A Canadian doctor in India finds romance and a fraught quest for professional and personal fulfillment in this debut memoir.
The author was a young medical student when she traveled to India in 1981 and met Pradeep Kumar, a soulful pediatrician; after a four-year, long-distance courtship, she married him and returned to India to live there. The couple dreamed of practicing medicine among the impoverished villagers in the Himalayan province of Garhwal, and they did so at two ashram-run charitable health programs. But the dream became a nightmare when an autocratic ashram leader aroused local opposition—a situation that eventually resulted in someone’s death. Trollope-Kumar’s multifaceted memoir offers an adventurous fish-out-of-water narrative, showing how she struggled to learn Hindi and adjust to India’s vibrant, chaotic culture with its constant noise and bustle. She also encountered corruption—her request for a re-entry document prompted an investigation into whether she was a CIA agent, until a suitable bribe smoothed things over—as well as deformed beggars, street elephants, colorful rituals, and intrusive etiquette. She also delivers a love story, telling how she and Pradeep negotiated their evolving relationship, especially after Pradeep immersed himself in Hindu spirituality, which she sometimes found hard to fathom. In addition, the book is a fascinating anthropological study of clashing Western and Indian cultural perspectives on health and illness; for example, village midwives smiled at the author’s germ theory of neonatal tetanus, then patiently explained that it was really caused by evil spirits. Finally, it documents a journey of self-discovery as the author’s and Pradeep’s happy success at setting up rural health centers turned to dismay as they fell apart, and then to depression and a rethinking of goals. Trollope-Kumar’s prose is evocative throughout; of her deepest melancholy, she writes, “The world around me was like a black-and-white photograph—the colour had disappeared, leaving nothing but shades….This stark world of angles, planes, and lines.” In this luminous memoir, she captures both India’s charm and its deep poverty and squalor without ever succumbing to exoticism, and she renders the people she encounters with sensitivity and insight.
A vivid saga of a woman who found an enthralling new home.