Dr. Simi Rao moved to the United States of America 15 years ago. Over the years, she has evolved as a physician, and her passion for writing has transformed her into an author. She has written three books of contemporary women’s fiction – Inconvenient Relations, The Accidental Wife, and Milan - A Wedding Story.
Dr. Rao was a novice when she arrived in the US – she hadn’t yet completed her studies. While she was working to further her knowledge, she was also making the transition to an entirely different form of healthcare. “Here [USA], where people have better access to healthcare, we have a tendency to practice defensive medicine and order more tests than we would otherwise. I feel this makes the practice of medicine more mechanical. It also affects the patient-doctor relationship.”
The Denver-based physician was, however, pleasantly surprised by the fact that physicians of Indian origin in general are welcomed and respected as they are considered sincere, hard-working and smart.
Coming back to her interest in writing, books have always been Dr. Rao’s best companions. “I particularly like the ease with which they can transport me to another world where I’m at liberty to choose my own actors and scenes. Though medicine fulfills my inquisitive nature, it doesn’t necessarily cater to my creative instinct,” she says, explaining her decision to start writing. “Today writing has become a passion and I use it as a medium of self-expression that is liberating and therapeutic at the same time.”
Inconvenient Relations, which was originally published as An Incurable Insanity, is a modern story set against the backdrop of ancient traditions that explores the cultural differences and conflicts between two societies and the sexes. The Accidental Wife is about well-laid plans gone awry, and Milan – A Wedding Story gives readers a behind the scenes look at a traditional Indian wedding. “Life with all its fragrances and flavours is my greatest inspiration. My work is one of my greatest resources – many of my characters originate there. Most of what I write is from the perspective of a desi living abroad,” says the passionate doctor-cum-author.
Dr. Rao enjoys exploring the dynamics of contemporary American culture blended with Indian customs and heritage to reflect the challenges and opportunities many Indian-American women face in real life. “Indian American women have it tough. Though many are homemakers, most work and are faced with the challenge of having to balance multiple responsibilities and do so without the conveniences that are considered routine back home. Things such as child care, affordable help and so on,” she says, pointing out some of the challenges.
According to her, the real challenge is dealing with how to preserve our culture and traditions and impart them to our children. “And this is important because if we don’t we are relegating our children to a state of perpetual bewilderment and alienation. A better way to look at it is that our children are lucky because they have the best of both worlds.”
“Speaking for myself as a woman, the biggest impact [living in the USA] has been in the matter of personal safety and the ability to travel alone at any time. The sense of liberation that provides is incalculable,” sums up Dr. Rao.
Q & A with Dr. Rao
Did you face any obstacles while becoming an author?
The obstacles were mostly personal. Since I have no background in writing, I felt insecure. Also since I am a very private person who suddenly found herself in a public environment, I felt as if I was being judged when readers were actually passing opinions on my books. Often I have had to tell myself that the reason I write is for self-expression and not necessarily to follow the crowd.
What is your biggest achievement so far?
That I’m still alive and well and most of my patients are too. Jokes apart, I can say that balancing a tough profession with my lifelong dream and bringing it to fruition was something I thought was never possible.
What advice would you give to young writers or to-be doctors?
Despite being vastly diverse, writing and medicine share one thing in common – passion. Both require dedication and hard work and often the rewards arrive late. A writer should write from the heart to find resonance with his or her readers. Medicine is a high stress job and the basic qualification is empathy toward the suffering. And it is not an identity you can shed out of the work place because once a doctor, always a doctor. Yet it is one of the most gratifying professions.
Indians around the world have made significant contributions to their immigrated countries, what do you think of this accomplishment?
Yes, it cannot be disputed that Indians have enriched the societies they have migrated into. Not only have they contributed with their intellect but also by becoming the ambassadors of the Indian philosophy that subscribes to non-violence and unity in diversity. It is nice to see many desis moving into non-traditional spheres such as politics and journalism. In today’s times of the World Wide Web, the boundaries between countries have become superfluous. It is vital that we all strive to build bridges and break down the walls of ignorance.