians.” I can see how the dots from my past have connected with the present. This is a great

example of what I call goal-oriented friendship: our friendship enables us to unite toward a

common, selfless goal that truly benefits others.

A third friend from the hostel with whom I was roommates for about six months was

Rajasekhar Reddy. We were nearly opposite in personality. He was aggressive, somewhat wild,

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smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol, and even got into fights at school. I, on the other hand,

was much quieter and disciplined and did not do any of these things. We were like night and

day. My family knew his family, so although we were opposite in character, we became very

good friends.

At that time in the hostel, the caste division was very evident. Local and regional elections

were polarized based on the candidate’s caste. Many fights took place over these differences

and Rajasekhar Reddy was one of the rowdy ones. One time, we were coming down the

stairs at the hostel and a conflict was in progress, with students yelling and shoving and

punching each other. Rajasekhar Reddy jumped into the middle of this commotion, started

beating a few people, and was beaten in return. We had to pull him out and help him get

first aid.

Despite our differences, we maintained our friendship and went to Tirupati together to do

our house surgency. Afterwards, I went to America, while he practiced in India, close to my

hometown, which was how we had maintained contact. When his son came to America,

Rajasekhar asked me to help him out if and when this might be necessary. His son has now

become very close to us, and he and his wife are well settled in Dallas. When Rajasekhar’s

daughter came to America, we helped her secure a job. Rajasekhar Reddy has visited our

home a few times, and we remain close to his children.

On his last visit here, Rajasekhar was very short of breath and I noticed that his legs were

swollen. With this observation and because of his drinking habits, I insisted that he should

have a checkup and let me know the lab results. He did so in India and was diagnosed with

pulmonary fibrosis—scarring of the lung tissue. This explained his difficulty in breathing and

his inability to walk two feet without oxygen. He used to be so vibrant, with so much fight in

him, a symbol of energy, but now he was fighting for each breath. Following his diagnosis, he

would call me for advice, and when he had to make a decision on receiving a lung transplant,

I advised against it, but he underwent the procedure in Chennai. He struggled afterwards

and passed away within a few months. I spoke to him every now and then and he always

asked me to take care of his children. Our friendship developed from India into a close family

relationship in America.

I look back on these friendships and how they evolved. The two friends who have passed

away have impacted me with their vibrancy and spark in how they approached their lives.

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Srinivas Reddy and Sandhya gave both me and my wife the opportunity to make a positive

impact on society that we might not otherwise have had. We remain close today.

Every friend in my life has been a unique gift and recognizing and embracing their positive

qualities has helped me develop and grow in life. Some of them are no longer on this planet

and that pushes me to think about what more I can do to live my life to the fullest potential.

I feel there is a game plan for all of us in this cosmic realm.

Leaving the hostel

As was my father’s intention, hostel life introduced me to the real world. He wanted me to

learn to get along with people in the real world. Overall, I enjoyed life in the hostel very

much. We worked hard but also had time to enjoy our experiences and develop wonderful

friendships.

Completing the third year of medical college meant that my hostel days would soon be ending.

Before we could move on, students had to pass anatomy and physiology, the toughest subjects,

and everybody was scared of those exams. They covered quite a bit, and it was not uncommon

for a student to fail a couple of times before passing.

We studied extremely hard for these exams. My father was, as usual, very proactive. He

connected with some of the professors to make sure I was working hard and moving toward

the main goal. In the course of these connections, he made his own new friendships. One was

with our organic chemistry professor, Sankharbhanu, for whom my father arranged a visit to

the temple at Tirupati. He also became friends with the anatomy professor, who later became

principal at S.V. Medical College in Tirupati. The greatest thing I can say about my father is

that he knew how to establish a genuine human connection. He was genuinely interested in

others and they, in turn, sensed his authenticity.

Passing anatomy and physiology was a huge relief for both my father and me. Because of our

abundant faith in Lord Venkateswara, I went to the temple to shave my head and donate my

hair as an offering. My father came with me to the big hall, but as I took a seat on the floor

in front of the barber my father sat down next to me, which confused me. I asked him why

he was sitting next to me and he replied, “Subrahmanyam, your success is my success. That is

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why I also prayed to God for you to pass and so I am also shaving my head along with you.”

It was a sweet, tender moment. We donated our hair together, and walked out with clean,

shaven heads. I looked at him and recognized the simple, precious moment of a truly caring

and loving father. He was as committed as I was to my success. Whatever I achieved, he felt

he’d achieved too.

The lodge in Kakinada

Having passed the exam, I moved out of the hostel and on to the next phase of medical

school. With five other students, I rented a house, which we called a lodge, in the nearby

area of Sri Nagar. I and my five lodge-mates shared expenses between us and divided

the household responsibilities, and we hired a cook to prepare our daily meals, which

was common practice at that time. We set up a monthly rotation for who would run

the lodge each month, which meant that whoever was on duty had to make the grocery

purchases, set the menu, and supervise the cook. It was not always an easy task. We were

six men, waking up early in the morning to get ready and head to the hospital. The bus

arrived at 8 a.m. and sometimes, if the cook had not arrived, we had to find breakfast

elsewhere. Maintaining the lodge was a cooperative effort and the schedule depended

on our rotation schedule. We had to talk to each other and ask who could take over and

collect the expenses. Learning how to get along with people and resolve conflicts was a

good experience.

My father sometimes visited, along with one of his good friends who was the father of my

lodge-mate, Sankar. They encouraged us to study, and my father always reminded me to keep

my future goal in mind. We enjoyed these visits, conversing over dinner.

We studied very hard, so we often gathered, with many other students, to unwind at

Bhanugudi Center, a nearby coffee and tea shop with pastries and spacious outdoor seating.

As we often studied late into the night, we lodge-mates usually decided that we needed a

break at around 10 p.m. and made the 15-minute walk to Bhanugudi Center to have some

coffee and a chat, and just relieve the tensions of studying all evening. After returning

home, we either continued studying or sometimes fell asleep. Bhanugudi Center was a

consistent part of our medical college experience. People had a great time there, socializing,

discussing academics, and relaxing in the laid-back atmosphere.

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Clinicals

Medicine is both a science and an art. If you form a human connection with the patient that

is 50 percent of the medicine. The other 50 percent is the medical treatment. In the fourth

year of medical school, we switched from the classroom setting to hospital practice, where we

rotated in the various departments. This marked the transition from the education setting to

clinical training, with real patient contact.

One interesting difference in clinicals was the professors themselves, for each had a different

teaching style. Some were serious, while some used humor, and all of them provided handson

training. We followed them around the hospital rooms, observing while they examined

patients, learning how to listen to both the doctor and the patient, and gaining deeper insights

into how to interact with patients to understand their symptoms. The doctors would then turn

to us and ask us to diagnose the patient based on their symptoms, correcting us or giving us

more information to come to the correct diagnosis. As we rotated through the various wards—

medicine, gynecology, and so on—we simultaneously learned from both the patients and doctors.

I had to have a tonsillectomy during post-clinicals and became a patient for a short time. It was

interesting to experience the interaction and treatment from the patient perspective.

Unfortunately, we also experienced how medicine did not always cure people. One of the

senior students, who was from northern India, got typhoid fever, developed a rare complication

of intestinal perforation, and died. This came as a shock to us and was a very sad experience.

We came to see that medicine can only do so much—it is limited and cannot always cure

everything. This realization dawned on me and helped me evolve both as a human being and

a physician.

We read about various procedures and diagnoses before clinicals, but nothing prepared me

for the actual experience of seeing a surgery in person for the first time.

When I began surgical rotation, I entered the operating theater for the first time just as the

surgeon made an abdominal incision. The sight of the incision and the blood that oozed out

made me feel dizzy. Suddenly, my mouth became dry and I felt wobbly and had to lean on the

wall before being guided out of the theater. This was not an uncommon reaction and it took

me several more encounters to get used to surgery. In America, I did surgery in my first year,

having transformed greatly from this first experience.

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Unexpected time off during medical school

In our final year, a strike took place to protest at the government decision not to build a

large steel plant in Vizag, a major city about 100 miles from Kakinada. Students throughout

Kakinada and Vizag participated in the strikes and everything was shut down for a few

months. At the beginning, we waited in Kakinada for a little while, thinking that the strike

would end, but with no end in sight, most of the students went back to their homes. I came

home to Tirupati and stayed for two months, enjoying a mini vacation with my brother and

cousin. We watched movies, played cricket, played cards, and just spent time with each other

as there was no work or lessons to catch up on. I had to wait until the city reopened following

the strike.

My father visited a little before the strike. I was preparing to take the microbiology exam at

the time, which I passed, and after the exam my plan was to visit my maternal uncle’s home,

something I did during most of my summer holidays. My mother was very close to her elder

brother, Sivarama Reddy, who at that time was superintendent engineer, a high position in

the government engineering department.

In those days, some marriages were seen as an alliance within families. For example, a

daughter could marry her father’s sister’s son (her first cousin) in what was called menarikam,

or a consanguineous marriage. From childhood, the original plan between both families

was that I and my uncle’s daughter would be married under this type of alliance. For various

reasons, of which I was unaware, her marriage was arranged to another gentleman, one who

held a government job. My mother was very disappointed as she had wanted her brother’s

daughter to be her daughter-in-law.

My father came to deliver the news, thinking I might also be very disappointed. I was a bit

disappointed because that had been the plan all along. I had a very mature conversation with

my father regarding the situation, in which he approached the topic by explaining to me that

this could be a blessing in disguise. Instead, I could find a life partner who understood the

way of the life of the doctor, and who could support me as I worked to achieve my future

medical goals. He assured me that we did not reject the alliance, and that he wanted my

uncle and his family to be happy with the decision they made for their daughter. There were

no hard feelings. He also assured me that we would find someone well suited. The way my

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father approached the conversation, and his optimism, were reassuring to me. Ultimately,

this disappointment turned out to be best for me. We remained close to my uncle’s family.

The blue Bajaj scooter

My father purchased a blue Bajaj scooter while I was home during the strike. At our request,

it was delivered to my uncle’s house two miles away. My brother and I were excited to go and

pick it up. After learning to ride the bicycle together, we now wanted to learn to ride the

scooter.

We walked the two miles to collect the scooter, but before we could ride it home we needed

to gas it up at the petrol station next door. After we filled the tank, I climbed onto the driver’s

seat, and just as my brother was trying to climb onto the back seat, my hand squeezed the

accelerator by accident. The scooter started moving and I could not control it in time for my

brother to climb on. I just kept going, leaving my brother standing there! I was too scared to

turn around in the traffic and slowly navigated home without him. He had to walk all the way

back and was quite mad. I apologized profusely and pacified him. Afterwards, we carefully

learned the techniques of how to maneuver a scooter, practiced riding, and had lots of fun.

Chennai was close to 100 miles away and we would ride it all the way there to get it serviced.

We used any excuse to enjoy the scooter rides. My brother and I still remember this incident

and have a good laugh at the memory.

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For a good laugh

A group gathered to watch a rocket launch into space. But it failed to launch. The

scientists were stumped and tried everything they could, but still they failed. They

were desperate for help. A sardarji from the crowd offered his assistance. He asked

the scientist to tilt the rocket from side to side and then try to launch it. When they

pushed the button, it took off. Everyone cheered with surprise and clapped with

admiration.

The head scientist asked the sardarji, “How did you know what to do?”

The sardarji explained, “Well, that’s what I do in India when my Bajaj scooter doesn’t

start.”

Me with my friends in medical school during a visit to the local beach in Kakinada. Front row from left: Sankara

Prasada Reddy, me, Prabhakar Reddy. Back row from left: Venkatramana Reddy and Ranga Reddy

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With Class of 1967 classmates, RMC reunion

With classmates at RMC reunion

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CHAPTER SEVEN

A Marriage Made in Heaven

It’s amazing how one day someone walks into your life, and you cannot remember how

you ever lived without them.

Unknown

I stayed at home in Tirupati until the strike in Kakinada ended, which took a couple of

months. This turned out to be a momentous period in my life. My uncle, Padmanabha Reddy,

the headmaster at the Chandragiri high school, had made a strong impression on one of his

former students, Chandra Babu Naidu, who later became a minister in the state government

of Andhra Pradesh. Chandra Babu Naidu was instrumental in establishing four schools in

Andhra Pradesh for gifted students, and he selected my uncle to be the principal of a school

located in the town of Kodigenahalli, near Hindupur.

In Hindupur, my uncle met my future father-in-law, Dr. C.L.N. Reddy, who was practicing as

a surgeon and chief medical officer at the local government hospital. My uncle was a patient

of his, and they later became friends. Dr. C.L.N. Reddy had two daughters, Subhashini and

Praveena, and one son, Raja. My uncle saw Subhashini during one visit and he mentioned

to Dr. C.L.N. Reddy that he had a nephew who would be finishing medical school soon,

and inquired about the possibility of arranging a marriage. My uncle discussed this with my

father. Dr. C.L.N. Reddy’s family was very interested and since Subhashini was finishing her

high school at that time, the family was interested in finding a suitable match.

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My father and I had another good discussion about marriage. I had always told my father

I did not want to marry a doctor because I wanted to stay focused on my career and needed

to do whatever I had to in order to succeed at that. I felt that I would not adjust very well to

being married to another doctor as her attention would be divided. I was traditional in this

aspect, with a dependent personality. I wanted someone who could support me, successfully

and efficiently take care of our home and family, and raise children with good family values.

My father and uncle thought that, in that case, the best match would be with someone

from a medical family who understood a doctor’s responsibilities and schedule. Subhashini,

the daughter of a surgeon and with three uncles who also were doctors, grew up with that

understanding and could be my ideal life partner.

Family reputation was very important when arranging marriages, and a family looked for

compatibility with the other family. The elders took it for granted that the children were

brought up with the same values they held, and felt they knew what was best for their

children. Of course, sometimes it doesn’t turn out that way, but for the most part this concept

seemed to work. My family inquired about the values and the socio-economic compatibility of

Subhashini’s family, and they made the same inquiries about mine. Subhashini’s grandparents,

along with other family members, came to meet us at our home in Tirupati and spend time

with our family. Everyone got along well, and her family gave their blessing to move forward

with the marriage. In those days, a marriage extended beyond just the bride and groom; it

was the union of two families.

I was almost done with medical school and Subhashini had just finished high school, so my

father thought it was a good time for me to get married. I trusted my parents and elders,

and if they felt the other family was a good one, I was happy to go along with it. There

were many similarities between our two families: they came from humble beginnings, as

we had, were highly educated and successful, held similar family values, and were socioeconomically

compatible. This was the basis for arranged marriages at that time and ours

was no exception.

Things began to move quickly. By this time, I had not yet met Subhashini personally, but

I made my decision based on the photographs and on my understanding of her family

background. The pellichupulu was arranged, which is an occasion for the boy and his

family to meet the girl and her family and officially decide to go ahead with the marriage

celebration.

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Even before we went to their house, my father called me aside and explained the serious

nature of this meeting. He told me, “This pellichupulu is very important. I want you to be

95 percent sure you want to marry this girl. They are from a respectable family and I do

not wish this visit to turn into some sort of an exhibition, because if you look at her and

say no to the match, it would hurt their feelings and ours. Please think very carefully about

this before we agree to meet them. If you have any reservations, please let me know.” I took

his words seriously. I analyzed the situation from all angles and informed my father that

I wanted to move ahead. To this day, I remember that conversation with my father, and have a

great admiration for his thoughtfulness and consideration for other people. This was another

wonderful example of his humanity.

My parents, my brother and sister, and a few other relatives traveled with me by car to my

future in-laws’ home in Hindupur. We were cordially greeted by Subhashini’s family and

invited into their home, where they seated us comfortably in the main room. As everyone

conversed over light snacks and coffee, Subhashini was brought to the room by her family

members and was gently offered a seat next to her mother. Shyly, she sat down and kept her

eyes focused on her hands in her lap. I had only a small quick glimpse of her, and I do not

know if she saw me at all. We did not talk or converse directly with each other at all during

this meeting. After 15 minutes or so, she was taken back to her room. The overall event went

very well, and everyone seemed to be happy.

That same evening, in the pleasant gardens of my uncle’s quarters, I was with the elders—my

parents and uncle and her parents—as they gathered to discuss the match. All agreed to

proceed with the marriage. I still had not spoken to Subhashini or seen her separately at this

point, but the marriage was fixed. From this point, arrangements moved quickly, and we had

a nischitartham, a ceremony that sets the official marriage date and time. In the combined

family spirit, with my uncle—from the slap that turned me around—playing another key role

in my life, I had now found my wife with his help and guidance. In that same spirit, my

father later helped arrange a match for my uncle’s son, my cousin Koti, with Dr. Lakshmi

Kanthamma’s daughter, Anuradha.

My first conversation with Subhashini took place after our marriage. Until then I had never

heard her speak and I did not know the sound of her voice. I had only heard about her

indirectly from everyone else who had met or known her, and they told me that she was

studious, obedient, and family oriented. In the USA, I heard a colleague explain his own

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arranged marriage to a patient: “I don’t know how it works, but it works very well. She knows

what she needs to do. I know what I need to do. We have children. It goes on and we adjust

and make it work. And we are committed to this lifelong.”

Divorce rates were low in those times. Arranging marriages was a system that evolved over

thousands of years. If you enter marriage as if it is a commitment for life, it will work.

Subhashini was exactly the right match for me. We have been married for 49 years. She is all

that I could have wished for in the perfect spouse.

“Like two perfect strangers”

Our marriage was fixed. On June 10, 1973, Subhashini and I were married in a big celebration

in Hindupur. I was the eldest son of my father and was the first one from my generation to

get married.

The rituals of marriage were exhausting. Subhashini’s father and mother had a 16-day

festival after the marriage at their house. I was treated grandly. My siblings and cousins, and

Subhashini’s siblings, were around and helped facilitate conversations and made us feel more

at ease with each other.

After all this excitement, I had to return to Kakinada to complete my final medical school

exams—medicine, surgery and OB-GYN—which I passed.

Because I was newly married and my parents were living in Tirupati, my father asked me to

do my house surgency at the Tirupati medical college hospital, so my new wife and I moved

to Tirupati, where we lived with our parents until we left for the U.S. in November of 1976.

Subhashini was the first daughter-in-law in our family and my father welcomed her by

entrusting her with a responsibility. In his contractor business, my father paid the workers

every weekend in cash, which he kept locked in the beeruva, a metal bureau cabinet. He

entrusted the keys to Subhashini and asked her to help him count and bring the wages. In

this way, he helped her become an important member of the family.

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My brother and sister also welcomed Subhashini to the family and made her feel at home.

As I became busy after joining my house surgency, the family encouraged us to find ways to

spend some private time together out of the house. She and I took rides on the blue Bajaj

scooter together—Subhashini’s first time on a scooter—and we went to watch movies at the

theater, finding time to interact with each other more.

For a good laugh

The ideal of marriage has changed, and that is the way it is.

At a wealthy private school, two elementary-school girls sat together at lunch. One

girl said to the other, “I am going to get a new dad. My mom is marrying him next

month. You know him, he’s the popular actor Mr. Henderson.”

Excitedly, the other girl said, “Mr. Henderson? You’re going to like him. He was my

dad last year.”

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My wedding ceremony, June 10, 1973

My 25th wedding anniversary

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My mother with Prasanth before coming to America

Subhashini with Prasanth at our home in Tirupati while waiting to join me in America

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Prasanth’s first birthday celebration in India with my father

Prasanth playing cricket while in India

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From left: Me, my wife, my mother-in-law with my son Prasanth, and my father-in-law

at Kavali before I came to America

Dinner with Allison’s family before her engagement to Prasanth

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“Minforth” family at my first son Prasanth’s and Allison’s wedding

Family photo with Allison and her parents during their visit to Kavali in India

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My second son Prabhath’s wedding. From left: My wife, daughter-in-law Allison with

second grandson Ravi, Prabhath, Aarthi, Prasanth with first grandson Eli, and me

Having a leisurely breakfast and relaxing at the back of the house while visiting Kavali. From left: My second

daughter-in-law Aarthi, my wife, my mother-in-law Sujanamma, and my second son Prabhath

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Our newborn first grandchild, Eli

Vacation with our children and grandchildren

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My second daughter-in-law, pregnant with my grandson, Dev, being blessed by her mother,

Gayathri, and her father, Atmaram

Subhashini’s sister’s daughters, Pallavi and Silpa, with Prasanth and Prabhath

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Thanksgiving get-together at our home in Mineral Wells, 2021. Back row from left: Allison, Prasanth, me,

Subhashini, Aarthi, Prabhath with second son Dev. Front row from left: Eli, Ravi, Jay (Prabhath’s first son)

Birthday celebration with family in Houston

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CHAPTER EIGHT

ECFMG Preparation for USA

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning

from failure.

Colin Powell

Don’t allow your fear of what might happen to interfere with what you can.

Anonymous

I left my home in ninth grade and returned to live with my family after medical school as

a doctor and a married man. This was the sacrifice I had to make to pursue mine and my

family’s goal, which placed so much emphasis and focus on education.

House surgency in Tirupati

The house surgency experience in a new hospital setting was different for me, but I was back

in the town where I had grown up. My family was well known and I already knew many

people locally and easily made new friends, so it was easy to adjust socially.

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I rode the scooter to the hospital every day for house surgency. On my route to the hospital,

I passed Balaji Colony, where I met and became good friends with Jayahari. He was also doing

his house surgency at the hospital.

Jayahari always called me “Boss,” and never by my name. This was an affectionate nickname,

and a fun aspect of our friendship. Everyone in his house also knew me as Boss, and I think

they may have forgotten my real name. His children always called me “Boss uncle,” which

they really believed was my name, so they were surprised when they learned my actual name

many years later.

A balancing act

My most important goal was to go to America, and to do that, I had to prepare for the

Educational Council for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) exam. House surgency now

presented a balancing act; I was newly married, working, and making new friends, but

I needed to carve out the time to study and pass the ECFMG.

When I make up my mind, I work hard and focus, and I became very compulsive about

my studies. I started going to the library and studied and worked close to 18 hours a day

for several months. Subhashini and I stayed in a room upstairs in my parents’ home and

we had a cook, Chandra, who helped to make coffee and tea, and prepared snacks that

provided the comforts to facilitate my studies, and both of them greatly supported and

helped me. One or the other would wake up at 2 a.m. to make the tea, then go back to sleep

while I continued to study until it was time to go to the hospital. It was very hard work,

but we did it.

Jayahari and a couple of other good friends were also preparing for the exam, and we

sometimes studied together. The closest test center for the exam was in Malaysia, and

at the time neither I nor any of our friends had ever left India, or even taken a flight

somewhere. It was such an expensive thing to do. Seven of us traveled there together,

but going to foreign countries was not the plan for many of the other students at the S.V.

Medical College.

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Travel to Malaysia

My first flight out of India was, then, to Malaysia. The main focus of the trip was, of course,

to take the exam, but to us it was also an adventure and I was keen to absorb all the details.

Looking out of the window of the plane, I was mesmerized by the floating clouds and the blue

skies. The flight felt luxurious, with full-service drinks and snacks, although the landing was

scary, with the loud noise and impact of the wheels on the runway.

Everything was a new experience on that trip. The facilities in the hotel were so modern and

we had to learn how to use the western toilet and run the shower in the room that four of us

shared. Even using elevators was a new experience. We had read the novel Hotel by Arthur

Hailey and wondered what we would do if we happened to get stuck in an elevator. We were

very naive. Until then, nobody in our immediate families had gone abroad, so it was an

exciting experience. The people in the streets, the food vendors, and the roads were all so

different from what we knew back home.

We arrived at the hotel two days before the exam. The exam was conducted in a large hall away

from the hotel, and we spent time in the room preparing for the exam. We were so nervous

and anxious as we walked to the hall to take the exam, which had two parts, a multiple-choice

medical part and an English test. The English exam was divided into written and listening

comprehension sections, and for the listening comprehension, we heard a phrase over the

speaker system. For example, the question was, “In Los Angeles there is …,” followed by

the multiple-choice answers, “smog,” “fog,” and “clog.” If the accent was not familiar to us,

selecting the correct response was difficult. I did not know the word “smog.” Those who paid

close attention would be fine, but those who listened casually could easily miss the word. In

the past, people passed the English test automatically, but when its standards were raised

failure became more common.

After the exam, we celebrated for the next two days in Malaysia before our departure, and

I felt a huge sense of euphoria. We had been preparing for the exam for a year, and it was a

real relief to be done. Everything had felt overwhelming—not just the exam, but flying on a

plane for the first time, staying at a hotel in a different country and even using an elevator.

Malaysia had a sizable Indian community, and we visited the Subrahmanya Swami Temple

and ate at one of the good Indian restaurants there. We also went shopping. At that time,

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adio-tape recorder combinations called “2-in-1” were just coming out, and each of us bought

one, along with some tapes of old Hindi songs to play. Back in India, we listened to these

tapes and songs almost every day for several weeks until the novelty wore off. We also bought

fancy, ready-made new clothes, like T-shirts with dragons on them and fashionable bell-bottom

jeans. Malaysia was an amazing new experience.

Once back in India, reality returned. The exam results would take six to eight weeks to

arrive; meanwhile, we had no way of knowing if we had passed the exam, but we did know

that our families were counting on us to succeed. My father-in-law, Dr. C.L.N. Reddy, had

supported my exam preparation and anxiously awaited the results. My father, through my

uncles, suggested that while waiting for my results I should start up a practice. I did not want

to, preferring instead to be laser-focused on going to the U.S.

While waiting for the results, Jayahari, who also studied and took the exam, and I met often

at S.V. cafe, our local cafe, close to both our homes. We ordered what we called “one-by-two

coffee”—one order of coffee split into two cups which we then shared while we talked for

an hour. We anticipated the arrival of the ECFMG results, which were always sent in easily

recognizable blue envelopes with a dark blue border. We were disappointed on each day that

passed without the envelope arriving.

Jayahari’s family lived very close to the postmaster general’s house and his father was good

friends with him. One Thursday, he heard that someone had received their results and told

us. We thought our results would come the next day, but we didn’t hear anything on Friday.

On Saturdays, the mail was sorted but not delivered until Monday, and we did not want to

wait until then as we were extremely anxious. We convinced Jayahari’s father to talk to his

postmaster general friend to allow us to watch the mail as it was being sorted on Saturday.

We were allowed to come in on one condition: that while the postmen counted and sorted

the mail on the floor, we could only watch them and look for the envelopes from ECFMG.

We could not interfere.

On Saturday, we stood back and watched the mail being sorted. Suddenly, we saw ECFMG

envelopes and we screamed, jumped excitedly onto the stacks of mail on the floor, startling

the postmen, and grabbed the envelopes and ripped them open. In the rush of excitement

we each took the wrong envelope, and I didn’t notice that I had opened Jayahari’s envelope

and he had opened mine. It didn’t matter, though, because we both passed! We jumped up,

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hugged each other and hugged the postal workers. They were happy for us, but probably also

happy to see us leave so that they could get back to work.

We went to Jayahari’s house first. His father was overwhelmed with joy and congratulated

us. My father was at the construction site for a sugar factory six miles from town, a major

contract project. We drove the blue Bajaj scooter there immediately afterwards to convey the

great news. He was delighted, and said he was very proud of us. The results were a big relief

to him and to Jayhari’s father.

We celebrated at the cafe and treated ourselves to one cup of coffee each (not one-by-two)!

In those days, we never touched alcohol, but had it been today we might have celebrated

with champagne. As I was reveling in my results, I suddenly noticed the English section

of it indicated a small letter “‘F,” which meant that I had failed. I was disappointed. I soon

received another letter informing me I had passed the English written part, but not listening

comprehension. In fact, I learned that several of the brightest students, who were fluent in

English, also failed. This was a setback for me. I soon retook the English exam separately, and

endured a few disappointments in this process before eventually passing, without giving up.

I stayed focused and worked to achieve the goal to move to America.

For some good laughs

Some positivity can be found in disappointing situations.

A father was relaxing in his La-Z-Boy chair as his son arrived home from school. The

father called the boy over and asked for his school progress report. The son said,

“Dad, I loaned it to my friend next door.”

The father asks, “Why?”

The son responds, “He wanted to scare his dad!”

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CHAPTER NINE

America: My Destiny

Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and,

most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.

Pelé

I worked hard to pass the English listening comprehension exam, and as part of my

preparation I started listening to the BBC’s Voice of America and other American radio

programs. I wanted to practice by listening to whichever accent of spoken English was

available. Madras had a language institute, and from there I got some audio cassettes

to use for practicing. I once again felt like a student, learning, listening and preparing.

With this mindset, I had to forget for a little while that I was a doctor and focus solely on

passing the English test. I had to take this first step so that I could move on to the next

one for the visa.

This initial preparation took several months, and the overall process took one and a half

years. Other peers decided to start a private practice while waiting for their results, but

I did not. I focused solely on the task and nothing else. I was determined that I was not

going to practice medicine in India. I was going to America to fulfill the prophecy—my

destiny.

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Ultimately, I took the test three times before finally passing. Each time, I scored very highly

for the written portion, but never high enough on listening comprehension, but by August of

1976, I finally received the passing score.

The first time I retook the exam, Subhashini was in the third trimester of pregnancy with our

first son, Prasanth, and had gone to stay with her parents in Kavali during the final weeks

of pregnancy, as was the custom for a new mother. Her family had moved to Kavali a few

months after our wedding, and we frequently traveled back and forth between our home in

Tirupati to Subhashini’s family in Kavali, which was a couple of hours’ journey by train.

I was not in Kavali for Prasanth’s delivery on March 26, 1975 as I had gone to retake the

English exam at the consulate office in Madras (which is now called Chennai) as part of the

visa process. I thought I would be home at the time of his birth, but he arrived early. The

family called me with the news, and I immediately rushed back home to enjoy time with my

new son.

I have huge admiration for both my father and my father-in-law for their tremendous support.

They allowed me to focus on my studies with minimal disruption. My father never made

me feel like I was wasting my time or talent. He felt that if America did not work out, I was

qualified enough to start a practice in Tirupati and would still be a successful doctor at home.

During the visits to Kavali, my father-in-law, who was a very skilled surgeon and popular in

Kavali, invited me to assist him in surgeries, which helped keep my skills sharp. The way doctors

practiced medicine in those days was entirely different from that of today. Anesthesiologists

were uncommon in the smaller town hospitals, and practiced more in the larger city hospitals,

so my father-in-law administered the spinal anesthesia and general anesthesia himself. Once

the patient was sedated, he would conduct the surgeries. There was minimal monitoring,

and healthcare costs were inexpensive, but the level of care and attention they provided was

surprisingly excellent, and they did fairly well financially. Today, medicine in India is much

more advanced.

Learning from my father-in-law was an interesting experience for he is a very skilled surgeon.

He practiced until the age of 92 and was performing surgeries until the age of 85, so I tell

him he has set a “good–bad” example for me by not retiring at a younger age. I am now 72

years old and want to retire, but then I think about him working as long as he could. He is,

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in the true spiritual sense, a karma yogi, selfless, composed, and dedicated to his profession to

benefit his many patients and community at large.

In those days, family planning was a big thing as the Indian government wanted to control

population growth, and doctors conducted many tubal ligation surgery camps. The

government hospital set up campsites a couple of times a year, and thousands of women from

the surrounding areas came to have the procedure. I attended these camps along with my

father-in-law and learned some techniques for this procedure by assisting him, and I became

quite good at performing tubal ligations. I am very proud and honored to have been taught

by him during this time. He was an excellent surgeon and teacher.

Visions of a village psychic

My friend Bhaskara Rao studied with me to retake the English exam. He attended S.V.

Medical School and had also failed the English portion of ECFMG, as had many others. He

went to live with his parents in Kavali as he prepared to retake the exam.

Whenever I visited Kavali, Bhaskara Rao and I met in the evenings and took long walks

together, talking about the exams and our frustration with whether we would pass and if our

dreams to go to the U.S.A. would happen. He chose not to continue postgraduate studies

and attempted to pass the English exam. The anticipation also took a toll on his father. In

an attempt to get some peace of mind as we waited for the results, Bhaskara Rao’s father

was eager to get a better idea of his son’s future, and invited Bandamma, a local village

psychic. She claimed a divine spiritual connection that allowed God to speak through her

and deliver a prophecy, playing on the superstitious beliefs of people. When the frame of

mind is tormented, it becomes vulnerable, and people cling to any belief. I went along to hear

her prophecy. It was an interesting scene; the lady came in and sat on the floor in the center

of the house, and we gathered around her. She carried on a normal conversation for a little

while and then, suddenly, she stood up and started swaying and intoning in an ominous voice

that there were oceans Bhaskara Rao would cross and that he would receive a letter before he

went to the new place. Her acting startled us, but I knew this was just a show. She provided

very generic information, based on general knowledge. Following this, she had a list of items

she wanted from them in payment, such as a sari and money. Then the show was over. While

it was clearly fake to me, it might have brought peace of mind to Bhaskara Rao’s father.

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We and our parents were stressed out, waiting to know if we passed the exams. Even today,

I revisit the scene in my mind. Suckers we were!

Ultimately, Bhaskara Rao did not pass; he went on to take postgraduate studies in dermatology

and opened up a practice in Nellore.

For a good laugh

A man who does not believe in psychics, decides to test out their ability. He goes

to a local psychic and asks, “How many children do I have?” The psychic answers,

“Three.” He laughs and tells her she’s wrong, that he has four children. To this, she

responds, “So you think.”

Friends in private practice

Jayahari had originally passed both parts of the ECFMG and started a private practice for a

few months near Tirupati; meanwhile, he applied for jobs in the U.S. as he prepared for his

departure to America. He mailed many applications to the hospitals, but jobs were very scarce

and only a few applicants received contracts. Even without a job, we could still go to America

on an immigrant visa, but someone from America had to sponsor us, saying they would be

financially responsible. Jayahari’s father’s friend agreed to sponsor him as he was not able to

secure a job, and he left for New York, where his sponsor lived. Until he left, we enjoyed our

“two-in-one” coffees at the cafe, and he always reassured me, “Subrahmanyam, when I get the

job there, I would be glad to help you. You will pass your English test.”

Kumar was another friend who retook the exam and passed. He had also started a private

practice while waiting to hear about his results and also secured a sponsorship to travel to

America. Every day, Jayahari and I visited Kumar at his clinic, which was a small office in a

relatively poor area, to have tea and chat. His practice was new and he was not too busy with

patients, but occasionally, someone came in for a checkup, and, not satisfied with a simple

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prescription, expected to be treated with an injection. I say this jokingly, but sometimes it

really felt as if we were considered good doctors only if we gave an injection! Kumar is now

a cardiologist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and we remain good friends to this day. Like me,

Jayahari is a gastroenterologist, now practicing in Tucson, Arizona. We think back on those

days when our future was uncertain, and of how we coped with the stress together. We

recognize how our friendship and reassurance served as a valuable support system.

When I finally received my English exam results from ECFMG, I read the words, “You

satisfied all our requirements,” and that I had passed with high scores. There were no words

to convey the absolute relief I felt. I read the letter again and again. A huge burden was lifted;

my focus and diligence had paid off. I felt as if the gates to the USA were now wide open.

Life changed drastically for me in a short time. From being a medical student, I got married,

became a doctor, and had a son, and I was not prepared for so many changes in my early

20s. All this, too, while I focused on my one steadfast goal of traveling to America. I was

not there for my son’s birth, being preoccupied with worry about whether I would pass this

English exam, and my absence from my son’s early life might have had more of an impact if

we were already in America, but that was where the Indian family support system helped us

so much. Prasanth had his grandparents, his mother and his aunt. Servants were also around

to watch him as he was a very active boy, chasing chickens in the yard and having all sorts of

fun. He kept everybody busy. There was a strong supporting cast all around him from whom

he received so much love, care, and attention, and he was able to start his life in a healthy

atmosphere.

Everyone played a part and did what was expected of them. Subhashini was delighted when

I passed the exam and had faith that I would succeed. Our parents also wholeheartedly

supported us. Both sides of the family expected me to pursue my goal, and I did.

Applying for jobs and getting my immigrant visa

Getting a job in America was my next hurdle as I anxiously waited for my visa. By the time

I received news of my passing exam result, my friends had either gone to America or settled

into their practice at home in India, so I was somewhat alone. We all knew how difficult it

was to get a job in America, but my father-in-law’s relatives in Dayton, Ohio were willing to

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sponsor me and I had everything lined up before the interview for the visa. If everything was

approved, I would leave for the USA soon afterward.

One month before my interview took place, another classmate went on his interview, after

securing his sponsorship and all the necessary requirements. However, he experienced some

confusion. In India, we are usually referred to by our last name initial and full first name, not

by our last name; for example, I would be B. Subrahmanyam Reddy, not Dr. Boyareddigari.

The interviewer asked my classmate about his sponsor, whom he referred to by the last name

(for example, my father-in-law’s full name is Chilakuru, Lakshmi Narasareddy, and he is

known as C.L.N. Reddy, or Dr. Reddy), saying, “Tell me about Mr. Chilakuru.” My friend

was not familiar with the name as stated in that way and asked for clarification a few times,

saying, “Pardon?” The interviewer got annoyed and told him to retake the English exam and,

just like that, he was denied the visa.

Learning about his experience created tremendous anxiety for me. I had passed the exam

after an extra year and a half, just as he had, and now I was going to this interview. If

I didn’t answer properly, my dreams might be crushed, and I worried about the accent

and failing to understand it. I remember the visa officer who interviewed me. He was an

African American man and he could see how nervous I was, with my shaking hands. He

looked through all my documents and asked me how long I intended to stay in America. In

my naivete, I made some quick calculations based on how much money I thought I would

earn to return comfortably to India, and answered confidently, “Eight years.” He was

compassionate and looked at me through his glasses when asking questions, and listened

as I answered nervously, but clearly. Then he said, “I’ll go ahead and sign the papers and

you sign your part.” I signed my name where he indicated, my hand shaking nervously, and

produced a flourishing “designer” signature.

I now had the immigrant visa in my hand. What a wonderful feeling that was! Throughout the

interview, I had been sweating, my palms were wet, and my body was warm. As the interview

ended, my mind became blank, but I slowly registered that my visa had been approved and

I felt like shouting out loud, “I got it! I made it!”

For the immigration process, I visited the consulate office in Chennai often. Subhashini’s

uncle, Dr. C.M.K. Reddy, her father’s brother, lived in Chennai. He had trained in Baltimore,

Maryland in America, finished his general surgeon residency, completed the Fellow of the

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Royal Colleges of Surgeons (FRCS) exam in England, and settled in Chennai, where he

established his practice. He became a famous surgeon and received distinguished awards in

Chennai. In fact, he was so successful and well-known that many movie actors and important

people became his patients. He was another influential person who provided considerable

support and encouragement. He was also my role model, having gone to America before

settling back in India.

Madras Avva

My father-in-law’s mother was another grandmother who provided a strong influence in my life.

I called her Madras Avva, or the grandmother from Madras. She was a self-made success, having

brought her sons, my father-in-law and his brothers, from a small village to a town, and playing

a great role in getting them educated. Four of her six sons eventually became doctors. She had

started off in agriculture with a little bit of land but moved to the town where her brother lived,

and worked hard to support her children’s education. Subhashini’s uncle in Chennai was the

youngest brother, and her father was the oldest brother who had raised his youngest brother in

his home like a son. Subhashini, her brother and her sister were very close to this uncle.

Madras Avva wanted everybody in the family to succeed and be together. That was a

beautiful trait I got from her—how to provide support to those who need it. She made sure

that if ever one of her sons was down, she told the other sons to provide their support.

She wanted me to succeed and took good care of me whenever I visited. She used to serve

a very diluted majjiga, a chilled and slightly spiced buttermilk drink, which was readily

available for the many visitors to help cool off in the heat. It was her signature drink!

The extent of her care and influence had a wide reach. Dr. C.M.K. Reddy turned his practice

into a big nursing home, which we refer to here as a mini hospital. Before he made his

medical rounds, Madras Avva visited the nursing home each morning and went to each and

every room to ask after the patients and families, many of whom came from the villages and

surrounding areas. Without meaning to, she created great public relations for the nursing

home with these “social” rounds before her son began his medical rounds. She was not

formally educated but she was smart and knew how to keep the family together. Subhashini

inherited some of these wonderful traits.

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Madras Avva shared my joy in receiving the visa, which brought happiness all around. My

father-in-law used to tell me, “Subrahmanyam, everybody is watching you. You need to succeed

in going to the USA.” But he also mentioned that failure would have its own consequences.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t be successful in India, he explained, but that I would not have the

satisfaction and joy of fulfilling what I set out to do. I vowed to him I would make him feel

proud, and I would succeed at my dreams. My father-in-law was very happy that I got the

immigrant visa, and so were all my family.

I have mentioned in many ways the love and support of my family. Subhashini’s family was

very similar to mine, and such a good family, in the truest sense of the word. Her family

became my own. They accepted and supported me wholeheartedly and I wanted to succeed

for them as much as I did for my own family. They were very protective and would take great

care of Subhashini, who could not join me in America until I secured a job and obtained a

visa for her and our son.

As part of making the arrangements to come to America, I tried to get a job. I applied to

many hospitals, but with no luck. Jayahari was already in the USA and suggested I apply to

his hospital but also to as many hospitals as I could. He suggested that I should go ahead with

the sponsorship and continue my job search after arriving in America.

The time had come to leave India. I was the first one from my family and village to go to

the U.S. on my own. My uncles advised me to be bold. They were nervous for me, thinking

of how I would adjust to all the change and a new place, but I was determined, and had

maintained good connections with my friends and my classmates who were already in

America. They also had contacts who might help me.

Being religious and spiritually oriented, I visited several temples near home to receive

blessings before I left India, and to give my thanks to Lord Sri Venkateswara, our family’s

God, whom I looked up to all my life. I felt that he held my hands, and he was there with

me all the time, through thick and thin.

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A farewell celebration

The farewell celebration at my house in Tirupati included my uncles, my grandmother,

Pedavva, and all our relatives. My father made sure I paid my respect to all my teachers,

inviting Mr. Sampath, the elementary school teacher who gave me a good thrashing in my

early education, and I bowed to the ground to touch his feet and received his blessings. My

father was always thoughtful, and never forgot who had helped us. It was a great celebration

and my whole family was ecstatic. From the farewell at home, all the close relatives were

invited to Subhashini’s uncle’s house in Chennai, about 100 miles away.

Two important letters

Two important letters were presented to me before my departure, the first from

Dr. C.M.K. Reddy and the second from Madras Avva.

Dr. C.M.K. Reddy showed me a reply he had received from Dr. Zimmerman, the program

director who trained him in Baltimore, after my uncle wrote to help find a place for me

in his program. I read the letter which stated, “Krishna, I hate to rain on your parade, but

I advise your nephew to stay where he is. I would not advise him to come to America as the

job situation is very tight.” He showed me the letter the day before I was to leave and told me

I could still go and try, but this letter shook me. Everybody was happy and jubilant around

me, not realizing this new challenge, and I did not want to disturb the happy mood. Having

already come this far, and fully aware of the obstacles ahead, I remained determined to

continue to America.

My mother cried all of the night before the day of my departure. On the morning of leaving,

I could see her sadness and I really had a heavy heart. On the one hand, I was jubilant, and

on the other, it was especially hard for me to leave my mother and father, brother and sister,

in-laws, and Subhashini and Prasanth.

I got into the car for the airport at an auspicious time in the morning. My father strongly

believed in these auspices. Madras Avva told me that whenever someone in the family

embarked on an important journey, she would be the first person they encountered, as a

good omen who would bring them good luck. While this might have been a superstition, it

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was also a tradition and she wanted to do this for me as I began my journey, to be the first

person encountered on my journey. She stayed a few feet ahead of the car and asked the driver

to move slowly past her, and as my window came near her, she asked the driver to stop the

car. She asked me to lower the window and handed me a letter. In a soft voice, she told me to

keep the letter with me, and if I ever needed help I should mail it to Dr. Paramdhama Reddy

and his wife Jayalakshmi, who was her brother’s daughter and might be able to offer help.

I kept that letter with me. She wanted me to succeed in America and created the good omen

to help make this happen.

In those days, going to the USA was a major achievement. I had a grand farewell at the

Chennai airport with family members from my father’s side of the family, as well as good

family friends, and Subhashini’s side of the family. They made a big show of sending me

off, placing flower garlands around my neck and offering simple advice from the village that

I should be bold, not drink alcohol, and be careful.

With a heavy heart and mixed emotions I boarded the plane. My whole family was waving

to me until they couldn’t see me anymore, a scene so vivid in my memory as I left them for

an unknown future. I found my seat on the Air India flight traveling to JFK airport in New

York. I had never been in the presence of so many foreign people before this flight! I saw

salads being served for the first time and wondered how or why people would eat uncooked

food like this. Luckily, Air India also served familiar Indian food. As the flight slowly took

off, I felt Dr. Matthews’ prophecy coming true. It was the start of a whole new experience.

For a good laugh

A flight attendant asks a passenger, “Would you like to have lunch, sir?”

The passenger replies, “What are my choices?”

The flight attendant answers, “Yes or no.”

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CHAPTER TEN

First Experiences in America

Life is a journey, not a destination.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle.

The other is as though everything is a miracle.

Albert Einstein

Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make

mistakes, but they don’t quit.

Conrad Hilton

I was on my way to America. I did not have a job and only a few contacts, along with the letters

from my father-in-law and friends of my father in case I needed a loan, and when I landed in

America on November 11, 1976 I had only $25 in my pocket. I knew someone would pick me

up at the airport as arranged and that I would be staying with strangers in a strange country,

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so it was with a sense of unfamiliarity that I arrived. My father-in-law arranged for Mr. Isanaka

Ramakrishna Reddy from New Jersey to receive me at the airport. My friend Kumar had also

arranged for his best friend, Gopal Reddy, who was doing a pediatric residency, to pick me

up at the airport in case Ramakrishna Reddy did not show up.

I enjoyed watching the clouds through the airplane window, a mesmerizing experience, as it

was only my second plane journey. When I heard the announcement that we were going to

land in New York, I looked out of the window and saw all the skyscrapers, and the cars driving

down below on the beautiful roads and highways. This was the America I had read about and

pictured from the books. We didn’t have a television and apart from seeing pictures, I had no

idea of what it would look like. I was amazed at the wonderful sight of this new land.

The plane landed, and as I disembarked and gathered my luggage, I noticed that everyone was

wearing large, thick jackets. People had told me it was going to be cold, but I did not feel cold.

I did not realize that the airport was heated inside and that November meant there would

be a lot of snow. I thought that maybe I was just resistant to the cold, that I could tolerate it.

I wore a suit for the first time, and a tie, which my uncle taught me how to knot. I had gone

to the modern tailor in Tirupati who stitched my new suit. I did not know I needed to bring

a winter jacket!

I collected my bags, cleared customs, and slowly came to the glass doors leading through

to the exit. Ramakrishna came in his car and, seeing me through the glass doors, waved at

me to come on through. I slowly opened the door and walked out. I will never forget this

experience: a sharp, cold draft of air hit me in my face, my eyes started to water, and I could

not see anything. Ramakrishna chided me for not having a proper coat, and after I showed

him my newly stitched jacket he threw his own winter coat on me and pushed me quickly

into the car. He assured me not to worry and that he would buy me a nice thick winter coat.

That year was one of the coldest winters in New York—the blizzard of 1976–77—with snow

everywhere.

I had never seen snow before, and driving on the highway, with cars and trucks buzzing by,

was a complete contrast to my small town, which had much smaller and fewer cars.

We arrived home at Ramakrishna’s place, where I met his wife, and stayed with them for

a few days. Ramakrishna’s father was a very close friend of my father-in-law, and he was

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an engineer and his wife a psychiatrist. They served me a good meal on my first night and

afterward, I saw them cleaning their own dishes. In India our families were well off and we

had servants to help with these tasks, so I was not used to doing them myself. They handled

chores, which was something I was not prepared for, and everything after that was a learning

curve. As I watched them, they told me to take a rest. Jet lag then hit me and I slept very well.

As they left for work the next day, Ramakrishna checked in on me and gave a quick pep talk,

wishing me well.

Everything in America was new, and even the accents I heard on the radio and the early

morning news shows were very different from the Voice of America program I had trained with

in India. Ramakrishna and his wife reminded me to be careful when walking outside, and to

stay within the security gates of their apartment. They warned me about crime and the risk

of being mugged.

My job search begins

I began my job search. Gopal Reddy was doing a pediatric residency at a Jewish hospital in

Brooklyn, and lived by himself in a studio apartment with no bedroom and just enough space

for a mat on the floor and a small bed. He invited me to stay with him, telling me to make

myself comfortable and explaining his busy schedule. He and his fellow residents would meet

up and go to work at 6 a.m. and come home at 9 p.m., with a quick lunch in between.

Gopal Reddy handed me the Yellow Pages and instructed me to call the hospitals to inquire

if they had openings. I didn’t know how to make the phone calls, but Gopal and the other

residents taught me. It was my duty, after they left, to call each hospital. In each call, I introduced

myself as Dr. Reddi and inquired about a job. The people I spoke to had trouble with my

accent at the time, but they directed me to the right people and departments. It was my first

time conversing in this manner with Americans and I noticed the cultural and conversational

differences. Most people were polite on the phone and I got used to the system—where to

call, how the call would be directed by the operator, and what questions to ask. This process

was new and there were also many highly qualified people from around the world who had

degrees—FRCS and MRCP from England and various other parts of the world—looking for

jobs. In January 1977, the U.S. stopped granting immigration visas to foreign medical school

graduates, causing many to rush to enter the country before the deadline. I had many letters

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of recommendation given by my professors, which I kept with me to present at interviews,

not knowing that recommendation letters in the USA are usually mailed out in confidence

to the director of the program. There was no question that it was very hard to get a job as a

doctor in America.

One lesson I learned quickly was how to use a rice cooker. Gopal Reddy and his friend made

rasam, a savory South Indian tomato stew, and kept it in a container in the refrigerator. Then,

they made hot rice onto which they poured the rasam and had it for a quick lunch before

rushing back out. Gopal wanted his lunch to be hot and explained that I needed to start the

rice at 11:30 a.m., 30 minutes before he came home for lunch. The first time I was left in

charge of making lunch, he gave the directions in a hurry as he was leaving, but I thought it

seemed simple enough and I said I would do it. At 11:30 a.m., as instructed, I took the rice

cooker and measured the rice. Then I saw there were two containers, a large one, with a small

one that fitted inside it. Not understanding why there were two pieces, I put the rice in the

larger pot, added the water and plugged it in. The whole thing sparked and was ruined. Gopal

and his friend arrived home hungry, and he was so mad that he didn’t have any lunch that he

left in a huff. I was very embarrassed about it. In India I never went into the kitchen except

to taste the food. In America, I quickly learned we had to cook our own food, wash dishes,

and really take care of ourselves. It was a fascinating change of life. Gopal Reddy was a very

fine and helpful gentleman, but he could get angry very easily. I was somewhat nervous while

staying with him, but I got more comfortable after a few days and now consider him one of

my best friends.

I soon had to leave Gopal Reddy’s place because Kumar was arriving to stay with him and

there was not enough room for three people. I contacted my original sponsors, Indira and

Krishna Mohan Reddy in Dayton, Ohio, who invited me to stay with them for a few days.

I traveled by plane from New York to Ohio.

Krishna Mohan Reddy was an anesthesiologist who was already well established in the area,

and Indira, whom I began to call Indirakka as she was like an elder sister, was a pediatrician

who practiced part-time. They had two kids and lived in a big house. Snow was falling

when I arrived and it was nice to watch the fluffy, flowery snow fall to the ground. The

house was relatively cold, despite being heated, and I learned then about electric blankets.

Indirakka gave one to me and explained it would keep me warm. I didn’t know how to

help in the kitchen and had to familiarize myself with eating cereal and milk for breakfast.

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Luckily, Indirakka cooked for me. Instead of breakfast and lunch, she suggested having

brunch and made idlis. What a treat!

She drove me around town and while there I tried to contact some local hospitals for a

job, but with no success. Dr. Krishna Mohan Reddy tried to help, speaking to his program

director on my behalf, but so many people were applying for jobs that it was difficult. They

were a nice family and held weekend parties at which their Indian guests encouraged me to

keep looking. They were also from Andhra and I enjoyed chatting with them, and was able

to connect with some of their friends. Interestingly, there were not that many Indians in the

smaller cities at that time, and whenever we saw any other Indians, whichever part of India

they were from, we got excited, and felt some sort of connection. Being so homesick, we just

want to see our own type of people. Now that the Indian population in America has grown

immensely, we no longer feel that emotion.

My time with Indirakka and Krishna Mohan Reddy was interesting. I observed how Indirakka

drove around, and how she took care of the kids while also practicing pediatrics part time.

Even though people were wealthy, they had no servants, and men helped with household

chores like cooking and cleaning. Both were professionals and worked equally hard, but she

would still take care of the family-focused chores. He also helped around the house, doing

such chores as shoveling the snow and taking out the garbage.

Another thing I observed as I moved around between several families after my arrival, was

how stressed they were, balancing their families and work. They were nice people and cared

for each other, but I could also sense the stress and tiredness at the end of the day, which

I could sometimes hear in their tone of voice as they conversed with each other.

While I was in Dayton, my hosts told me it was time to look up my friends in order to

seriously continue the job search, as opportunities were limited in Dayton and I would do

better in bigger cities such as Chicago or New York. Without parents around, we had to rely

on friends, and they really helped me. As classmates we stayed connected and helped each

other. I remain thankful to all my friends who helped me in the U.S. when I didn’t have a

job. They gave me shelter and moral support.

I went to stay with my friend Dr. Rajendra Prasad, who was working as a house physician in

Oak Forest Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. His job paid well, and the hospital provided quarters

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and free meals. Rajendra Prasad did not eat breakfast in the morning because he had to hurry

to the hospital, but he returned close to noon and I accompanied him to lunch. I saw many

Indian doctors there and applied for jobs, but there were no openings. He suggested I should

try my luck in New York.

Before heading back to New York, I went to another part of Chicago to stay for 10 days with

another family friend, Mohan Ram Reddy, a psychiatrist who had practiced at Papanaidupet

and was good friends with my uncle. Mohan Ram Reddy and his family lived in a high-rise

apartment in Chicago. His wife came from a small village background, and I saw how she

adapted to America, having a routine for getting their three children ready for school and

onto the bus each morning. They were excellent hosts and treated me very well—I enjoyed

three home-cooked Indian meals each day! It was a comforting feeling to spend time with

them. During my time there, I tasted Kentucky Fried Chicken for the first time (I had stopped

being a vegetarian since the third year of medical school), which was very tasty. I neither knew

of nor worried about cholesterol or calories at the time.

Chicago had many Indian doctors who were doing well for themselves, and the wealth aspect

of successful doctors was evident. Some were buying new cars and some could buy new

homes. This gave me hope, a positive outlook that my struggling friends and I would achieve

success, and provided more motivation to work hard, so I continued to apply for jobs. With

no offers in Chicago, I returned to New York to try there.

Borrowing money

The time came when I had to borrow money in New York. My father had provided a letter

to be presented to one of his friend’s sons, Dr. Jee Reddi Prasad, who was in residency with

his wife in New York. I could ask him for a loan. At that time, residents’ salaries were low,

around $700 to $800 a month for an internship, so between the two of them they made

maybe $1,600 a month. They had their rent and expenses, and likely were barely getting by,

but I knew very little about such expenses back then. I had a little bit of money that I had

borrowed from a friend, and I took a taxi to their place, paying about $20 for the ride.

I handed him the letter, which he read and agreed to loan me money. He asked me how

much I needed and when I said $2,000, he couldn’t believe the amount and nearly fell off

his chair.

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He agreed to loan me $1,000, and then asked how I had arrived at his place. I responded that

I took a taxi. That was another shock for him. He advised me to take the bus and subway to

save money. I had also borrowed money in Dayton. My father never let me starve for money

and was always very liberal with me, and whatever money I wanted he gave to me. My fatherin-law

was also fairly well off, so I was relatively ignorant about the financial aspects of life,

but without a job I began to better understand money.

I stayed with a friend in New York for a few days and applied for jobs, but I secured no

interviews, so I went to Youngstown, Ohio, where Jayahari was in his first year of a surgical

residency. He was living in quarters in the hospital and had a busy schedule, going in on a

Friday and returning home on a Monday night, so I saw him now and then during the several

days I stayed there. He explained to me, “Boss, here nobody cares for breakfast. At noon

we will get lunch.” Mainly, he meant that he had to leave in the morning and if I wanted

breakfast, nobody would be there to provide it. Since he was one of my closest friends, I had

really hoped he would buy me some breakfast in the morning!

After he left for work, I strolled around the corridors of the hospital, which was a huge place.

I found myself in the corridor to the cafeteria, which had wall-to-wall glass doors, and as

I walked in I noticed people eating what looked like utappam, a thicker version of dosa. Hunger

hit me. I went to find my friend. He had told me, “Wait until lunch.” I was really mad. I took

the elevator to the operating room and went to the dressing room, where everyone put on

scrubs. There, they all had doughnuts! My friend was eating one, so I stood next to him and

also had one, unaware of the etiquette. Later he told me, “Boss, anytime you take doughnuts

like that you have to ask them ‘Can I have one?’” I ate the doughnut and I asked him about

the utappam. He explained that they were pancakes, which I had never tried before. Then

I understood what the cafeteria was and how it worked. I went around the hospital and met

a lot more Indians who were doctors there.

I was there until the first week of January and had an interview for surgical residence at the

hospital. My interview results were scheduled to be announced in March or April, and the

next program started on July 1. I just had to wait and see what would happen.

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First New Year celebration

Christmas and New Year celebrations were a completely unexpected cultural experience

for me. People were very casual, having drinks, hugging and kissing, and all in the holiday

spirit. In contrast, for holiday celebrations at home in India, I woke up at 4 a.m., bathed,

went to the temple with my brother then celebrated at home with family and good food

and sweets. Here, they had champagne and music and lights and decorations. People were

friendly, cheerful, and very easy-going. When I saw a lady hugging my friend, they were so

close to each other that I wondered, in my naivety, if they were going to marry each other.

A couple of people even came and hugged me, and I did not know why or what to do. I was

really surprised to see my friends blend into the culture; they had become accustomed to the

casual, friendly interactions.

I never drank alcohol and did not join in with friends who did. My friend tried to explain

the way it was here: everyone had a bit of free spiritedness, he said, and talking to girls

was not that evil. In South India particularly, boys and girls never talked to each other

and sat on separate sides of the classroom in our college. Talking to girls was something

I had to make an effort to do back home, being so shy, but here everyone was doing

it naturally. It took me a while to understand and adjust to the culture. I met Indian

doctors who had settled down and married local American women, had children, and

were very happy.

In Youngstown, various friends invited me for weekend dinners at their houses. Many of the

doctors in Youngstown were Telugu-speaking and were also married, and I looked forward

to the authentic, delicious taste of home-cooked Indian meals. If anybody called me, I was

always willing to go!

I also learned how some of the men cooked for themselves when I stayed with friends on the

weekends. They bought chicken, cut it up, added spices, and cooked it on the stove. They ate

this along with fresh-cooked white rice and finished off the meal with a pickle and perugu

annam, yogurt rice, for the typical bachelor meal. It was simple and I got used to that type of

diet. When that was not available, I heated up frozen pizza.

After New Year, Jayahari suggested I go to New York again for my job search. He had called

the friend who had sponsored him, the same friend who had loaned me money. He and

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his wife were very busy in the hospital, but he agreed to have me over and arranged for an

interview. He did not offer to host me at his place and I had to find a classmate who could

help me.

My friend Bhuvaneswara Rao lived in a small apartment in Queens, New York with four or

five others, using every available space to sleep. We were close friends and sharing a bed was

not uncommon, so he let me stay with him. They woke up at 5 a.m. and left by 5:30 a.m.,

parking their car at the railway station and taking the subway to the hospital, where security

was so tight they were escorted inside. They returned at 8 or 9 p.m., exhausted. That was their

routine. He showed me how to use the oven and heat up a frozen pizza when I was hungry,

and he told me to keep calling the hospitals listed in the Yellow Pages for a job. I did that for

the several days I stayed with them.

I was getting very homesick. It was now January and though I had been in America since

November I still did not have a job, and I was starving. I called Kumar, who was staying at

Gopal Reddy’s place in Brooklyn, and he said, “Boss, come on over.” I took the subway from

Queens to Brooklyn and walked down the street to his apartment in my thick winter coat

and carrying a leather bag. Misery loves company. He made idlis for me. Kumar had also

not found a job and was homesick. He said, “Boss, let’s just see what happens.” I spent part

of the day there and we had a pleasant visit enjoying a meal, a stress breaker for both of us.

The winter days were short, and as I looked through the window of the high-rise apartment

building, lemony soft sunrays fell over the city and on the clouds. It would become dark soon,

and it was time for me to take the subway back to Queens.

Using the New York subway system for the first time throughout my job search was a unique

and amazing experience, with the fast trains moving underground, and the hustle and bustle

of the passengers coming and going through the stations. It took me a couple of weeks to make

myself familiar with the process of exiting the station and walking to and from my interviews

at the hospital. Each station displayed maps on the walls, but I found these confusing and

kept a folded paper map at hand. If I got confused, elderly people were usually very nice and

helped while others were rude and couldn’t be bothered.

I once approached a man who was scowling, which I did not realize could mean he was

in a bad mood, and asked, “Sir, could you tell me how to get from this Brooklyn station

to Queens?”

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He shouted at me, “Get out of here!” I was so shocked at this response. New York had a mix

of so many types of people and personalities.

For a good laugh

The faith I had in Sri Venkateswara helped me maintain my focus and commitment

to succeed. Sometimes faith does not always mean trust.

A guy was falling off the side of a cliff with a deep valley below. As he was falling, he

caught a big branch on a tree jutting out of the rocks. He looked at the branch, then

up at the sky, and then down at the valley. He cried out, “God! Save me!”

Suddenly a booming voice responded, “Yes, I will save you. Do you have absolute

faith in me?”

The man said, “I do.”

The voice said, “Let your hands go, and I will catch you from below.”

The man looked to the sky again and asked, “Is there another God there?”

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My very good friends. From left: Mohan Rami Reddy, me, and Gopal Reddy

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

The Road to Residency

Friends in need are friends indeed.

Benjamin Franklin

My friends served as my main support system in America. I depended on them for everything

and was humbled by their generosity. They provided moral support, advice, and a place to

stay, not knowing if or when I could return the favor. That is the value of true friendship.

I continued to have no success at finding a job and decided I wanted a break from the

cold, bitter winter weather while waiting for my interview results. Obul Reddy, the friend

who helped shield me from a hazing in medical school, invited me to visit him in Pineville,

Louisiana, where he was a house physician at Huey P. Long Memorial Hospital.

Greyhound bus journey

I bought a $100 Greyhound bus ticket—which was the cost at that time to travel anywhere in

America—and boarded the bus in downtown New York, after profusely thanking my friend

Dr. Bhuvaneswara Rao, with whom I had been staying. I had a comfortable journey. The

entire trip to Louisiana took about one and a half days, traveling night and day through cities,

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towns and villages. While traveling by bus was much more common in India, I really enjoyed

the experience in America, and I had a lot of time to sit back and reflect on my experiences

thus far. I thought of my family in India, of how I had come to America, and of how, despite

Dr. Zimmerman’s letter, I was still searching for a job, had little money and was relying on

friends for shelter.

Each time the bus stopped, I tried to enjoy lots of different kinds of fast food, including hot

dogs, hamburgers, and French fries. I had to communicate with people at these stops and

began to understand their accents better, while also practicing my own. On the bus, I had a

conversation with a man sitting next to me. I was reviewing the Physician’s Handbook, and he

asked me, “Are you a doctor?”

I responded, “Yes, I am.” He looked puzzled, not expecting that a doctor would travel by bus.

To me, this was an easy and familiar way to travel, and I was not aware that most people who

traveled by bus in the U.S. tended to be lower-middle class. I did not feel any discrimination,

and as I traveled farther away from New York, I had pleasant encounters as I experienced

southern hospitality.

As we sped along the well-lit highways at night, I realized electricity was abundant here, which

was very different from India. I observed how the cities, roads and shops were well-organized,

and during daytime travel, I observed the beautiful green pastures full of well-fed cows, not

like the hard-worked beasts of burden in India. It was a soothing, laid-back drive during

which I witnessed a cross-section of America, and I resolved to stay determined in my goals.

Visiting Louisiana

I enjoyed Louisiana very much. Obul Reddy and another common friend in the area treated

me to many fun experiences and really lifted my spirits during my visit. They had good jobs,

were making money, and paid for all our outings. We ate out at restaurants for dinner and went

to New Orleans—a three-hour drive—to see the sports arena. We were all in awe, surrounded

by so many sports fans, and got caught up in the thrill of watching the games, halftime shows

and cheerleading. New Orleans, with its party atmosphere and lively jazz music, gave me a

new taste of America. People had fewer inhibitions and were easy-going, and we enjoyed the

freedom and fun without deviating from our discipline, responsibilities and values.

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Obul Reddy had joined the hospital in Pineville, a small town in central Louisiana that was

in need of doctors, before he was fully trained, so he focused hard on continuing his training

and gaining the experience to excel at his job. While he went to work in the ER, I stayed in his

quarters and reviewed the Physician’s Handbook in preparation for my interviews. Occasionally,

Obul Reddy doubted his own skills and would call me to discuss a course of action, to have

some reassurance that he was on the right track. With the handbook near at hand, I was able

to look things up and help him out.

I stayed in Louisiana for nearly a month and had such a relaxing and positive time that

I almost forgot all my earlier troubles. However, I did not have luck with my job search in

Louisiana either, and despite all the fun, reality set in: I still had not found a job, and my

family in India was anxiously waiting to hear some good news. I then remembered Madras

Avva’s letter, which she gave to me with the advice that I should contact her brother’s daughter,

Jayalakshmi, if I needed help.

Working experience in Philadelphia

Jayalakshmi Aunty and her husband, Paramdhama Reddy Uncle, called me immediately after

receiving my letter and invited me to their home. I took the bus to their place in Philadelphia,

Pennsylvania, where they received me very warmly and I felt comforted that they were there

for me and welcomed me into their family. I called them Aunty and Uncle. I knew they were

busy with their residencies and caring for their children, and after they all left for work and

school the next morning, I was at home all alone. I remember looking out through the glass

doors on that dreary and cloudy day as the snow fell heavily and covered the streets, and a

sense of depression overcame me that I still was without a job. However, my hosts’ moral

support, care, and hospitality helped change my mindset greatly and I continued my job

search. Their older son, Vasu, was in sixth grade and arrived home first in the afternoons at

around 3 p.m. and would turn on the TV to watch cartoons such as Spider-Man and Wonder

Woman. I loved this time with Vasu and looked forward to it—watching TV was something

I never did in India. Until 5 p.m. on the weekdays, when the others arrived home, I felt

childlike alongside Vasu, enjoying cartoons.

While living with them, I learned more about what it would take to succeed in America, seeing

the sacrifices they made to complete their training along with the duties necessary to take

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care of the family and home properly—cooking, cleaning, helping the kids with homework,

running errands—without the help of the extended family and servants we had in India.

As I observed some of the conversations at local Indian dinner parties, I slowly began to

understand the social structure and economic differences between doctors and engineers. In

India, engineers were regarded as similar to doctors, but here, engineers did not make nearly

the same salary.

Aunty came home from the hospital each night after a long day of work and cooked dinner

for the whole family, serving a hot, delicious, home-cooked meal. That amazed me. Even with

their busy schedules, they welcomed me as a guest and genuinely cared for me. I continue to

hold them in the highest regard.

I continued to call the numbers in the Yellow Pages in search of a job, and Paramdhama

Reddy Uncle spoke to his urology program director, who, through his network, located a

position as a surgical assistant at Warminster General Hospital in the town of Warminster,

a suburb of Philadelphia. I started there in March of 1977. I was so excited to get this job!

I would be in a hospital assisting doctors and working with patients. The letter handed to me

by Madras Avva as I departed Chennai helped me greatly.

Working as a surgical assistant

I received $450 every two weeks as my salary, which I was thrilled to earn. Additionally,

I received free boarding and lodging and because I had no other expenses, I felt this was a

great amount of money. I walked to the bank to deposit my first paycheck and when I handed

the check and deposit slip to the teller, she casually asked about my profession. When I told

her I was a doctor, she looked down at the amount on the check and I noticed her puzzled

expression—she probably expected to see 10 times the amount on the check! I wasn’t bothered,

it was enough for me and I was proud.

The hospital cafeteria provided free food for employees. I enjoyed this new perk and learned

some things I had not encountered before, like the concept of a buffet. With so many different

types of food available, I thought I should only take a little bit on my plate, but I saw other

people filling their own plates and, realizing I could have as much as I wanted, went back

for more. I cleaned up my area after eating and learned where to place the used dishes and

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eturn the tray. Once, at the condiment stand, when I was trying to get the ketchup out of

the bottle, it poured out unexpectedly fast and got onto my hands and all over the table. The

lady standing next to me immediately grabbed napkins to dab at the mess on my hands, while

I was so surprised that I just stood still. Suddenly we both looked at each other and burst

into laughter as she said, “You can do this by yourself!” It was a very funny incident, but these

experiences were also stark reminders that I had to take care of myself now, and that others

would not be there to look after me as they had in India.

I witnessed some positive interactions in the cafeteria that I would never have seen in India.

It was a social area with no class discrimination where I found it heartwarming to observe

the program director eating together with the janitor, and where other people from different

jobs around the hospital conversed as equals. Nobody thought less or more of themselves,

and everyone was proud of their jobs and colleagues.

Operating room stories

Warminster General Hospital was a clean, crisp hospital with advanced technology, a stark

difference to the local hospitals in India. My duties were to take patients’ histories, conduct

their physical exam, and assist in the surgeries in the operating room. I shared a room with

one other Indian who was also a surgical assistant, and we alternated working 24-hour on-call

shifts every other day. The phone rang constantly in our room, but whoever was not on duty

slept soundly, despite the noise.

I learned surgical civility in the operating room. During my first abdominal surgery, I assisted

a surgeon with the retraction of the belly. I was very nervous, and was pulling with all my

might when the surgeon turned slowly to me and asked, “Can you let go of my hand?” I had

caught his hand between the abdominal wall and the retractor! He was calm and gentle in his

reaction, and chuckled in understanding as I corrected my nervous mistake.

I learned how to listen to patients. One night, at around 11 p.m., I had to take a patient history

and do a physical exam for an elderly lady of around 85 who had congestive heart failure.

I approached her gently to ask the questions, and she opened up to me about her personal life.

She explained, “Dr. Reddi, I am ready to go. I was married to a wonderful man for 60 years.

We watched Broadway shows and traveled far. We had so many wonderful experiences and

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shared a wonderful life together. I am ready to be with him again.” Her husband had passed

away three years before and because she may have been feeling very lonely without him, she

spoke freely to me. I quietly listened as she shared her life history, and it was wonderful to

see someone recognize that she had lived a great life. She was perfectly at peace and ready to

move on. I encountered a new type of patient population—people who lived much different

lives than any I had known and who went to plays and enjoyed parties and fine dining. The

elderly lady narrated her story in a very moving way.

Getting used to working full time and speaking in a new language also presented challenges.

This happened often in the psychiatric ward, which was almost the opposite experience

from the elderly patient I had met. Patients in the psych ward were not as willing to give

their history, mainly because of misunderstandings. They spoke more colloquially than I was

used to, and when I asked them to repeat or clarify things, they would get mad and look at

me strangely because of my accent. These patients were already mentally and emotionally

distraught—whether it was drugs, alcohol, or an emotional situation—and my accent posed a

barrier; they were untrusting of someone who looked and spoke in a different way.

Another example occurred in the emergency room as I compiled a patient’s history from the

ambulance crew who had rushed the patient to the hospital. They explained the patient was

unconscious and they brought him straight from “the field.” While reviewing this history,

the attending physician asked aloud, “What was this patient doing in the field?” The way

I recorded and presented the patient’s history implied he was found in an agriculture field,

which is how I understood the phrase “the field.” The nurse stepped in to explain that the

“field” was the area where the ambulances picked up the patient, not the farmland or Indian

fields that I had assumed. These localisms took some getting used to. I also had my own

way of pronouncing some words; for example, doctors and nurses did not understand when

I described “machinery murmur” (the “gush gush” sound of a heartbeat) as a “mishinary”

murmur, for “mishin” was how I pronounced the word in India. Despite these interactions,

I did not experience discrimination, and maybe that was because people in cities on the East

Coast were used to seeing and interacting with a diverse population.

For the next two months, I lived happily, worked hard and learned all I could. I also enjoyed

watching TV, something I did not grow up with, in my free time. I became much more

acclimatized to life in America and became more self-sufficient. Generally a shy person,

I also learned to speak with people who were unknown to me—patients, colleagues, hospital

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staff, the bank teller, people at local dinner parties—and discovered how to carry on deep,

meaningful conversations. This was not an easy process. I needed time and practice to warm

up and these two months helped me get more comfortable with such interactions.

Vacation to India before residency

In May of 1977, Jayahari called from Youngstown to tell me that the hospital had announced

their interview results, and that I had been selected for the residency program. I was elated to

hear the news! After going through hurdle after hurdle since medical school, Dr. Matthews’

prophecy stood true. The dots leading from my past experiences connected me to this

moment.

I knew there would be hard work ahead for me in residency and decided to visit India before

I started the program on July 1, 1977. I let my uncle in Philadelphia know of my plans, and,

with the dollars I had saved, I booked my flight back home on Air India. In India, some of the

family members were surprised that I had returned so quickly—within six months—because

flights were expensive and many people did not travel back home for at least a few years.

I explained that I had returned only for a visit before beginning residency.

In the early days in India, people described traveling abroad as “going to foreign,” without

specifying the particular place or country, so when my parents or others spoke of my destiny,

the direct translation was, “He’s going to foreign.” My father’s youngest brother, an engineer

(whom I used to ask to send me money for Deepavali fireworks when I was a child), did not

realize I had gone to America. When I came home to visit, he asked me, “Where are you

coming from?”

“America,” I responded

He was puzzled and said, “You said you were going to foreign. You didn’t go to foreign?”

Despite being educated, he had a simple innocence and naivety, thinking that “foreign” was

the name of a place, not realizing it actually meant any foreign land.

I spent close to six weeks in India and enjoyed coming back home. I reunited with my wife

and son and was fed well by my mother. It felt good to be pampered a little bit. I spent time

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in the company of my in-laws and relatives, and met up with friends who had stayed in India.

Before returning to America, I made sure to visit the temples with my family.

As I left India again, Subhashini was carrying Prasanth while he waved goodbye to me,

saying, “Ka-ka, ka-ka.” He could not say “ta-ta” (a British way of saying farewell). It was a

sweet memory from my visit. When Prasanth’s older son, Eli, was learning to speak, he

similarly created his own name for Subhashini Nanamma (paternal grandmother), calling her

“Manana,” pronounced like “banana,” which became his special name for his grandmother.

I had grown and changed as a person in those first six months in America. I learned to rely

on my friends and to ask for help. I felt hunger, sometimes despair, moved constantly from

place to place and lived with new people, witnessing their challenges on their own paths to

success. I remained determined to succeed in America.

Starting residency in Youngstown

Whenever anyone in America asks where I first resided, I say, “Youngstown.” Youngstown,

Ohio was once a prosperous industrial town with a steel factory and two large hospitals.

Hospitals in smaller cities and towns such as Youngstown had trouble attracting American

doctors, who preferred to train at university hospitals, and many foreign professionals found

jobs in these smaller cities, where the demand to fill jobs was higher.

The hospital provided individual housing units within walking distance for its staff, and

I worked with and lived among people from many different nations—India, the Philippines,

Korea, and local Americans—becoming accustomed to hearing more accents in English

from all these new colleagues and neighbors. Jayahari had moved on to another hospital for

family practice residency, but because there was already a large group of Indian doctors in

Youngstown, it was easy to settle in, and I gained more confidence when interacting socially

with others. We all worked in different departments, and my residency was in the surgery

department, with some rotations in medicine.

I met a neighbor, Lakshmaiah, a first-year resident in the anesthesiology department who

was also living in America by himself. We spent time together in anesthesiology when I had

my two-month rotation, during which he taught me anesthesia, and we became very good

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friends. He also taught me how to cut vegetables so I could help him cook, and we bought

our cars at the same time. Lakshmaiah bought a white GM and I bought a white Chrysler—my

first big purchase—and as soon as the photos were developed, I mailed photos of the car to my

father in India. He had just bought a car one year prior. Although he was relatively wealthy,

he was also frugal. I knew he was proud of me. I now had a job, a home, a car and a black

and white TV.

The hospital had a nice lounge with a color TV and provided tasty snacks. I loved watching

comedy shows there, especially Three’s Company—another cultural shock, with two girls and

one guy living together, but the dialogue was entertaining! The Jeffersons was another show

I liked. Enjoying these shows proved to be another transformation for me for although I was

conservative and shy, I understood the world around me and was open to the entertainment

these shows provided. I might not have necessarily enjoyed the context of some of the jokes,

but I definitely enjoyed the delivery. The actors’ performances, their expressive language, the

timing of their dialogue and the play on words all struck the humorous chord inside me.

Working as a resident provided entirely new experiences. I assisted in surgeries, which I was

comfortable with, having gained some experience with my father-in-law and as a surgical

assistant. Many of the anesthesiologists were trained surgeons in India who had not been

able to get into surgery in the U.S., and because they had surgical training, they helped me

and offered advice in the operating room. Their knowledge and experience actually came as

a big help when one surgeon decided to leave in the middle of a knee amputation, leaving me

with the responsibility of completing it. The anesthesiologist knew what to do and walked me

through the procedure.

I was exposed to new cases related to city crime, and for the first time, I witnessed gunshot

wounds, an injury I had never seen in India. I assisted in the operating room, watching how

the surgeon cracked open the chest and removed the bullet from the heart and lungs. I was

receiving very practical training in the U.S. In India, when we gave oxygen to a patient, we

did not keep track of the dosage, but here I had to specify the doses; for example, “give 2 liters

of oxygen.” I learned to monitor EKG rhythms and made sure to document all the details

necessary for care. I learned to deal with physicians, and how to present cases and details

according to current standards. For example, if I described “an old woman, age 55,” this would

have been accurate and accepted in India, but in Youngstown I would be interrupted with the

statement, “Fifty-five? You call that old?” I learned to adjust for those types of instances and

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quickly grasped what to say and what information to exclude. I made rounds and overcame

stage fright at presentations in the grand rounds—a place where the faculty, residents and

others in training assembled to discuss difficult cases. The nurses and my colleagues were a

great help and offered support when needed. Overall, it took a few months to adjust to the

new responsibilities and expectations.

We all worked very hard in those early years, being on call for 48 hours and sometimes up to

76 hours, catching quick naps whenever we could. It was a luxury to get a few hours of sleep

a day. I had studied long and hard hours throughout my education, from ninth grade until

beginning residency, and now I was literally putting all my education and training to work.

Subhashini and Prasanth move to America

Soon after starting my job, I filed an application to sponsor the visa for Subhashini and

Prasanth to come to America. The paperwork was approved, and they arrived in October

1977. Arriving in a new country and having to learn a new way of life without the full

combined family support was a big change for Subhashini. She had been sheltered among

family most of her life and was especially well looked after while I was in America.

Prasanth was just over two and a half years old when he landed in Cleveland, Ohio with

Subhashini, and he was hyper as he walked off the plane, jumping and skipping around in all

his mischievousness. We always had to keep a close watch on him! Just after we arrived home

in Youngstown, I was on call from Friday to Monday, so my wife and son were by themselves

the first weekend. It was a lonely start, but Subhashini adjusted quickly. The atmosphere

around the subdivision of the neighborhood in which we lived was similar to India and it

was easy to walk between the houses and among other Indian and Asian families, with little

children running around.

Subhashini quickly picked up English, both from TV shows and various local interactions.

She relayed an experience of shopping at the local Kmart when the cash register was broken.

The cashier had a hard time calculating the relatively simple purchases and asked for

a supervisor’s assistance. Subhashini’s friend, who was with her, commented that all the

conveniences available in America seemed to have led people to forget how to use their minds

for basic tasks like math.

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Prasanth also adjusted well to living in America, staying cheerful and active, and never crying

that he missed India. He was observant and said what was on his mind. Jayahari came to

visit once in his Cutlass Supreme car, which was much nicer than mine. Prasanth saw it and

told him right away, “Uncle, I like your car better than my dad’s!” When the winter weather

arrived, a very different climate from the warmer temperatures in southern India, we bundled

him up in a small winter coat to play and experience the snow, throwing small snowballs and

making snowmen. Next door lived a doctor from the Philippines, whose son Henry joined in

and played along with Prasanth.

We lived in a diverse community, exposed to different accents and cultures, all of which

helped us broaden our minds. I had not previously known much about other cultures,

even within Asia, and easily saw how we were all connected. Humans are all the same,

with the same emotions, they just come in different shapes and colors and with varied

backgrounds.

Long-distance phone calls to India

In the 1970s and early 1980s, we communicated with India primarily by letters because

international phone calls were very difficult to make. We looked forward to seeing the

distinctive “Air-Mail” tri-folded envelopes from India, and our spirits immediately lit up

when they arrived. We opened and read those letters immediately. So much information was

written in our loved ones’ handwriting, and we felt an instant connection.

We occasionally made and received phone calls from India. These international calls were

operator-assisted and came with a hefty price for just three minutes of conversation. We

booked them three days in advance, and then the international operator would make the

call at the exact time and connect the two parties. The operator also stayed on the line,

monitoring the call and time limit. When calls were booked from India, we sometimes

received calls at 2 a.m., and the connection was not always clear, but we managed to converse.

We spoke loudly, almost yelling into the phone at times, and then waited for 10 to 15 seconds

until the message was received and they could reply, otherwise, we would talk over each other.

Overall, phone calls provided very little time to catch up and we made these calls mainly for

important news and matters.

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Often, when we called home, it was common for relatives to ask for monetary assistance

without understanding that we only brought home a small salary at this stage in our lives. We

received many requests for money, for lakhs of rupees. India was not as wealthy as today with

the real estate and technology industry booms, and finances were tight. Everyone in India

thought America was very rich and that we were making a lot of money and, in the combined

family spirit, believed that the person who left to build a career could help support the whole

family. I felt the obligation to help, even though money was also tight for us at that time.

I decided to take small loans and wire small amounts, not the full sum they requested, and

provided some relief to them. I knew I had the potential to make money and was confident

that I would succeed, and carefully sent what money I could to help.

Making the right career decisions

The next step after residency was to train in a primary care specialty. Inspired by Subhashini’s

uncles, I originally wanted to be a surgeon, but before applying for a position, I remembered

the advice that my father always gave me: “Before you make any major decisions, talk to

someone you trust.” He felt it was best to get two or three trusted opinions, process the

information, and then make my own decision. I sought the advice from Dr. J.P. Reddy, a

friend of Subhashini’s uncle who lived in Mineral Wells, and also from Paramdhama Reddy

uncle in Philadelphia. J.P. advised against general surgery, explaining that it was a difficult

specialty to practice as a foreigner, and Paramdhama Reddy uncle agreed. I decided I would

go for family practice or internal medicine.

I went to inform the head of the department of surgery, Dr. Binder, about my decision to

leave his program. He was a very dignified man, and as I nervously entered his elegantly

designed office, he looked up from his chair and asked, “What can I do for you?”

“Dr. Binder,” I said, “I don’t want to give you my contract for next year.”

The way I phrased this made sense to me, and he may have sensed my nervousness as,

smiling, he gently explained, “You don’t give me the contract, I give you the contract.” He

knew what I had meant and helped lighten the situation. He supported and accepted the

decision, and offered to write a good recommendation letter. Sometimes in certain situations,

the words to express myself did not come out correctly, which could be a little embarrassing,

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ut I did not let them bother me too much and could have a laugh about them. But they were

also good learning experiences. I was lucky to have understanding people around me to help

clarify and, ultimately, evolve in how I communicated important decisions and questions

with people in higher positions.

Subhashini helped me complete and send out my applications. I handed her a small address

book full of hospital names and addresses, along with instructions to mail the application

to as many hospitals as possible. I forgot, however, to tell her to exclude university hospitals

because I knew I would not get a job there. I had meant to concentrate only on the smaller

hospitals, where I believed I would have a better chance. She had no way of knowing this

and mailed my application to the University of Cincinnati. To my surprise, the university

contacted me for an interview. I was not optimistic I would be offered a job, but Subhashini

encouraged me to go for the interview. During the flight from India, she had become friends

with a newly married Indian lady who was moving to Cincinnati, and they had stayed in

touch. Subhashini’s plan was that we would visit and stay with this couple in Cincinnati so

that I could attend the interview. This we did, and a few weeks after returning home, the

university notified me that I had been accepted into their family practice department. I had

not expected this at all! Subhashini takes rightful credit for this today.

Both Subhashini and I transformed greatly in our first few years in America. I was furthering

my dreams with my wife and son at my side. She had evolved from being dependent on her

parents into a self-confident, strong, and organized woman who took very good care of our

small family and helped us succeed. She learned to cook in the American kitchen, learned to

drive and made new friends. This laid the basis of a strong foundation in her evolution into

who she is today—someone who continued to do greater things later in life.

We made new, lifelong friends during our one-year stay in Youngstown. Some friendships,

such as that with Lakshmaiah and his wife Chandrakala, developed immediately. We also

met Narayana Rao and his wife Sarada in Youngstown, with whom both Subhashini and

I developed a much deeper friendship after reuniting a decade later and becoming neighbors

in Mineral Wells, Texas.

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For a good laugh

Starting from scratch and saving money in America was not easy, and the phone

calls with relatives in India did not always help matters.

Late one night, a man answered a call from India. After the operator connected the

call and the man said, “Hello,” the caller asked for 5 lakh rupees. The man said,

“I can’t hear you. What did you say?”

The caller repeated, “I said I need 5 lakh rupees, can you send this to me?”

The man again responded, “I still cannot hear you.”

The operator interrupted the call and said, “I can hear the call very clearly. He has

asked you to send 5 lakh rupees.”

The man, annoyed with the operator, responds, “If you can hear him clearly, why

don’t you send him the money!”

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Prasanth in Youngstown, Ohio

A white Plymouth Volaré, my first car in the U.S., Youngstown, Ohio

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Me and Prasanth with my friend Surendra and his son

Prasanth sitting in our first car, a Plymouth Volaré. Youngstown, Ohio

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My father

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Letter from my father to me

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Letter from my father

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My uncle Padmanabha Reddy

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Letter from my uncle Padmanabha Reddy


Letter from my uncle Padmanabha Reddy to Prasanth


Venkatram Reddy and his wife, Sarojinamma

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Letter from my uncle Venkatram Reddy

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Letter from my uncle Venkatram Reddy

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Letter from my uncle Venkatram Reddy to Prasanth

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Me and my wife with friends Lakshmaiah and Chandrakala

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CHAPTER TWELVE

Residency and Fellowship

When you have a dream, you’ve got to grab it and never let go.

Carol Burnett

In Cincinnati, I rented my own place for the first time. The Youngstown hospital had

provided most of our furnishings and we did not have much to pack up, so we rented a small

U-Haul and drove to Cincinnati, Ohio. Our apartment was in a nice complex, and since it

was unfurnished, it seemed very spacious. We made our bed on the floor with a couple of

blankets and pillows, and that was where the three of us slept. Subhashini made sure the

kitchen met our needs. We lived around a 10-minute drive from the university hospital,

where I began work right away.

A few days after starting the program, I asked my senior resident, Dr. Hoffman, for a few

hours off to buy furniture. He replied, “No. No you cannot do that.” I explained that my

wife and son were living in the apartment without furniture, and he said, “You are here to

work. I can’t give you the time off.” I came to realize that I had to focus while at work and

understood he had to be tough because others might also expect the same leeway. He could

not have his new residents asking for time off when it suited them.

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Since I could not leave work, we relied on friends in the small Telugu community of about

10 to 12 families, who were nearby and willing to help each other. I asked Mr. Chowdary,

who we had just met, to help Subhashini with shopping, and with his help we were able to

furnish our apartment. Chowdary was a unique person; he was married to an American lady

who blended in well with the Telugu families, and was a student at that time, with business

ambitions to succeed in real estate at a time when most other Indians were doctors and

engineers. He embodied the true American dream, and through sheer will and determination,

and taking advantage of the right opportunities, Chowdary achieved success and became a

multimillionaire in the real estate business. We are still very good friends and reminisce

fondly about our early Cincinnati days.

In Cincinnati, there were Indian people who were already well-established in the city and

had bought homes in the area. We often got together at their homes for social events, usually

on a Friday evening, to enjoy good food, play cards, have animated conversations, and relax

in the company of friends. These were usually overnight events, and unless I was on call, we

went whenever we could. The men set up an area to play cards, either in a room or in the

basement, while the ladies made the cooking arrangements and sometimes joined the card

games, and the kids ran around the house playing. We then slept for a few hours and started

again the next morning. We all felt comfortable and at home because it was very similar to

the extended family experience that we all missed in India. It was wonderful to gather and

bond in such a way.

Surendra and Umadevi also lived in our apartment complex with their son, and we developed

another long-lasting friendship with them within the first few months of moving to Cincinnati.

Surendra worked for GE and had studied at the engineering college in Kakinada, so we

had many common things to talk about and the four of us got along well, as did their son

and Prasanth. Umadevi had a Ph.D. and, impressively, after coming to the U.S., decided to

study medicine. Her husband helped take care of their son while she enrolled, studied, and

completed medical school in the Caribbean Islands, and became a successful physician. We

remain very close friends, even today.

Subhashini was also building a support system of friends. Being away from family, we all felt

an emotional need to become close and support one another. While we made new friends,

Prasanth had become more mischievous in his energetic playfulness, and sometimes beat up

on the other kids. Surendra even remarked, “I never saw a kid as active as this!” After so many

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complaints, I had to discipline Prasanth with a spank to try to get him to stop. He is now a

perfect, action-oriented gentleman.

The small community provided a strong support system and laid a foundation for lasting

friendships.

Scut work

The internship at the University of Cincinnati’s high powered medical program required

long hours and extremely hard work, and everyone had to be studious and sharp. Family

practice training provided experience in all the specialties, with each rotation lasting two

months, and second- and third-year residents supervising the new first-year residents. My

first rotation was internal medicine. I had thought surgery was intense, but this program

was more so. I was at the hospital by 6 a.m. each day and came home at 8 or 9 p.m. For

the first few nights, I was so exhausted that I kept dozing off while Subhashini caringly fed

me dinner.

Because it was a university hospital, the interns were required to handle all the scut work

themselves as part of the comprehensive learning process. After a patient left the ER,

I admitted them and wheeled them on the stretcher with their belongings to their room,

where I took patient history, conducted a thorough physical examination, and collected all

the specimens for examinations. I drew the patient’s blood to send to the lab and examined

the urine sample myself under the microscope. All this was done in preparation to present

the data at the following morning’s conference, where the faculty and residents gathered

to present and discuss the cases. I had to be sure I could account for any question they

might ask.

It was tough training, but very rewarding, requiring a lot of hard work and pressure, often

with as little as one hour of sleep at night. We wanted to succeed and get as much experience

to be the best doctors. The situation has changed nowadays, allowing residents more time for

rest in between shifts.

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Choosing a subspecialty

During the two-month OB-GYN rotation, I delivered almost 100 babies. The professor asked

me if I would practice OB when I set up my private family practice. I said, “Yes, I want to do

uncomplicated OB.”

Very coolly, he replied, “I wish I could predict when it would be ‘complicated.’”

I was only getting a little bit of training in each of the specialties, and he phrased this in such

a way that made me realize that I was not prepared for family practice.

Some weekends, we went to visit my visa sponsors in Dayton, Ohio, which was about 100

miles away. Sometimes there would be parties and we met with local Telugu families. During

one of these parties, I met Dr. Narasimha Reddy, a urologist in private practice and originally

from near Kadapa. He took a genuine interest in the people he met and offered guidance to

help them. He inquired about me and my work and we conversed briefly. We ran into each

other again during the intermission of an Indian movie at the local movie theater when we

were on another visit to Dayton because, in those days, the Indian community rented one of

the theater’s screens to show a popular Indian movie. Dr. Narasimha Reddy asked if I was still

in family practice, and I confirmed that I was.

He then said: “Subrahmanyam Reddi, this is not for us. Americans know, culturally and

socially, how to connect with patients, and are better suited for family practice. We do not

have that same cultural insight and background. They are successful in family practice because

they know how to bond with the patients. Family practice training teaches how to be a jack

of all trades, but you will not be as comfortable treating the patients.” He recommended that

I pursue internal medicine and focus on training in a subspecialty.

Subhashini and I discussed his advice together as we drove back home. I had just signed

my second-year contract with the University of Cincinnati and could begin searching for

a new job, or finish the remaining two years in Cincinnati and start private practice. We

stopped to shop at Kmart, and as we sat in the parking lot, we made a list of benefits and

disadvantages for each option. Together, we decided I should pursue a subspecialty as I was

not fully comfortable receiving just a little bit of training for each of the specialties required

for family practice.

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I called Kumar, who was doing his first year of internal medicine at Christ Hospital in

Chicago, to ask about any opportunities at his hospital. He arranged for an interview with

Dr. Becker, who offered me a job the week after our interview. It happened very fast. The

hospital was looking for doctors with experience, and I had already completed one year in

Youngstown and was currently in Cincinnati. The first year of internal medicine—which

would now be my third internship—would begin in July of the following year. One resident

with whom I was close in the family practice program commented, “Hey Reddi, are you

crazy to start another internship again!” The first year of internship was always the hardest

as I would have to impress everybody, start afresh with a new team and learn to work with

a new group of doctors. When I think back on this time, I can’t believe how I did three

consecutive internships in different specialities. One year of internship itself was such a

hardship, and doing three years was intense! Nevertheless, this path turned out to be the

right course of action.

I spoke with Dr. Smith, head of family practice at University of Cincinnati, to request to be

released from my contract, and politely explained my reasons. He responded compassionately

and agreed, after asking me to make sure that internal medicine was really what I wanted

to do.

My father’s passing

After moving and settling into our new life in Cincinnati in June 1978, we received the news

that my brother’s marriage would take place in September. Subhashini and Prasanth went

to India for the marriage, but I could not attend because I had recently started the residency

program and it was hard to take the time off to travel. Missing my brother’s marriage was

emotionally bothersome as he was very close to me, and as I had also missed my cousin

Koti’s wedding earlier in the year I was disappointed that I could not celebrate these special

occasions with my family. It was a necessary sacrifice though, because I had to make decisions

that were in the best interests of my family.

I did not know at the time that my father was ill; nobody mentioned it to me and my father

did not want to make a big deal about it. He had been having fevers for two months and an

initial checkup indicated he could have some type of cancer, but he wanted to forego diagnosis

until after my brother’s marriage. After the wedding, he went to Chennai for an exploratory

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laparotomy (opening of the abdomen), which confirmed that he had liver cancer which had

already spread. My father probably already realized the seriousness of the illness because

(I only recently learned), as he left for Chennai, he told my sister and brother, “Whatever

happens, it looks like something serious. You are all still evolving as adults. After this I may

no longer be here. Only Lord Venkateswara will look after you.” The three of us siblings

continue to have this same faith.

My brother-in-law called me to break the news of the diagnosis of liver cancer and that it had

already spread. I was in complete shock, feeling as if I had been sucked into a black hole.

I was 27 and my father was only 61, so I thought he would live a long life. My father was the

most influential person in my life, and I had wanted to bring him to America and show him

around, but now it felt like everything was crashing around me. I had to decide when to visit

and how I could be involved in his care.

The doctors gave my father six to eight months, but he persevered for 11. Subhashini and

Prasanth stayed in India after my brother’s marriage, and she helped care for my father as

he recuperated in the hospital after the laparotomy. I spoke with the program director to

discuss my options to take leave to visit my father, but he told me, “Regrettably, I cannot

give you more than three weeks’ vacation.” I was not allowed to make two trips during

internship training, and it would be hard to find another job if I left this program, so

I had to make a tough decision: either use the vacation time to spend time with my father

in India while he was alive, or go to India for the funeral and the other formalities. The

program director recommended that I spend time with my father while he was alive, and

I felt that was the right choice. My father also wanted me to come so that we could spend

time in each other’s company.

After arriving in India, I first took my father to a gastroenterologist in Chennai for another

opinion. The doctor advised that we could try chemotherapy, but that we should also think

about quality of life and make the choice between living the last days in comfort or under

treatment. My father and I discussed both options and he very clearly selected quality of

life, a decision with which I concurred. At home in Tirupati, he stayed comfortably in bed,

surrounded by family and others who cared for him, and receiving friends and visitors. I sat

beside my father on the bed and we talked every day, so that this three-week trip was the

best time I ever spent with him. It was emotionally satisfying to be able to spend so much

uninterrupted time in his company.

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So many people came to pay their wishes to him. On a typical day, a pujari came every morning

to recite the Bhagavad Gita for 45 minutes, and then my father ate breakfast before a stream

of visitors came throughout the day. He was surrounded by so many caring people. Being a

great conversationalist, he had a knack for talking with each of them and I enjoyed listening

to the conversations. Prasanth used to play around the room, climbing on the windowsill

and announcing, “Tatha, I’m going to jump on you,” as he pointed at the bulging tumor in

the belly, which was the size of a tennis ball. My father just smiled at him, he loved Prasanth

so much. My father told me, “Subrahmanyam, you have an intelligent, smart son. Take good

care of him.”

As my three weeks of vacation ended and the trip came to a close, I felt very depressed,

knowing that I might never see my father again. I cried in private, as it was very difficult

to handle this feeling. My father also knew he might never see me again, but he knew the

severity of his illness. He let me know he was ready to make his final journey and go in peace.

Even though he was getting weaker by the day, his spirit remained uplifting, and the way he

handled the days leading up to his inevitable death was a great lesson for me. The day arrived

when I had to leave for Chennai and take the flight back to America. My father and mother

walked with me to the front door of the house. I bowed down to touch my father’s feet and

seek his blessings as my mother stood beside him with her eyes full of tears. I received his

blessings with the heaviest of hearts, knowing this was the last time I would see him alive.

I left for Chennai with that memory, and with tears in my eyes. This was the saddest moment

of my life. My father had been such a dominating and constant presence in my life, I did not

know how I would survive without him.

In July of 1979, I began internal medicine at Christ Hospital in Chicago. In September of

that year, I received the news of my father’s passing, answering the call while viewing X-rays

in the radiology department. Although the news was inevitable, it hit me hard. My friends

came to console me. He had been the most valuable person in my life, responsible for who

I am today, and it was with him that I had shared all my good news and bad news in person

and through letters throughout my life. He had always been there to support me through

good days and bad, and suddenly he was no longer there. Since my medical college days and

until he passed away, my father and I communicated regularly through letters, and after

I moved to America, we also stayed in contact through periodic phone conversations. I felt

such a sinking feeling that I would receive no more letters from him and that I would no

longer be able to write home to him.

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My father’s final moments

My father knew when the time had come for his eternal journey. On that day, he called

everyone around him, my sister, brother, mother, and others who were close. He used this

time to say his goodbyes quietly. He had been worried about my brother and requested

that all the workers—the construction crew, the lorry drivers and others in the day-to-day

business—should work well with my brother, to look out for him, and not give him any

trouble or try to take advantage of him, “Otherwise I will come as the devil and frighten

you!” he told them. Every day there is a 90-minute period of time called rahukalam during

which nothing important should happen, and my father, a strong believer in rahukulam,

waited until that bad timing passed. He asked my sister for the time, and after he was sure

rahukalam ended, which was at 12 p.m. on that day, he looked around at everyone, pulled out

his IVs, turned toward the window that faced the Tirumala Hills, and took his final breath.

That was his last moment.

Utter disappointment and regret in my life

My sister described these touching final moments of my father’s life. That I was not by his

side during these last moments brings me to tears even today whenever I think about him.

I felt so very disappointed and unfortunate that, as the elder son, I could not perform the

final rituals, but my greatest regret was that I could never bring him to America. When

I visited him, the last wish he expressed to me was that his three children—I, my sister and

my brother—would stay close in the combined family spirit and help each other. I always try

my best to honor his last wish.

Community involvement in Chicago

My internal medicine residency at Christ Hospital in Chicago began with 16 first-year

residents and ended with 12 in the final year. This was referred to as a pyramidal program,

in which everyone competes to qualify for the next year. Dr. Becker was a very strict man

who trained us well. I was in the company of some of my RMC classmates, including Kumar,

as well as other Indian residents, and that made it easier to adjust to a new place.

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My colleagues there called me “Reddi,” and one day, as I rode the elevator down to the lobby

with another resident, he noticed my name badge, which read “B.S. Reddi,” pinned to my

white coat. He had a chuckle, and I could see his amusement when he said, “Reddi, you know

that is not the best name for a doctor to have in America.” I did not catch on right away, but

quickly learned what “B.S.” meant in English! When I moved to Mineral Wells, I changed my

name to Dr. S. R. Boya (Subrahmanyam Reddy Boyareddi).

The residents and staff came from diverse backgrounds so, with Subhashini taking the

organization lead, we held an “International Extravaganza” in the dining hall to which

everybody brought one dish for all to taste that represented the diversity of cultures around

us. From these interactions we became more friendly with others and invited American

colleagues to our home for tasty meals. Occasionally, we invited our Indian friends for

dinner, and Kumar joined us when Subhashini made idlis. Some evenings after dinner, we

and Kumar took a nice drive along Lakeshore Drive and stopped in at a nice restaurant to

chat over coffee.

Residency was tough and kept me busy, but when it was possible, Subhashini and I enjoyed

leisurely moments in the evenings for me to unwind and relax. We looked forward to watching

the TV series McMillan & Wife, enjoying snacks together while stretched out on the sofa in

front of the TV.

Several of my co-residents and families lived in the same apartment complex and Subhashini

found good company among them. She learned to drive and Prasanth started preschool,

and our new life in America began to develop more as we became more involved within

the community through activities outside hospital life. Kumar’s relatives, Dr. Umapathi

Reddy and Dr. Gita, who were a few years older than us, invited us to cultural and spiritual

activities, and Subhashini joined them to attend Chinmaya Mission lectures, and became a

volunteer. I attended when I could, but with my busy schedule in the hospital I did not have

much time.

Umapathi took an active role in building the first Hindu temple in Chicago. He addressed

small gatherings, emphasizing the need for a temple, by explaining, “There are so many

churches, but we don’t have even one place to call our own.” He created a nice slide show for

these gatherings, and I was in charge of projecting the slides. This effort later motivated me

to take the lead role in building a temple in Fort Worth, of which I will tell you more later.

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The Telugu community in America established the Telugu Association of North America

(TANA), and held its second annual event in Chicago, inviting singers and other popular

figures from Andhra Pradesh. The association requested each participating family to host

another family from out of town, and we had the pleasure of hosting a family from Detroit.

In total, almost 1,000 people attended and, owing to the camaraderie and shared cultural

values at the time, the event was a huge success. Dr. Umapathi Reddy and another gentleman,

Mr. Ramachandra Naidu, a talented engineer at Chrysler, also shared my interest in literature

and my favorite author, Madhurantakam Rajaram. Both gentlemen later helped bring

Madhurantakam Rajaram to the 1995 TANA conference in Chicago.

In Chicago, I found the right company that helped nourish my literary and spiritual interests.

Being in their presence helped me grow up and mature in ways outside hospital life.

Patient interactions in Chicago

Two patient experiences at Christ Hospital left a strong impression on me.

The hospital had a newly created cardiac surgery unit, for which they hired a skilled and

popular surgeon, and began conducting coronary artery bypass surgeries. I accompanied the

surgeon as he explained the procedure to the second patient admitted to the unit for surgery.

He used an anatomical model of the heart to demonstrate and removed a few pieces to show

the various connections within and outside the heart. As he reassembled the model, he had

trouble with one piece that he could not put back correctly—he tried a few times, but the piece

just did not fit—and the patient, who had been following along closely, lost confidence in the

doctor based on what he saw and cancelled the surgery. Although it felt like a funny scenario

at the time, it became clear how such a simple mishap can lead to serious implications.

I often worked late nights, and one quiet, still night in the hospital ward, I had finished workups

on a few newly admitted patients. While taking a quick break for a cup of coffee and

small-talk by the nurses’ station, I saw a patient walking slowly up and down the corridor. We

struck up a conversation, and as we conversed, the patient, who had been diagnosed with

lung cancer, noticed someone smoking. He calmly turned to me and explained, “Dr. Reddi,

I quit smoking 20 years ago to prevent lung cancer, and now, here I am with lung cancer.” The

disappointment he felt was evident as he shared this observation. He stopped his smoking

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habit in order to be healthy, doing what he thought was right, but unfortunately, the incidence

of lung cancer later in life for previous smokers is not uncommon.

Moonlighting

Internal medicine residents worked hard, some nights getting only two to three hours of

sleep, grabbing food whenever we could and eating as quickly as possible. Despite the hard

work and long hours, the salary was not great and some of us began to work night jobs, which

paid well. Owing to the high crime rate at that time, hospitals in downtown Chicago always

needed doctors. They were the kinds of places where, after parking my car, a guard escorted

me into the hospital. I saw many gunshot wounds wheeled into the operating room, and

I cleaned and stitched up many stab wounds.

One job took place on weekends at a jewelry store in a large shopping mall which advertised

“Free Ear Piercing by an Experienced Doctor with any Jewelry Purchase.” I was the

“Experienced Doctor!” My heart skipped a beat on my first shift when I saw the people

lining up. The first lady in the line observed my hands shaking slightly as I started to pierce

her ear lobe, and she asked, “You have done this before, haven’t you?” I had been given a

crash course in ear piercing just before starting my first day, so I told her that I had. I relaxed

considerably after the first few piercings, and I did this job for a few months during the

daytime every Saturday. It was a relatively easy way to make an extra income.

As I drove home in the early hours after these overnight moonlighting jobs, I saw many

cars already on the highway, and I felt a great admiration for the hard work of Americans as

I thought to myself, “America never sleeps.” Upon returning home each time, I took a quick

shower and went to my regular job. One of my senior residents also moonlighted. One day

at grand rounds, he was so tired that he fell asleep and began snoring. I had to wake him up

before the others noticed, thus preventing a potentially embarrassing situation.

The final year in Chicago

The second year of internal medicine residency in Chicago was very busy. Subhashini was

pregnant again and we decided it was best for her to go to India with Prasanth in mid

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summer to be with her parents before the delivery. Prabhath was born on December 23,

1980. A few months after the delivery, Subhashini and Prasanth returned to America, and

Prabhath remained with my in-laws. The arrangement of leaving our second son in India

seemed difficult for some people in America to understand, but we felt this was best as I was

very busy and it would have been difficult for Subhashini to care for the baby without help.

My mother, traveling abroad for the first time, brought Prabhath over later that year, in

December 1981. She was still grieving, as was I, so I was happy to have her visit and pleased

that one of my parents was able to see me and my new life in America. When Prabhath

arrived, he was very shy and reserved, exactly the opposite of Prasanth’s arrival in America

a few years previously.

Winter that year was very cold, and in a place known as the Windy City, the windchill fell

as low as -80°F. We wore many layers when we went outside. Cars were covered in snow and

ice, and once we dug them out we waited for the large truck that drove by to jump-start the

engines, and we then had to keep the engines running otherwise they would not start again.

My car rusted from all the snow, and while I attempted to paint the rust spots after the snow

had cleared, a friend observed, “You are trying to decorate an old woman!”

Gastroenterology fellowship

Jayahari suddenly decided to go into gastroenterology, a newer branch with a lot of opportunities,

and suggested I also try, so I told my gastroenterologist, Dr. Sitler, about wanting to go into

this specialty. He had lost an arm in the war, and I observed him performing colonoscopies

with one hand, something I found inspiring. At first, he did not encourage me, perhaps

thinking that I was not exceptionally gifted, but as I rotated more with him, he came to know

and appreciate my dedication and skills, and ultimately provided a good recommendation.

Of the 12 Christ Hospital internal medicine residents, only two went into fellowship, I into

gastroenterology and another into pulmonology. I began applying to hospitals, and the

University of Kentucky in Lexington, which was very difficult to get into, granted me an

interview with Dr. Thompson, the chief of the internal medicine department. I was lucky

that he was impressed enough to offer me the position that same day. I prayed to Lord

Venkateswara for his blessing after receiving the job offer, and on July 1, 1982, I started my

fellowship at the university.

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Moving to Lexington, Kentucky

We rented a U-Haul truck to move to Lexington, one that could hold all our furniture.

Prabhath always got excited to see trucks on the road and would shout, “Tucku! Tucku!” so

this experience was fun for him. His older son, Jay, now has that same excitement and lines

up his toy trucks to show us when we visit.

In Chicago, we stayed in an upstairs apartment where the neighbor complained constantly

about Prasanth jumping up and down and would bang on the wall to tell us to quiet down.

As soon as we arrived and checked in at our new apartment complex in Lexington, Prasanth

knocked on the first-floor neighbor’s door to say, “I’m going to make some noise upstairs,

would you mind?”

The neighbor laughed at this proactive notice, and told him, “I don’t mind.” However,

the fun stopped when Prasanth fell down the steps while jumping up and down. He was

injured and we did not have any insurance because I was in the middle of transitioning to

a new job. Luckily, we were taken care of at the hospital when they learned I was going to

be a resident there.

The University of Kentucky was a 1,000-bed hospital, and had only two gastroenterology

fellows, myself and Dr. Kathib, who was from Jordan. Dr. Kathib spoke with a thick accent

and had a great sense of humor. He jokingly referred to himself as a leftist, not to indicate

his political leaning, but because he was left-handed. He told great and animated stories and

always provided a good laugh. We alternated on-calls every two nights and our schedule

and shifts were very intense. The area, and the hospital, was predominantly white, with

minorities making up only a small fraction of the doctors. We gained a lot of confidence

working among the different people coming and going, becoming friendly with most of

the departments and staff, and I enjoyed the experiences. The following year, the hospital

recruited two more fellows, at which point we had to be on call only every fourth night.

What a relief!!

Kentucky was a relatively poor state with a more rural population than I had worked in before,

and the people were often described as “hillbillies.” In that area, they drank moonshine and

worked hard in the coal mines, circumstances that resulted in liver problems, and we treated

many related complications, such as bleeding from esophageal varices. This hospital was

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very busy. When a patient was admitted, the whole family also came along and, as in India,

waited on the floor and in the hallways, and even slept wherever they could find space.

Dr. Paul Mandelstam, a Harvard graduate, was the professor in charge of the department,

which was in the process of being revamped when we arrived. He was strict in his

expectations. We were on call every other day, and on those on-call days, we stayed close to

home, because when he called us in, we had to be at the hospital within 20 minutes, and

before he arrived.

The hospital was affiliated with the VA hospital, so we had plenty of opportunities to

learn new techniques, including learning endoscopy from two experienced private practice

endoscopists. The procedure required us to stand very close to the doctors to observe how

they inserted the endoscope down the throat of the patients and then examine the digestive

tract through an eye piece attached to the main scope. Currently, we can watch the procedure

on a TV monitor thanks to advanced technology.

A family-friendly atmosphere

A few months after I started, Dr. McClain joined as the chief of the GI department and began

recruiting several more specialists. He was an energetic, nice young man who was easy to get

along with, but he adhered strictly to protocols.

Amid the discipline and hard work, my chief and others at the hospital created a familyoriented

environment. The department secretary, Norma Graven, was a warm person, and

invited us over to her home to share a beer and enjoy a backyard cookout, and even though

I did not drink alcohol at that time, cookouts were a fun, new experience. The chief also

invited us to his home for cookouts and dinner, which provided a relaxing atmosphere

where we as families could get to know each other better away from work.

Although I had become more familiar with people’s first and last names, I still occasionally

had some confusion over writing them in the correct order. Dr. Mandelstam suggested

visiting the OB ward to review the book of newborn names as a way to get comfortable

with the format. Also, to be friendly, he told me, “Just call me by my first name, don’t worry

about it.”

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Soon afterwards, I paged him in a faculty meeting: “Paul, please call Dr. Reddi as soon

as possible.”

Because I had not used my first name, he explained to me when we next spoke that, “When

you call me ‘Paul’, you should say your first name also.” This provided me with a better

understanding of when and how to use more familiar names. In formal situations, I still

called Paul, “Dr. Mandelstam.” He was sincere and took a personal interest in me, and his

mentorship helped in my evolution in Lexington. I learned what it meant to establish a

rapport with colleagues inside and outside of work, recognising that, deep down, people have

the same heartfelt wish to connect with and enjoy the company of those around them. It was

funny, and I think of this incident off and on.

Family experiences in Lexington

I was on call every other night of my first year at Lexington, and I had little time for socializing

until additional fellows joined the department in my second year. We developed a small

social circle of the four Telugu families then living in Lexington, each from different parts of

Andhra Pradesh, and we all met for dinners together. These evenings lasted until well after

midnight, and because we were a smaller group of people, the focus was different to that of

the weekend parties in Cincinnati. We did not play cards, but instead conversed and joked,

each with our regional Telugu accents, sharing our memories and having great laughs. The

children usually fell asleep before the parties ended, and at the end of the night we carried

them to the car and then to bed after arriving home. Our group was a much smaller social

circle than in the other cities, but we bonded well and have maintained our connection.

Prabhath was learning to speak in English and practiced it whenever he could. He liked to

play tennis at the courts just across from our apartment complex, and I remember how, with

tennis racket in hand, he asked Krishna, one of our Telugu neighbors, “Uncle, do favor me

and play tennis with me,” instead of, “Do me a favor and play tennis with me.” His speech,

with some of the words missing but the meaning still clear, was so cute.

Prasanth joined preschool in Lexington. Whenever I had the time, I took him to the mall

to play video games, something he was just starting to get into, and we particularly enjoyed

playing Moonraker, scoring the highest points at the arcade. I was so often on call and so

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usy with the fellowship that this was the only time I could spend with him, and I regret how

much attention I devoted to my career goal, while focusing a little less on managing other

important aspects of my life. In America, my main focus was to become successful and earn

financial freedom. I felt I had to succeed otherwise I would let down the entire family, but

I do still have these sweet memories of my sons when they were young. It was fun to see them

interact and grow.

Kentucky Wildcats

In Kentucky, which was nicknamed the Bluegrass State, everyone loved to follow the

University of Kentucky Wildcats basketball team, which was highly ranked. While I was

never much into sports, I developed an interest in their basketball team, which was doing

very well that year, and in college basketball in general while in Lexington. Subhashini, the

kids, and I would gather on our sofa with some snacks and have a fun time watching the

televised games from the Rupp Arena. Following the local basketball games became a good

way to connect with local patients as it was a point of pride for them; they lit up and talked

passionately about the game simply because I showed an interest, and we could connect over

a common topic. After moving to Texas, I had to make the transition to cheering on the

Dallas Cowboys football team.

American cultural differences

The longer I lived in America, the more I was exposed to aspects of American culture

previously unknown to me. At the hospital, a nurse with teenage daughters talked about

sending them to charm classes, a concept of which I knew nothing, so the nurse explained to

me, “They teach them so they can attract the boys.” This was a big cultural contrast to India,

where girls were kept out of sight and matchmaking was handled by the families. Here, they

were much more open about allowing girls and boys to meet, and even provided lessons on

how best to do it. I gained a little more understanding about dating and how it worked.

Dr. McClain, though hardworking and focused, also had an easy-going personality. He

knew how to create fun for others, and that it was important to enjoy the lighter times to

relieve stress and tension. Once, during a meeting in the university’s conference hall, he

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arranged a surprise belly dancing performance. As we all sat in the hall, just getting on

with business, the doors opened unexpectedly and, as music played, the dancers entered

and moved among us, dancing as they went. Prior to this, I had never seen belly dancing

and I was quite surprised.

The end of the fellowship

While working in my fellowship, I prepared to take the internal medicine board exams. Too

exhausted to do any more of the moonlighting night jobs, I focused on work and studying

instead. I passed the boards and became board-certified in internal medicine. At around this

time, Prasanth asked when we would move to a big house, like the homes of some of the

family friends we visited. Subhashini explained to him that the time would come, but we had

to be patient. All of this put some pressure on me because private practice was an entirely

new ball game, and if I were to succeed I would have to market my skills to acquire patients.

Before I moved on, Dr. McClain offered two suggestions. First, he said, “Your skills as a

specialist are as good as your rapport with the referring physicians.” I took this advice seriously

and it helped me develop professionally. Second, he told me, “If you focus on the patient,

then the name, fame, money—everything—will come to you. But if you concentrate on the

money, you will lose.”

Dr. McClain also shared important advice, saying to me, “When you go into practice, there

are three things you need to do: Number 1, be available; number 2, be available, and number

3, be available.” If somebody needed me, I had to be there. If I was not available, they could

not rely on me. Dr. McClain’s advice encouraged me to commit to being available when

I moved to Mineral Wells, and although I took breaks and vacations, these never extended

too long.

Annual banquet

Fellowships at the University of Kentucky Hospital ended with an annual banquet for all

the departments to recognize and celebrate achievements, and also to say farewell to those

who had finished their residencies and fellowships. Subhashini and Prasanth were in India

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at the time. At the banquet, the residents of all the departments voted to select two of their

favorite fellows at the hospital, and Kathib and I were very pleasantly surprised to be selected

as their favorites! We received loud applause from all the residents of the internal medicine

department when our names were announced. Dr. Mandelstam, for whom this was a proud

moment, leaned over and said, “I wish your wife was here to see this.” I also wished Subhashini

was there with me to enjoy and share the feeling because this was the finest recognition to

mark the end of my training. I had a wonderful feeling of elation.

The mood then lightened up and it was time for the residents to have some fun because, for

many of them, the banquet was their goodbye celebration before starting their careers. After

announcing their favorite fellows, the residents proceeded to introduce their least favorite

staff member. The unfortunate recipient also came from the GI department, an assistant

professor who was sitting close to us, and we felt bad for him. The residents did not hold back

in their roast of him! They even prepared a skit in which one resident asked, “How do you

describe Dr.… doing a colonoscopy?” The other replied, “A ***hole at both ends of the scope!”

For a good laugh

Doctors must know how to imbue their patients with confidence in them and create a

positive, memorable experience. Their success in this capacity reflects directly on their

training.

A patient was admitted to hospital for surgery. After the nurse conducted the preop

check, the doctor arrived and saw that the patient was very nervous. The doctor

soothed the patient by saying, “There’s no need to worry. I had the same surgery last

year. There’s nothing to it. You’ll be fine. Just look at me.” When the patient’s demeanor

did not change, the doctor asked, “What’s wrong? Why are you still nervous?”

The patient replied, “Well, doctor, you didn’t have the same doctor as I do!”

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At University of Kentucky having a fun moment during our GI fellowship:

a surprise belly dancing party arranged by our chief, Dr. McClain

My co-interns in the internal medicine residency program at Christ Hospital in Chicago

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At Christ Hospital celebrating our “international extravaganza”

My mother and my father

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Me and my father during my last visit with him in India

Me with my mother and father during my final farewell moments with my father

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Taking blessing from my father in the last few minutes before I left to go back to America

Prabhath with my mother, who brought him from India to our apartment in Chicago

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My wife and my mother with Prabhath in Chicago

Me with Prasanth and Prabhath in Chicago

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Prabhath and Prasanth in Chicago

Prasanth’s birthday celebration in Chicago

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Prophecy Fulfilled

Communication to a relationship is like oxygen to life.

Tony Gaskins

One day you will look back and realize that you worried too much about things that

really didn’t matter.

Anonymous

Before my fellowship came to an end, I began to look around for somewhere to settle into

private practice. A couple of friends in Hazard, Kentucky, suggested their local hospital,

which needed a gastroenterologist. Many patients at the university hospital came from

Hazard and the surrounding area, and the offer was, without a doubt, very good, but it

was not an area where I wanted to end up. The drive there was very hilly, over roads built

over the coal mines, and the houses were built into the hillsides. The TV show The Dukes

of Hazzard was popular at the time, and while looking out of the window from the back

seat during our drive, Prasanth commented, “Dad, this looks very hazardous.” It was his

observation that, ultimately, clinched my decision.

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I then toured Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where a gastroenterologist was also needed. After

meeting with those I needed to, I arrived at the hospital administrator’s office, and requested

to use the restroom quickly before we began talking. Upon my return, he said, “Restrooms

are only for Baptists,” and made an attempt to laugh off the comment as if it was a joke, but

I felt some underlying truth in the comment. The area was very conservative and I knew

that class and race distinctions existed. This made me feel uneasy, and I chose not to pursue

the job.

I consulted with Dr. J.P. Reddy in Mineral Wells, who suggested, “Why don’t you come

here? There’s no gastroenterologist. Come to look around and see what you think.” He was

like family by this time, so Subhashini and I visited Mineral Wells, a small town with a large

air force base making preparations to shut down. The hospital, although small, had all the

specialists—a thoracic and vascular surgeon, a general surgeon, an orthopedic surgeon, and

various medical specialties. I had also received an offer from a Telugu gastroenterologist in

Lufkin, Texas, a larger town, who badly needed a partner, and we visited there as well.

Both Mineral Wells and Lufkin presented good opportunities, and Subhashini and I weighed

the pros and cons for each. Joining the established practice in Lufkin would very likely be a

very smooth process with an immediate start and receipt of a big paycheck quickly.

Philosophically, the decision meant choosing to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish

in a big pond, and I felt I could do more as a big fish in a small pond. We decided it was

best for me to start independently and achieve success on my own, and if necessary, I could

join a practice in the future. We also considered the location of Mineral Wells, which was

45 minutes outside of the Dallas–Fort Worth Metroplex, which had an international airport.

We felt the smaller town setting would also be a better place to raise our young children and,

looking back, this was the correct decision. I informed J.P. Reddy of the decision and we

returned to Lexington, where I finished my fellowship and we prepared to move.

Moving to Mineral Wells

August 1984 was an important year for the family because not only did I achieve my dream

and start my practice, but Subhashini’s sister, Praveena, had her first child, Pallavi, and my

brother-in-law, Raja, got married.

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Subhashini and the boys traveled to India after our first Mineral Wells trip to prepare for

her brother’s wedding. After finishing my fellowship training and vacating the apartment,

I joined them at the end of June, having chosen to begin my new practice in Mineral Wells

on August 18 of that year. I traveled to India by way of Los Angeles, where I spent two days

with Subhashini’s sister, Praveena, and her family, and then attended Rajasekhar’s marriage

festivities in India. As a family, we then returned to Lexington to pick up our car and bid our

dear friends farewell.

I did not have any savings at that time because we had used the extra money from my

moonlighting for trips to India and to help many of my relatives financially. To make our

start in Mineral Wells, I took a $5,000 loan from my friend Lakshmaiah in Youngstown.

We made the 15-hour journey to Mineral Wells in the Plymouth Volaré, my first car. It

had no air conditioning and, with the boys in the back seat, we rolled down the windows

periodically throughout the drive to help cool down. In August, Texas summers are

sizzling under the hot sun and by the time we arrived in our new town all our faces were

flushed.

The Plymouth Volaré had served us well from 1976 to 1984, but as Subhashini drove the

car one day, she suddenly noticed that she could see the road through the floor below the

accelerator and pulled over immediately. The floor of the car had rusted so much from the

snow and salt in Chicago that it had fallen off and created a hole. We were sad to have to

give the car away as it had been with us through so many memories, from the beginning of

residency in Youngstown to starting practice in Mineral Wells.

Our second car, a Cutlass Ciera, had air conditioning.

As we drove around the curvy hills that led into Mineral Wells, Subhashini stoically

commented, “I don’t know what the future holds. We’re entering this all on our own. How

will it be?” We were starting a new chapter in our lives and we both felt the uncertainty

of walking into a future we could not know. I had already overcome so many hurdles, but

the pressure was now on to prove myself and make it in private practice. I knew it would

not be a cakewalk.

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First impressions of Mineral Wells

During my first visit to Mineral Wells and before I made the decision to move, I did

experience some disappointment, for even though there were Indian physicians there, the

area was conservative. The majority of local doctors preferred not to have too many foreigners

in practice, did not want smart and talented Indian doctors intruding on them, and, at least

initially, received me in a very lukewarm manner. I wished to introduce myself to another

physician in town and went to his office to meet him. His receptionist went to check with

him and came back to tell me that he did not want to meet me. The physician’s lack of interest

in extending a simple professional courtesy came as an unexpected shock to me. Later, we

became good friends, even though we did not have the best start.

Meeting the hospital administrator was another disappointment. He struggled to pronounce

gastroenterology—my specialty—and told me, “I don’t think we need a gastroenterologist

here.” He made some more excuses, such as having outdated endoscopes and no interest in

purchasing new ones. I left his office feeling very discouraged.

At the elevators, I met a very well-built physician, Dr. James F. Berg, the head of Surgery

Associates, the same medical group as Dr. J.P. Reddy and a few other doctors in town.

Dr. Berg looked at me and said, “You must be the new gastroenterologist looking to come

here.” I confirmed this. “So did you meet the administrator?” he asked. I told him that I did.

Insinuating that this might have been a mistake, Dr. Berg asked me to follow him and took

me straight back to the administrator’s office who, the minute he saw Dr. Berg, immediately

became accommodating, warmly inviting us to sit down. Dr. Berg motioned to me to take a

seat, turned to the administrator, tapped his finger hard on the table to pointedly express that

“We need a gastroenterologist. Do whatever is needed.” The administrator quickly agreed to

do so. I am thankful for Dr. Berg’s wholehearted support, which benefitted me greatly as

I started my practice in Mineral Wells.

Hospital privileges

The next important step for my private practice was to apply for hospital privileges at

Palo Pinto General Hospital (P.P.G.H.) in Mineral Wells. I discovered that this was not

granted automatically and required a vote of approval by the other practicing physicians.

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A gastroenterologist who applied two years earlier had been denied these privileges. I needed

a majority to receive approval and was approved by one vote. Interestingly, two years later,

one of the physicians who voted against me selected me to inherit his practice—a positive turn

of events.

I was granted hospital privileges and had the support of the administrator, but they would

not agree to buy the scopes I needed in order to practice. J.P. Reddy explained that the

resistance was because it was a big capital expenditure, and gastroenterology was still an

unfamiliar specialty. J.P. took me to the local bank, where he and the other doctors had good

relationships with the bank managers, and he told them, “He will be very successful. Give

him a $50,000 loan to buy scopes.” With that loan, I started my practice and established an

endoscopy unit at P.P.G.H. in August of 1984.

I also applied for and received hospital privileges in the town of Weatherford, a 20-minute

drive east of Mineral Wells. I tried to request their help to buy scopes, but was again denied,

possibly because I nervously called the hospital administrator, Mr. Brown, by the wrong

name. I had prepared for the meeting, but when I met him, in my nervousness, I made

the mistake of saying, “Thank you for meeting me, Mr. Parker.” Weatherford is located in

Parker County, so I must have confused the two names. He looked at me a bit strangely but

did not correct me, and after listening to everything I presented, he responded, “We don’t

spend money on equipment for strangers.” Even though I would be bringing a new and

specialized service for patients, he did not budge in his decision.

I purchased the scopes myself, and then negotiated with P.P.G.H. to clean them. Susan

Woodring, one of the best operating room nurses I’ve worked with and whom I consider

a very close friend, took care of this task and also packed the scopes into the cases that

I carried in the trunk of my car to use for procedures both locally in Mineral Wells

and in Weatherford. My training and focus on the new specialty of gastroenterology

paved the way to establish endoscopy suites at both hospitals, and by 1991, seven years

later, P.P.G.H. had bought my scopes. My work was successful and contributed to the

hospital’s success.

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Hospital politics

I had not previously been exposed much to the politics of a hospital, staff, and administration

because I was sheltered while in residency and training alongside many others, and my overall

experience until this point was in the company of friendly and nurturing colleagues and

professors. Completing training and starting private practice meant entering the real world

and having to prove myself, not just through my medical skills, but in many other ways.

Luckily, I had the encouragement and experience of the other Indian physicians and the

political support of the Surgery Associates. These connections gave me a quick start with

referrals and kept me busy with work from the start. After arriving in Mineral Wells, I also

went through the formalities of placing newspaper ads and sitting for an interview with the

local newspaper to discuss my training and specialty.

Even before I began practicing in Mineral Wells, I was dealing with hospital politics. First,

I had to gain the acceptance of the administrator; second, I had to receive approval for

hospital privileges; and third, I had to accept being on call in the ER. Neither P.P.G.H.

nor the Weatherford hospital employed ER physicians when I started, so in these smaller

hospitals we had to pitch in and share the responsibility for patient care.

The Indian community in and around Mineral Wells

The hospital’s social structure extended to include families in both Mineral Wells and

Weatherford. A few physicians were in private practice, some were surgeons, and not everyone

practiced in both towns, and while we all met socially, a few families became very close. We

called ourselves the “Minford” group. Now, as some have retired to Fort Worth, the name

has changed to “Minworth.”

The network began to grow. The year after I started practice, my friend Jayahari in Arizona

introduced me to Dr. Ananth Bhandari, a pediatrician, and his wife, Suma. He wanted to

relocate from Arizona and find a place to begin practice. Jayahari asked me to help them

when they visited Mineral Wells and to offer assistance. They ultimately selected Mineral

Wells, and we became very good friends and neighbors. Another young couple, Bharath and

Parul Parikh, who were in the motel business, also arrived at around the same time. Ananth,

Bharath and I became very good friends. We were close in age, new in town, and shared the

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letter “B” in our names. Subhashini had settled in comfortably, and similarly became close

with Suma and Parul. We were happy the practice was taking shape, and happy to be making

new friends.

Buying our first home

While we lived in the apartment in Mineral Wells, my father-in-law and mother-in-law visited

from India, offering support as we settled into this next stage of our lives and I began my

career. There was a beautiful neighborhood atop the hill in town where another Indian

doctor, Dr. Singh, who supported my move to the hospital, owned a second property. He

wanted to sell it and asked if I was interested in buying it. I was not quite prepared to buy

a house, but I liked the location. My practice was doing well and I was making very good

money—compared to my previous salaries—and could afford it, so we bought the house and

moved into it in January 1985. My in-laws were happy to be there for this transition and I was

happy they were with us. Of course, I missed my father severely, but I was surrounded by love

and support as I achieved my dreams of becoming a successful practitioner in a foreign land.

I have lived in this home longer than in any other place in my life. It is, to me, in the most

beautiful location. In the mornings, I enjoy my sunrises and seeing the cattle grazing in

the valley. In the evenings, I enjoy the sunsets, and the peaceful, quiet sight of the town

illuminated below at night. Over the years, I’ve watched from the top of the hill as the town

has grown and I do not want to leave. There was a time I thought I would build my own

house, as so many of my friends had, but instead, we invested in expanding this house,

building an upstairs, adding a pool, making more room for the kids and grandkids.

We have created so many memories here, and every room and every corner has a story to tell.

I remember how the boys played around the house. Prabhath was four when we moved in and

now his older son, Jay, is also four, so when they visit, I feel as if Prabhath is back as a child.

When my first grandchild, Eli, Prasanth’s son, visited our home and they walked around

the house, it was an indescribable, wonderful feeling to watch him play with his father’s old

toys and hear how they reminisced and bonded over these items from the past. As a father

and grandfather, it was very endearing to watch their interactions, thinking back to the past

as I kept my eyes on the present. Now I have four grandchildren, and they had the same

reactions when seeing the house where their dads grew up and hearing about the games they

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played. What a feeling to hold onto old memories while creating new and special memories

with the new generation!

Private school education

Subhashini and I always had an understanding of how to divide our family responsibilities:

she took care of the children and assisted at the office, and I took care of the practice and

patients. The clarity between us of our responsibilities and duties for the family was important

to our overall success.

We had to decide where to send the children for school. I was getting used to things like

parent-teacher conferences, graduation ceremonies from preschool, and recognizing other

such events, all of which were things we did not have when we were growing up, and we

were learning as we went. With the closure of the air force base and the decline in the

local population, the tax base lowered and the school system deteriorated, so we decided to

send the boys to private school at Fort Worth Country Day School in Fort Worth. Prasanth

enrolled first, to begin sixth grade, while Prabhath began kindergarten in Mineral Wells,

joining F.W.C.D.S. three years later. This meant commuting 45 minutes to close to an hour

each way, which was a big time and energy commitment, but we felt we had to do what was

best for the children. Subhashini’s main duty therefore became commuting. Every morning

we ate breakfast at the dining table from 6 to 6:30, before she and the kids left for school

and I left for the hospital, which was less than a 10-minute drive away. Prabhath traveled

with Subhashini to and from Fort Worth in the mornings before starting his own school

day in Mineral Wells. Other children from Mineral Wells also attended Country Day so

there was a carpool, but because the children sometimes had various after school activities

Subhashini had to make extra trips. The good thing about the commute was that she could

bond with the boys every day, and it provided time to instill the proper values we held.

Although it was a lot of hard work, we are reaping the benefits today. Our sons are wellrounded

fathers and successful professionals.

My busy work schedule was another reason I wanted to enroll the boys in private school.

I did not have the time to supervise them, and they would get the focus and education

they needed from a private school setting. Remembering my background and how I studied

under my uncles, I impressed the same ethics and expectations on my sons, and I was very

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strict with Prasanth when he was young. I used to slap him now and then to discipline him

if he was being extra mischievous or acting up. As he grew older and matured, I stopped, but

in the beginning, I fell back on the old habits and experiences I knew. By the time I came to

Prabhath, I had become more Americanized and did not take such a stern hand. We change

with the times, and my grandkids are disciplined very differently today. Their parents take

the time to explain why they should not do something.

A typical day

Typically, I left home for the hospital by 6:30 a.m. and would be back at around 7 p.m. for

dinner. My days began with endoscopies, followed by consults, and as the only specialist in

the field, I had to be available when called. The nurses and assisting hospital staff were very

polite and appreciative of the opportunity to learn about a new specialty, gaining handson

working knowledge of gastroenterology as they assisted and worked alongside me. They

were all very smart, and although, coming from a small town, they might be considered

country girls, I considered them to be diamonds in the rough for they paid close attention

and caught on quickly. I know they loved country life and the small-town environment, but

I think they would have been very successful in the city. Susan Woodring, the operating

room director, especially, was extremely hardworking and very reliable. Even on the nights

she assisted with a surgery until 2 a.m. she made sure the operating room was running

smoothly again by 7 a.m. Such a work ethic and dedication is not so common in the

hospital any more.

Traveling between the Mineral Wells and Weatherford hospitals to treat cases kept me very

busy nearly every day of the week. This hard work provided financial results that enabled us

to send our children to private schools.

I had first started with the Surgery Associates, slowly developing a rapport with the

physicians, gaining their confidence and working as part of a team. In 1985, after one

year at the hospital, I decided to go out on my own, and I started my own practice, so

I rented an office in the center of the town and hired my own secretary and nurse. This

move represented another personal development in my career as it meant that I became a

businessman, something I do not consider myself to be. My son Prasanth says, “Anybody

who is emotional cannot be good in business.” He is correct: I am too emotional.

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One of the physicians who voted against approving my doctor privileges at P.P.G.H.,

Dr. William O’Quin, was the most famous internist in town at that time, but after suffering

a heart attack and undergoing bypass surgery, he began looking for someone to step into

his practice. He was an old-fashioned Baptist Christian man and very respected in town,

and as the only internist previously, he was very busy. As I was the only other internist,

he began to observe me more closely to determine if I would make a good candidate to

take over his practice. Another physician helped us get in touch with each other and we

discussed the transition. To finalize the transfer of the practice, I brought my secretary,

Loraine, along with me to Dr. O’Quin’s office. He was relaxing in his chair behind his desk

and I asked, “May I come in?”

He genially invited me in while also asking, “Did you bring your Girl Friday?”

I assured him, “Yes, my Friday Girl is here,” not knowing exactly what he meant but trying

to match his friendly tone. Both he and my secretary gave a puzzled look, with a little smile.

This phrase was another unfamiliar colloquialism, but I now know it refers to a capable, righthand

assistant.

I joined Dr. O’Quin’s internal medicine practice in June of 1986. This was a big surprise to

the whole local community because he was one of the busiest, most well-respected physicians

in the town and I had gained his trust to carry on his practice. As part of our arrangement,

he stayed with the practice for one year so that I would have an introduction to his patients

before they transferred to my care. Thereafter, I became the busiest practitioner in town, and

with his patients and my own referrals now combined, I worked late into the evenings and

on weekends and was financially well-rewarded.

I learned important lessons on the journey into private practice. In The Four Agreements, author

Don Miguel Ruiz describes how to help people live happy, peaceful lives. I have summarized

how they apply to me:

A. Do not assume anything. In life or even in the patient’s case, we should not make

assumptions.

B. Do your best. Always do the best that you can and leave the rest to God.

C. Communicate. Communication must be clear and concise; it is the most important thing

of all. I have a habit of beating around the bush when I should speak out clearly.

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D. Don’t take things personally. Whatever happens and however another person reacts is not

because of what you have said; it depends more on his frame of mind, of how he perceived

the situation. Don’t get dragged into another person’s emotional basket.

For a good laugh

Starting a private practice meant I had to learn the business of medicine, including

insurance and how to bill uninsured patients.

A man who was traveling had a heart attack and needed bypass surgery. He was

admitted to a local Catholic hospital. After he was stabilized, the sister asked him,

“Do you have any insurance?”

He said, “I don’t have any insurance.”

She asked, “Do you have any money to pay?”

He said, “I don’t.”

She asked, “Do you have any family members or anybody who can pay for you?”

He replied, “I only have a spinster sister and she is a nun.”

The sister became angry at this and replied, “Nuns are not spinsters! Nuns are

married to God!”

The patient responded, “Oh, in that case, let my brother-in-law pay my bill!”

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Our family photo just before coming to Mineral Wells

My hospital, Palo Pinto General Hospital, in Mineral Wells

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My practice announcement in Mineral Wells

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Newspaper article

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Article about me in Mineral Wells Index newspaper

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Mineral Wells; the Baker Hotel in its heyday

Mineral Wells at night, with the Baker Hotel in the background

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The miracle Mineral Wells water

“Welcome to Mineral Wells” sign

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My interview with the local newspaper

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Prabhath with his buddie Brett in kindergarten, Mineral Wells

Wine session with my father-in-law in our backyard in Mineral Wells

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Newspaper article in Mineral Wells Index about Prasanth’s future ambitions

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Joining Dr. O’Quin’s practice. From left: Me, Subhashini, Bonnie O’Quin and Dr. O’Quin

“Father’s Grace”

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My home at Mineral Wells

Backyard of my home at Mineral Wells

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Sunrise in the backyard at my home in Mineral Wells

Backyard of my home at Mineral Wells during a snowstorm

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With local prominent families with the common goal of screening for and preventing colon cancer

Me with Dr. Berg and his wife, Elli Berg

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CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Society and Nature in Mineral Wells

Life is what you make of it. Life is what happens when you are making plans for the future.

Unknown

It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy that makes us happy.

Charles Spurgeon

The future ain’t what it used to be.

Yogi Berra

Mineral Wells is located in the scenic hill country, and the town has a rich history. There is a

legend that a woman with dementia was cured after drinking water from a local mineral well,

and after the story about the “crazy water” from the “crazy well” spread in the early 1900s,

the town became a popular destination. People came from all over the world to visit the new

spas and drinking pavilions, but this booming tourism receded at around the time of the

Great Depression and never picked back up. The largest building in town, Baker Hotel, still

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dominates the skyline, and although it is not in business today, many Hollywood stars and

other rich people were once guests there.

The town was developed and grew with a smaller community feeling in mind. The local

government voted against developing wider roads and highway access to town, preferring

to keep them suitable for a quieter, rural community. Being in the Bible Belt, the area

was, and still is, conservative; the local people were not used to foreigners, so it was up to

us to blend into their social fabric, and most everyone warmed up once they got to know

us better.

The town’s population is now about 18,000, but it was nearly double this before Fort Wolters

Air Force Base closed in 1973. Mineral Wells caters to many of the smaller towns surrounding

it, and it is a popular place to retire. All the physicians were fairly busy providing care to

nearly 60,000 people.

The small-town social structure

I am a shy man, so becoming accustomed to rural Texas culture and society was not easy at

first. To overcome this, I observed people and how they interacted more closely and gained

the confidence to meet people and allow them to get to know me better. Over time, these

interactions became easier and more enjoyable. Gradually, we broke the barriers of culture

with most everyone we met and became friends with many others throughout town. Food

and conversations played a great part in this process.

The Holiday Hills Country Club was a vibrant social center and gathering spot for wellestablished

families, and being a country club member provided the opportunity for me to

market myself on a more personal level and get to know the more prominent townspeople.

Whenever we went there, whether for a meal, to play tennis, or for an event, it felt like

attending a big social event. We typically saw people we knew and there always was someone

to exchange pleasantries with or to catch up with.

Black tie parties at the country club were grand events, with everyone in formal attire. The

valets greeted each car at the entrance, opening first my door and then my wife’s, offering

a hand to her as she stepped out of the car and we walked into an elegant atmosphere.

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The monthly county medical society meetings, attended by all the physicians and their

spouses, also took place at the club, and through these we met more people and made new

friendships.

Dr. O’Quin and his wife sometimes invited us for dinner, as did others, and we reciprocated.

During the winter holiday season, the physicians hosted parties at their homes to bring all

the colleagues together in the spirit of the celebration, and these were delicious, lavish

dinners. Sometimes a few families hosted progressive dinners collectively, with each course

served at a different home—beginning at one home for hors d’oeuvres, moving to the next

house for the next course, and ending with dessert at the final house.

People lived simply in the small-town atmosphere. From the stories I encountered from

patients about their work and professions, and the nurses about their families, I observed

their contentment. They kept life simple, and they were happy.

We also enjoyed times outside the hospital with the endoscopy nurses. For Fourth of July

celebrations, we used to invite the endoscopy nurses and their families to our home for

cookouts and to watch the fireworks, as our children played with theirs in the backyard. We

made Indian food, along with burgers and hot dogs, adding in a bit of our culture as we all

celebrated America’s independence. At night, we settled down to watch the fireworks over

the country club light up brightly in the night sky. We had an unobstructed view from our

hilltop backyard, and everyone enjoyed the display. Throughout the years, Subhashini sent in

Indian snacks and dishes for the hospital staff periodically, so everyone became used to our

hospitality and attention.

Mineral Wells High School football games every Friday evening were a popular attraction

for the whole town. These were mini social events for students, parents, and friends

to gather in the stands with their snacks and soda to cheer on the team loudly. We

were sometimes invited to weekend cookouts, which were very informal and an easy

way to relax and socialize casually. This simple way of life suited me. It brought to my

mind the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, in which a secluded African tribe lived simply

off the land—hunting together, eating together, laughing together, and being together

as families—while the world around them developed a huge infrastructure to promote

happiness, but ultimately only made their lives more complex and stressful, missing the

simple pleasures of life.

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Almost everybody who lived in Mineral Wells had family and relatives close by. When the

nurses talked about their weekend plans to visit their parents or a sibling, these conversations

hit me hard. I would think to myself, “I don’t have family here. All my family is in India.”

They were so lucky they had this proximity, like I used to have in India, with big families,

big gatherings, and staying close together. I envied them for that.

Throughout the early years in Mineral Wells, we continued to get together with the other

Indian families, and always received their support. We also traveled the 80 miles to Fort

Worth and the Dallas suburbs to meet with the extended Telugu community there. In

all these places the children got along with each other. In Mineral Wells, although we

all represented different areas and religions of India—Andhra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Uttar

Pradesh, and even Indians from the West Indies and Africa—and we spoke different dialects

and practiced different religions, we became close over the shared, common connection

to our motherland. We extended our support to host new Indian families who were

considering working in Mineral Wells, just as we did for the Bhandari and Atluru families,

introducing them to our community and circle of friends to help make their decision to

move more comfortable.

The social atmosphere changed considerably over the following four decades. The parties

became less frequent and smaller, the country club closed down owing to declining

interest among the younger generation, and only the golf course remains open. The

younger generation also does not want to live in smaller towns, and many of the newer

doctors commute into Mineral Wells, having decided to raise their children in more

populous areas. For us, it was the opposite feeling: we wanted to raise our children in a

smaller community, reminiscent of India. Subhashini took part in many social activities

and contributed that way to the local community. Now, only Ananth and Suma Bhandari

remain, along with me and Subhashini. The others retired and moved to Fort Worth and

other cities to be closer to their children. My sons now live in Houston, and I can drive

to visit them easily, but I choose to keep my home in Mineral Wells as long as I am active

here. Around our neighborhood, we no longer see children playing together outside in

the yards. With technology, the in-person connection has become lost, with the smalltown

feeling becoming more reflective of the overall, larger society. Human connection

will always be the most important element of human life, but I feel we seem to be drifting

away from that.

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My Hindu way of life

Most Hindu homes have a small prayer area where households offer prayers. Because there

were no temples nearby when we first moved to Mineral Wells, the Hindu Indian families

said prayers in their homes and also invited the larger group for pujas—prayer ceremonies—to

recognize an auspicious occasion or to celebrate a festival such as Deepavali or Sankranti.

The host family arranged almost everything, such as placing the gods in a larger space in the

house, adorning the area with flowers and deepam lights and gently burning incense sticks.

Bed sheets covered the floors for the guests to sit on. As they arrived, they removed their

shoes at the door, placed their offerings of fruits and flowers by the altar and, taking a seat

on the sheets behind the hosts, joined in the prayer. We played a recording of prayer chants

and recited along with this recording. Some slokas we knew, and others we followed and read

along in a prayer book. The children also took part, helping with the preparations, listening

to and observing the rituals, and reciting the slokas they had memorized.

Once, during one of the pujas at our home, we needed more flowers for the offering. I called

Dr. Bhandari’s youngest son, Vivek, to help me gather these, and as we walked to the backyard,

he asked me, “Why do you give flowers to God?” I explained that through flowers with our

chants, we show our loyalty and devotion to God. In the garden, he saw that flowers had

fallen to the ground and happily remarked, “God dropped them from the tree so that we can

pick them up easily.” With this observation, he made a meaningful connection between the

prayer ritual and God.

Deepavali was not as well known or as widely celebrated then as it is today. The comparable

thrill of a community preparing for and recognizing a large holiday was captured both by

Thanksgiving and Christmas, and thus we adapted and blended more into American culture

and society by celebrating the spirit of these holidays.

We used the slokas to blend our eastern culture into western ways. We hosted many

Thanksgivings at our home with family and friends and, following the tradition of saying

grace and carving the Thanksgiving turkey, the children recited a sloka to give thanks

before the meal. Similarly, we enjoyed the Christmas spirit by decorating the tree, adorning

the house with lights, and exchanging presents. Sumanth and Sheela Kumar, our dear

friends in Weatherford, held yearly Christmas parties at their home and we all enjoyed the

celebration.

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In India, we were used to having temples in every village and within neighborhoods in

the towns and cities, and in Texas, and throughout the Bible Belt, churches are just as

prevalent—maybe even more so. In the small community of Mineral Wells, over the years,

the churches have had difficulty recruiting and retaining priests, and many have since come

from India. They are very friendly and have taken a genuine interest in connecting with the

local population—for example, they learned Spanish in an effort to serve the large Hispanic

population—and they have been well accepted in the community. Some of the people who

attend the church of one priest, Balaji Boyalla (Father Boyalla converted to Christianity in

India, and Balaji is another name for the Tirupati god), are also patients of mine and shorten

his name so they can say: “We have a Dr. Boya and a Father Boya in Mineral Wells.”

While churches are places of religious worship, they also make sure their people take care of

each other. For example, when somebody falls ill or is admitted to the hospital, the church

pastor and members come to care for and stay with the patient and help with any arrangements

and communications for their care and well-being. This manner of social service and network

support is so important to creating a caring and connected community, and it was something

I worked to bring to the temple. When a person or group has the true desire to help and a

deep love for people, then others will be inspired to follow in this good work.

Over the four decades, the close-knit Indian community in Mineral Wells became like family.

When anything happens, good or bad, we are there for each other. Even as physicians, a few

people in our group had heart attacks, whether because of diet, stress, or other factors. The

minute we got such news, our whole group made sure to communicate to each other and

went to stay with whoever was affected until we knew they were being cared for and that

the family had any help they needed. The first bypass surgery in our social group happened

around 30 years ago, and it was frightening, but everyone has been doing well since. We truly

enjoyed each other’s company, and although we all came from diverse backgrounds in India,

we united under the common bond of friendship.

Y2K crisis

At the end of 1999, in the weeks leading up to the Y2K crisis, when everyone around town

began making arrangements and buying and storing food and supplies in case the computers

and other technology shut down and resulted in major crisis as the year reset to 00, they

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extended invitations to me, wanting to take care of me as I had taken care of them and

others. One of the nurses, Betty Reid, said, “Dr. Boya, I have my basement storage, and we

have everything there. You just come on over and we will have enough for you.” A couple

of others also let me know, “We are here if you need us. We’re getting everything ready.”

Eventually, the crisis came and passed with no issues, but I really felt the caring nature of the

community.

Financial freedom

Through the success of the gastroenterology practice, we achieved our goal of a financial

freedom that would allow us to do anything we wanted—to give to charities liberally, to

support families, to travel. Owing, initially and in part, to the support of Dr. Berg and Dr. J.P.

Reddy of the Surgery Associates, and then associating with and taking over Dr. O’Quin’s

practice, my income had increased greatly within two years.

We had always tried to donate our money where and when it mattered, for as St. Francis

of Assisi said, “It is in giving that we receive.” Even in the days that we did not have plenty,

I and Subhashini felt it was important to give. That was a virtue of ours: we wanted to give

as something from our hearts, not because we felt forced to. We wanted to be generous but

also responsible in our philanthropy. My father had advised me, “Manage the finances well.

Even if you want to throw away money into a river, be sure to count it first, then put it into a

bag and toss it in.” The lesson we took from this was that we should always know how much,

both as a percentage and in dollars, we were giving away.

The Stock Club

Every second Friday of the month, 14 families gathered for our Stock Club meeting. This

was another business-cum-social event that became more of a boys’ club, with pizza, beer, and

lighthearted joking. The ladies enjoyed their own social time, while we took an hour or so

to discuss the stock market and which stocks to buy and which we should sell. We would all

meet up, ladies and gents, at the end of the evening for dessert and then head home. This

tradition began 35 years ago and still continues.

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The stock market went through ups and downs, with the crash of 1987 and other bubbles

in 2002 and 2008, and I did lose a significant amount of money, but I learned how to invest

conservatively and judiciously from the experience. Luckily, the last decade has rewarded us.

I do not know when the next bubble will be, but I am not fully relying on stocks for great

financial reward. One doctor in the neighboring town who had retired thinking he would

make millions in high-flying stocks had to come back to work after losing the majority of his

portfolio. That was a good lesson and I realized that the best bet was to always continue to

focus on my profession first and foremost, take a balanced approach to investments, and not

be greedy.

My accountant also served the oil tycoons, and I wanted his advice to invest as successfully

as them and retire early. I asked, “You must know, can you tell me, what are the two best

investments?”

“Dr. Boya,” he replied, “if I knew, I would not be sitting in front of you!” It was a comical

response and I understood the meaning—if he knew, he would have taken advantage of it.

Family values and responsibilities

A swami once explained, “When you have clarity, there’s no confusion.” I focused on my

medical practice and maintaining professional contacts, while Subhashini cared for our

family and household. These roles and these goals were always clear to us as part of building

a successful life.

I missed out on spending time with my children, but Subhashini made the most of the

opportunity, commuting to school every day and making sure they had all the support

they needed to succeed. Recently, someone asked her if she would do it all again, and she

responded, “Yes, I would, because it offered more time with the children and allowed me to

be part of their lives.”

I remember that, just a few days after he began at the new private school and as I sat on

the sofa, Prasanth told me, “Dad, thanks for sending me to the private school.” When we

dropped him off at Trinity University in San Antonio for his first year of undergrad, he said

to me, “Dad, you didn’t get to spend as much time with me as you would have liked, right?”

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It was true that I wanted to spend more time with my children, but I really feel both mine

and Subhashini’s efforts and sacrifices gave them the best opportunity to succeed. I was

proud when Prasanth got accepted to medical school at Texas A&M after working hard and

graduating from Trinity.

In India, I didn’t spend much time with my parents, particularly my father, and I feared him

when I was younger, running the other way when I saw him. Here, I concentrated on what

would help my children be the best they could be. They witnessed both of us working hard,

seeing how I contributed to the community and local society through my practice, and how

Subhashini kept everything running smoothly.

Prasanth experienced the changes of settling into a new way of life as we evolved from a

small, rusty car and apartment life to moving to a new community and into our first luxury

home. Today, he is very meticulous with his finances. Prabhath may not remember as much

of the early days as Prasanth, but he witnessed daily the dedication and commitment of both

parents. There is a saying that “Values are not taught, but they are caught.” Our children

needed to see us living the life and values we talk about, as that is what stays with them, not

just hearing about them. We tried to be as good parents to them as our parents were to us.

Enjoying cartoons

Watching cartoons in America was popular among children when I first arrived in the late

1970s. I grew up without television in India, and experienced cartoons for the first time

after meeting my uncle and aunt in Pennsylvania. At their home, while I searched for jobs,

I watched Spider-Man and Wonder Woman cartoons with their son, Vasu, every day after school

and it was a very entertaining experience. We both relaxed munching on 3 Musketeers candy

bars while enjoying watching cartoons—a great stress reliever for me!

Throughout the 1980s, when my sons were young, they would wake up early to enjoy Saturday

morning cartoons. With Prasanth I enjoyed watching Looney Toons, or, to be specific, Bugs

Bunny. His “What’s up, Doc?” still makes me laugh! With Prabhath, I enjoyed watching

Garfield cartoons, enjoying the antics of the lazy orange cat that loved lasagna and liked to

tease his owner. Vivek Bhandari, Ananth and Suma’s youngest son, liked to watch Scooby

Doo whenever he visited our home and would climb into my lap so we could watch together.

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With my grandchildren Eli and Ravi, the cartoon experience has changed, and they are able

to stream their favorite shows at any time. We enjoy watching Paw Patrol and other newer

cartoons together.

Family inspiration and visits

We maintained our deep family connections with our parents and siblings in India. We

enjoyed having them to visit and hosting their extended stays, which lasted anywhere from a

few weeks to a few months. We also used to visit India, mainly during the summer vacation

from school so that the kids could maintain their bond with the grandparents, spend time

with their uncles, aunts, and cousins, and observe the cultural aspects of India.

We often brought back special items, like spicy pickles, rice flours, traditional clothes, and

other such reminders of India, all of which helped us to stay in touch with the experience

after returning home. In between these trips, my mother lovingly packed and shipped special

idli rice to us in Mineral Wells so I could always have the authentic taste of my favorite food

and be reminded of home.

My mother visited us in America on three separate occasions, and each visit made me

very happy. On her last trip to Mineral Wells in 1990, she took daily walks around the

neighborhood, and one day returned home complaining of chest pain. I took her to the

hospital for a full check-up, which revealed a severe blockage in her coronary artery, and

she was admitted immediately for emergency heart-bypass surgery. For the first time

I experienced the problems of not having health insurance, as my mother had none, and

the hospital bills were very expensive. My sister came from India soon afterward to help

manage her recovery care as Subhashini’s duties to the children and carpooling meant

she could not be immediately close by all the time. My sister stayed with us for almost

five months, and after my mother became more stable and was able to travel, they both

returned to India. I went to visit my mother a few times and, sadly, she passed away two

years later. I was disappointed with this turn of events, but I was able to serve my mother,

and I felt deeply gratified that I was able to take care of her after all her lifelong affection

and care for me. Subhashini did an exceptional job of taking care of her, along with the

family, and my mother was proud of my achievements and how we had settled well in

Mineral Wells.

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I was blessed to be a part of a supportive, wholesome family. I was close not just to my

brother and sister, but also to Subhashini’s brother, Raja, and sister, Praveena. In 1989, after

Raja finished his orthopedic diploma in India and was applying abroad for opportunities,

I suggested that he should gain some experience and knowledge of medical practice and the

health care system in America, and I made arrangements for him to assist and observe our

local orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Kiran Dave. Eight months later, he received an offer from a

hospital in Kent, England, where he received his training and became a skilled orthopedic

surgeon. He eventually settled back in India as chief of orthopedics at Vijaya Hospital in

Chennai, where he is a respected and popular surgeon. Raja was a very good tennis player

and quickly became a sought-after partner at the country club in Mineral Wells. After he left,

we continued to receive calls from local friends asking if he was available to play, and we had

to explain that he had moved. Subhashini and I enjoyed hosting Raja in Mineral Wells, and

we were proud to be able to support and contribute to his social and professional evolution.

Subhashini’s younger sister, Praveena, observed how I prepared meticulously for exams

in India. She saved my old textbooks to review my notes, which helped her academically.

Specifically, my pathology textbook by Boyd was her favorite. She was also inspired to come

to the USA to practice medicine. She completed her pathology residency in Los Angeles,

California, where she settled after her marriage. Also like us, she follows a spiritual life, and

we remain close. She is a good conversationalist and has an infectious laugh.

When relatives in India needed our help, we offered it, and we helped the extended family—

my uncles and their children—with whatever they needed. I was in a much better position

than in my early residency days to offer more financial assistance when they needed it, and

Subhashini and I both wholeheartedly agreed that we should always help when we could.

From providing this assistance, we felt comfortable to expand our charitable giving. At the

time, money was not as plentiful as it is now, with the real estate boom. People needed

financial help desperately.

Carpooling

With the children’s school located 45 miles away, carpooling was a major part of our life.

Through sharing cars, we learned more about other people and developed new connections. We

bought a Chevrolet Suburban to coordinate transporting six students from Minerals Wells

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and a few from Weatherford to Fort Worth Country Day School. Along with us, local Indian

families and American families sacrificed their time for their children’s education. We met

more local families this way, and the children built their own networks through carpooling.

One of the older boys in the carpool, Greg, settled in Spain after college to teach English,

married a local girl, and is now a principal at an education institution in Barcelona. Prasanth

and Ali once visited and stayed with them for a few days. Soon after we joined the carpool

rotation, Greg’s father, a social and easy-going man who drove carpool, was suddenly diagnosed

with pancreatic cancer and died within six months. His wife is one of my patients, and we

remain personally connected even today, sharing photos of the grandkids, and all because of

the carpool bond.

We also carpooled with some prominent families, who were friendly and welcomed us into

their lives. Prabhath and Kendall, the daughter of the Clark family, were one year apart in age

and, as the youngest in the carpool, they became close friends and remain so today. Kendall’s

grandmother, Billie Clark, treated Prabhath like a grandson.

Driving one hour back and forth between Mineral Wells and Fort Worth was exhausting for

children and parents alike. But we all endured as we recognized that good education is worth

the effort.

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For a good laugh

Spiritual capitalism

The CEO of KFC had a meeting with the Pope, and asked, “Father, we would like to

ask you to change your daily prayer from ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ to ‘Give

us this day our daily chicken.’”

The Pope refused, saying, “No, these are God’s words, I cannot change them.”

The CEO insisted: “I will give you $5 million.”

The Pope said “No.”

The CEO raised the price, saying, “Father, I would like to donate $10 million.”

The Pope again refused and explained, “The cardinals won’t agree to changing the

Lord’s Prayer.”

The CEO pleaded, “We need this badly. I will give you $100 million.”

The Pope met with his cardinals and announced, “I have good news and bad news.

The good news: we got $500 million from KFC.”

The Cardinals asked, “What is the bad news?”

The Pope replied, “We lost the Wonder Bread contract.”

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The family of doctors at Prasanth’s graduation from medical school. From left: Me, Praveena,

Prasanth, my father-in-law, Tanuja (wife of Subhashini’s brother), and Raja (Subhashini’s brother)

Famous Indian singer Bala Subramanyam and his wife with me and my wife at our home in Mineral Wells

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A memorable visit: two Subrahmanyams together at our home

Chief Minister of Andhra, Chandra Babu Naidu, me, and my wife during a visit to India

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With “Doctramma,” Dr. Lakshmi Kanthamma

Me having a chat and a laugh with famous Telugu movie actor Nageswara Rao.

I received an award from him in America

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Me and my wife with Tulsi Gabbard. She took her oath as a congresswoman

on the Bhaghavad Gita (she converted to Hinduism)

Me and Nikki Haley while she was U.S. Ambassador to the UN

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Relaxing moment with Subhashini’s uncle C.M.K. Reddy, his wife Nirmala, and J.P. Reddy

at Braum’s Restaurant in Mineral Wells during their visit to America

My second grandson Ravi with his great-grandfather and great-grandmother during their

visit to America, after the memorable drive from Mineral Wells to Houston

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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

My Spirituality

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a

spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and

one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the

pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort which is quite different

from the religiosity of someone more naive.

Albert Einstein

Differences are to be celebrated. Religion is like the banana peel; Spirituality is the

banana. We need to hold on to the substance.

Sri Ravi Shankar

Be peaceful. Be cheerful. And be useful.

Swami Vivekananda

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In innumerable little acts of selflessness lies the spiritual growth.

Eknath Easwaran

I have thought deeply about my inclination toward spirituality and what drew me to this

path. Indian culture is spiritually oriented, and a strong foundation for spirituality existed

around me from the beginning through my grandparents and parents at home, and in my

surroundings at Tirupati. Within such a conducive atmosphere, I believe my vasanas, traits,

which have been carried over from the past lives lived, drew me into spirituality.

I consider my grandmother to be my spiritual teacher, and my spiritual journey in this life

began with her influence. Becoming enraptured with the stories from the Mahabharata and

insisting on living in an ashram before I started fourth grade were early manifestations of

this inclination. My parents’ influence also played a role, through routine daily morning and

evening pujas.

Tirupati was known, and had already been known for centuries, as the abode for the divine

spirit of Lord Venkateswara, and crowds of pilgrims came throughout recorded history,

absorbed in chanting as they ascended the mountain on foot to the temple. Spirituality was

present all around, and Lord Venkateswara was held with the same reverence by everyone.

I saw it in the richest and the poorest people, who all came to Tirupati with strong faith and

devotion to pray for the fulfillment of particular wishes and to experience the peace and

tranquility of the temple environment.

The generosity of the donations by the pilgrims and the wise management by TTD benefited

many—my family included—through the contract work and the educational institutions and

hospitals. As I began fourth grade, my father agreed to let me continue my spiritual practices

as long as I committed to focusing on my studies. So strong was my spiritual desire that

I became a vegetarian in fourth grade, giving up meat and eggs until my fourth year in

medical school, and even converted my brother and sister. I wanted to achieve the higher level

that I observed in the higher-caste Brahmins. They were strict vegetarians and intellectuals.

I started eating meat in the fourth year of medical school, mostly from societal and peer

pressure, but stopped again in 1995 after a spiritual renewal in America. In America,

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I attended spiritual lectures by swamis from India and gained more insight into the concept

of atman, which I now know that, in all my past reading and memorization of passages from

the Bhagavad Gita, I had not grasped before. I saw the practicality of spirituality and how

it is simply a part of life, and of being at peace with myself and in harmony with everything

around me.

My first step to this realization was through the Chinmaya Mission, where Swami

Chinmayananda’s lectures on the Bhagavad Gita showed me that the Gita is not a religious

text but the greatest psychology text. He explained how everyone is potentially divine. God is

seated in each of our own hearts.

The second significant step in my spiritual journey was finding my guru, my spiritual teacher,

Sri Eknath Easwaran, the founder of Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in Tomales,

California. Originally an English professor from Kerala who came to America on a Fulbright

scholarship, Sri Easwaran became popular in Berkeley for his discussions on Hindu culture and

Hindu philosophy and taught the first meditation course at Berkeley university. He was well

versed in English and Sanskrit and had read, and even translated, scriptures from Hinduism,

Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. In this process, he developed a deep understanding of the

spiritual aspects of every religion and presented them in a way that everyone could understand.

Sri Easwaran did not seek active converts. He guided people into spirituality from whichever

path they were on, using philosophies and teaching from all the religions, and this concept

really appealed to me. Many of the hippies in the area became his disciples, and as this base

grew, he built a beautiful, serene ashram in Tomales, within a 15-minute drive from the

Pacific Ocean. I was drawn to him because of his South Indian roots, and unlike some of the

other spiritual teachers, Sri Easwaran was easier to connect to because he was married and

understood the struggles of family life. He and his wife, Christine, took mantram walks along

the coast each morning, sometimes accompanied by his disciples. The significance of these

mantram walks was to diminish negative thoughts and feelings and clear the mind to start a

fresh day.

I first learned of Sri Easwaran’s teachings from my friend Ramappa Reddy, a spiritual

man, who recommended the book Meditation by Sri Easwaran. I remember my immediate

transformation after reading his book because it was just like my desire to join the ashram

as a young boy. I opened the book in 1995 as I settled comfortably into my business-class

seat on a trip to India and did not stop reading until I finished. Even through the meals and

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snacks, I read continuously. The words and ideas flowed so freely off the page in a way I could

understand.

The book explains that meditation is not only for the monks in the monasteries of the

Himalayas. It is a daily practice to transform the mind and personality, and something I could

do for 30 minutes every morning and evening.

I read Sri Easwaran’s second book, Mantram, on my return flight from India. In this book he

discussed calming the mind, explaining how every religion has a mantra, and we must use the

mantra that we know to stabilize our turbulent minds. For Hindus, that might be chanting,

“Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama, Rama, Hare, Hare. Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna,

Krishna, Hare, Hare,” which was the mantram given to me by Sri Easwaran. I had not made

this connection before, and with this comprehension, I arrived home and immediately began

meditating and never stopped. At the age of 45, meditating became part of my everyday

routine. That same day, I became a vegetarian again.

I had read so much about Blue Mountain that I wanted to experience it myself, so Subhashini

agreed to accompany me for a weekend retreat. We flew to San Francisco, and from the airport,

we rented a car, and as we passed over the Golden Gate Bridge, we enjoyed the beautiful,

scenic drive, although the sky became dark and foggy as we neared Tomales, close to the ocean.

We had trouble locating the exact address, and Subhashini even wondered if we had the

wrong details, but when we saw a man unloading books at a large house we asked if he knew

directions to the retreat, and he confirmed that we had arrived at the right location. The area,

overlooking the Pacific Ocean, was as beautiful as we had heard, and in the mornings we saw

and heard the waves in the background as we held discussions and meditated in this peaceful,

natural environment. The group totaled 12 people. I deeply enjoyed this experience of the

wonderful retreat, during which I met Sri Easwaran for the first time.

I used to look forward to the gastroenterology meetings and to meeting up with old

friends, but the spiritual meditation retreats at Blue Mountain took their place. My friend

Jayahari, who knew me and my compulsive nature well, took notice and lightheartedly

commented, “Whatever Subrahmanyam wants, he will get it. Now he is after God, and

he’s going to get him.” The divine force led me to this experience, and it was one that

felt very natural to me. I and Subhashini attended several retreats at the Blue Mountain

Center of Meditation.

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I savored every experience of Blue Mountain and the time with my guru. During one of

my visits, I asked him, “Guruji, is there anything I can do as a gift to you?” He explained

that he had spent time in Secunderabad in Andhra Pradesh, and that he would love for

me to translate the book Meditation from English into Telugu. I was honored to present

the translated copy of the book, Dhyanam, to him, and it became very popular with Telugu

readers. After Sri Easwaran passed away in 1999, I helped translate two more of his books

into Telugu, Mantram and Manasunu Jayinchandi (Conquest of the Mind). I and Subhashini

presented the Telugu translation of Mantram to Christine Easwaran, and she was very happy

to receive it.

After Sri Easwaran’s passing, Swami Chidananda became my living guru. He had many

similarities with Sri Easwaran and was educated in the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)

and had switched from technology to spirituality after he was inspired by the teachings of

Swami Chinmayananda. Swami Chidananda read widely and published his own teachings,

which were open-minded. I found it easy to discuss my thoughts and reflections with him. He

guides me on the spiritual path and I like his practical approach.

I extended my spiritual interest by chairing the spiritual committees of the American Telugu

Association in 2002 and the North American Telugu Association in 2016. I had the privilege

of inviting many dignitaries and famous spiritual teachers to grace our events, which were

well received and enjoyed by attendees, and which opened up spiritual philosophies to inspire

a larger audience. We felt blessed for the opportunity to host many spiritual teachers, gurus,

and yoga teachers at our home.

Leading the temple project

Locally in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, I attended many inspiring spiritual lectures by Swami

Sarveshanandaji of Chinmaya Mission, and it was here that the idea of building a local temple

came up in discussion. I was not as drawn to praying in the temple as I was to becoming more

focused on yoga and meditation. However, everyone encouraged me to take the lead, and

because of my dedication to Lord Venkateswara, I decided to become part of the project in

His name, and to build a temple for Him near my home in America. We began the process

in 2007 and opened the permanent temple building in 2014.

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Subhashini felt I was taking on too much responsibility, but to support me and the cause, she

also got involved in the project and we made it a success. In 2007, the year we started, the U.S.

stock market suffered its largest crash in history. Banks were failing because people could not

pay back their mortgage loans and the auto industry was nearly bankrupt and required federal

bailouts. Despite this, we raised $1.5 million in donations. We reached out to everybody, and

because I and Subhashini were involved with many organizations, people knew our sincerity

and they donated generously. I used my gift of giving inspirational speeches to help rally the

people in support. We secured a $1.5 million loan to reach the $3 million needed to begin

construction. The temple is now self-sufficient and being utilized by many in the area. Today,

I remain a member of the board of trustees and chairman of the temple development committee.

During this project, I made many good new friends and I enjoyed working alongside them

under the common goal of building the temple: Dr. Venkateswara Rao and Lakshmi

Namburu; Murali and Vinaya Vennam; Ranna and Rajani Jani; and Dr. Bhaskar Pabba. The

Namburus and Vennams constantly encouraged me to take a lead part in the project. We

became family, and worked selflessly together . Our neighbors in Mineral Wells, Ananth and

Suma Bhandari, were also involved in the project, and in addition to generous donations,

they were a great source of moral support.

We encountered many skeptics, but divine force helped to sustain me throughout the

temple project, which required more time, energy, and coordination than I had thought

it would when I started out. I had to balance both my practice and this project. Loretta,

my endoscopy nurse, and Susan Woodring, the OR director, were very accommodating and

would wait patiently while I took unexpected yet sometimes frequent calls during the day.

These conversations sometimes took longer than they needed to, and in those cases, Loretta

had to pull me away from the phone and remind me to get back to work! Over the course of

seven years, I often left my office after work at around 5 or 5:30 pm to attend meetings in Fort

Worth, which was nearly an hour’s drive each way, returned home late at night, and woke

up the next morning to attend to patients and procedures. Some of these meetings were very

contentious. Although everybody was religious, we had to bridge several differences between

North Indian traditions, which favored dancing and bhajans, and South Indian traditions,

which focused more on pujas and rituals. I became the person to align them back to the

common goal. I sought the help of sathgurus from Hawaii, who had experience in building

temples. Sathguru Velaian Swami was of great help, providing valuable advice, helping us to

resolve our differences and build the Shiva Vishnu Temple (Hindu Temple of Greater Fort

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Worth). Through the overall experience of the temple project, I came to the realization that

it was meant to soften my rough edges and help me evolve as a person.

The mayor’s interfaith cabinet

My work on the temple project presented me with new opportunities. The Fort Worth mayor

appointed me and Mr. Murali Vennam to her interfaith cabinet, through which I met and

interacted with other religious community leaders. This group did not discuss religion and

focused instead on social projects that catered to the poor. Working together like that was a

personally and spiritually rewarding experience. “Service to man is service to God.”

Spiritual influences in my professional and personal life

In the endoscopy room, I liked to tell jokes but also discuss spirituality, which influenced others.

One of my nurses became vegetarian simply because she wanted to after hearing about my

experiences and beliefs. There was no discussion around it—she just felt it was the right thing to

do. My nurse anesthesist, Julie, became deeply inspired and suggested we start a yoga school in

Mineral Wells, which we ran for three years until she moved out of town. Starting a yoga school

in the cowboy heartland was an interesting experience, and a true blending of east and west.

I saw spirituality in the actions of those around me, witnessing how friends and colleagues

maintained their faith and spirituality as they coped with disabilities, sickness, and personal loss.

Jody, my office nurse

I also learned so much from my staff. When we moved to a new office building, my

parking space was under a metal roof and birds built their nests in the corners to lay

their eggs. Every day, my car was covered in bird droppings. I wanted the owners of the

building to remove the birds’ nests because I could not keep washing my car. My nurse,

Jody, whom I worked with for 25 years, loved animals. She said, “Tell you what, Dr. Boya,

you put your car in my parking spot and I will put my car in your parking spot. I do

not mind the bird droppings. The birds laid their eggs and we cannot remove them.”

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That served as a reminder that spirituality also means having an awareness of Mother

Nature and coexisting with the world around us.

Loretta, my endoscopy nurse

Loretta, my stoic, dedicated, and loyal endoscopy nurse of 25 years, donated 10 percent of

her income to her church. She had to stop working to care for her husband after he had a

lung transplant. Despite facing this and other personal adversities, she did not compromise

her commitment to patient care. Her devotion to duty, both in her personal life and in her

professional career, was very spiritual.

Susan, the operating room director

Susan Woodring’s dedication to work was spiritual. As operating room director, she was

available day and night to ensure the best care for her patients. She was always willing to step

in and help, being part of the solution, never part of the problem. She was a great help to

me. Her devotion and loyalty to being at the hospital was impressive. Unfortunately, a few

years after her retirement her husband was diagnosed with lung cancer and she immediately

dedicated herself to his care and comfort. We stay in touch and are good friends.

Friends in the community

Our dear friend Sarada is an example of the greatest mother in the selfless sacrifices she has

made as she cares for her disabled child in whatever way possible. Dr. J.P. Reddy’s daughter,

Patty, remained committed to marrying her fiancé after he was paralyzed just before their

wedding, and to building a family. My good friend Narayan’s son, Naveen, passed away from

head and neck cancer, and in the face of his own terminal diagnosis, he comforted his father:

“Don’t cry. In this life we met, and we may meet again in our eternal journey.”

As a Rhodes Scholar, Naveen’s intellectual drive, along with his thoughtful spirituality, made

a deep impact on his Harvard professor who, at the memorial, said, “At one point, I became

his student.”

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Spirituality as I understand it

What is spirituality? It is, to me, a universal vision. We come from the same source and return

to the same source. At the same time, everything in the universe is gifted with uniqueness

and every person is unique. When a person uses his unique gift for his enjoyment and for

the benefit and enjoyment of others, it is very spiritual. Not everyone will achieve this, but

everyone has the potential to do so. Understanding this, we must practice daily to remove

judgment, be mindful of others, care for animals and nature, and have empathy for what is

around us. This is what spiritual living is.

The Bhagavad Gita shows four paths to attain self-realization (the self within), and people can

follow those paths they are most drawn to. Whether individual or combined, all the paths

lead to the goal of equanimity, the essence of spirituality.

On the devotion path, bakthi yoga, people might sing and dance, and we see this in the energy

of the black churches in the American South and the bhajans of Mirabai to Lord Krishna.

Through the meditation path, dhyana yoga, people reflect within and quietly work on stilling

their mind and body.

The knowledge path, jnana yoga, means spiritual study and spiritual companionship.

In the action path, karma yoga, people act selflessly and without ego, renouncing the fruits of

their actions.

My impressions of various aspects of spirituality

Mind

All sadhanas are aimed at managing our thoughts at subtler levels. The world around us is

nothing but the projection of our own minds. The mind is nothing but a flow of thoughts,

which we need to bring into control to achieve inner silence and “dynamic stillness” in the

chaotic activities of daily life.

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To keep the mind even throughout the day we first have to understand the nature of the

mind. As per the Bhagavad Gita, the mind has four characteristics:

1. Chanchal: mercurial. The mind is constantly analyzing and judging, jumping like a monkey

from one thought to another.

2. Pramadhini: turbulent and dangerous. Sometimes the mind starts churning when you see

something you don’t like and has the potential to become violent.

3. Bhalam: strength. The mind is strong and gets stronger (rigid) with time and age.

4. Dhrudam: incredible stamina. The mind is always compulsively thinking about something.

Buddha said, “Your life is shaped by your mind and you become what your thoughts are.” He

also said, “More than your mother, more than your father, more than your family, a trained

mind brings health and happiness.”

I understand from the Gita that Heaven and Earth are not separate entities. When the mind

is disturbed, that is hell; when the mind is peaceful or happy, that is heaven. The mind that

is calm is sound, the mind that is still is divine. In a spiritual lecture, one teacher told me,

“No preference, no disturbance.”

Temples and idol worship

Temples are central to the Hindu way of living and every village and town in India has a

temple. Temples bring people together. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Sri Krishna says, “In my

name all of you come together.” Although one can pray at home, praying together in a temple

is very energetic and energizing. When we pray to the idol in the temple, we are reaching the

divine ideal behind the idol, not its physical representation. To give an example, when talking

on the telephone, we are not talking to the phone, but to the person on the other end of the

line. We use the finite form to connect with the infinite.

God

Gandhi describes the concept of God:

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In the midst of darkness I do dimly perceive that whilst everything around me is

ever changing, ever dying, there is underlying all that change a Living Power that is

changeless, that holds all together, that creates, dissolves, and re-creates. That informing

Power or Spirit is God.

The Bhagavad Gita explains the concept of God:

The supreme self (God) is beyond name and form, inexhaustible, without beginning,

without end, beyond time, space, causalty, eternal and immutable.

The self dwells in the house of the body which passes through childhood, youth, and

old age. So passes the self at the time of death from one body to the other. Even as we

cast off a worn-out garment and enter into another that is new. So cast off the self, a

worn out body, and enter into another anew. Deathless is the self in everyone and know

this truth and leave all sorrow behind.

Faith

From Gandhi:

I know the path. It is straight and narrow. It is like the edge of a sword. I rejoice to walk

on it. I weep when I slip, but God promises he who strives never fails. I have implicit

faith in his promise, and though, therefore, from my weakness, I may fail one thousand

times, I shall never lose faith.

When I am asked, “What is God to you?” my answer, “Peace is God.” When I am at peace

and with myself, I will be at peace with everybody else.

Reincarnation and rebirth as I understand them

We are a combination of matter and energy. Science clearly says matter and energy cannot be

destroyed. After death, we are recycled into different forms. Every thought is an energy which

carries an imprint and manifests as a vasana in later lives.

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Spirituality and nature

Sulochana Rani, a popular Telugu romance novelist, wrote a very interesting spiritual essay

before her passing. In this essay she discussed life from a spiritual angle, explaining how, until

age 60, our profession makes up our life and after age 60 our life becomes our profession.

Society has rewarded us more than expected and we must give back to society as much as we

can. Mother Nature used energy and gave us our shapes and brought us onto this Earth, just

as a mother lets her children go outside to play. And just as the children must return home as

the sun sets, we also return to Mother Nature at the end of life. We must enjoy our time on

Earth and lead fulfilling lives until it’s time to become one with nature again.

Mother Nature has much to teach us. We take so much of her resources and abuse the

planet with pollution. Sri Easwaran uses a hummingbird analogy that I try to apply every

day: the hummingbird comes straight to the flower, takes with its beak what it needs without

disturbing the flower petals, and then flies away, preserving the flower. Humans can learn

from these wonders in nature.

One person’s actions may not reverse environmental destruction, but according to the Gita,

every effort counts. On the spiritual path, nothing goes to waste and so I do not worry how

my actions will change the world. I remain focused on doing what is right. Subhashini is

adamant about not using plastic bags when shopping, or buying water in plastic bottles.

These actions on her part inspire and influence me to be more environmentally aware and

conscious. In this way, our good actions can inspire others. While the larger impact and

outcome is ultimately out of my hands, I know I am putting forth my best effort. Everything

I do, I must do with a sense of righteousness. The rule of good asks: Is it good for me? Does

it make me feel good? Is it for the good of everybody around me?

One of my spiritual teachers told me, “Periodically, you must make an appointment with

yourself. Put it on your calendar and focus on yourself.” To keep the mind from continually

wandering and brooding over the many problems that arise, it is important to set aside time

to review and address any issues to bring about peace and calm. I have taken this to heart,

and my home provides the perfect space and time to observe and enjoy, and to reflect on the

harmony that exists around me in nature. It has also become a way to clear my mind of any

issues or troubles, to think on them calmly and evenly, and not to react in the spur of the

moment.

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Connecting to nature represents my spirituality. The beautiful valley view from my backyard,

especially, brings me great enjoyment. It shows me that, however small, we are a part of

nature and not separate. Every day, the chirping birds, the gentle breeze, the scent of the

delicate flower, and the morning mist covering the town below, remind me that nature is all

around me and I am part of it, not separate from it. The rays of sun that greet me from the

east in the mornings and light up the world around me come undisturbed from the distance

of space, landing undisturbed and warming my skin. Similarly, at night, I can clearly see the

stars and moon in the peaceful, dark sky and feel my connection to the cosmos.

With my morning cup of hot tea in hand and a cool breeze on my face, I thank God for

the wonderful feeling of experiencing the mesmerizing, fresh start of a brand-new day. The

hospital and office staff came to expect this as these morning reflections occasionally delayed

my arrival. They granted me this flexibility as they realized, “Dr. Boya must be watching the

birds.” As of January 2022, I made the decision to lighten my schedule and make more time

for personal reflection and be a part of the spirituality all around me. I derive great pleasure

from the simple experience of appreciating nature.

Humor and spirituality

Good humor is the sunshine of the mind.

Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton

Life is nothing without a good sense of humor.

John Waters

Seriousness is illness; seriousness has nothing spiritual about it. Spirituality is laughter,

spirituality is joy, spirituality is fun.

Anonymous

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Humor is very spiritual and aligns with my overall life’s philosophy. Jokes and laughter

provide peace of mind and enable me to bring happiness to others. I really like to laugh, and

to make others laugh. The natural laugh is so beneficial for the spirit as it comes from the

core, releases endorphins, relieves stress, and instantly changes a person’s mood for the better,

creating a wholesome experience.

What makes you laugh? There are so many things that can make you laugh. A good

clean joke, little babies, animals, and human mishaps. It is amazing how a good joke

can make your day. Laughter is a great stress reliever and can turn your mood around

instantly. They say, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Do you believe that to be true?

I wish I had laughed more. Maybe my hair wouldn’t be so gray if I did. Sometimes do

you laugh so hard you cry? Do you ever get that? The more you laugh, the harder it is

to stop laughing. Just looking at something funny can start the whole process all over

again.

Anonymous

Harvey Mindess summarizes my sentiments about humor and spirituality.

Perhaps the essence of… humor and spirituality can be defined in terms of the difference

between our peripheral selves and our essential selves. Most of us identify too strongly

with our looks, our possessions, our social status, our achievements. We see ourselves in

all the layers of being that enclose our central core. By learning to laugh at those layers,

those facades and pretensions with which we attempt to impress the world, we are able

to slip out of them as a snake slips out of its skin. This permits us to contact that part

of ourselves that religions call our soul. We call it our essential self, but it amounts to

the same thing—an affirmation that we embody at least a spark of divinity and that life

at its core is to be cherished.

Humor fits very well into my spiritual way of life. I enjoy reading jokes, telling jokes, hearing

humorous stories, and watching comedy movies. Life is too short to take it too seriously all

the time.

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Just for the laughs

A stupid person laughs three times at a joke: once when everyone else is laughing, a second

time when he actually gets the joke, and the third time when he realizes he was laughing

without getting the joke at first.

Humor in medicine

I have a good inner vision. To prove it, here’s the video of my colonoscopy!

A lady tells her pharmacist, “I have bad diarrhea. They say laughter is the best medicine.”

The pharmacist replies, “That is not good when you have diarrhea.”

Research has shown that laughing for two minutes is just as healthy as a 20-minute jog.

So now I’m sitting on the park bench laughing at all the joggers!

Humor in ethics

A gentleman was very happy that his daughter was dating a very rich man to whom he

expected his daughter would get engaged and married. When his daughter announced

her pregnancy, the father called her boyfriend and berated him, “I never thought you

would do something like this. I thought you had some ethics!”

The rich boyfriend said, “Please calm down. I’m very rich and my commitment is very

strong. To prove it, if she has a boy, I will put $5 million in the bank as a security loan.

If the baby is a girl, I will put $6 million. I will also give you $1 million to show my

commitment.”

The father cooled down and replied, “Let me ask you, if by accident she miscarries the

baby, will you give her another chance?”

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Humor in morality

A priest was delivering a great discourse on the Ten Commandments. When he reached

“Thou shalt not steal,” he realized that his hat was missing. He announced to the

congregation, “Somebody here has stolen my hat. Stand up and you will be forgiven.”

Nobody stood up, and though he was slightly irritated, he continued the sermon. When

he reached “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” he remembered where he had left his hat.

Humor in business

A wealthy businessman approached his senator, “I need a favor. I have a Ferrari parked

outside for you.”

The senator brushed him off, saying, “This is very inappropriate, do not insult me with

your bribe.”

The businessman said, “Let me rephrase this. What I mean is that I have a Ferrari that

is just $400 for you.”

The senator immediately replied, “In that case, I’ll take two.”

The essence of spirituality to me

God to me is peace and joy. My goal is to achieve this realization of God.

Dean Ornish, in Reversing Heart Disease, writes:

The concept of meditation is very simple. Peace and stress begin in your mind. Meditation

is the process of quieting the mind. When your mind is quiet you feel peaceful. You

lose your sense of separateness and isolation. You may even experience your higher self.

Without that peace nothing is going to make you happy. If you have peace, even without

having anything else, you will be happy. When the mind gets completely purified then it

is no longer an obstruction to your experience of the truth. When it is clean and clear,

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the mind does not cover the appearance of the pure self. It becomes a pure reflection of

the self to see its own true nature. That is the essence of spirituality.

My daily practices

Every morning I follow a process of YEPS—yoga, exercise, pranayama, and sadhana

(meditation)—to help me realize my goal.

I begin with 30 minutes of yoga. A flexible body means a flexible mind. Yoga helps to yoke

the body and the mind. Samatvam yoga uchyate (yoga is nothing but equanimity).

The deep breathing of pranayama, which best serves the body in the morning, transports

oxygen at the cellular level to replenish the body. Good hydration is also important for the

body.

My meditation process, called Passage Meditation, was inspired by Sri Easwaran. Later,

I incorporated suggestions from Swami Chidananda, and now follow the “PUT” formula:

purify, unify, and transcend.

Purify the mind with inspiring passages. You become what you meditate on.

Unify with a mantram. I bring multiple thoughts down to a single thought using my chosen

mantra.

Transcend. I become an observer of my thoughts and still my mind. It is not an easy process

to master but the Gita says, “Even a little effort in the spiritual path never goes to waste.”

Swami Chidananda, my living guru, once suggested the daily formula of 20/20/20: 20

minutes of exercise for the body, 20 minutes of meditation for the mind, and 20 minutes of

spiritual study for the intellect.

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The five Fs philosophy

Every day I make sure to think of family, friends, faith, finances, and fun.

Did I connect with a family member?

Did I connect with a friend?

Have I kept my finances in order?

Did I do fun things today? Maybe I told a joke or heard a funny one, or read the comics, or

went out for dinner with my wife and our friends.

I enjoy the small pleasures in life in freedom. At the end of the day, sometimes I sip a glass of

good wine, watching the beautiful flowers in our garden, the birds in the evening sky, and as

the stars fill the dark night sky, I feel at peace and in harmony with the universe around me.

For a good laugh

Everyone can find joy through inner peace.

A therapist suggested to a patient that he could find true inner peace by finishing

whatever he started. At the next appointment, the patient beamingly told the

therapist, “I’m very happy you gave me that suggestion! So far today I have finished

two bags of chips and a chocolate cake. I feel better already!”

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Getting the blessings of Sadhguru Bodhinatha Veylan Swami, Kauai, Hawaii,

at the land site prior to construction of the temple

Shiva Vishnu Temple (Hindu Temple of Greater Fort Worth)

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Hindu Temple of Greater Fort Worth, Texas

Interfaith cabinet of Mayor Betsy Price. First from left is Murali Vennam and I am fifth from right

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Our family and family of Narayana Rao with Tejomayanandaji, head of Chinmaya mission

My first meditation retreat with Sri Eknath Easwaran at Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, Tomales, CA

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Me getting blessings from my guru Easwaran

Monthly githa class with friends and their parents

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Books I had translated from English to Telugu

Books I had translated from English to Telugu

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Books I had translated from English to Telugu

Presenting Telugu translation of Mantram to Christine Easwaran, who was 100 years old

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Guru Dev Swami Chinmayananda

Me and my wife with Swami Chidananda at our home

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Our spiritual committee, American Telugu Association Convention, Fort Worth, TX, 2002

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An ATA award

Award from Hindu Temple of Greater Fort Worth

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CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Boya’s Peace Passage for Meditation

If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.

Albert Einstein

I have applied my lifelong focus on learning to spirituality, and my universalism comes from

the texts of the sages. My guru, Sri Easwaran, explained, “You become what your thoughts

are.” Every human being has a lower nature and higher nature. The weak can fall prey to

primal, animal instincts, while those who reflect spiritually on the actions of their daily

lives can elevate themselves to a higher nature. I was once a reactive person, becoming a bit

emotional over things that I could not control. In such a state of mind, it could be easy to

lose myself and potentially hurt somebody else through words or actions. While I never went

to such an extreme, I knew that bringing about a positive change in myself required focus to

bring my thoughts under control.

Sri Easwaran read passages from various scriptures and sources from across the centuries

and around the world, and beautifully and eloquently translated them into English. His

theory was that when we continually concentrate on such words, they are imprinted

onto our subconscious and eventually help us manage our emotions and change our

personalities for the better. He developed an eight-point formula to practice daily to

modify the mind and behavior: 1) meditation, 2) mantram, 3) slowing down, 4) single

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pointedness, 5) putting other people first, 6) selfless service, 7) spiritual companionship,

and 8) spiritual reading.

Using Sri Easwaran’s inspiration and teachings alongside my own reading of enlightened

texts, I developed my personal peace passage, which I call “Boya’s Peace Passage.” It became

the basis of my spiritual life and I committed to practicing it lifelong to maintain equanimity.

Specific words of wisdom resonated deeply, and I use them to bring stability and balance to

each and every day.

Peace

Bhagavad Gita

When you move amidst the world of the sense free from both aversion and attachment

alike there comes the peace in which all sorrows end. A disunited mind is far from

being wise. How can you meditate? How can you be at peace? Without knowing peace

how can you know joy?

Buddha

Do not get entangled in outward desire nor get caught within yourself.

When you plant deep, the longing for peace, the confusion leaves of itself.

Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.

Sri Sarada Devi

If you want to have peace of mind, do not find fault with others. Rather learn to see

faults in yourself. Learn to make this whole world your own. Nobody is a stranger, my

child. Make this whole world your own.

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Ortha nan Gaidheal

I weave silence onto my lips. I weave silence in my mind. I weave silence in my heart.

I close my ears to distractions. I close my eyes to attractions. I close my heart to

temptations. Calm me, O Lord, as you stilled the storm. Still me, O Lord, and keep me

from harm. And let all the tumult in me cease. Enfold me, O Lord, in your peace.

Swami Ramdas

Let us not forget the central truth, that God is seated in your own heart. Don’t be

discouraged by failures at initial stages. Cultivate the spirit of surrender to the workings

of His will until you have surrendered up all your ego and have come to know that He

is in all, He is all, and He and you are one. Be patient, the path of self-realization that

leads to God-realization is not an easy path. Obstacles and suffering lie in the path. The

former you overcome, the latter you endure all by His help. God’s help comes to those

who can concentrate. Repetition of God’s name helps concentration.

Seng-ts’an

The Great Way (Mother Nature) has no impediment. It does not pick and choose. When

you abandon attachment and aversion you see it very plainly. Make one thousandth of

an inch distinction, the heaven and Earth swing apart. To compare what you like with

what you dislike is the disease of the mind. You pass over the hidden meaning and

peace of mind is needlessly disturbed.

Other inspiring passages I meditate on

Self

The Upanishads

The student asks the teacher, “Who makes my mind to think? Who causes my tongue

to speak? Who is the invisible one who sees through my eyes and hears through my

ears?”

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The teacher replies, “The self is the ear of the ear, eyes of the eyes, the mind of the

mind, the word of the word, and the life of life. That which makes the mind to think

but cannot be thought by the mind, that is the Self indeed. This Self is not someone

other than you. That which makes the tongue speak, but cannot be spoken by the

tongue, know that as the Self. This Self is not someone other than you.”

Thoughts

Swami Chinmayananda

Thoughts become words, words become actions. Watch out for your thoughts.

Buddha

The wise can direct their thoughts, both subtle and elusive, to wherever they choose. A

trained mind brings health and happiness. Those who can direct their thoughts, both

unsubstantiated and those that wander aimlessly are free from the bonds of Mara. They

are not wise who cannot keep their thoughts straight, their mind serene, and do not

know dharma, the law of life. They are wise who can keep their thoughts straight, their

minds serene, and unaffected by the good and the bad.

Mind

Buddha

Your life is shaped by your mind. You become what your thoughts are. Suffering follows

any evil thought like the wheel of the cart that follows the oxen that draws it. Your life

is shaped by your mind. You become what your thoughts are. Joy follows a pure thought

like a shadow that never leaves.

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Buddha

More than all those that hate you, more than all your enemies, an untrained mind does

greater harm to you. More than your mother, more than your father, more than your

family, a trained mind does greater good to you.

Bhagavad Gita

The world is nothing but a projection of your own mind, because the frame of your

mind reflects in the world how you perceive it.

Anger

Buddha

Give up anger, give up pride, free yourself from all selfish attachments. No sorrow can

fall upon those who never try to possess people and things as their own. Conquer anger

through gentleness, greed through generosity. Never yield to anger. Give freely even if

we have little. God’s will bless you.

Bhagavad Gita

Anger clouds the judgment and robs you of the power to learn from the mistakes of the

past. Lost is the faculty of discrimination, and your life is utter waste.

Action

Bhagavad Gita

Karmany-evadhikaras te ma phaleshu kadachana. (You have the right to action but not to

the result. If you act for the sake of action, without worrying about the result, you will

be relieved of anxiety.)

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Bhagavad Gita

Whatever you do makes an offering to me. The food you eat, the worship you perform,

even your suffering. Thus you will be relieved of your karma’s bondage. The results of

your actions, the good and the bad.

Brahmin

Buddha

Who is a true Brahmin? Him I call a Brahmin who has neither likes nor dislikes and is

free from the chains of fear.

Who is a true Brahmin? Him I call a Brahmin who has trained his mind and senses to

be still and reached the supreme goal of his life.

Him I call a Brahmin who never harms others through his unkind thoughts, words, or

deeds.

Him I call a Brahmin who is ever true, ever kind, never asks, “What can life give?” but

“What I can give to life?”

Saffron robes’ outward show does not make a man a Brahmin, but training of the mind

in meditation.

Change

Saint Teresa of Ávila

Let nothing upset you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything is changing. God alone is

changeless.

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Contentment

Lao Tzu

Fame or integrity, which is more important? Money or happiness, which is more valuable?

Success or failure, which is more dangerous. When you look to others for fulfillment,

you will never be truly fulfilled. If your happiness depends on money, you will never

be truly happy. Be content with what you have. Rejoice in the way things are then the

whole world becomes yours.

Death

Jalal al-Din Rumi

Everything you see has its roots in the unseen world. The forms may change, but the

essence remains the same. Every wonderous sight will vanish. Every sweet word will

fade. But do not be disheartened. The source they come from is eternal, growing,

branching out, giving new life, new joy. From the earth, you became a plant. From the

plant you became an animal. After that you transformed into human form, endowed

with knowledge and intellect, and faith. Behold the body, born of dust, how perfect it

has become? Why should you fear its end? When were you made less by dying?

Buddha

Remember, this body will soon lie in the earth without life, without value, as useless as

a burned log.

Discrimination

Bhagavad Gita

Unerring in discrimination, sovereign of his senses and passions, free from the clamor

of likes and dislikes, he lives a simple, self-reliant life free from anger and greed, and he

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enters into unitive state, united with the Lord, ever joyful, beyond the reach of self-will

and sorrow, he serves God in every living being.

Equanimity of Mind

Lao Tzu

When love and hate cannot affect you, when profit and loss cannot touch you, when

praise and blame cannot ruffle you, you are honored by the whole world.

The Upanishads

Those who can pierce this duality and give themselves to the Lord of Love, he gives

himself to them with infinite grace.

Ego

Bhagavad Gita

He is forever free, who has broken out of the ego cages of “I” and “mine.” This is the

supreme goal to be united with the Lord of Love; attain this, you will pass from death

to eternity.

Katha Upanishad

May we light the holy fire of Nachiketa, which burns out our ego and we move from the

world of fragmentation to the world of fullness in the changeless whole.

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Forgiveness

Saint Francis of Assisi

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be

understood as to understand, to be loved as to love, for it is in giving that you receive,

it is in pardoning you are pardoned.

Flexibility

Lao Tzu

Men are born soft and supple; dead, they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and

pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple

of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be

broken. The soft and supple will prevail.

Hatred

Buddha

He was angry with me, he attacked me, he robbed me, he ignored me. People who dwell

on such thoughts will never be free from hatred. People who do not dwell on such

thoughts will always be free from hatred for hatred can never be ended by hatred, only

love can. This is an unalterable law. People forget that their lives will come to an end

soon. For those who remember, the quarrels will end.

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Love

Apostle Saint Paul

Love is patient and kind. It is not jealous or boastful. It is not irritable or resentful. It

is not rude or arrogant. Love does not insist on its own way. Love does not rejoice in

the wrong, it rejoices in the right. Love believes all things, bears all things, endures all

things, and hopes all things. Love never ends.

Ashok Mehta

They are the real lovers of God who feel other people’s sorrow as their own. When

they perform selfless service, they are humble servants of God, respecting all, despising

none. They are pure in thought, word, and deed.

Likes and dislikes

Swami Chidatmananda

No preference, no disturbance.

Meditation

Buddha

As an archer aims his arrow, the wise aim their restless thoughts, hard to aim, hard to

control. As the fish, hooked and left in the sand, thrashes about in agony, the mind

being trained in meditation trembles all over. Hard it is to train the mind, which goes

where it likes and does what it wants, but a trained mind brings health and happiness.

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Lao Tzu

Without meditation, consciousness and feelings are hard to grasp. In the realm of

suchness, there is neither self nor other.

Bhagavad Gita

Brahman is the hidden self in everyone that does not shine forth. It is revealed to only

those who make their mind one-pointed and thus develop the superconscious nature

of knowing it.

Mantram

Ashok Mehta

Ever in tune with the Holy Name, free from greed, fear and anger. Their bodies are like

sacred shrines in which the Lord of Love lives.

Serenity

Lao Tzu

Fill your bowl to the brim, it will spill. Keep sharpening your knife, it will be blunt.

Chase after money and security, your heart will never unclench. Look for other people’s

approval, you will become their slave. Do your duty and step back, the sure path to

serenity.

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Surrender

Bhagavad Gita

Better indeed is knowledge than mechanical practice, but better than knowledge is

meditation. But better still is surrender in love because there follows the immediate

peace.

Selflessness

Buddha

A selfish person suffers here, he suffers there, suffers wherever he goes. He suffers

thinking of the evil deeds he has done. His suffering grows as he travels along the path

of misery. A selfless person is happy here, happy there, happy wherever he goes. He’s

happy thinking of the good deeds he has done. And he grows in happiness as he travels

along the path of bliss.

Spiritual Life

Buddha

Those who know many scriptures but do not practice their teachings are like cowherds

counting other people’s cows. They do not share in the joys of spiritual life. Those who

know few scriptures but practice those teachings, who overcome hate, delusion and lust,

act with a pure mind from the higher knowledge and stand by themselves without any

external support. They share in the joys of spiritual life.

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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Philanthropy, Family, Friends

He who wishes to secure the good of others, has already secured his own.

Confucius

True happiness comes from giving happiness to others.

Unknown

I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and

behold, service was joy.

Rabindranath Tagore

Four Hindu principles guide me through life:

Dharma: righteous living

Artha: righteous accumulation of wealth

Kama: righteous fulfillment of desires

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Moksha: attaining enlightenment by having taken the righteous path in life

The Bhagavad Gita describes danam (charity) as a virtue bestowed upon a person who gives

simply for the sake of giving and for the joy of giving. My father set a great example of this

quality and I truly believe that it is in giving that you receive.

The Bhagavad Gita also explains Hindu dharma, how humans are born with six runas (debts)

that they must repay as part of living a fulfilling, spiritual life. These are not necessarily

monetary or burdensome debts, but a way to express gratitude.

By building the elementary school in my mother’s name and the high school in my father’s

name in our village of Thondavada, I fulfilled pithru runa and mathru runa, the debts to

parents and ancestors. My parents made sure I received the best education, and these

schools provide a similar educational foundation for the underprivileged children of the

village.

I recognized rishi runa, the debt to teachers, by donating liberally to the organizations of

Chinmaya Mission, Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, and a project by Swami Chidananda,

called Janasakthi. Translating Meditation into Telugu for Sri Easwaran was another way to

repay this debt, and I have helped my uncles in India, my first gurus who created my strong

educational foundation.

I honored deva runa, the debt to God, by liberally donating to the construction of the Sri Hari

Hara temple in Fort Worth, for which I am one of the main founders, and both Subhashini

and I continue to volunteer our time and services for the temple.

Along with Subhashini, I recognized our manushya runa, the debt to society in many ways.

We became actively involved with Aarti Home (orphanage) in Kadapa, adopted two orphan

girls, and built a library block, and Subhashini serves as a board member. Locally, Subhashini

volunteered with Hope Inc. in Mineral Wells, a shelter to assist victims of domestic violence,

and I established a scholarship at Weatherford College for well-achieving, lower-income

students from Mineral Wells. I also funded the cost of education for many poor children in

my village in India.

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Inspired by my nurse, Jodi, I began donating to the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to

Animals, meeting bhuta runa, the debt to animals and the environment.

I also felt a debt to my mathru bhasha, my mother tongue, Telugu. I experienced how the

power of literature touched the hearts of many people and how it could deeply and positively

influence the mind, and I helped publish several books in Telugu that were well received in

Telugu literary circles. We published a compilation every year of the best stories written in

Telugu called Katha Varshika.

Service to the family

My heart was always with the family members in India, and even when I was not earning

money in the early days after coming to America, we made sure to send whatever financial

support we could to family members in India who needed it. We were also very inclined to

help family and friends in America. My cousin, who came to study engineering, suffered a

seizure while at a meditation camp. He was diagnosed with a large malignant brain tumor,

and a one-night stay in ICU exhausted his student health insurance. We were his only

family in the country and immediately contacted our network, and one of our friends, a

family practitioner in Louisiana, helped arrange further care. Subhashini drove my cousin

to Louisiana, knowing he could have another seizure at any time during the six-hour drive.

There, he received radiation chemotherapy, and we solicited the help of our community to

raise funds to cover his health-care costs and his return home to India, where he passed

away a couple of years later. I personally provided him with liberal financial support.

We were involved in many activities and organizations to support the needy in India. For

example, through APNA Foundation, a social service organization founded by my friend

Adi Reddy in the United States, we helped raise nearly $100,000 for flood relief efforts in

Kurnool District, Andhra Pradesh, in 2009. In 2021, we fundraised to purchase oxygen

concentrators for COVID-19 relief efforts and build an oxygen-generating plant in Kadapa.

We made liberal personal donations to the above causes.

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Cultural contributions

Subhashini and I worked closely together to support the local and national cultural

organizations, Telugu Association of North America (TANA, later NATA) and American

Telugu Association (ATA). I wanted to be a part of them for the sake of promoting and

preserving our culture.

Recognizing Subhashini’s leadership qualities, I supported her whenever I could. I was already

involved with ATA as a board member and supported her name for convenor for ATA’s

conference in 2002, which was to be held in Fort Worth, Texas. This was a coveted and highprofile

role that included media appearances, meeting important dignitaries, and organizing

various cultural events. Working with dedicated team members, she made the biannual event

a success.

While Subhashini was a natural at organization, I greatly improved my own organization

skills in my role as spiritual committee chair for both NATA and ATA. These roles enabled

me to meet and invite dignitaries and distinguished writers, poets, spiritual gurus, and singers,

all of whom were well received by attendees.

Supporting Telugu literature

From my library days in Tirupati and the intellectual discussions with friends to the first time

I read my favorite short story, Chalichelamma, the feelings evoked by the words of captivating

authors have been inspirational to me and, I’m sure, to many others.

My philosophy encompasses three concepts: Mathru Desam (motherland); preserving Mathru

bhasha (the mother tongue); and paying respect and homage to Matha and Pitha (mother and

father as a parental unit). As such, I made it my mission to support Telugu literature as much

as I can.

As a member of the literary committees for both the American Telugu Association and the

North American Telugu Association I have had opportunities to pursue my personal literary

interests.

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First, I personally invited my favorite author, Sri Madhurantakam Rajaram, to my home

following the TANA conference in 1995. Subhashini received him at the airport and by the

time I returned home from the office that evening, he was seated in my living room. Greeting

my favorite author in my own home was beyond a dream come true! His story had been fresh

in my mind and heart since ninth grade and now I could express to him what his words

meant to me.

During our conversations, he explained that he had several unpublished stories, and when

I inquired if could help get them published, he accepted. I saw this as a great opportunity and

helped him publish the books. He stayed with us in Mineral Wells for several days and I had

a wonderful time with him. When Subhashini and I later visited India, he invited us to lunch

at his home near Tirupati. Sadly, he passed on in 1999. My goals at the end of life, when I’m

not able to go around much, are to read his stories and relive the village life that he described

in a way that connected so personally. Such is the power of books: they can transform lives.

I helped other writers publish their books and translated more great writing into Telugu. One

title, Jeevethaniki Nirvachanam, means “capturing the definition of life” in Telugu. The book

concludes that flexibility is the key to defining your life, while rigidity is death. This follows a

concept from Taoism: “When you are born you are soft and supple. When you are dead, you

are stiff and rigid. Thus, flexibility is life and rigidity is death.”

After moving to America, we began to speak in a mix of Telugu and English, and so common

conversations were never in complete Telugu. At one literary event in India, I spoke completely

in Telugu to a gathering of Telugu writers. I was surprised at myself; because I was aligned

with the topic, the words came from the heart, flowing clearly and fluently in Telugu, which

impressed the writers. I came away deeply satisfied by this experience.

For the American Telugu Association conference in 2002, which took place in Fort Worth,

Texas, I had the privilege of inviting distinguished Telugu writers: Yendluru Sudhakar, a gifted

dalit writer; Madhurantakam Narendra, son of Sri Madhurantakam Rajaram; and Kethu

Viswanatha Reddy. Following the event, I hosted them at my home for a few days and during

this time we had excellent discussions in Telugu. One particular topic with Yendluru Sudhakar

covered why conversions to Christianity became more prevalent in India. He eloquently

captured the nature of society, describing how harshly people berate the downtrodden and

lower castes and tell them to get out of the way, whereas the evangelists warmly respond with

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kind words, not recognizing the class and caste structure. He concluded, “You tell me, who

would I choose to go with?” Following this visit, Yendluru Sudhakar wrote a book about his

experiences in the USA, titled ATA Janikanchae, which I helped him publish. In this book he

wrote a nice poem about me and that thrilled me!

The strength of friendship

Just as the Earth rotates around itself and then rotates around the sun, my motto is, “Enjoy

and give joy to others.”

We were lucky to be a part of the close group of several families from Mineral Wells,

Weatherford, and Fort Worth that comprised the “Minworth” group. Our group represented

the different regions in India (north, south, and east), and the different religions (Hindu,

Christian, Muslim, and Jain). The members of the Minworth group stood by each other in

good times and bad times in a true reflection of unity in diversity. Meditating on my peace

passage helped me to accept and connect more deeply with everyone. Our friendships stood

the test of time.

We enjoyed traveling together extensively. During our vacations abroad, we regularly had

“happy hour” evenings, meeting together in one of the rooms of the hotel where we stayed.

Subhashini was in charge of bringing her “gunpowder” mixture that everyone loved to spice

up the dishes.

We made the effort to meet with other Telugu families in the Dallas–Fort Worth area, driving

one and a half hours for a lunch or dinner event and returning afterwards, and we extended

invitations to our home as well. As the years passed and people became busier with their lives,

helping with the grandchildren, and other responsibilities, these long-distance get-togethers

slowed down. Locally, we continued to meet for casual dinners, to watch the Dallas Cowboys

football games and celebrate on New Year’s Eve. We held annual Thanksgiving dinners at

our home with our family and a few friends. Our Weatherford friends, Sheela and Sumanth

Kumar, threw great Christmas parties every year for many years. Humor played a big part in

our stock club meeting, on every second Friday of every month. I and Narayan were the joke

tellers. Dr. Ghatalia, who enjoyed my jokes, liked to use a football analogy, saying, “You are

the quarterback and I am the wide receiver.”

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Ananth and Suma, Bharat and Parul, and Subhashini and I had a thrill planning grandscale

surprise celebrations for each of our 25th wedding anniversaries, with two couples

keeping the third in the dark. We had so much fun planning the parties and maintaining

the secrets.

Raising our children

Prasanth always had Subhashini’s undivided attention in India and after they moved

to Youngstown. Prabhath joined us in Chicago after spending his first year in India with

Subhashini’s parents. By the time we moved to Lexington as a family, Subhashini had

successfully navigated the needs of the household and was acclimatized to her new life in

America. She had learned to drive when we lived in Cincinnati, and, because we had only one

car, she was responsible for dropping me off and picking me up at the hospitals in Chicago.

The daughter of a medical officer in India, she grew up in luxury, was married around age

18, and moved to America by age 20. With my busy work schedule, she learned to navigate

on her own, and she excelled.

When we settled in Mineral Wells, I knew she would care for and instill the proper values

on our sons. Carpooling became the biggest task, and for nearly 12 years, she drove back and

forth, one hour each way. She used the time wisely to bond with Prasanth and Prabhath,

which played a great role in who they have become. As I have said, I believe in the saying,

“Values are not taught, they are caught.” When the children see how we act, they can grasp

the concept better than if we were to teach to them. I never pushed them into religion

or spirituality, but I introduced them to Chinmaya Mission and Blue Mountain Center of

Meditation so they could chart out their own path.

On Saturday mornings, I used to take both boys to play tennis at the country club, waking

them at 6 a.m. Prasanth did not like waking up that early and challenged me, demanding,

“Dad, show me one kid on the tennis court at this hour.” Prabhath’s goal was to win a match

against me, and after a year or so, when he finally beat me, he threw his racket down and

jumped up and down, screaming with delight, “I beat my dad! I did it!”

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Prasanth

Prasanth worked hard in private school, but he needed an incentive. In senior year of high

school, I told him, “If you get a very good score on the SAT, I will buy you a Lexus car.” He

prepared a contract for me to sign to hold me to this promise, focused hard, and achieved

the score, and I bought him the Lexus. I pressured Prasanth to pursue medicine, and because

he did want to be a doctor, he was motivated to succeed. He studied hard, prepared for the

MCAT, and was accepted to Texas A&M College of Medicine. He became an emergency

room physician at Methodist Hospital in Houston.

Prasanth met his wife, Allison, a medical-school classmate, at Texas A&M and they married in

2007. She practices obstetrics and gynecology at Methodist Hospital in Houston. We originally

thought Prasanth might meet and marry one of the Indian daughters of friends in our social

circle, and this development came unexpectedly. Sri Sarada Devi, a spiritual teacher, wrote,

“Nobody is a stranger, my child. Make this whole world your own.” These words resonated with

me and I was very accepting. I came to see Alli as more Indian than many Indians I know. She

even enjoys hot, spicy food along with us, and we feel very comfortable and happy whenever

we visit their home. Alli is the most compassionate family-oriented person, and a wonderful

daughter-in-law who instills strong values in their sons, Eli and Ravi. We feel blessed.

Prabhath

In 2014, Prabhath married Aarthi, a neurologist who is from a Telugu-speaking family. She is

an exceptional daughter-in-law and looks after us very attentively, following what she observed

when she was growing up in the cultural tradition.

Prabhath was also a very motivated student, but I was much easier on him than I was with

Prasanth. When he was little, his third-grade teacher asked him what his goal was, he

answered, “I want to be a millionaire.” We always teased him about it. I tried to convince

him to study medicine, but he wanted to go into business. He applied for and received early

admission into Georgetown University and was ecstatic, but after two years, he said, “Dad,

I’m not made for this investment banking.” He had, however, committed to this school, and

I wanted him to complete his degree. After his undergraduate degree, he joined the staff of

a law firm in Fort Worth, Texas and developed an interest in law. He pursued a law degree

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at Southern Methodist University and began his career in corporate law at the same firm he

had worked for.

One spiritual and personal connection I made through the temple was my friendship with

Pritesh Patel, a successful businessman and a deeply spiritual man. He had observed Prabhath’s

aptitude in serving as a pro bono attorney for the temple project. Over ice cream one day,

Pritesh said to me, “For Prabhath, I will give him a $1 million investment if he wants to start

his own business.” Prabhath tried, but he really could not come up with a business idea.

Pritesh then invited Prabhath to join his company. Prabhath accepted the invitation and has

since been a part of some major deals, including the construction and management of two

major hotels in Houston, the JW Marriott hotel and the Westin hotel in the Medical Center.

He and Aarthi are blessed with two sons, Jay and Dev. We love them very much.

Weddings

We held lavish marriage ceremonies for both Prasanth and Prabhath, inviting between

800 and 900 people, similar to the style of weddings in India. We were old-fashioned and

followed what was familiar, what our parents did. They invited everybody from the village

and surrounding area, so in that same village spirit, we also invited everybody, even casual

acquaintances. Marriages represented a lifelong commitment, a once-in-a-lifetime event

which called for a major celebration. Families took pride in sharing the happiness and

sought the blessings of everyone to promote a happy, blissful union. Being very active in

society and developing 30 years of friendships from when we first came to America, we

remained connected with so many people. When Prasanth and Alli got married, intercultural

weddings were still evolving, though they are now much more common. We tried to create

a beautiful, memorable experience for everyone. With Subhashini’s care and focus, these

wedding celebrations were exceptionally organized.

The memorable drive to Houston

Subhashini’s parents came to visit us in America during the final few weeks of preparation

for Prabhath and Aarthi’s wedding. They both had heart problems and were advised not

to travel, but they came as they wanted to see him get married. My mother-in-law started

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having some chest pains, and it became apparent they would need to go back to India. Before

leaving, they wanted to see Prasanth and meet his children, their great-grandchildren, in

Houston. We had an ice storm which created many hiccups on the highway. We slowly

drove on back roads to Waco, and then on to Houston. What would normally have taken

five hours turned into a 10-hour drive. They traveled patiently during this memorable

drive. We arrived safely at Prasanth’s house, where they relaxed and enjoyed meeting their

great-grandsons, Eli and Ravi. We all watched Eli playing tennis. While in Houston, they

also were happy to meet Prabhath’s future in-laws. They then departed to India. Although

they could not attend the wedding for health reasons, they felt content in seeing everyone.

My grandkids

I love my grandsons and I love spending time with them. The older kids, Eli and Ravi—

Prasanth and Alli’s children—are perceptive and well-rounded children who have absorbed

both their parents’ cultures and are growing up in a wholesome manner. Ravi, the younger

son, when asked about his age, will answer, “Well in India I will be 7, but in America, I am

6.” He knows that the Indian way to calculate age is based on the year that is completed.

Raising children now and here differs so much from my childhood. I once gently spanked Eli

on the bottom when he was being mischievous, and he very clearly told me, “Thatha, do not

do that again.” Children know that they should not be hit and that they should not hit others,

and I learned a lesson from him in that moment. I had been caught in my own ingrained

experience from years ago.

Prabhath and Aarthi’s older son, Jay, is very smart and has a talent for memorization and

repeating what he has learned. He’s able to recite numbers in English, Spanish and Telugu.

He amazes me with his curiosity and questions. Baby Dev is learning to walk, and it is a joy

to spend time with him.

We make frequent trips to Houston to spend time with our grandchildren, and enjoy watching

their baseball games, tennis matches, and even just babysitting them while their parents enjoy

a nice evening. The kids come every summer to spend a week in Mineral Wells, enjoying the

smaller rural community.

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Reflections during the coronavirus pandemic

I never imagined the world could lose control of everything simply because of a bug. We

have learned about past epidemics—the Spanish flu, smallpox, and polio—and how they

were eradicated. Science and technology have advanced so much from the Dark Ages and

throughout my own lifetime. I went from having no electricity to being connected worldwide

with the click of a button through our electronic gadgets, and even confined to the home

during the pandemic, we had the tools to continue working remotely.

This pandemic showed us that Mother Nature always holds the upper hand, and we must

respect that and come to terms with the law of impermanence. COVID-19 took many lives,

and I have mourned the sudden passing of some very close friends from medical school.

One friend and classmate, Bangaru Raju, who had traveled to India to visit his father-in-law,

contracted the virus along with his wife and father. They survived, but he died.

Subhashini’s uncle Dr. Mohan Reddy in Chennai was hospitalized for a month with

COVID-19 following the initial stages of the Delta wave of infections. After being released,

he later collapsed and died. As a very popular doctor in Chennai, he was well-remembered

for his contributions to the community, and especially for his care and treatment of the poor

for a very minimal fee.

I felt another disappointing loss in the death of the talented playback singer S.P.

Balasubrahmanyam. He was a family friend and we had become close through his participation

at various cultural events in the U.S., remaining in contact throughout the years. He made

the time to visit our home and spend a day with us in Mineral Wells during one of his Texas

tours, and we enjoyed great conversations. He offered me good advice that I should carry a

tape recorder to capture my creative thoughts so I would not forget these ideas. I cherished

this advice and continue to follow it today. He recognized and applauded my interest and

support for Telugu literature.

Locally, a couple of friends got very sick, with one ending up in the ICU, but luckily, they all

pulled through.

Quarantining at home meant that we were alone in the house, but not that we were lonely.

For a while, I was free from my typical schedule when, owing to modified staffing schedules,

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the hospital cancelled all of my elective procedures, and this meant I could wake up late

and enjoy leisurely mornings. Subhashini and I spent more time together than we had in

many years, no longer busy with various projects and priorities. Together, we watched all the

Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Buddha series on Netflix and Indian channels, and caught up

on many Telugu and Hindi movies. This was a much-needed reminder for us that we must

take time to prioritize ourselves, learn to smell the roses, and make time to reflect on life.

For a good laugh

Family interactions did not change much over the years.

I belong to the sandwich generation and the listening generation. I took care of my

parents, and I took care of my children and family. Growing up in India, we never

talked back to our elders, and now we don’t talk back to our children, which makes us

good listeners!

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Entrance to high school in my father’s name, in my village, Thondavada

Me speaking to the students at the high school built in my father’s name, Thondavada, early 1990s

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Original elementary school building where I studied in my village, Thondavada

Me with the headmaster of the elementary school in Thondavada named after

my mother, outside the old building

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New elementary school in Thondavada built in my mother’s name, after renovation, 2020

My “adopted” daughters from Aarti Home. My wife, Sowbhagya, Sowjanya, and me

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Wedding invitation of my “adopted” daughter

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My “adopted” daughters and their children

Aarti Home orphanage

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Aarti Home orphanage

High school students in Aarti Home

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Me, my wife, and Sandhya addressing the high school students in Aarti Home

My friend Sreenivasula Reddy, me, and his wife, Sandhya, and Subhashini

with the kids at the orphanage in Kadapa, India

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Being chief guest at National Girl Child Day at Aarti Home

Me and my friends presenting a bus as a gift to the medical college.

From left: Prabhakar, me, Nageswara Rao, and Prakash Reddy

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Books I helped get published

Books I helped get published

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Books I helped get published in Telugu

A book inauguration event in Tirupati. From left to right: my brother-in-law, M. Narendra,

me, Rasani, and Madhu

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Services to Telugu literature: I helped to publish Telugu short stories by Rajaram

Receiving a literary award surrounded Subhashini and the Telugu writer Kethu Viswanatha Reddy

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Me with my favorite Telugu writer, Rajaram, at his home in India

Speaking at a Telugu literary meeting in Tirupati, India

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Me and my cousin Giri, who we took care of in the U.S. when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor

Me with a few of my medical school classmates during our early days in America

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Having fun with medical school classmates in the U.S.

“Minforth” family at Subhashini’s birthday celebration.

Sitting on left is Dr. Namburu and standing second from right is Dr. Tara Reddy

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“Minforth” family at Subhashini’s birthday celebration. Sitting first on left is Githa, standing first on

right is Githa’s mother, second on right is Lakshmi

Our “Minforth” family. Back row from left: Nita Ghatalia, Dr. Ghatalia Yakub, Dr. Narayan, Dr. Kiran Dave,

Dr. Arvinda Dave, Bharat Parik, Dr. Sankar Pandyan, Dr. Sath Gupta, Dr. JP Reddy, Nagin Bhai. Middle row

from left: Nafisa, Sun, Subhashini, Suma Bhandari, Parul Parikh, Pankajam, Sudha, Latha, Meenakshi. Sitting

front row from left: Me, Dr. Ananth Bhandari, Dr. Sumanth Kumar, Sheela Kumar

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Happy Hour during “Minforth” family vacation abroad

Vacation to Grand Canyon with close friends. Back row from left: Vijaya, Santha,

Jayahari, me, Arvind, and Dr. Narasimha Rao. Front row from left: Raga and Subhashini

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Me and my roommate, Venkatramana Reddy, who was disabled,

visiting our temple during his visit to the U.S.

Relaxing with close friends, the Bhandaris and Parikhs, during vacation

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Me with my close friends. From left: Vinaya, my wife, Lakshmi, Murali, me, and Venkateswara Rao

With our good friends, Githakka and Umapathanna

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Me with my good friends Jayahari and Kumar in Chicago, 1980

Vacation with friends to Argentina and Brazil

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With good friends, Tara and Githa

Birthday celebration with Seenu and Nandu

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With my best friends, Jayahari and Narasimha Rao

Our “Minforth” stock club monthly meeting

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Me and my wife with friends Sandhya and Sreenivasula Reddy

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A newspaper article


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Medical Practice and Patient Interactions

I’ve learned that education, experience, and memories are three things that no one can

take away from you.

H. Jackson Brown

Selecting Mineral Wells to begin my solo practice and settle down nearly 40 years ago proved

to be the right decision. Gastroenterology was an emerging specialty and not well-known

in the smaller towns at that time, and endoscopy presented a new way of diagnosing colon

cancers. I put my training into practice between Palo Pinto General Hospital in Mineral Wells

and Campbell Hospital in Weatherford, and also, for a few years, in the neighboring town of

Jacksboro, a region with a combined population of nearly 80,000, many of whom were elderly.

“Are you a pastor?”

When I first began practicing, I dressed professionally every day in a tie and jacket. The

patients were not used to such formality, which was, typically, reserved for church leaders,

and they used to ask me, “Are you a pastor?” Texas was very informal—as seen in the cowboy

boots, jeans, and hats—and over the next five to six years, I gradually changed my office attire

to the more casual look of a nice button-down shirt and slacks.

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Working in the hospital, the endoscopy suite, and in the office, I was blessed to work for more

than 25 years with my nurse Jodi, my secretary Deanna, my endoscopy nurse Loretta, and

Susan Woodring, who oversaw the operating room.

I had an old-fashioned loyalty to the hospital. It felt like a family atmosphere where everyone

was ready to pitch in and do the work, and they showed genuine respect for doctors and their

skills. In the hospital setting, I met Susan Woodring and nurses such as Diana Slap and Betty

Reid, with whom I would work for the next 25 years. They created a welcoming environment

where I enjoyed practicing. The hospital nursing staff quickly, capably, and eagerly learned

the new procedures and techniques to assist me, and many of the older generation physicians,

who were set in their routine ways of practice, also accepted the benefits of my specialty and

my dedication.

I served as PPGH chief of staff twice and held a key vote on board decisions, a responsibility

I exercised with calculated care for the positive benefit of the hospital. I developed new

personal associations because of my time on the board. These days, however, the familyoriented

culture has become more corporate, with a focus on the profit and efficiency of the

hospital business, and the personal connections have lost importance.

The endoscopy suite

I established endoscopy units both in Mineral Wells and Weatherford after taking a loan

to buy my own scopes. This turned into a great success. My staff quickly learned the new

procedures and very capably assisted me. We loved working in each other’s company in a

wholesome atmosphere. As I walked in each day, I was greeted with, “Come on in, sunshine!”

On the very rare occasions I did not smile, the nurses asked, “What happened to your smile

today, Dr. Boya?” They also wondered, “Dr. Boya, how come you are never in a bad mood?”

Thanks to my supportive family and great staff, I was most often in a pleasant mood. We

entered the endoscopy suite with a good feeling and had fun as we worked, telling jokes and

sharing laughs while attending to the work at hand.

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Life lessons from colonoscopy

The conversations in the endoscopy suite covered many topics. We added a fun dimension

to the colonoscopy procedure, applying it to life lessons. For example, sometimes we have to

pull back the scope to move forward; in life we need to take a step back to reflect and then

continue to move forward. When the colon spasmed, we waited for it to subside; in life, if we

are angry or otherwise agitated, we must wait for the feeling to pass. If the colon is not clear,

it is full of s***; we must remove nonsense from our lives and approach it with clarity.

Patients also felt the lighthearted atmosphere. One patient who came every six months for an

endoscopy procedure (esophageal stricture dilatation) always told me the same R-rated joke.

He had a psychiatric condition and never remembered that he had told the joke previously,

but he delivered the joke in such a way that I genuinely laughed along with him each time!

Before he began, he slowly turned his head to look all around to make sure no nurses

could hear him, then lowered his voice, told the joke and followed it with automatic and

contagious laughter.

Another patient recently gave me a good and unexpected laugh. Knowing fully that

colonoscopies require the doctor to spend more time facing a patient’s rear, the patient drew

a big smiling emoji on his backside with the message, “Hi Dr. Boya.” I definitely appreciated

this sense of humor.

We also discussed yoga and meditation and concepts such as vegetarianism and arranged

marriages, and the conversations included more than just myself and the nurses. Dr. Atluru,

who was an anesthesiologist and also my neighbor for eight years, shared many of these

interests, and often shared his perspectives as we worked in the endoscopy suite. Through

these discussions, we inspired each other, such as when Julie (the nurse anesthetist) started

her yoga school in town.

Students came to observe colonoscopies, and when one student passed out while watching the

procedure, I quickly remembered my own first experience observing surgery during clinicals

in medical school!

Understandably, patients were nervous about the procedure and made different excuses. One

called to reschedule his appointment, explaining that a squirrel had got into his commode

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and that he could not flush it. Only in rural Texas can something like this happen! Another

patient called late one evening as he was preparing for his colonoscopy to ask, “Is there a

colonoscopy support group?” I sympathized and told him there was no such group, but took

the time to explain the process and what he should expect.

Gastroenterology has evolved over the years. I used to administer the anesthesia myself, using

Valium and Demerol, but anesthesia administered by the anesthesiologist became the norm.

We also learned about bacteria such as H. pylori as a potential cause of ulcers. After President

Reagan had colon polyps removed, the public realized the importance of colonoscopy and

the procedure became widely accepted. To me, it has been very fulfilling to do my part in

providing the gold standard of care for colon cancer prevention.

Office practice

Dr. Berg and J.P. Reddy helped me a great deal in the first year of practice. I started first with

Surgery Associates and then moved to my own place in town. After observing my work during

my first year in Mineral Wells, Dr. O’Quin, the well-established internal medicine specialist,

selected me to take over his practice upon his retirement. We worked together until he retired

and he became a good mentor and role model. He was a very punctual man, and always kept

his commitments. He did offer one piece of advice about my genial personality: “Hey Subra,

you are too good for your own good. You’ve got to learn to be a bit mean sometimes.” He

wanted me to take a stronger approach in my professional interactions.

Dr. O’Quin’s heart problems were among the main reasons he wanted to retire. In the year

we worked together, he one day called me into his office. He told me, “Subra, I know all these

patients, they’re like my friends. But I am getting these chest pains, and I think with all this

stress, I am ready to retire.” We remained good friends; he often visited the office, and we met

socially. He suddenly developed Alzheimer’s disease, and it was very sad to see him in that

state in his sunset years. He was a practicing Southern Baptist who honored me by paying me

one of the greatest compliments, telling his pastor, “Dr. Boya is more Christian than I am.”

I considered Dr. Berg another great mentor, and he was also a punctual and very disciplined

man. As a general surgeon, he frequently worked closely with me on cases, and taught me

quite a bit, both personally and professionally. As we worked, we talked about wine, vacation

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locations, and some great places to eat and sights to see. I felt as comfortable consulting him

for advice as I would any close friend or family member. In the late 1980s, when I faced a

frivolous lawsuit that pressured me to pay a settlement, I talked through the situation with

Dr. Berg. He helpfully explained, “You need to know your enemy.” The person who filed the

lawsuit was an alcoholic and did not have a good name in the community. I chose not to

settle, and the case was dropped. Dr. Berg also frequently used to say, “It is okay to say, ‘I’m

okay, you’re okay.’ It is not okay to say ‘I’m okay, but you’re not okay.’”

Dr. O’Quin’s nurses—Betty, Mary, and Marge—were instrumental in turning over his patients

to me as there was a big cultural gap between myself and those patients in terms of my

religion, my accent, and my skin color. Most of the patients stayed on, and I attribute my

efforts at connecting with patients and giving quality attention and care as one of the big

reasons the transition was successful. After my mother’s bypass surgery in 1990, patients

inquired about my mother. I can still hear the quavering, gentle voice of the elderly and fragile

Mrs. Goodwin, inquiring, “Dr. Boya, how is your mom?”

My dedicated office staff

Nearly 25 years ago, Jodi joined my practice as my office nurse. One year later, we hired her

daughter, Deanna, as the office secretary. Mother and daughter enjoyed working alongside

each other, and Subhashini and I also bonded very well with them from the beginning. The

office began to feel like a family-owned business. They always went above and beyond their

required responsibilities, and with their dedication, we all worked together as a team to create

one of the most successful medical practices in town, building great trust within our patients.

When Deanna started at the office, her children, Allison and Philip, were very young and

often visited the office and we watched them grow up over the years. Allison became an

accountant and recently got married, and Philip joined the military and is now stationed in

South Korea.

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When to retire

I once asked Dr. Berg when he thought I should retire, and he replied, “You will know.”

I would like to retire while I am still healthy and energetic. Now in my 70s, my profession has

been my life, but in retirement, I can focus on life as my profession and enjoy it to the fullest.

What is my name?

When I was born, I was originally given the name Mallikarjuna. When I was a baby, people

noticed I was only using my right arm, while keeping my left arm unmoving by my side. My

father became a little anxious, and one day while working in the fields, he remembered that

he had prayed to Lord Subrahmanya Swami that if the baby was a boy, he would name his son

after the Lord. He renamed me and, so the story goes, I regained movement in my left arm.

Looking back, I know now that this must have been from a birth injury during my difficult

delivery.

Incidentally, I have changed my professional name a few times in my career. I started as

B.S. Reddy, but there were so many Reddys already in practice that to avoid confusion, I changed

my name to S.R. Boyareddigari. At the time of getting my U.S. citizenship, I condensed

my last name from Boyareddigari to Boyareddi, mainly for convenience. In Mineral Wells,

I decided to use Dr. S.R. Boya, which is how patients now know me. In Mineral Wells, some

people at first thought I was French, and referred to me as “the little French doctor” after a

character played by French actor, Charles Boyer (pronounced “boy-yay”). One of Subhashini’s

uncles joked that “S.R.” sounded just like the agreeable “Yes sir” phrase I frequently used. He

laughingly recommended I change my name to “No No Boya!” He was suggesting that I learn

to say no.

Memorable patient interactions over 40 years

Before I came to America, my father gave this advice: “Take good care of your patients.

Make a good name for yourself. Be a good doctor.” I followed that advice, and I think he

would be very proud of me. Reflecting on my practice from 1984 to today provides me with

great satisfaction. I saw most of my patients over routine visits and learned so much about

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love, relationships, perseverance, and a positive attitude, developing a greater connection that

transcended the doctor–patient relationship.

So many patients opened up to me with stories and shared a part of their lives. Each

interaction evoked different feelings in me and touched my heart. I gained new perspectives

and memorable life lessons.

When I practiced internal medicine for the first 10 years, along with gastroenterology,

I attended rounds at the nursing home, where I gained a valuable, sobering understanding of

the fragility of life. I observed and learned much from all my conversations and interactions,

in which patients spoke about their lives, families and experiences. I even became good

friends with several patients. At the end of my 40 years of practice, many patient interactions

remain fresh in my mind.

In the nursing home, we fondly nicknamed one patient with end-stage pancreatic cancer and

no family, Mr. Smiley. He always had a smile, despite the severe pain he felt, and it hid his

suffering. On the day he died, I had to declare his death, and I could see a trace of a smile

on his face.

Jack Snow was a patient and friend of Dr. O’Quin in the nursing home; he suffered a stroke

and fell into a coma. From the stories I heard, Mr. Snow had been a vibrant man who

never told the same joke twice. His wife visited him every day at the nursing home, perfectly

dressed, and sat by his side, talking to him conversationally as if he could hear her, while

gently touching and massaging his arms. I was deeply touched by their bond as wife and

husband and by Mrs. Snow’s dedication to his care, undeterred by his comatose state.

A young fellow who had been involved in a very bad accident was bedridden in the nursing

home, with a broken, crumpled body. During my rounds, I was saddened at how an unfortunate

event had cut short his young, active life. Every visit, during rounds, I saw the photographs

all around his room which captured the happy memories from throughout his vibrant life,

showing him smiling with his girlfriend, with his school sports team, and friends and family.

Observing him in that unfortunate state made me feel sad.

An elderly hard-of-hearing patient, Mrs. Jones, always came to the office accompanied by

her daughter and granddaughter. At one checkup, I admitted her to the hospital, where we

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diagnosed a heart problem, and she became seriously ill. I realized she would not make it.

I discussed the situation with her daughter and we made the patient a “no code,” “do not

resuscitate” when life signs began to fail. Later, as I took a break from the endoscopy, I ran

into the daughter in the cafeteria, where she tearfully broke the news that her mother passed

away. Then, with a smile and small chuckle, she told me, “You know, Dr. Boya, my mother

told me she never understood a single thing you said, but she loved you to death.” In that

moment, I understood how important my smile and body language were to patient care and

in breaking down barriers. Despite my accent, culture, and skin color, my smile and body

language mattered most at the end.

Camilla Heathcoat was my favorite patient and I am thankful I was her doctor. She was

Cajun, originally from Louisiana, and had a very lively life. Every time she left the office,

she waved goodbye, saying, “Moi ’aime toi beaucoup,” which meant, ‘I love you very much.’

She always had a smile on her face. Even after a fire destroyed her house, her smile did not

waver when she told the story. She lived to age 96 and said that was thanks to me, which

made me feel good. Her granddaughter, who used to accompany her to the appointments,

told me, “Dr. Boya, she loves you and enjoys you being her doctor. She is always thankful

to you.”

Joseph McMillan was my patient from 1986 until he died in 2013. Wearing thick eyeglasses

and sitting on the exam table, he talked to me about his past. He fought in the Korean War,

attended Texas A&M University after leaving the army, and became a fifth-grade science

teacher. He loved working alongside his brother on their 200-acre cattle farm. Neither brother

ever married, and both were content being bachelors. They simply enjoyed their daily routine,

spending time together every day. They woke up at 4:30 a.m. every day, chit-chatted over

coffee, and then worked on the ranch until breakfast. They continued to work until noon,

when they had lunch, followed by their afternoon naps, and then worked into the evening.

Their strong brotherly love was uplifting; they were always there for each other. He lost his

brother, became quite lonely, and passed away one year later.

Julia Green was an always pleasant and smiling elderly black lady, who arrived at the office

accompanied by her friend Janet Ender, a local white lady. Race was not a factor in their

friendship. Ms. Green was admitted to the nursing home, and on her 80th birthday, I and

my nurse Jodi took a cake and celebrated with her, bringing her tears of joy. Without a family

of her own, she thought of me, Jodi, and Janet as part of her family.

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Ben Christie was a long-time patient who also had served on the hospital Board of Trustees.

He was a very vibrant and very talkative man, and a smoker. Any time I ran into him in town,

he greeted me with a smile and said, “Doc, whatever you want, just let me know. I will get it

done for you.” Even in his nursing home days, he remained upbeat.

Mr. Vanlandingham was a hefty 84-year-old patient, standing tall at 6 feet and two inches. He

would genially say, “Doc, you are keeping me going but I am ready to die. You are the problem

because you are keeping me alive.”

Mr. and Mrs. Strickland were very polite and conscientious long-time patients. Mr. Strickland

was always immaculately dressed in a jacket and tie, and he opened up to me about his life in

the army and the difficulties he had experienced. Before he left after every exam, he always

inquired politely about the bill, asking, “Do I owe you anything?” He held onto the ethics and

formality of the old times.

Mr. Shewmake was the earliest patient I diagnosed with colon cancer. He was a high school

teacher, and after recovering from colon cancer surgery, he led a productive life. Whenever

I saw him playing golf and enjoying life, it warmed my heart to know I made a difference in

his life. He also expressed his gratitude at each follow-up colonoscopy.

I also diagnosed a 25-year-old named Ricky Wedel, a hard-working blue-collar worker who led

a good family life, with severe ulcerative colitis. His biopsy revealed early colon cancer, which

resulted in a sub-total colectomy to remove about 95 percent of his colon. He came to me for

proctoscopy visits, and I felt satisfied to have made a positive difference in extending his life.

Mr. Johnson helped me demonstrate to the local medical community that having an

endoscopy with direct visualization was important. Despite his normal result from a barium

enema, an earlier way to examine the colon, I convinced Mr. Johnson to have a colonoscopy

and diagnosed colon cancer. He did very well after surgery, and his diagnosis and successful

treatment generated many patient referrals to me, both by local physicians and within the

community.

Another patient, Mrs. Johnson, was a widow in her 80s who developed an interesting routine

to cope after her husband had passed away a few years earlier. She slept during the day and

after dinner, at around 9 or 10 p.m., she began sewing clothes on her sewing machine. She

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described how she used her foot to power the machine while her eyes focused intently on the

cloth that she adjusted with her hands. She described the rhythmic activity as a great form

of meditation that carried her through the night, stopping in the early morning hours, when

she went to bed.

Mr. Leggett lived in the Crazy Water Retirement Home. Every time he came to see me, he

told me unbelievable stories, such as how he married eight different women over 20 years,

and never an American, and also how he once parachuted out of a small plane over the

ocean and landed on the back of a shark. It quickly became evident that these stories were

fabricated, but it was also evident how much he enjoyed telling them, so I enjoyed listening

to them.

Mr. Jacob came for a screening colonoscopy, accompanied by his wife. At the procedure,

I removed a couple of benign polyps from his colon. At his follow-up colonoscopy five years

later, he tearfully explained that his wife had died of breast cancer, telling me how he missed

her and about the support she had given him at his last colonoscopy preparation. It was very

emotional for him to prepare for this follow-up colonoscopy because his wife died of cancer

while encouraging him to follow through on his own preventative colon cancer care.

Lucille Smith was crippled by severe rheumatoid arthritis and was brought to her appointments

in her wheelchair by her husband. He always worried about her but, unfortunately, he died

of lung cancer. Mrs. Smith continued to come in, and it was hard to see her suffering in

loneliness. I did as much as I could for her as her doctor.

Joe, who was a flight instructor, told me the story of his 55 years of marriage. He met and

began dating his wife when he was 13 years old, and when he proposed marriage, he waited

nine years before she agreed to marry him. They had a great life together. He died suddenly

in the cockpit while flying a plane, and his student took over the controls to land the plane.

When his wife came to the office to tell me what had happened, I saw how terribly she missed

him.

After one examination near Thanksgiving, I asked Mr. Bryant if he was ready for the “turkey

day.” He told me, “It is just one more day and I take it one day at a time.” He lived alone and

his philosophical response and somber manner showed me he was content to live a simple

life, without needing big celebrations.

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Mr. A.F. Weaver was a very talented photographer whose beautiful images of Mineral Wells

were exhibited throughout the hospital. He was also good with computers and used to come

to my house to teach me how to use my home computer. During one home visit, I noticed he

was sweating profusely and took him to the hospital, where tests revealed an elevated blood

sugar level in the 600s, and he was admitted for management of diabetes. He remained a

good friend until he passed. I look at those photos and remember him fondly.

Both Mildred Embry and her husband were my patients. When Mildred was diagnosed with

Lou Gehrig’s disease and rapidly deteriorated, she was so happy when I and Subhashini

visited her frequently at her home, which we did until she passed away. The small community

of Mineral Wells offered the unique satisfaction of developing patient–doctor relationships

into wonderful family connections.

Stephen Rhodes demonstrated selfless service and inspired me with his dedication to caring

for several severely disabled children, making a big difference in their lives. Whenever he

visited with the disabled children, his dedication touched my heart.

I met George Luna when I first started my practice. He was an extremely hard-working bluecollar

worker who suffered from severe diabetes. The worn out look on his face reflected his

sheer dedication to caring for and providing for his wife and young children. When he passed

away from kidney complications in his 40s, it was very difficult for me to accept his death,

knowing that his young family had lost a strong, caring family member, who was the family’s

main source of income.

Mr. Wyn was my local barber. When his wife became sick, I made the diagnosis of

Waldenstorm’s macroglobulinemia, a rare blood disorder that required treatment by a

hematologist. Unfortunately, he lost his wife to the illness and decided to quit working,

turning his barbershop business over to his partner, Rudy, whom I also loyally supported.

In the hospital, I treated a 35-year-old Hispanic lady who had cirrhosis of the liver and

developed esophageal varices that caused significant bleeding, which I was glad to control,

to an extent, with sclerotherapy. She needed a liver transplant, but she and her husband, a

mechanic, did not have medical insurance, and I immediately understood the consequences

of being uninsured. Her husband desperately insisted that I find a way to get her a liver

transplant. We tried extra hard to do what we could, and after we had no luck at the local

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hospital, my colleague, Dr. David Ramsey, conducted an “angel flight,” a service provided

to the needy, and piloted a small plane to admit her at Baylor Hospital in Houston. She

eventually received a liver transplant, continued to follow up with me for several years and

lived a productive life.

I shared my fondness of the Chalichelama story with my patient Tina Visentine. She was one

of eight siblings who grew up poor in the hill country. She understood my yearning for the

simplicity of childhood, relating how happiness came from being together with her siblings,

playing with sticks and whatever they could find as they could not afford toys. Later, she

started a restaurant called Visentine Fine Foods and was very successful, making good money.

But life as a child in the countryside was most satisfying to her because of the togetherness.

I encountered several unexpected situations during my practice as a gastroenterologist. One

patient did well after his colonoscopy but passed away later that night from a massive heart

attack. Another patient whom I diagnosed with colon cancer underwent a successful surgery

but died suddenly a few weeks later of a pulmonary embolism. These unexpected outcomes

depressed me, showing me my limitations as a doctor, and that even the best medical care

might not have a successful result.

I once treated a hostile, mentally disturbed patient who wanted me to prescribe sedatives and

painkillers. When I gently declined, he got mad and said, “Doc, I feel like punching your

nose.” I did not respond and just walked away.

I will never forget a patient in her late 80s who made an appointment to see me in my early

days of practice in Weatherford. Once she found out my skin color was brown—that I was

not a white man—she told the nurse that she preferred not to be treated by me. I understood

that situation, that some elderly people were deeply rooted in their beliefs and unfamiliar

with people from a different culture. I did not consider it an insult, rather, it helped me

understand the world we live in. Despite this one episode, I had an overwhelmingly positive

experience with patients.

Outside of the practice, I was also influenced by many interactions and observations.

Janet, who was our maid in the early days after we moved to Mineral Wells, was in her early

80s. She was so energetic and loved to talk to people, and she held such a positive outlook

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on life, impressing me with her upbeat nature. Any time I was at home, she often stopped

what she was doing as we got caught up in enthusiastic conversations. Subhashini often found

Janet and I talking together in this manner and pseudo-sternly reminded her, “Janet, you

better get back to work.” Through our connection with Janet, her granddaughter, Deanna,

became my secretary.

I was also impressed by the culture of independent living among the elderly generation.

Mrs. Furr, my next-door neighbor, was a good example. Her husband passed away a few years

after we moved into our home, and she continued to live alone in their home until 2015 when

she was in her early 90s. Whenever I saw her outside as she slowly walked to her mailbox, she

always smiled and gave a few words of greeting. Her adult children and grandchildren came

to visit, but she never wanted to go live with them.

Mrs. Ruth Stoker, whose father had been a doctor decades earlier in Mineral Wells, was a

fairly wealthy lady and well known in the community. She reminisced about how he used a

horse and buggy to make home visits to patients and delivered babies at patients’ homes in

the middle of the night. In winter, they used a heating device to keep their feet warm in the

buggy. This was a very interesting narrative about how medicine has evolved over the last

100-plus years, and I was pleased to speak to someone who had witnessed the changes and

could pass them along to us.

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For a good laugh

Sometimes, doctors are just misunderstood.

An old man who was hard of hearing went to his doctor and complained of chest

pains. After the examination, the doctor told him what to do and sent the patient

on his way. A few weeks later, the doctor saw the old man walking through the

park, holding hands with a young beautiful woman and with a big smile on his

face. The doctor approached the old man and said, “Well, you look much better

and happier than the last time I saw you.”

The old man replied, “Well, I took your advice. Doctor, you told me to get a hot

mama and be cheerful.”

The doctor shook his head and said, “No, I told you that you have a heart murmur

and to be careful.”

For another good laugh

It’s no surprise that a colonoscopy can feel a little uncomfortable and invasive.

A little old lady had an appointment with a gastroenterologist. The gastroenterologist

conducted a colonoscopy. After discussing the results with the patient, the doctor

asked, “Do you have any questions for me, Mrs. Smith?”

The little old lady looked at him scoldingly and said, “Yes. Does your mother know

what you are doing?”

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Me with my grandchildren Ravi and Eli in my office

My nurse, Jodi, and secretaries, Debbie and Deanna, in our office

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Me with my endoscopy nurses, Shona Gary and Loretta Reid

Write-up in local newspaper about newly-opened endoscopy center

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Me in the endoscopy suite during the Covid pandemic

With operating room director, Susan Woodring

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A song about me and endoscopy by Sue Duncan at my birthday celebration in the hospital

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Poem about me from my patient, Leon Sutherland

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Me with my office secretary, Deanna, and my office nurse, Jodi

Annual office Christmas party. From left: me, Subhashini, Lalitha, Jodi, Debbie, Deanna, and Loretta

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Farewell as chief of staff at PPGH

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Dr. O’Quin’s nurses, who helped me with my medical practice. From left: Marge, Mary, Betty, and me

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CHAPTER NINETEEN

Reflections

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.

Søren Kierkegaard

It is not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years.

Abraham Lincoln

From the words of the doctor who delivered me at birth to who I am today, all that I’ve

achieved comes from the support, inspiration, influence, and advice of so many people from

all aspects of my entire life. With hard work, perseverance, dedication, and by the grace of

Lord Venkateswara I overcame the many hurdles throughout my life’s journey: the challenges

of passing my exams in India, finding a job in America, and establishing my private practice

in Mineral Wells.

I want my sons, my grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and future generations to know about

their roots in a small Indian village—how my life began, how I evolved, who I am today, the

lessons I’ve learned, the advice I can offer—and the legacy upon which they can build, grow,

and succeed to achieve their own destinies. I was the first from my family and my village to

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travel abroad on my own. As a first-generation immigrant to the USA I positively impacted

my entire extended family. Sometimes I wonder how life would have been if I had stayed

in India, and how it would have been for Subhashini, Prasanth, and Prabhath, but I know

I made the right choice.

My father, my hero

A son remembers his father’s words, his wisdom and his wit. There is never a day that

ever goes by when the son doesn’t find a use for them. And this is how the father lives on

inside the heart of his son. Although they parted years ago, in this way the two live as one.

Lindsey Elliott-McIntosh

I am who and what I am today because of my father. He lived like a king and he will always

be my hero. He was a self-made man who started in agriculture and became a successful

building contractor and popular businessman. He was a natural conversationalist and had a

great sense of humor. He was worldly-wise and a people’s person.

I felt such a contentment standing next to my father as he very proudly showed me all the

lands that he bought in Thondavada. Although he had become busy in his business, his heart

remained in agriculture, and he felt that the more land he owned, the more honorable he was

in the village. He had endured financial hardships but always helped the villagers, financially

and otherwise. A clear example that stands out in my memory is of a villager who approached

my father as he sat on the porch with his brother, Narayana Reddy. The villager asked my

father for some money, but my father did not have any money in his pockets at that moment

and took money from the pocket of his brother to give to the villager. These types of actions

are why he remains popular in the village even today, more than 40 years after his passing.

He touched so many hearts throughout his lifetime.

My father wholeheartedly supported me in my studies, having steadfast faith that I would be a

successful doctor in a foreign country. He motivated me and kept me on track all through my

early years. He used his great ability to connect with people, and those relationships helped

me to move forward in my life.

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My fondest memories are of the talks we had at the dining table and, after dinner, sitting

side by side on the cot to chat more about everything and anything. I remember reading

Chandamama stories to him as my brother or I massaged his legs and fanned him while he

dozed for an afternoon nap. I treasure the many letters we wrote to each other over the years.

Memorable advice from my father

My father was intelligent, worldly-wise and shared his wisdom as advice.

He said, “Never be angry, because I paid very heavily for being angry.” He was quick to anger,

and his anger was intense.

He also advised that whatever difficulties we may face, we must be as stable as Mount Meru,

a mythological mountain that represents the strength of the center of the universe.

He said, “Never move away from a relationship. If you like a person, say four sentences. If you

do not like a person, say one sentence smilingly.”

He often said, “Everybody is useful, even a snake, for its venom is useful as a medicine.”

He said, “When you want to do something important, consult four people who are your wellwishers.

Then you make the final decision.” I continue to follow this advice today.

All that my brother and I achieved, we owed to pithru krupa, our father’s grace. My brother

and I believed strongly in that. We will never forget the moment he put his hands tenderly

on both of our shoulders to say that the siblings all need to be together. How he managed the

moment of his death was something very memorable, and his last wish was to maintain that

combined family spirit, so though we live on different continents, I stay in constant touch

with my sister and brother. I try my best to fulfill his wish and live up to the ideals he set for

me. If at any time I am faced with a tough issue, I think about how my father would have

advised me if he were alive.

No matter what, my father always stood by me. I keep his memory alive in my mind and heart

every day.

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My mother’s love

There is no purer love than a mother’s love.

Anonymous

My mother was the most affectionate, loving, and compassionate person. She saw us all

become successful in life. It broke my heart to see how hard she cried when I left India for

the U.S. In my opinion, she made the best idlis. At the corner of my dining table, I keep the

cooking pot in which she steamed them and from which she served them. They were cooked

with love, served with love, and eaten with love, and this truly nourishes the heart, body and

soul. Every six months, in a true act of motherly love and dedication, she packed and shipped

to us in the U.S. the special idli rice so we could have the taste of home. I am very happy and

comforted that she was with me in Mineral Wells for her heart bypass surgery, and that I had

the opportunity to provide the best medical care for her and monitor her recovery. It was a

great opportunity to serve my mother. She was always proud of me, for who I became and for

achieving my goal. She was simply the best host, entertaining family members and guests. She

was most affectionate and caring, and I miss her.

My wife, Subhashini, the wind beneath my wings

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day so I never have

to live without you.

A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh

Subhashini grew up in a caring and protective family and married me at an early age. She

supported me through my exam preparations, having complete faith that I would succeed.

She arrived with Prasanth in America soon after I began my first residency in Ohio and

evolved in her own way alongside me. Because I was so busy, she learned to care for our

household and acclimatized quickly to the new culture and life in America.

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I wish I could have spent more time with her in the early days. She is everything to me, and

a loving mother to our children. She dedicated so many years to driving the kids to school

in carpool, and used that time to bond and instill values, and she is now the most doting,

caring grandmother. I really count my blessings. She is a welcoming host, a superb cook, and

a detailed organizer. She is a devoted and loving wife, mother, and grandmother.

Subhashini selflessly helps others. Along with caring for our family, she took an active role to

help manage my medical practice.

She was a caring daughter-in-law, and tenderly tended to my mother while she recuperated

at our home after her heart bypass surgery. My mother allowed only Subhashini to change

the wound dressing on her leg—not even me. She helped care for my father in the hospital in

India after he was diagnosed with liver cancer.

Subhashini and I are two different personalities, but we complement each other so well. She

excels where I am lacking, and she has made me a better person. When I procrastinate, she

pushes me forward. Because of her, I began construction of the elementary school in my

mother’s name, and when I put off beginning these memoirs, she said, “Do it as if you’re

preparing for exams.” Her energy knows no bounds. We are both spiritual, and we enjoyed

attending Chinmaya Mission lectures together and visiting the Blue Mountain Center of

Meditation. We worked together in many cultural organizations and on the temple project.

My father-in-law, the karma yogi

Subhashini’s father was a great influence in my life. I consider my father-in-law a true karma

yogi, selflessly dedicated to his profession, patients, and community. He was a great tennis

player, well disciplined, and selflessly worked hard as a physician while offering encouragement

and support to his three children and, later, to their spouses. With his training, I gained the

confidence and experience to do surgeries. During his visits to Mineral Wells, we used to sit

in the backyard with a glass of wine and he reminisced about his own upbringing, humble

beginnings, and other life events, and described his happiness at seeing us succeed. Over the

years, some of our conversations tended to repeat, but we both still enjoyed these moments.

My mother-in-law was a great host, and very caring and affectionate.

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Family bonds

I am so blessed with family on both my side and Subhashini’s side.

My sister is just like my mother, caring and very affectionate.

My brother and I share a strong bond and we have many shared experiences. We were so

mischievous together as youngsters, and we remain very close today.

I am very close to Subhashini’s brother, Raja. He taught me how to drive a car when I stayed

with him in Kavali. He stayed eight months with us in Mineral Wells, and I enjoyed that time

in his company. He’s a perfect gentleman and the best brother-in-law. Subhashini and I are

happy to have been a part of his successful career development.

It makes me happy that I was one of the sources of inspiration for Praveena, Subhashini’s sister,

to become a doctor and come to the U.S., where she is now a pathologist in California. Although

she unfortunately lost her second daughter, Silpa, to lymphoma at a young age, Praveena never

lost her grit. She was a loving and caring mother. Subhashini and I care very much for her.

Praveena is a good conversationalist and has a beautiful smile and a contagious laugh.

My uncles, my original gurus, had a great influence in my life. The elder uncle, Padmanabha

Reddy, was instrumental in arranging my marriage with Subhashini.

Nothing beats this comfort of having such strong family attachments and support.

Turning points in my life

The prophecy at my birth. The faith my family had in those words was reinforced by my

grandmother and my parents.

The beating my father gave me when I wanted to join the ashram before fourth grade. This

taught me to balance my studies and spiritual inclinations.

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The famous slap from my uncle. It changed my attitude immediately toward studying, and

I focused and applied myself to excel.

Father’s decision to send me to the private medical college in Kakinada.

Being laser-focused in my studies. I got into medical school and passed all the qualifying

exams. When I flunked the listening comprehension part of the English exam, I remained

focused, never wavered, and believed in myself, feeling the divine push to pass.

The letter given by Subhashini’s grandmother, Madras Avva. This led me to my first job in

America.

Taking the advice of the urologist who suggested I switch from family practice to internal

medicine.

Taking Dr. J.P. Reddy’s advice. This pushed me to focus on a medical subspecialty rather than

surgery.

Settling in Mineral Wells has allowed me to build my personal kingdom. I cherish the village

atmosphere.

Dr. Berg’s words to the administrator at Palo Pinto General Hospital: “We need a

gastroenterologist.”

Being a part of Surgery Associates for the first year in Mineral Wells.

Joining Dr. O’Quin’s practice.

My nurse Jodi, my secretary Deanna, and my endoscopy nurse Loretta, who have been my

supportive gastroenterology practice team for nearly 25 years.

Meeting our handyman, Fred Wilson, more than 25 years ago. We can count on him whenever

we need his help to come to fix anything.

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Meeting Lalitha, our maid. She has been a big help for more than 20 years, and she is a great

cook.

Reading the book titled Meditation in 1995 and being drawn towards Sri Easwaran and Blue

Mountain Center of Meditation, practicing meditation, and becoming a vegetarian once again.

Attending Chinmaya lectures. Swami Sarveshanadji’s lectures influenced me.

Being blessed with good neighbors, like the Bhandaris and the Atlurus, who became like

family, and with great friends like Bharat and Parul Parikh, and Sumanth and Sheela Kumar,

and recreating the closeness of the village bonds.

My spiritual association with Swami Abhshek Chayithanyaji.

Proud moments in my life

Coming first with very high scores in my high school final exam, and still being honored on

a display board at the school.

Becoming an M.D., and the subsequent hard work to come to America in 1976 and start my

first job.

Joining the gastroenterology fellowship in a university program.

Being honored to be recognized as one of the two best fellows by all the residents in the

Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.

Helping to translate spiritual books into Telugu and publishing Telugu short stories by my

favorite author, Sri Rajaram.

Chairing the spiritual committees for major Telugu cultural organizations (ATA, NATA) and

inviting distinguished spiritual leaders. They were considered successful, well-organized events.

To be able to care for my mother during her illness in the USA.

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Taking a lead role to organize the successful 50th class reunion for Rangaraya Medical College

(RMC), 1967 batch.

Becoming involved with Aarti Home orphanage and adopting two orphan girls, who are now

happily grown, successful, and have started their own families.

Spearheading the construction of Siva-Vishnu Temple in Fort Worth, Texas, and bringing

together a diverse group of people.

Building schools in Thondavada to honor my parents, an elementary school in my mother’s

name and a high school in my father’s name.

Seeing my sons develop great values, getting educated, and each marrying a wonderful

daughter-in-law. All of them are pursuing successful careers and continue to make me and

Subhashini proud. Our daughters-in-law are unique in their own ways.

Practicing as the only gastroenterologist in a town where I was needed.

Things I am glad I did

I am glad that, from the beginning, I was laser focused on becoming a doctor and coming to

America.

I am glad I married Subhashini. It was an arranged marriage. We complemented each other

and she made me a better person.

I am glad I changed into a medical subspecialty and did not go into family practice.

I am glad I chose Mineral Wells to practice.

I am glad I was reborn spiritually after reading the Meditation book by Sri Easwaran and

discovering who I am as I travel towards the end of my road.

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I am glad I was involved with cultural organizations (ATA, NATA) and took a lead role as a

board member and as a spiritual committee chairperson.

I am glad I had best friends who elevated me. Having purpose-driven friendships such as with

Puchalapalli Sreenivasa Reddy and Sandhya, who ran the Aarti House orphanage, in India

allowed us to make a difference in young children’s lives.

I am glad we have great neighbors, Ananth and Suma Bhandari and their children, whom we

consider part of our family.

I am glad I connected with my famous favorite Telugu writer Madhurantakam Rajaram and

helped with publishing some of his works. I touched his heart and he touched my heart.

I am glad we enjoyed the company of the “MinForth” friends and families over the last four

decades.

I am glad I was able to support and be there for my best friend Jayhari during his unfortunate

illness.

I am glad I spent three weeks with my father after his diagnosis of liver cancer.

I am glad I am the bridge connecting my father’s generation to my sons’ generation.

I am glad I made it to my 70s (all my uncles passed away in their 60s). I count my blessings.

I am glad I inaugurated the statue of my uncle Venkatram Reddy at the high school in

Papanaidupet.

I am glad I was asked to give eulogies for four special people. At the request of my sister-in-law,

Praveena, it was my honor to speak from the heart about the love and life of my young niece,

Silpa. I spoke at our friend Parul’s funeral, and I honored two other good friends.

I am glad I can tell jokes that make people laugh. This is a great spiritual experience for me.

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I am glad I overcame stage fright through my own efforts and can now speak more confidently

and deliver inspiring speeches in public.

Things I wish I had done

I wish I had had more time with my mother and father. From ninth grade, I moved out of our

home to focus on my education.

I wish I had been able to attend my father’s funeral. That I could not is my biggest regret. He

himself said he would rather have me with him when alive, but missing his last rites haunts

me even today.

I wish I could have seen my children grow up. I was so busy working that I missed many

activities, and that’s why I wish to spend as much time as I can with my grandchildren.

I wish I was more help at home (where they call me the great delegator!).

I wish I had met my guru Sri Easwaran much earlier. He passed away four years after our first

meeting.

I wish I had paid more attention to the people around me. I learned about the amazing life

of Dr. Braun, an ENT surgeon in Mineral Wells, only after reading his obituary. Rather than

the casual greetings we exchanged in the doctors’ lounge, I missed any chance to talk to him

and learn more about his experience of escaping a Jewish concentration camp as a child

when other family members were killed, his journey to America, and becoming a skilled ENT

doctor.

Sweet memories

Of my home: Every nook and corner has a story to tell. I have lived in the same house since

1985, I watched my sons grow up here, and now I am watching my grandchildren make

themselves at home here. I picture my mother as she sat in our backyard, watching the town’s

beauty from the top of the hill, and enjoying how the city lights lit up the town below after

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the sunset. I think back to all the family members who have visited and filled our house with

laughter and love. I was honored to host visiting literary and spiritual dignitaries and hold

meaningful discussions in the comfort of our home. This included S.P. Balasubrahmanyam

the talented playback singer, who was widely known and celebrated.

Of backyard chats with my father-in-law: These were peaceful moments in which we enjoyed

a glass of wine and reminisced about the past, including his youth and how proud he is of his

children and their spouses.

Of watching cartoons with my children: “It is never too late to have a happy childhood.”

Of visiting Morocco with the Kumars: It is my most memorable moment of travel, and it

is where, in the Sahara Desert, I had the best, most unique experience. In the evening, my

travel group gathered around the campfire, and above us, the serene expanse of the Milky

Way stretched across the night sky, and the vast desert surrounded us. Even among a group of

people, I felt a sense of solitude under the boundless blanket of darkness and absolute silence.

After quietly chatting by the fireside, we retreated to our tents to fall asleep.

Of traveling to Switzerland with the Daves: Seeing the natural beauty surrounding the

majestic Matterhorn. Switzerland was the first foreign country I traveled to, apart from India,

after moving to the United States. We spent three months planning the trip on our own,

which was as enjoyable as the trip itself.

Of visiting Uncle Paramdhama Reddy every six months: We took a trip to the Colorado

mountains to stay in a cabin with large glass windows, and watched the snow fall around us

throughout the day and night. We spent the evenings indoors with good food, playing cards,

and sipping wine in the company of my aunt and uncle, my sister-in-law Praveena and her

husband, Sreedhar, in the midst of a winter wonderland.

Of my best friend Jayahari and a small group of close friends: We went on a river cruise in

Russia, took a train trip through the beautiful Rocky Mountains and a grand vacation to

Argentina and Brazil, creating wonderful shared experiences.

Of gastroenterology conferences: Jayahari, Narsimha Rao, and I—we dubbed ourselves the

Rural Gastroenterology Summit from Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas—booked a shared

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hotel room, and made time to have fun experiences following the educational sessions of the

conference by dining out at the best restaurants and simply enjoying each mini reunion.

Of our annual Thanksgiving dinner tradition at our home: Of how family and close friends

(the Bhandari family and the Parikh family) have gathered over the years, and how Prabhath

oversees the backyard cookouts during this holiday.

Of recreating the village spirit in our neighborhood in Mineral Wells: The Atluru family and

later the Bhandari family became our neighbors. With a shared background of emigrating

from India, we developed a strong friendship, informal by nature, in which we could drop

by each other’s house at any time of the day. We got together frequently and shared countless

memorable experiences over the years. We were there for each other through thick and thin,

in good times and bad times.

Of celebrating the marriages of my children in the lavish, traditional village spirit.

Of having the first unofficial reunion of the 1967 RMC batchmates: We came together during

Prasanth’s wedding in 2007, and this led to many successful future reunions.

Of reuniting with my medical college classmates on the RMC campus in Kakinada for

our 50th reunion in 2017: I enjoyed getting most of our classmates together and starting a

WhatsApp group so that we could continue to stay in touch.

Of playing tennis at the Country Club and taking my kids to the tennis courts.

Of inviting my favorite writer to Mineral Wells, spending time with him and telling him

about the impact his story had on me.

Of Stock Club monthly meetings: We enjoy a jovial atmosphere with beer, pizza and jokes,

and some financial discussions. I enjoyed telling jokes along with my buddy Narayan.

Of my childhood in India: I fondly remember my fascination with James Hadley Chase novels,

and then immersed myself in Chandamama stories at my uncle’s library.

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Of savoring every bite of my mom’s idlis and the conversations with my dad at the dinner

table.

Of my mischievous deeds with my brother, Venu, when we lived on Nehru Street in Tirupati.

Of retracing my steps along the streets of Tirupati in deep conversation with Vasu, and of

how we exchanged letters during our periodic disagreements.

Of playing golis and other games with friends in the streets of my village.

Of Mukkoti celebrations in Thondavada, and the festive atmosphere that filled the village.

Of my communication with my father and uncles through letters.

Of delicately holding my first grandson, Eli, for the first time immediately after his birth.

Of Eli’s first visit to Mineral Wells, and how he played with his dad’s toys.

Of hosting Subhashini’s entire family at our home in Mineral Wells: Raja and Tanuja with

their children, Cherith and Chinni; Praveena and Sridhar with their children, Pallavi and

Silpa; Subhashini’s parents; and Subhashini and I with Prasanth and Prabhath. We have a

beautiful group photo that captures this memorable visit.

Of our trips with Raja and Tanuja: We visited Raja and Tanuja in the U.K. while Raja was in

training. Sometimes we stopped for a few days to a week on our way to India, and also took

several memorable vacations with them.

I have immensely enjoyed many experiences throughout my life, and while they bring about

strong, happy memories, I’ve realized that some of these infatuations have faded over time:

my excitement for each new Chandamama magazine, getting lost in the James Hadley Chase

novels, the cheerful atmosphere of Deepavali celebrations, watching University of Kentucky

Wildcats basketball games with the family, cheering on the Dallas Cowboys football games

with family and friends, and traveling extensively around the world with friends and family.

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Heartbreakers

Along with the sweet memories come heartbreakers.

The passing away of those I loved most: My father, grandfather, grandmother, my mother,

and my uncles.

The death of my thoughtful and courageous niece Silpa from lymphoma at a young age.

The diagnosis of my closest friend, Jayahari, with Parkinson’s Disease: We did many things

together and inspired each other to become what we are today. Knowing that he’s suffering

quite a bit breaks my heart.

The death of my childhood best friend, Vasu: We had reconnected as adults and relived our

childhood memories. His death was a deep loss.

The sudden heart attack of my friend and relative Madhu: He married one of my cousins,

Lakshmi, and he had a great sense of humor. I miss him.

A knee injury suffered by Prasanth: He was playing on the high school football team and

underwent ACL surgery to repair the damage.

Dr. Sebastian, who taught me endoscopy during my fellowship at the University of Kentucky.

He died of a sudden heart attack two years after I left. I always remember watching through

the learning eye piece, my face close to his.

Dr. Berg’s Parkinson’s disease: He was a tall, strong presence, and is now disabled and confined

to a wheelchair.

Dr. O’Quin’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

Paramdhama Reddy Uncle, who took his own life: He helped me find my first job, but he

did not want to be a burden to anybody when his disability worsened and he became more

dependent on others.

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Our closest friend Parul’s diagnosis of lung cancer: She has passed away.

Loretta’s husband needed a lung transplant; Susan Woodring’s husband, Kerry, battled lung

cancer; Sue Duncan, passing away after suffering chronic pain following a back injury; and

our maid, Lalitha, has lost her husband, who was only 52 years old, to oral cancer.

Wisdom and tidbits from friends’ fathers

My father gave me steadfast advice that I still use today, and I was lucky to meet the wonderful

fathers of my friends when they came to visit. They shared with me their single best pieces of

advice. Whether we got together for an afternoon lunch or evening meal at their homes or

invited them to our home, I was glad for the opportunity to spend time with them and seek

their wisdom.

My father-in-law, with whom I spent many evenings in the backyard, advised, “Do not brood

over things.”

Ananth Bhandari’s father explained, “Whatever you want to read or memorize, do it before

age 75. After that it will be more difficult to do.” He enjoyed being surrounded by family and

friends and having a good time. During one Thanksgiving lunch at our house, he looked

around everyone as we sat together and were indeed having a good time, and he said, “This

is what life is all about.”

Suma Bhandari’s father told me, “You are funny. Do not lose that sense of humor.”

Bharat Parikh’s father said, “Forgive and forget, and move on.”

Parul Parikh’s father, who once was mayor of Baroda, sagely advised, “Accept things as they

come to you in life.”

Sheela Kumar’s father was very creative and gifted me a couple of impressive mementos. As

Christians, their family was very selfless, and held similar values to ours. Sheela and Subhashini

were very close and took on many selfless projects together, showing that happiness comes

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from giving happiness to others. They cooked, organized, and were always at the forefront in

the major life events of friends and family.

Other sources of inspiration

Dean Ornish: Inspired by a lecture by Swami Chidananda, Dr. Ornish brought the Indian

philosophy of finding and unleashing internal happiness to the practice of heart care. As a

cardiologist he developed a program of yoga, meditation, vegetarian diet, and social interaction

that has shown reversal of heart disease.

W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge: This is one of my favorite novels. It is partially set

in the Ramana Maharshi ashram and reveals the message that “communication in silence”

is possible.

Chinmaya Mission lectures, my guru Sri Easwaran’s teachings, the Bhagavad Gita, and

the various scriptures from around the world provide continuing inspiration, along with

Pathanjali yoga suthras.

My good friend Vasu: He explained that the most important thing to advance spiritually is

to have discipline (niyama).

My children became a source of inspiration to me.

Prabhath: Whenever I feel troubled by family friction and misunderstanding in India and the

U.S., Prabhath reminds me, “Dad, you have to modify your expectations.” By changing what

I expect, or anticipating what to expect, I will not be as bothered.

Prasanth: I am inspired to see my son Prasanth enjoy life on his own terms in a very organized

manner and to see his great affection to his parents and his family.

Change is inevitable. I have seen how much life has changed from my own childhood to that

of my grandchildren’s. I know I have to keep up and adjust my concepts accordingly. In doing

so, I will be happy.

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My advice for my future generations

Don’t go through life, grow through life.

Eric Butterworth

I am now 72 years old, and hopefully, I have a few more years ahead of me. From all my

experiences and everything I have learned and continue to learn, I want to share a few words

of wisdom, knowing fully that I am far from being perfect.

Utilize the opportunities with which you have been presented. You have a proud family

history, a strong financial base, and support. Use this foundation to build your successful

future. Reach your full potential and newer heights.

Take the best of both your cultures and be the best you can. Unlimited potential surrounds

you; try to reach as much as you can.

Have an attitude of gratitude. Never forget your roots or the people who helped you along

your journey. As I was there, where and when I was needed, be there for those who need you.

Always have a purpose. Be relentless in pursuing that purpose. Never give up. Put all your

drive behind it.

As you enjoy life, give enjoyment to others. Just as the Earth rotates around itself, it rotates

around the sun.

Failures are the stepping stones for success, as I have illustrated from my own life. Do not let

failure deter you from achieving your goals.

Everything is changing. When you realize this, there is nothing you will try to hold on to,

and nothing can hold you back.

Touch as many hearts in your lifetime as possible. We are all from the same source. Nobody

is a stranger, my child, make the whole world your own.

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Surround yourself with people who can elevate you. Casual relationships are fine, but having

purpose-driven relationships will push you to recognize your strengths, as I have experienced

with my good friends throughout life.

Education, intelligence, and wealth without value are dangerous. Hold on to the values that

will lead you to a happy, peaceful life.

Pray together and stay together as a family.

Be loving, giving, and forgiving.

Defining success in life

My favorite quote about success in life:

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection

of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false

friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better,

whether that be a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know

even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

My lofty goals for the remainder of my life

My idea of creating perfect moments is well stated by Eugene O’Kelly.

I wish to create as many perfect moments in life as possible. The goal of a perfect

moment is to taste as much of the flavor that life constantly offers. Enjoy and revel in

the moment. One of the key ways into a perfect moment is acceptance. When I am

having a particularly good day – a day made up of perfectly good moments – that is

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ecause I did not manage everybody and everything. Learn how to enter and eventually

to linger in the present moment.

Eugene O’Kelly

Achieving ideals

I know I cannot control the future, but my goal is to achieve the ideals expressed in my

favorite passage from Bhagavad Gita as much as possible.

Unerring in discrimination,

Sovereign of senses and passions,

Free from the clamor of likes and dislikes,

He leads a simple, self-reliant life

Based on meditation, using his speech,

Body, and mind to serve the Lord of Love.

Free from greed, fear, and anger

Free from self-will, aggression, and arrogance

Free from the lust to possess people and things as his own

He is at peace with himself and others and enters into the unitive state.

United with the Lord, ever joyful,

Beyond the reach of self-will and sorrow,

He serves God in every living being

By loving me he shares in my glory

And is drawn into my boundless being.

How I want to be remembered

When my life’s journey reaches its end, I wish to be remembered in these ways:

He who never asks what life c