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May 23, 2012
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Ravi, my father, was born on June 1, 1960, in the city of Indore, India. Ravi lived in Indore for the first twelve years of his life, and was raised by his grandparents while his parents began a life in the United States. He has two older siblings, Rekha and Rakesh. At the age of one, he was diagnosed with polio and received treatment for all of his childhood. In 1972, Ravi emigrated individually from India to the United States, where he went to live with his parents in order to receive more direct care and intense rehabilitation.

What were some things that really stuck out to you about living conditions in India?
Well, you’ve actually been to the town I grew up in. There are certain parts of big cities like Mumbai or Delhi that are just very posh and pristine, and they look like American cities. But then the other parts of the cities are horrible. Horrible hygienic conditions, right? All the streets have poor sewages, the apartments aren’t that clean. We lived in a relatively modest to poor neighborhood, so the hygiene and the sewage wasn’t the greatest. I mean, we lived in a pretty good apartment, so I think that was fine, but if you walked outside of the building, then it wasn’t necessarily that clean. We were on the second floor.

Were there any other hardships because of economic issues or your living conditions?
Yeah, we were quite poor. My brother and I actually didn’t even have a bed to sleep on. So we would sleep on the floor. And economically, we lived in an apartment and we were the only Jains in the community, and it was surrounded by the Muslim community. So we were out of faction a little bit.

When you were in India, what were some of your favorite activities?
I liked to study. I loved books. I also loved reading a lot. I also liked playing cricket. Cricket was my favorite sport. I was a good bowler and a good catcher, but I couldn’t run. Somebody had to run for me. Fielding, I could play as a catcher.

In India, did you have any friends that were really close to you or anybody, who wasn’t a member of your family, which was close to you and who you spent a majority of your time with?
Just like any other school, right? You make friends at school, so I had tons of friends at school and some of them lived close to our neighborhood, so I’d play with them. But my brother and sister also went to the same school. Schooling was a little bit different for us in India because we would also have Saturday school and we also went from grade kindergarten all the way up to twelfth grade in the same school. So I would see my brother and sister as well. They were my best of friends.

What were some of the hardships you faced as a child, both in India and the U.S.?
So in some sense, you know, I’m very blessed because I had some great loving grandparents in India, and also when I came over to the U.S., my parents. And the Indian society is a little bit different than the American society in the sense that the majority of the parents and grandparents actually lived together with the grandkids. So, the grandparents raised us, but at the same time, the hardships were we lived without our parents. That’s one of the biggest hardships I could imagine.

We talked a little bit about polio so far. Was that your greatest hardship in your early childhood?
I believe so, yes.

Were there any other hardships that even came close to polio?
I didn’t think so at the time, but at the same time, obviously economic hardships were quite real. But our grandparents made it very smooth for us. But, you can imagine if your parents are in another country, and yet my father was supporting everybody back home in India, money was pretty tight for us. So we necessarily didn’t have all of the good clothes. I had a lot of hand-me-downs from my brother. And also, we certainly didn’t have that many great foods, but we just had the relative cheaper foods.

What were some of your fondest memories of India in your early childhood?
Going to school, that was one of my favorite things. Also, just reading books because I loved to just delve into fiction. And of course, like I said, playing cricket. But then we also had badminton. We would also have other board games that we would play, like Chutes and Ladders.

Why did you decide to immigrate?
So, it’s a long and complicated story. Initially, I actually had some surgeries done in India. And the last surgery was botched. That is the last surgery didn’t turn out to be the way that it was supposed to be. So my parents brought me over here to have surgery.

And what surgeries were you having to repair yourself?
So I actually had polio when I was a kid. When I was one year old, I had polio. And it actually affected my lower extremities, that’s my legs. And so I actually had surgery on the hip, both hips. But then the right ilio-tibial band was cut mistakenly in India.

So you had to come to the U.S. to get that fixed? And that required more surgery?
Yes. To get it corrected.

When did you realize you wanted to emigrate from India to the U.S.?
I don’t think I had a choice, right? Because at the age of eleven, when they cut the ilio-tibial band, spelled i-l-i-o-dash-t-i-b-i-a-l [laughs], my dad actually decided that it was not sufficient in India and that he needed to bring me over here. So he checked out all of the places in the Chicago area and Children’s Memorial Hospital was actually very strong in orthopedics and orthopedic surgery for polio patients. So he actually brought me here to one of the leading experts in the world.

What method of transportation did you use to emigrate to the U.S.?
Well, I certainly didn’t walk. [laughs] Actually, I just flew. I took Air France. I remember that day vividly. I even have a picture of that, with my grandfather and the whole family when I left. I took Air France to Paris, and in Paris, one of my father’s friends, Dr. Johari, met up with me and then he came over with me from Paris to Chicago.

When you decided to immigrate, what were some of the things that you had to give up in order to come to the U.S.?
Well give up the whole country, right? [chuckles] And give up my grandparents. That was a tough loss. And my brother and sister still stayed in India. So that was a huge hardship. And of course, uncles and aunts and everybody else.

When you immigrated, did you gain anything: knowledge, material goods, or anything else?
I think I gained knowledge about a new country. I also gained respect for this country and also the freedom. But don’t forget that India is the largest democracy in the world. So it’s kind of nice to go from one democracy to another. I also like the fact that you can get pretty much anything that you want in this country, and there’s nothing like rationing.

Upon arrival in the U.S., what was the hardest thing to adjust to?
I would just say life in the U.S. is the toughest, you’re right. But at the same time, making friends. It took me a long time to make friends. Also, to understand the culture. As you know, I’m a vegetarian because of my religion, so when I came here in 1972, there wasn’t really that much cognizance in the Chicago area about vegetarianism. My friends were very kind about it, but at the same time, you really couldn’t go to McDonald’s and order something that was vegetarian, unlike today. I think food was a big issue when I was growing up.

When you did come to the U.S., were you ever singled out with racial comments or actions?
I don’t believe so. I moved into a community that was actually very welcoming and I remember going to grade school, or actually I came into eighth grade. I had already passed eighth grade in junior high in India, but then they actually decided that I needed to just repeat eighth grade because of English. And so I did that at Lincoln Junior High, which is like middle school now. They were really great people. That was the time when I had surgery too, so some of the kids would come over to my house and visit me. I actually didn’t feel that there was any racism that I encountered, no.

Between childhood in India and childhood in the U.S., what were some of the biggest differences?
Childhood in India was a little more driven towards poverty. Childhood in the U.S. was a little bit better. Childhood in India, I had a lot more relatives, so that was much more closeness that way. Childhood in America, I had a lot more friends.

Do you feel any regrets about immigration?
No, I don’t. I love America. I also love India, but I do think that there are a lot more opportunities in America compared to India at the time I was growing up. Now, economic turns have occurred, but at the same time, I still strongly believe America is the best place to live in.

What was your favorite part of India? Or what did you miss most?
Family. I think having that close family. My grandparents have passed away now, but clearly I miss them a lot.

How often were you in the hospital in India and in the U.S. because of your polio?
A lot of times. When I was growing up in India, in Indore, we would have to have clinic appointments routinely. Initially, at least until I was about six or seven years of age, we would have to go into the hospital every week for physical therapy. But even before then, sometimes I would have to stay in the hospital for weeks on end for physical therapy. They had tried certain other therapies, as well, that didn’t work too well because they didn’t understand how best to do rehabilitation for polio when I was growing up. And that’s in the 60’s. And don’t forget, we were much more advanced in America as compared to India. I would say India was a decade to two decades behind in the context of polio. But luckily, a lot of people who had polio, either in the U.S. or in India, in the 50’s had to be on respirators, but I never had to go on a respirator. No Iron Lung, that was good. I had to also go to Mumbai, which was known as Bombay in the old days, where we had to go to this children’s hospital where they did orthopedic procedures. And I had to go once every three months to once every six months, and in the summers, I just spent it in Bombay as well. So I spent a lot of time in the hospitals. But then, when I came to the U.S., I had two corrective surgeries, so I was just in and out of the hospital. I had two major corrective surgeries, and I had a full body cast as well when I was in India and here. But I think this is not a story that one should feel bad about, but it really taught me how to be strong and how to have strength, but it also taught me how I should be helping other people by truly understanding going through it. So that’s why I actually became a physician, because I wanted to help others and not suffer.

When you were younger did you see any of your physicians and doctors as mentors for you to become a doctor?
Almost all of them. Especially my dad, my dad’s a physician as well.

Where did you go for high school? And what were some of your favorite activities, your favorite subjects, and who were your best friends?
Maine South High School. My friends actually were from Lincoln Junior High. But at the same time, I loved math and I loved science. I actually liked all the classes I took and I had wonderful teachers. In ninth grade and part of the tenth grade, I had to be hospitalized several times because of my surgeries and so forth. So they were very understanding of this and, initially, when I was in eighth grade, I was in a body cast, so a lot of the schooling had to be done at home as well. But then when I came to high school, I was on crutches, but then I gave up crutches later, in my senior year, when I had a cane. So I actually enjoyed talking to all of my friends and even my teachers. But they also gave me a little bit of flexibility; they gave me a little bit of extra time to go from one end of the hallway to the other. I took the elevator, and you know those elevators were slow. They were quite slow at the time, but I would try to get there on time, but sometimes I wouldn’t make it. But then I also had study periods and I loved study periods because I could go to the library, and I would just read all of the math books and all of the science books because I just loved that. I did that independently, nobody had to tell me. And I’m glad I did that because I truly got to understand and appreciate the subjects. But then I also read a lot of fiction too. My favorite was The Hobbit. I loved reading in that library. Maine South Library was my favorite place to hang out. They had these books by George Gamow, who was a noble laureate physicist. And he wrote these books called Mr. Tompkins in Wonderland. Those were great books that tried to explain all these physics phenomena. I really got into it, especially my junior and senior year, and that’s what convinced me to go into medicine. I took part in physical education by having to come to the games, or just having to come and watch. So I did go to the physical education period, but I would just sit there and change my clothing. I would watch the game and talk to my friends.

What was the hardest part about being in the full body cast and having to walk with a cane and crutches?
Well, full body cast means that you can’t move, so the hardest part is you’re just laying there. For crutches, it’s hard and difficult to get around. Actually I had two crutches, left and right. So it was hard to get around in a faster fashion. But then when I had the cane, it was much easier. To me, it was an awakening meaning that I could go from laying still for months end to going to at least walking to going to independent. And then when I got to college, I even gave up the cane. So I’m very happy with that. There were lots of funny stories though. I would fall down once in a while and I would just start making fun of myself because if you can’t make fun of it, then everybody feels sorry for you. Whenever I would fall down on crutches or on stairs, I’d just start laughing and everybody would laugh. You don’t have to feel sorry for yourself, you just have to get up and keep moving. My friends helped me a lot as well. I loved it a lot that my parents were my champions, but my friends also were my champions.

Did you face any academic hardships during your tenure at Maine South?
No. That’s one thing I loved. I loved reading and writing and getting into all of the classes. I loved every one of my classes there’s not one regret I have. I love English, I love history, I loved every one of those classes. I do thank Maine South for my education because they taught me how to be really self-sufficient and how to understand and look up information if I didn’t have it.

Since you still predominantly spoke Hindi, in what language were you taught?
That’s an interesting thing. We got taught in English in India but we spoke in Hindi. So I knew how to read in English, but I didn’t know how to speak in English. I really had to adopt quickly, but that’s where I think Lincoln Junior High helped me a lot, because they were able to teach slow enough for me to be understand. But as I started to learn more and more, everybody started to talk at regular pace. To be honest, I learned a lot of English from watching TV. When I would come home from school, I would just watch TV. For me, I learned so much about language and culture. I think you have to listen to it, you have to be able to understand it, you have to understand how the culture behaves, what kind of slang language one uses. I guess I really learned a lot of that from my friends and television. “Hogan’s Heroes”, that was my favorite TV show. It was about these prisoners of war in World War II in Stalecht 13. It was the funniest show ever; I still think it’s funny.

When you were a senior in high school, you had to go through the college admissions process. What was that like?
Well, my parents and I discussed it a lot and we really didn’t want to go outside the Chicago area. Undergraduate, I was just interested in the Chicago schools. I ended up choosing to study at Loyola University in Chicago.
Thank you for your time.

Ravi went on to graduate from Loyola University and continued his education by enrolling in two PhD programs and in medical school. By the time his education was finished, he had amassed bachelors’ degrees in biology, chemistry, and math, a mino r in physics, PhD’s in biochemistry and biophysics, and a degree in medicine. He took a position at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts where he conducted research and was a clinical physician in thoracic oncology. During his time at the Dana Farber, he became an instructor of medicine and later an assistant professor in the Harvard Medical System. He then accepted a job offer from the University of Chicago, where he currently works as a tenured professor of medicine and as the head of the Thoracic Oncology department. He is happily married to his wife Deborah, and together they have three children: Sabrina, Meghan, and Nicholas.

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