Dr. Jay K. Raman’s autobiography, ‘From the Land of Spice to the Land of Oil’ is an outstanding creation that merits accolades in several genres. Personal narratives are seldom received well by the mainstream unless they are from established names or the coverage justifies engaging themes and unique rendering. ‘Spice and Oil’, fulfills the role beyond those objectives and offers the patrons a sumptuous treat, lavishly presenting them with descriptions that are inspiring and educational. It is seldom that we come across a biographical treatise that has kaleidoscopically recounted an array of topics of such empirical relevance that the consumers can intimately align with.
The author has cleverly inserted his life stories within the framework of their geographic and historic placements, weaving them through their regional, socio-cultural, political, and religious perspectives, and extensively quoting from appropriate references. The narrative is offered with measures of his philosophy and subtle sense of humor added as its intrinsic icing.
His coverage of Kerala, from its evolution from Parasurama to Pinarayi, its transitions through the kingdoms of Chera, Chola, and Pandya, the various skirmishes between its people, its political reorientations and social adaptations, are bound to capture the interest of the readers for the pure academic information loaded through its pages. His chronicling of the state from the times of Chinese commerce, the effect of Buddhism on its culture, as in ‘Saranam Ayyappa’, Adi Sankara’s unification of Hindus through Advaidic Vedanta philosophy, the communal adaptations from Namboodiris to the untouchables, the uniqueness of Nair community and its Matrilineal customs, and several such are preciously endearing accounts that are phenomenally scholastic and animating. Kerala’s celebrated martial arts, ‘Kalari Payattu’ from its origin to the present exhibition status, is presented with all its splendor that I have never found anywhere else.
The book enumerates historical accounts around the globe from the colonial domination of the British dynasty, decimating India’s millennia-old ethnic heritage and plundering its treasures, the tragic details of our partition with Pakistan, to an eye-witness narrative about the Arabs and particulars of the region, to Chinese revolutions, the battles of Alamo in Texas to the present-day politics and several such titbits with authority and deference that they deserve.
‘From The Land of Spice to The Land of Oil’, is an illuminative chronicle of an Indian physician’s life, narrated in an inimitably honest style, and presented with the historic, cultural, and social settings as relevant to his work. It is an engrossing story stretching from his upbringing in Kerala, India, his parents struggling to raise virtuous children through the economic lean times of the era, his time as a medical student and a devoted doctor, serving the army, his interesting transit through the Middle East, and eventually arriving in the USA where he settles down as a successful surgeon. The last few sections have been deftly devoted to his parents, children, professional life, healthcare, his extensive travelogues, charitable ventures, and concluding with his commanding and provoking opinions on a variety of universal issues.
The author’s language is simple, expressions lucid, style easy-flowing, details appealing, and the contents delivered with alacrity, humility, and humor. He doesn’t mince words or shies away from saying what he believes in, yet he presents them with honesty and no trace of vanity that the readers would enjoy the book for its integrity and convictions. One could draw a parallel of the writer’s mettle as an adept story-teller, like the proverbial Sanjaya of Mahabharata delineating the incidents of Kurukshetra war to the blind king Dhritharashtra.
As he repeatedly admits his success as the blessings of God, his story is an obvious example of hard work, ambition, dedication, commitment, diligence, sincerity, and in his case an exceptionally brilliant ‘breed’. Dr. Raman’s life has been a dutiful model in every role; as a son, student, husband, father, surgeon, friend, and community leader, serving as an ideal for others to emulate.
The book emphatically declares a reality, pertinent for the present times and place we live in. America may be a land of opportunity, but it is the kind of intelligent and diligent immigrants like Jay Raman who substantially and continually contribute to enriching this country with the knowledge they bring in, and the commitment they devote to their adopted land. Irrespective of where they come from or the color of their skin or the accent they speak, their contribution must be acknowledged, appreciated, and encouraged.
Having written my own memoirs, reading many others, and critiquing a few, I am delighted to endorse this book for the abundance of its contents and eloquence of its conveyance. The publication merits being on the best-seller list.
Dr. Venugopal Menon