WASHINGTON: At about the same time the death of a farmer in New Delhi brought the capital’s attention on farm suicides, a young Indian-American was invoking with gratitude the Indian roots of his success in the United States: his agriculturist grandfather’s resilience and sacrifice that led his parents emigration and his own remarkable achievement in this country.
“By any reasonable measure, I shouldn’t be standing here. My father is the son of a farmer in rural India. He was supposed to have been a farmer, as was I,” Vivek Murthy recalled to a gaggle of supporters gathered at a military base in Fort Myer after he was administered oath (on a Bhagavad Gita) on Wednesday by vice president Joe Biden as the 19th surgeon general of the United States, America’s doctor-in-chief.
Clearly unaware of the tumult in India over the farmer suicide, Murthy then added, “But for my grandfather’s insistence that his son get an education, even if that meant going into debt, we might have never left that village (Hallegere in Karnataka’s Mandya district) to go out in the world and – as my grandfather also insisted – start fixing what needed fixing.”
“We were not supposed to have become Americans. My parents stopped in three other countries – including a brutal dictatorship – on their journey to get here. They saved up money and scrounged for information about job opportunities, always knowing that America was the destination,” Murthy continued, outlining what has now become a familiar Indian-American template for success.
He then thanked everyone who helped him, at 37, become America’s youngest surgeon-general, and the first Indian-American to occupy an office that carries with it a three-star military designation – vice admiral Vivek Murthy – saying, “I am who I am because of my grandmother’s faith, my father’s strength, my mother’s love, my sister’s support, and my fiancee’s unyielding belief in me. I am blessed to have all of them here with me today. I will always be grateful to them for the sacrifices they have made.”
Encomiums came in thick and fast for the remarkable man for whom President Barack Obama, who nominated him for the position, battled through Republican opposition for more than a year to secure a confirmation for what will be a four-year tenure.
“I applaud the Senate for confirming Vivek Murthy,” the President said following the confirmation. “As ‘America’s Doctor,’ Vivek will hit the ground running to make sure every American has the information they need to keep themselves and their families safe. He’ll bring his lifetime of experience promoting public health to bear on priorities ranging from stopping new diseases to helping our kids grow up healthy and strong.”
Indeed, Murthy has been running even before his swearing in, shooting a promotional film with the Sesame Street character Elmo last week to promote vaccination. On Wednesday, he put forth an expansive agenda for America, befitting the nation’s “TopDoc” as he was called on Twitter, including promoting healthy living, raising awareness of mental illness, tackling childhood vaccinations, and curbing drug abuse.
“Today, we face a rising tide of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. We will lose nearly half a million lives this year to tobacco-related disease. Forty-two million people in our country struggle with mental illness,” he said of a country which spends more per capita on health than any other nation but yet has poor outcomes. “Heroin and prescription drug abuse ravage towns across America, and vaccine-preventable diseases we thought we had contained have come back with a vengeance because of fear and misinformation.”
Times of India
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