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Duke graduate gets life lessons in India

One might think Maharshi Patel has the perfect life.

He's 22, has a degree from Duke University, a book published by HarperCollins, a second book on the way and a promising job at Duke Energy.

But how he got to this point is a story full of inspiration.

Born in the state of Gujarat in India, Patel moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 8, finally settling in Charlotte in 2002 and attending Myers Park High School.

He says was raised in a household short on material pleasures. Then, when he was in high school, his father's oncology practice in South Carolina started booming.

Patel had been taught that material pleasures were not important, but once they came into money, he said that changed.

"I got a Mercedes the day I turned 17," Patel said.

"I didn't realize it at the time, but I was slowly losing my focus on life."

While attending Duke as an economics major, Patel was hit by a series of unfortunate events.

His grandmother in India died suddenly.

Two weeks later, one of his closest college friends died while playing basketball.

"We had been hanging out that day, and when he went to go play a game of basketball, I went to dinner with friends," Patel said. "He died from an undiagnosed heart condition."

A month later, Patel's father, Kashyap Patel, had a massive heart attack; he was recovering from two surgeries when he was in a near-fatal car accident.

"When I was in college and alone, I had nothing left with which to face the stresses," Patel said. "I was listless and lost and withdrawn. It created a self-perpetuating cycle and I lost interest in studies and activities."

Finally, after a terrible semester, Patel and his parents were called in by a dean who suggested Patel take six months off.

Back in his parents' home in Ballantyne and feeling he'd lost everything, Patel made up his mind to take his dad's car and drive it off a bridge.

"I was at my lowest. I didn't know what to do," Patel said.

"Somehow my parents knew what I was about to do and they stopped me. My dad said maybe I needed to talk to someone who could help me."

Patel ended up going to India for five months with his grandfather in Ahmedabad. By day, Patel volunteered with Sarvajal, teaching villagers how to run water purifiers. By night he listened to his grandfather's life story.

According to Patel, his grandfather, Bhogi, was orphaned before he was a teenager, went through abject poverty, struggled daily for food, lived through a drought and locust swarms and suffered in ways Patel said he could not imagine.

"But no matter what life through at him, he was able to overcome it with such grace and take everything in stride," Patel said.

"The number one lesson he taught me was not to look at life in isolated contexts."

According to Patel, Bhogi was living in the main city attending school when he learned his mother had pneumonia. They found a doctor who had penicillin, but the normally four-hour drive to the village took 40 hours because roads had been washed out by rain.

"My grandfather overheard the doctor saying if they'd made it in time they could have saved her," Patel said.

"And my grandfather found himself completely lost. ... He cursed everyone and everything, and that attitude followed him, until one day when he helped an old man across a road."

According to the story told to Patel, the old man Bhogi helped took Bhogi under his wing and made him see that while the rains caused his mother's death, they also saved thousands of people from starving. He got Bhogi to see the bigger picture.

Bhogi decided to use his life to make a difference.

"He studied like crazy and became and engineer and built (roads and bridges) in rural India to make sure every village was interconnected," Patel said. "He taught me you can't look at life from one angle, and you have to live for a higher purpose."

Patel changed the way he saw the events in his life and wrote "A Tale of Two Indians," published three months ago.

"I find myself so inspired by what my grandfather taught me, I thought it would be a sin not to share what I learned," Patel said.

He also recently co-wrote a second book, with his father, about an inspiring cancer patient, called "From Rain Drops to an Ocean." The book has been released at Barns & Noble and on Amazon.com.

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