Passing on the Mantle to the Next Generation of Hindus
By Jawahar Malhotra
HOUSTON: These were the words that the elders in the Hindu community were waiting to hear as the youth from among them stepped up to accept their awards. One after the other, they spoke of their journeys, expressed love for the cause of Hinduism and how they would go forward. It brought elation to many elders that their efforts to promulgate Hinduism in the U.S. will have torchbearers to carry the work on.
Billed by the Hindus of Greater Houston as a Gala Night, the event was bereft of the usual glitter of other galas, and attended by 300 supporters. Rather, it was a gala that shone its glitter on those who have stood out among the dozen or so major Hindu institutions in the metropolis and on those individuals who have done so much to bring these institutions up through their own persistent hard work, and for some, their strong financial support.
Held this past Sunday evening, June 12 at India House, the HGH presented the 11 recipients of its first Youth Awards, including one to an organization, the BAPS Youth Wing, for exemplary behavior, attitude and service to the cause of Hinduism nationwide. Eleven stalwarts of the Hindu organizations across the Houston area were called upon to present the awards to the deserving youth, some about to enter college and others already working professionals.
They were called onstage by the emcee for the awards segment and a young new voice on the Indian media circuit, Hiren Joshi, son of the exuberant Shoba Joshi of the Geetanjali radio program, who sat along with her husband Rakesh among the audience. Hiren is a senior at the University of Houston and also hosts a segment called It Happens Only in India, on the radio show.
And many of the recipients were equally passionate of their work so far, even as they were stepping into young adulthood. Khyati Vaidya was presented by a founder of the Janamashtami program first held 22 years ago, Raj Syal, and said she got involved with the Hindu Swayam Sevak Sangh 16 years ago. Anish Patel received his award from another founder of the Janamashtami program (which led to the creation of the HGH), Padmakanth Khambatti. Patel received a rousing ovation for his work while at UT Austin in developing the video, website and visuals for the Hindu Students Association.
Gaura Klein received his award from Vijay Pallod, an universal cheerleader of Indian community events. Gaura has been raised in the ISKCON Mandir and was dressed in a starched white dhoti with gold and vermillion edging, a black Mayapuris t-shirt and an amulet and spoke of his love for Krishna through a song he wrote after his first visit to Vrindavan, and sang while accompaning himself on his guitar.
Tajas Dave received his award from Sushma Mahajan, who along with her husband Dev co-founded the Arya Samaj of Houston and is on the Board of the Inter Faith Ministries. Tejas opened his acceptance with a shlok, and then, in a very focused, poised and strong way issued a call to duty for Hindus. “I am ready to take on the responsibility to take the Sanatan Dharam to future generations,” he exclaimed.
Disha Roy, in colorful attire befitting her passion for Indian classical dance which she learnt from Ratna Kumar who heads one of Houston’s leading dance schools, received her award from Swatantra Jain, a co-founder of the JVB Preksha Meditation Center. Disha, whose her father is President of the Bangladeshi Association, said that her experiences taught her that we were all the same, regardless of religion or creed.
Kavita Pallod, a recent graduate of UT Austin, and the daughter of Vijay Pallod, received her award from Dr. Raj Bhalla, the President of India Culture Center. Kavita, in her husky voice, related the story of how she got into the Teach America Corps based upon the leadership skills she had instilled in her through the work her parents encouraged her to do in setting up the Hindu Students Association at UT and the first Holi celebration there that drew over 2,000 people. A short video followed to show highlights of this celebration.
Shivani Agrawal received her award from Santosh Gupta, President of Ekal Vidalaya USA, an Indian based charity that provides free elementary education for underprivileged children. She said that working with the HAS showed her that being different was not only okay but good even.
Raveena Bhalara received her award from Dr. Sudha Rajan President of S. Vyasa. A young high school graduate on her way to college, she said she has been involved with the VPSS in Houston and feels fortunate to be born an Indian.
The next award to Abhishek Balakrishnan was presented by Jugal Malani, who co-founded Unique Industrial Products and is a self-effacing, unflinching supporter of many causes in the Indian community. Abhishek spoke about his ties to the Meenakshi Temple in Pearland and his love for volunteering on projects there. He is about to enter Duke University.
Akash Gupta received his award from Suresh Patel, a bulwark of the VHP Youth Summer Camps. Gupta has been going to the Arya Samaj of Houston for the past four years and encompassed his whole existence in the word that has become second nature to him, idemamana, “which means ‘This is not me’,” Akash explained, adding that he had learnt its true meaning. “I will go out and make the world noble,” he said as a delighted Dev Mahajan, administrator of the Arya Samaj, clapped enthusiastically.
Charu Thammaram received her award from Ramesh Butada, President of Star Pipes, and a staunch supporter of Hindu causes and events, who along with Malani’s and Pallod’s contribution, pledged later in the evening to support the annual Janamashtami celebrations to a tune of $10,000 each year. Charu is finishing her doctorate at the University of Houston and has been active in the Network of Indian Professionals (NetIP) as well as the Save a Mother organization.
The final recipient was the Youth Wing of the BAPS, accepted by Kaishal Shah and presented by Ramesh Shah, a Chairman of Ekal Vidalaya and an ardent community activist. Kaishal spoke about the rewarding work that was carried out by the youth in his organization, with the guidance of Pramukh Swami.
Interspersed between the awards were brief speeches and acknowledgements by Vijay Pallod who reminded and encouraged young people to donate from an early age; Amit “Sonny” Mehta and Supriya Agarwal of the HAS who pledged to work relentlessly to help Hindu causes and Girish Naik, the President of the HGH for the past 5 years who gave a slide presentation of the work carried out by the organization over the past year (a first newsletter – created and compiled by Indo American News’ Krishna Giri and Manasi Gokhale – featuring the same was also unveiled and distributed).
Sanjay Jajoo, the gala coordinator, asked for a moment of reflection to pray for the health of Swami Ram Dev; and introduced Rishi Bhutada, son of Ramesh and himself a huge supporter of the HAS, who spoke of the imperative for “youth to take up leadership roles, but the next step must be to incorporate their opinions” as he heaped praise on the work of the Hindu American Foundation which lobbies in Washington, DC.
Swami Pavitrananda Bramhaachari from the Gangnath Mahadev Ashram on the Nirmada River outside Baroda, Gujarat, who has been on a 16-city tour of the US with lectures at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and Case Western University in Cleveland, Ohio lit the lamps in an opening ceremony after opening bhajans by Keerthana and Kruthi Bhat and then gave a lengthy discourse about his work (he is a former electrical engineer) on the connection between physics and metaphysics, which is the basis of his doctoral dissertation.
Entertainment for the evening was by Madhuri Dasmohapatara who sang two beautiful bhajans, accompanied by Dexter, who is aptly named for his dexterity on the tabla; and towards the evening’s conclusion by Pandit G.S. Chandra, a new entrant to the local vocal singer scene, who carried the audience away with a superb ghazal and bhajan, again accompanied by Dexter. The ISKCON JivJago group performed a invigorating number on stage, culminating in a kirtan to end the Gala. A buffet dinner for the event was catered by Bhojan restaurant.