‘My Mother Called Me Unni’ – A Doctor’s Tale of Migration
‘My Mother Called Me Unni’ is a fascinating book, written in a style that captures your attention right from the beginning. It is an enigmatic yet uplifting portrait of life narrated by Dr.Venugopal Menon (Venu to his friends), who draws upon his cherished childhood in India and the teachings of his ancient heritage to question, understand, and ultimately assimilate into his new country, an exhilarating realization of the American Dream. Unni is a common name in Kerala, India, often used affectionately to address young boys. The author takes the reader on a remarkable journey that starts from his little town, Ernakulam, in the pre-independent India and after a few twists and turns ends in Houston, Texas, where he finally settles down for good.
Being the firstborn child of his parents–with six younger siblings at home, but it was his grandmother who actually raised him. He credits his maternal grandfather’s influence as the key for his future success. Being a precocious child, he started his school education in Grade 3. He talks fondly about his first alma mater – Sree Rama Varma High School– where he excelled in studies and his college days at Maharajah’s College in Ernakulam. Then he proceeded to Trivandrum Medical College where he met his future wife, Sreedevi. After a short stint in the Indian Army, he decided to go to Scotland for higher studies in medicine, much against the wishes of his family, where he had to deal with the simultaneous double punch of severe winter and home sickness. After one year, he packed up and migrated to USA where he did his Pediatric residency followed by Allergy fellowship, and then moved to Houston to join the famous McGovern Clinic.
Though he thought he was well settled in the US, he decided to go back home to India, an audacious move intended to make his parents happy. But in spite of his immediate success, for reasons beyond his control, he had to pack his bags and return to USA where he was readily welcomed back by his old colleagues at McGovern Clinic, eventually becoming the Director, and later the President, of the clinic. The troubles the author and his family had to go through during this international relocation – the difficulties in accommodation, the adjustment for his children and all the other problems inherent in such a move from the west to east and back – are incredible.
Many of Venu’s favorite childhood memories center around the sights and sounds of beautiful Kerala—popularly known as ‘God’s own country’— and its natural beauty, vibrant colors, delightful music and exotic culture. All of these are described with authenticity in this book and bring nostalgia to those of us who came from Kerala and give others a yearning to visit the land.
Amidst all the family and personal stories, Venu has skillfully woven the rich details of the political history and diverse social customs of the state as well, such as how the communists came to power, how the rampant corruption has impeded the progress of the country, how the class and caste system continue to be practiced and more. The book is also beautifully illustrated with cartoon-like diagrams that make the stories truly come alive. All in all, this is a compelling book that chronicles the author’s fascinating tale of migration from colonial India to the US, leaving the comfort zone of homeland, confronting countless challenges and finally navigating his way to unparalleled success. It’s a truly engaging memoir of an illustrious life and career spanning seven decades, eminently worth reading. It’s also the inspiring saga of an educated migrant who, like many of his compatriots, achieved great success by dint of his hard work and intelligence and enriched his adopted country– a moral story for all of us to cherish and follow. Venu’s humility, integrity and intellectual spirit are reflected throughout the pages of this book. He can be truly proud of his literary accomplishment along with his professional and academic achievements. I wish the author every success in the coming years.