AAP Book Review
By Rachel Kunjummen Paulose
“Brotherhood,” by Doctors Deepak and Sanjiv Chopra, is the dual biography of two talented brothers. Each brother tells his story in alternating chapters, from birth to the present.
Born in New Delhi, India, the Chopra brothers were raised to succeed. Their father was a renowned cardiologist who counted among his patients the president of India and Lord Mountbatten, in the last days of the British Raj. His two sons both followed in his footsteps, attending the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences to become medical doctors.
The brothers describe in fascinating detail their family background. They sprinkle their story with charming anecdotes of life growing up as the privileged sons of a highly regarded physician. Their parents instilled in their sons a drive to succeed, commitment to the underprivileged, and duty to family.
Both sons chose Indian brides of whom their families approved, and they followed traditional customs growing up. Both sons also immigrated to the United States very early in their medical careers and raised their families in this country. They formed community with other Indians, while they also welcomed into their lives American culture.
Naturally, the brothers share many things in common in their national identity as “Indian by birth, American by choice,” extraordinary professional success in medicine, and devotion to family. However, what the book makes strikingly evident is the divergence between the brothers even in the arenas which both occupy.
Dr. Deepak Chopra, the elder brother, was trained as an endocrinologist. He left traditional medicine to merge Eastern spiritual traditions with Western medicine. As perhaps the most famous follower of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Chopra mass marketed to the West the Hindu philosophy regarding the mind body connection. Chopra was harshly condemned by some practitioners of traditional medicine as well as adherents of various faiths, but he became a cultural icon.
Along the way, Dr. Deepak Chopra fearlessly challenged perceived injustice of any sort and took significant professional risks. He refused to be bullied by medical experts, condemned ethnic bias in the medical profession, and challenged American politics to show more inclusivity. For raising his voice, he paid a price.
By contrast, Dr. Sanjiv Chopra followed the traditional path to success. He excelled as a hepatologist, and he now teaches at Harvard Medical School. He denies that bias impacted him in any significant way, and he describes his experience in this regard as very different from his brother’s.
These divergent philosophies are demonstrated in the brother’s writing styles as well.
Dr. Deepak Chopra writes his story from the heart, sharing his triumphs, failures, mistakes, and misunderstandings. His style exudes both humility and authenticity. He admits, “The drawback of being in the public eye, which is also its great attraction, is that people feel as though they already know you.” For an impressive man at whom vile insults have been hurled, the pain he shares in that reflection is quietly understated.
With few exceptions, Dr. Sanjiv Chopra conveys his memoir as a series of victories, of which there are many. While not as well known in the popular culture as his brother, Dr. Sanjiv Chopra rose to the top of his profession. He fulfilled his dharma.
“Brotherhood” is a sweet story of the paths we may take to assimilation in the United States while also honoring our history. Part biography, part history, and part spiritual philosophy, it is a unique and occasionally endearing read.