Thursday, June 15, 2017

Book Nook: Cloud Messenger - Love and Loss in the Indian Himalayas

An idealistic medical student travels to India intending to study preventive medicine at a medical college in Lucknow. Instead, she falls in love with a young Indian pediatrician, sharing his dream of doing medical work in the Himalayan foothills. These ideas capture the young med student’s imagination, because she longs for an unusual life that crosses cultural boundaries. After a long–distance romance lasting four years, she leaves her homeland to marry. As she participates in the ceremonies of a traditional Hindu wedding, she steps into an entirely different cultural world and begins the adventure of a lifetime.
And so starts the vivid saga of Dr. Karen Trollope-Kumar’s breathtaking journey in her award-winning memoir, Cloud Messenger: Love and Loss in the Indian Himalayas.

In this poignant, heart warming, and gently humorous memoir, Dr. Trollope-Kumar recounts an unusual eleven-year chapter of her life. She and her husband Pradeep worked as medical doctors in the Himalayas, first in a rural hospital and later in remote mountain villages. When disaster struck — an assassination, an earthquake, a political crisis — their ideals, their safety, and their relationship are put at risk. 

“The most important message of my book is that it is possible to build bridges of understanding across the divides of culture, religion and class,” says Dr. Trollope-Kumar. “This was the great learning I gained from my 11 years in India and is just as important now in today’s multi-cultural landscape.”
Dr. Trollope-Kumar’s qualifications as both a physician and an anthropologist give the work substance and depth. Yet Cloud Messenger's greatest strength lies in its accessible and engaging style. It is a woman's journey of the heart; a journey that illustrates the way love can create a bridge across cultures.

I had a chance to interview Dr. Trollope-Kumar to learn more.
1. Why did you decide to write this book?
The biggest turning point in my life was that moment when I decided to leave Canada, move to India and marry Pradeep. It was a huge leap of faith, because I really didn’t know him very well and I certainly didn’t know much about India. That decision changed my life in every possible way – and I don’t regret it for a minute.  My worldview has been broadened by the experience of living in another culture, and marrying someone so different from myself has been a fascinating journey. I wanted to write this book to share some of the experiences and insights I'd gained during this 11 year period of my life.

2. What was one of the biggest surprises you found during your journey?
I discovered that it is indeed possible to build a bridge of love across the divides of religion, language, class, culture and ethnicity. I felt so close to the people we worked with, and to my Indian extended family.  And yet, to begin with, I couldn't even speak to them in their own language. But connections of the heart are deep and long-lasting.

3. How can people find commonalities to reach across cultural divides?
 In my book Cloud Messenger, I reflect on the ways that I connected with so many people in the Himalayan foothills. Those deep common human emotions- love, grief, hope, sorrow - are experienced by people all over the world.  When we connect with each other at that level, we realize that cultural divides do not separate us.   Ultimately I think this was my greatest achievement in those years I spent in India. Not the medical work that I did, but in the friendships and relationships I made.

4. How do you decide when to continue striving for a dream, and when to adapt that dream, when faced with adversity?
 I believe that each of us has an essential nature – a set of personality traits, gifts and talents we were born with. When we try to fight against our nature or to try to be someone who we are not, then inevitably we’ll feel frustrated and disappointed.  But when we begin to understand our true nature, we can find ways of expressing our gifts and talents in our daily life. It took me a long time to learn this life lesson, but it is so essential for happiness. I realized that I had been trying to be someone I was not...and this was one of the reasons why that dream of mine did not fully materialize.  As I matured, I learned that dreams sometimes need to change, to fit better with the kind of person you are. When you are working in alignment with your true gifts and talents, then so much more is achievable.
Dr. Karen Trollope-Kumar studied medicine at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. In her fourth year of medical studies she met her future husband, Pradeep, on a student visit to Lucknow. After graduation, she worked as a family physician in Thunder Bay before moving to India to marry the man she loved.

After returning to Canada in 1996, Dr. Trollope-Kumar completed a PhD in medical anthropology, the study of health in its social and environmental context. She has been actively involved in medical education, developing curriculum that blends medicine and anthropology. In 2008, she was appointed Co-Director of the Professional Competencies program in the medical school at McMaster, a position she held for six years that develops students’ competence in the “soft skills” of medical practice, such as communication skills, ethics, and professionalism.
She currently works as a family physician, and she and Pradeep spend part of every year in Dehradun, India, where they lived and worked early in their married life.
For more information, please visit and connect with her on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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