A Conversation with Raman Khanna | See previous interviews

Raman Khanna
Assistant Clinical Professor

Raman Khanna

I’ve read that your name in Hindi may have several meanings including “beloved” or “pleasing.” What is your understanding and does it suit you?

When I was young, I was told it means “full of the love that is one’s true nature”. That might be an overly poetic interpretation from Sanskrit so I shorten it to “full of oneself,” which sometimes seems more appropriate to my wife and friends.

Can you tell me about your parents and siblings?

Both my mom and dad grew up in Delhi. My dad came in 1973 for residency and my mom came in 1977 after marriage. I have one younger brother in medical school right now. My mother is a homemaker and was very active in setting up a Sunday school for Hindu kids. My dad is a medical oncologist with a small private practice in Ohio. He has always loved his work and, largely through his grounding in Hindu philosophy, has been able to maintain a remarkable perspective: doing what he can to the best of his ability without attachment to the ultimate result, which can otherwise be heartbreaking when you’re treating cancer. That was a very powerful lesson for me growing up, seeing a philosophical ideal being lived, or at least aspired to, in practice. It’s a large part of the reason that I went into medicine despite having an oncologist for a father!

You appear always to be cheerful! Is that an inherited or innate trait?

I feel extraordinarily blessed. I am married to someone with whom I share so much: thoughts, ideals, and miserliness. I couldn’t imagine anyone better for me. I have a beautiful, healthy, and happy baby. And, I have a great, great job (thank you, Bob) and get to work on things that I absolutely love doing. So, even on the worst of days, all of that is still true so it’s hard to be unhappy.

While awaiting an elevator, do you a) check your iPhone, b) push the call button repeatedly, or c) people watch?

I definitely check email on my phone.

According to your CV, you received your BA in Religion from the Northwestern University College of Arts and Sciences. Are you active in speaking or writing about your own religion?

I wrote for a blog in medical school, and I still periodically write down my thoughts in case I want to take up non-research writing again someday. What I really want though is to provide my kid with the same grounding my wife and I received from our respective, deeply religious families. We can’t obviously force him to use it, but we can at least make sure it’s there.

Would you share an anecdote that illustrates how cultural practices may be confused with religious observance?

When we were to be married, certain traditions conflicted with our beliefs, particularly regarding some of the symbolism of “giving away the woman.” My wife had a heated conversation with the priest who ultimately agreed to skip this part, considering it (in our opinion, correctly) a cultural rather than religious observance. I think what also mollified him was that, quite rare for a young couple now, we kept pushing him to include other religious components he was willing to otherwise jettison so the wedding would run as close to “normal length”—approximately 3 hours—as possible. This may seem cruel to the guests, but Indian weddings are a colossally colorful, festive, and disorganized sequence of events, where no one pays any attention to the bride and groom, so we got away with it. Our priest ultimately realized we cared much more deeply about the religious ceremony than what we were wearing. This is another example of the difference between culture and religious observance.

What type of games do you play and are you good at them?

I played chess in high school, and one year our team won the regionals. I still play online on occasion. I enjoy other board games, too, such as Risk. I also love playing Ultimate Frisbee.

Are there times as a researcher when you find yourself in the position of a sales person?  How comfortable are you with that role?

All the time. I’m becoming increasingly comfortable, and it depends upon the type of research one does, but when you’re doing a project you have to set up yourself, a lot of getting help is talking very nicely with people and getting them to believe in your idea. For most of my projects, which have been small and local, I’ve learned that you can go a long way just by being nice and showing up. My first meeting with a potential collaborator I had never met happened to fall on Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. It’s tradition to exchange sweets on this day, so I brought some with me to a person I’d never met (and whose allergies were a mystery). He was initially surprised, but seemed to warm up very quickly, and we ultimately did collaborate fruitfully. You have to sell your idea, especially since people are often skeptical about anything new until they are convinced and willing to help.

What is the most adventurous thing you have done?

This is embarrassing but we are not adventurous people. I am very risk-averse!

As one who is comfortable with technology, is there anything old fashioned that you rather miss?

I think I’m a pretender to comfort with technology, but I do like looking at small medical pocketbooks like the Pharmacopoeia. By the time my resident turns on his/her phone and types in the drug name, I’ve usually found the name and dose in the little pocketbook. The smartphone just hasn’t gotten there yet but it probably will soon.

What is the best thing about being a dad and are you like yours?

The best thing so far is just watching him growing, playing, and making connections. I am like my dad in a few ways, he was pretty chill about things like run-of-the-mill injuries so I don’t get too worked up if he falls or bumps into things. My dad was pretty involved but I definitely have more time than he did because he had a private practice; I’ve been lucky to be able to work from home periodically or be with him if he is sick. Culturally, too, there has been a big shift so a thing like diaper changing is a shared responsibility rather than all on the mom as it was for my parents.

I love that you enter my work area singing. Have you ever been in a chorus and what music do you love?

I was in show choir in high school and in college I was in two a capella groups. One was Indian pop songs. The other was a barbershop quartet (but with a beat-boxer), singing U2 and Barenaked Ladies. I’ve always been a hummer and I still sing lullabies to the baby at night.

This was delightful. Thank you, Raman.

- by Oralia Schatzman

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