1. Never discount or ignore anyone, you never know, when you need that person’s help.
2. Take everyone together for a common cause.
3. Be frugal when dealing with public money.
4. Never waste a penny. He gave me an example, that it is easy toss a penny but takes an effort to pick up a coin from the ground.
Although, I had spent only 18 years of my early life with my father, but that helped me develop my personality. In Kerala’s composite structure, people from all religions lived and worked happily together. My father also promoted communal harmony among all sections of the community. That was a great influence on me.
After I finished my Higher Secondary (or in Kerala it is called Pre-Degree), I joined Malaviya Regional Engineering College (MREC) in Jaipur, now known as Malaviya National Institute of Technology (MNIT). Joining MREC in Jaipur was the best thing happened to me. When I reached Jaipur I couldn’t speak well either in English or Hindi, but I learned. Also, I came out of the Kerala shell and became an Indian. After graduation, working as a lecturer at the same college and later a metallurgist at the Alcobex Metals in Jodhpur owned with Oswal Jain Marvadis, and knowing every worker in my foundry unit with all communications in Hindi, it made me aware of intricacies of India as a nation with all different religions and castes with subsets and sub-subsets.
In 1973, I received a fellowship to join Columbia University School of Engineering. I did a Master’s and Ph.D. in Mineral Engineering. Simultaneously joined a second Ph.D. program in the Industrial Engineering and Operations Research, however completed a Profession Degree without doing a doctoral thesis. Doing my student days at Columbia, it was a coincidence that I got involved in the Indian American community activities. Columbia University had an India club run by the students. However, it was a rich club since it used to screen Bollywood films which brought good revenue to the club from the new Indian and Indo-Caribbean immigrants.
Columbia’s India Club was very influential because of the revenue it had from selling tickets for Bollywood films. When the first Hindu Temple was being established in Flushing, New York, India Club wanted to present a check at the consecration of the new temple or Kumbhabhishekam. After the ceremony, my friends wanted to stay back, while I was returning back aloneto Manhattan where I resided. While I was walking to the subway station, there were three white youths behind me making slur and one even threw an empty soda can on me. Of course, I was scared, however, I didn’t react and just walked away, as if I didn’t even notice the can hit me. That was one instance, which inspired me to work on making our community’s presence felt in the society we live. That was the time when people from India were coming in large numbers by AIR India’s 747 and settling in New York city forming different cultural organizations, temples, churches and Gurudwaras. The first task was to mobilize the community groups to come under an umbrella organization in large cities, organize festivals and invite American elected officials including mayors, Congressional representatives and other influential people. So the first Federation of Indian Association (FIA) was created in New York in 1977 and I served as its President for 5 years. FIA organized festivals and other programs for the larger society. In 1977, FIA established a first office in the US Capital to campaign for Cyclone Relief Bill by US Senator Kennedy. FIA hosted Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai and External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 1978. That was the largest crowd ever assembled in the US for a program till that time. In 1980, FIA organized the First National Convention of Asian Indians in North America which resulted in the formation of the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA). FIA also organized the first Indian Day Parade in New York city in 1981, which is currently the largest Indian Day parade outside India. The successful experience of FIA was taken to other major cities in the US.
NFIA was to bring Indian American community together to campaign in legislative issues affecting Indian community and India.
NFIACampaigned to keep the family reunification clauses in the Immigration Bill when it was passed in 1986. NFIA testified before the Foreign Relations subcommittee in the senate to stop massive military aid to Pakistan in 1988.
NFIA had also served as a spring board for other national organizations. In 1984, NFIA organized a national Indian medical doctors convention in Washington DC with a White House briefing, resulting in American Association of Physicians of India (AAPI) consolidating as a national organization.In 1986, NFIA organized a national convention of Indian American Hotel and Motel owners which resulted in the formation of Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) one year later.
In 1988, there were human rights violations of our people around the world, in the Caribbean, South Africa and Fiji and even in the US with Dotbuster issue. NFIA organized weeklong First Convention of People of Indian Origin in 1989 in New York where Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO)was formed. A few of the resolutions at the convention were granting Dual nationality and voting rights for Indian citizens living outside India. Of course, we kept on campaigning on the same in the next 15 years, first came PIO card and then the OCI card. NRIs do have voting rights, but still needs to work on it.It took almost ten years for GOPIO to evolve a constitution with life members and chapters around the world.GOPIO has now 100 hundred chapters in 35 countries in addition over a couple of hundred Life Members.
GOPIO did several successful campaigns, including reducing the massive fine by Govt of India for not surrendering the Indian passports, townhall meetings with elected US Congressional Representatives and Senators forpassage of US-India nuclear treaty under the Bush administration. GOPIO was also in the forefront when Govt. of India organized the First Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in 2003.
Among other institutions I had initiated are South Asian Council for Social Services (SACSS) which has a full-time office in Queens serving our community, National Indian American Association for Senior Citizens and co-founded Indian American Kerala Center, which serves the Kerala and Indian community. When the Indian Consulate in New York initiated a campaign in 1990 to establish a chair for Indian studiessat Columbia University, I was asked to co-Chair. My commitment to organize this was that, if we establish this first chair, there will be a dozen such chairs within the next two decades. Now we have more that 2 dozen such chairs and programs in major American universities.
All these institutions which I had initiated are still flourishing. What these community institutions did was to provide a forum and network for our new generations to help them involve in the political process of America. Now, Indian Diaspora community has established very well in the political leadership in UK, Canada. We have Indian origin President in Mauritius, Suriname, Guyana and Synchelles. In the last election in the US, for the first time we have an Indian/Black origin Vice President Kamala Harris, four House of Representatives and over 25 state senators and assembly reps. This is a great achievement and community organizations as well asother institutions provided the groundwork and support for these elected officials to be successful in the political process.
As the Indian Diaspora community was mobilized and organized worldwide to be in the political mainstream, it also helped to build up image for India as well as take up India’s causes worldwide. Although, the pandemic hit India badly in the last few months, we NRIs and PIOs have come forward to help.I am sure India will come out of it successfully. In the last 250 years, three most successful diasporas were the British, Jewish and lastly in the last century, the Chinese. In this millennium, the new successful Diaspora emerging is the Indian Diaspora. We the members of the Indian Diaspora helped to achieve that.
I once again thank Excel Foundation for this great honor.