As senior associate chair of Stanford University’s medicine program, Dr. Abraham Verghese, is no stranger to the hustle and bustle of the operation room and lecture halls. But aside from getting to have his cake, Dr. Verghese gets to eat it too. In addition to being successful in the medical field, he enjoys success as a novelist as well. He is the author of three books, including “My Own Country,” “The Tennis Partner,” and most recently, “Cutting for Stone.”
Dr. Verghese recently visited Houston, where he delivered a lecture, question and answer discussion and book signing at the Grand Ballroom of the University of Houston’s Hilton Hotel.
“It is my pleasure on behalf of my colleagues and the administration to welcome you for a very important lecture for the inauguration of our Indian Studies program,” said John W. Roberts, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Houston.
“The importance of India is undeniable,” said Roberts. “We hope this will be one of many opportunities to join us for the future.”
Lois Parkinson Zamora, chairperson of the Department of Comparative Cultural Studies, said that it was her privilege to present Dr. Abraham Verghese with the John P. McGovern Medal in Family, Health and Human Values.
“Dr. McGovern and I worked together to establish this lectureship,” said Zamora. “I know how pleased Dr. McGovern would be to have this medal awarded to Dr. Verghese.”
“It is hard to think of anyone who crosses the boundaries between science, humanities and the social sciences—who occupies all of those countries—more fully, and more influentially, than Dr. Verghese,” Zamora added.
Verghese opened the lecture with appreciation for the University. He said that it was an honor to visit the university and noted that he was always a great fan of the Creative Writing Program and will now be a fan of the India Studies minor as well.
Dr. Verghese reflected on the Indian diaspora by considering how many Indian parents wound up so far away from their birthplaces. His own life story is a case in point. Both of his parents were graduates in physics, who on a lark went to Ethiopia to teach.
His lecturing persona oscillated between the very serious and the humorous. When explanation seemed terse, he never hesitated to inject a personal anecdote to drive his point.
“Growing up in Ethiopia with middle class Indian parents is an interesting experience,” said Verghese. He concluded that it was because it seems as though one has four options in life: to become a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer or a failure.
Verghese chose to become a doctor, an endeavor that came about after his brother decided to become an engineer. But along the way, that dream was almost taken away from him due to the political events in Ethiopia, which forced him back to India as a refugee. All turned out well for Verghese, who was able to complete medical school at Madras University.
The life experiences also had the benefit of giving him claim to multiple national heritages: Indian, Ethiopian and American—rather than just one.
Perhaps the most engaging advice to creative writers came during the interview with Chitra Divakaruni. In this arena, he is the most quotable.
“My advice for writers is to get a good day job,” said Verghese. “It takes the pressure off writing if you have a job that pays the bills.”
Verghese also said that he considered himself solely as a physician, and that his writing career was an extension of being a physician, partly out of a desire to “tell the story of an HIV patient in a way that science and scientific papers couldn’t capture.”
He noted that it was the “day to day immersion in reality of chronic disease and suffering that gave him the impulse to want to write.”