Welcome to an insightful interview with Vijay N. Koli, a seasoned primary care physician who has left an indelible mark on the medical field with over four decades of dedicated service. Now retired, he resides in the vibrant city of San Antonio, Texas, alongside his physician wife. But there’s much more to this distinguished individual than his medical achievements. Born and raised in the bustling metropolis of Mumbai, India, Vijay’s journey took him across continents, acquiring a medical degree in Russia and traversing through England and Scotland before finding his home in the United States. Notably, he held the prestigious position of President in several medical organizations, including the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI). Today, we delve beyond the stethoscope and into the realm of literature as we explore Vijay N. Koli’s novel, “A Choice of Love.”
1. What inspired you to write “A Choice of Love”? Was there a personal connection to the themes explored in the novel?
My personal connection to the novel comes from my exposure to Tamil Brahmin culture via my wife, as well as from raising two children in the United States. However, the story was inspired by a scene that came to me about a decade ago. It began with a young man recovering from an illness, lying on his sofa. There is a young woman with him who is getting up to leave. The man holds her hand and begs her not to leave him. Without looking at him, she lowers her head and says, “I am getting engaged next week.”
I tussled with this scene for many months, trying to answer these questions:
Why would she agree to get engaged to someone else? Was she truly in love with the other man or was it due to pressure from her family?
2. Your book’s central themes are the clash of cultures and the search for identity. How did you approach the research process to ensure an authentic representation of both the Tamil Nadu culture and the family’s adopted Western lifestyle?
The themes from the novel are partly drawn from my own experience as an immigrant living in different countries, including living and raising my children in the United States.
My wife hails from the Tamil Iyer Brahmin (TAMBRAM) community. I learned a lot from her and visited her family on and off over the last five decades. As a result of her strict upbringing, she faced many problems when she arrived in Moscow, Russia, to study medicine. For example, she could not tolerate the smell of meat. Due to the lack of vegetarian options, she often went hungry and fainted many times. Similarly, in my novel,
In my family, we also had disagreements due to cultural differences. I am a Maharashtrian and come from a fishing community. Marrying a Brahmin girl was a true adjustment.
Additionally, I researched Tambram customs extensively and worked with a friend from the same community to ensure I captured all the details.
3. The characters in the novel are deeply relatable and well-developed. Can you tell us more about how you crafted these characters and what aspects of their journeys resonate with you the most?
Let us start with the protagonist, Avanti. I am deeply familiar with Bharatanatyam as my wife is a Bharatanatyam teacher. My daughter also grew up learning Bharatanatyam and has performed all over the country and in India. It was easier for me to portray her as a dancer.
Avanti’s love interest, Karthik, is of Indian descent but, having grown up in the USA, is ultimately American. Dating is commonly used in the West to find your life partner. His parents represent a mixed marriage as his mother is from South India, and his father is from Mumbai, like my own marriage. His parents are physicians, which is also inspired by my personal experience. My son is also a physician, and he partially influences the char.
I chose the third character, Sameer, from Rajasthan, India. After emigrating to America, he finds it more challenging to adapt to Western culture. Sameer is more comfortable spending time with the Indian community and his close circle of friends in New York. Alka Joshi, the author of The Perfumist of Paris and the Secret Keeper of Jaipur, influenced me.
4. “A Choice of Love” touches on the universal struggle of making difficult life decisions. Were there any real-life experiences or anecdotes that influenced the protagonist’s journey and the choices she had to make?
Yes. My parents permitted me to marry my wife so I could convince my would-be in-laws to allow the marriage to go forward. It was one of the most harrowing experiences of my life. My now father-in-law asked the logical questions about marrying out of caste and the consequences for his business, reputation, and the rest of his family, as my wife is a Brahmin and I come from a lower caste.
5. In “A Choice of Love,” the protagonist faces the dilemma of balancing tradition with modernity. Do you believe it is possible for individuals to reconcile these seemingly opposing forces, and if so, what advice would you give to someone struggling with a similar predicament?
Embarking on a marriage or lifelong relationship involves risk. Moreover, if one is going to marry outside of one’s culture or background, they must prepare themselves for the disapproval they may face from both sides. That said, it’s ultimately the couple who must live with each other through the good times and the bad, so if they are truly committed to each other, that can carry the day. Hopefully, over time, the parents can accept this choice once they can see the couple are happy together and/or if grandchildren come along, which is what happened in my case.
6. The novel’s setting comes alive with rich descriptions. How important was the sense of place in your writing, and how did you manage to vividly portray both Tamil Nadu and the Western environment?
I have visited Tamil Nadu several times over the last six decades to spend time with my in-laws, so I am quite familiar with the culture and environment. In San Antonio, I also have several friends from Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu.
The scenes depicting Chicago, New York, and San Antonio also come from my experience living in the United States for over 40 years.
7. “A Choice of Love” is a profound and thought-provoking read. What do you hope readers will take away from the book, and is there any particular message or theme you want to leave with your audience?
It is generally true that parents of immigrant children become uncomfortable when their offspring choose a life partner from another culture. Sometimes, a union between a boy and a girl, even of Indian descent from different states, can be fraught due to differences in language, diet, and even religious practices. However, these relationships are not impossible. From my own experience and those of other couples I’ve come across over the years if the couple are truly right for each other, the differences have little bearing on their lives.
Therefore, the message is that no matter how unpleasant a young man or woman’s choice of partner may first appear to the parents, they should take their son or daughter’s wishes seriously to help ensure their happiness down the line.
In the tapestry of Vijay N. Koli’s life, there’s a rich interplay of experiences—both as a medical professional and as a storyteller. His narrative prowess shines through “A Choice of Love,” as it masterfully navigates the challenges faced by an immigrant amidst cultural crossroads. From Mumbai’s bustling streets to the medical corridors of different continents, Vijay’s journey has been marked by innovation, compassion, and an unyielding spirit of exploration. As we conclude this interview, we invite you to delve into the pages of “A Choice of Love” to discover a world where cultural currents merge, identities are shaped, and the enduring power of choice is unveiled.