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May 31, 1999
The Son Also Rises
Joseph Marc in Los Angeles
When 22-year-old Gotham Chopra came out with a slim novel, Child of the Dawn two years ago, many people thought he was riding on his father Deepak Chopra's coat-tails. The novel, with a printing of 82,000 copies, was published by Amber-Allen that had also issued Deepak Chopra's The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.
Child of the Dawn, based on the principles in Success, has earned back more than the $ 15,000 the young author had received in advance. But its success was small compared to the 1 million copies Success sold over the last five years.
Gotham – who was known as Gautama then—made no secrets then that he was indeed using his father's reputation to launch his own career. The novel – a fable about the quest for meaning and happiness – was published when he was studying English literature, religion and film at Columbia University. His father had stoutly defended his son’s literary debut.
"If you are not using all the opportunities you have, you would be a fool," the senior Chopra had told a reporter then. "The way we think, karmically he chose this, and he chose to be my son."
'When Gautama was 6 years old,' the senior Chopra wrote in the preface, '… he told me that we had met before, a long time ago on a bridge near a mountain in Tibet, and that we were in the habit of switching souls.'
But today Gotham is his own man – at least eight million children who watch him on cable television as part of their social studies will vouch to that. As an anchor and reporter for Channel One, his program is watched in 12,000 schools across America. He is also the story editor of the comic book, Bulletproof Monk, about a Kung-Fu fighting Buddhist. Several articles in newspapers and magazines including The New York Times will agree with the teen fans of Gotham Chopra that he is one of the most watched twenty-plus person in America.
His fond father, Deepak Chopra, says his son is wiser and more mature of the two of them.
"When I was his age I was filled with uncertainties," the senior Chopra says. "I always wanted outside references."
"He is his own man, he listens to his own inner self, and will not automatically accept advice from someone, never mind how great a reputation that person has," Deepak Chopra says. Perhaps the son is the real karma yogi "He is far less attached to outcome than I am."
Even the decision to change Gautama into Gotham was his own, the father says.
Gotham says he did not change the spelling in his name for numerological reasons but he was tired of it being mispronounced. He readily admits Gotham sounds more hip.
Being hip has its own advantages, he says. His newsprogam, for instance, brings to the class room serious issues such as the Kosovo war which most teenagers would not be interested in.
"The constant challenge is to engage and excite the youth, without trivializing an issue like Kosovo," he says, "so that they will pay attention to world events."
Though he was born and raised in Boston, Gotham, who has extensively traveled and visits India every second year, feels the urge to bring the world into American classrooms. Not just the world, he says, he also wants to inform American kids about the "strangers" amidst them.
Recently he produced a documentary about Muslim immigrants; included in the interviews were several teenagers from the Indian subcontinent.
"Many Americans think of terrorists and fundamentalists when they think of Islam," he says. "By showing to young Americans that Muslim teenagers are just like us – that they want to have friends, want to do well in life, want to have fulfilling careers – I hope the message reaches American parents."
He says he admires the moralistic passion among the young Muslim immigrants. "They want to lead upright lives, they do not want to drink or smoke… and they love and respect their parents. They are good role models."
His parents – Deepak and Rita -- are excellent role models, too, Gotham says. The Chopras have two children – the older one, Mallika, has returned to America after an Indian sojourn to pursue a masters program in business.
"They know the art of gentle persuasion," he says.
He regrets he does not have his father's medical expertise. "But then, I am a product of bicultural upbringing," he says. "I talk and deal with today's generation on my own terms. I understand their language and subculture."
And in his shows he talks to them in their language. He recently presented astronomer and former Senator John Glenn as a latter day Icarus. When the Super Bowl was approaching, Gotham traveled to Mexico to the Mayan handball courts to show his viewers that the warrior impulse has been part of history for centuries. He would loved to have shot the segment in India but Mexico is a few hours flight from his Beverly Hill home. He also has a home in New York since his girl friend goes to school on the East Coast.
Gotham says he plans to write books about spirituality geared to the young generation. The first of those books is due at the end of the year.
Very few of his readers would know his father, even though Deepak Chopra’s two dozen books have sold some eight million copies in 25 languages.
"So we have our own worlds and audiences," he says. "But then, who knows, some of his readers may want to read my books, and my readers may want to check out his work."
The senior Chopra is not waiting for that connection to happen. He is already out with his second novel, Lords of Light, a spiritual sci-fi story aimed at mostly young readers.
Will there be friendly competition between the father and son?
"He is the real story teller," says Deepak Chopra with a big chuckle. "He has been writing stories from his childhood. I am new to this."
Karmically, the two could work on a book together. "Anything is possible," says Gotham with a chuckle. "But frankly we have never thought about it."
Joseph Marc is a New York-based freelance writer.
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