A Man for All Seasons, Gitesh Desai is Honored, Here and in India

Gitesh Desai with all the speakers, from left, Col Vipin Kumar, Hasu Patel. Swapan Dhairyawan, Gitesh Desai, Gitesh’s daughter Dr. Shuchi Desai, Dr. Kalplata Guntupalli, Subhash Gupta, Dr. Kamlesh Lulla, Curtis Stroup, and Vijay Pallod.


HOUSTON: It has happened so often for the local desi community that it is almost expected that someone from this area will make the final cut for the annual Parvasi Bharatiya Samman (Overseas Indian Honor) awards. After four previous local Indians received the award, it was remarkable to learn that yet another – Gitesh Desai – had won this year for structural engineering.
This year there were 28 recipients, of which four were from the US, and two organizations. The other three US recipients were Prakash Madhavdas Heda for medical science; Chandrashekhar Mishra for science and Gita Gopinath for academics and arts.

Those honored received the award from the President of India Ram Nath Kovind at the 15th annual PBSA held during a three-day conclave of the Indian diaspora held from January 21 to 23 in Varanasi, India, attended by 5,802 people from across the globe. It was organized by the Ministry of External Affairs in partnership with the government of Uttar Pradesh.
Desai joins four past PBSA recipients from Houston: Dr. Kalpalatha Guntupalli, a pulmonologist, (2012); Dr. Renu Khator, President of the University of Houston (2014); Dr, Kamlesh Lulla, a NASA scientist (2015) and Ramesh Shah of Ekal Vidalaya (2017).

This past Friday, March 29, the local community came out to fill the banquet hall in India House for a program – followed by dinner – to recognize Desai and celebrate not only his award but also his commitment to serving the community whenever he can. He is the current president of the Houston Chapter of Sewa International, the volunteer-based non-profit which has slowly been making a name for itself for its efforts to help people

Recognizing the trend, chief guest Indian Consul-General Anupam Ray quipped that “Houston has had a pretty good run with the PBSA,” adding that it is also “important to remember the community that has produced such people.” He let in on two secrets: “I knew he was getting the award before he did. And I wasn’t surprised!”

Ray was of course referring to the extraordinary efforts that Desai had made at the helm of Sewa during and after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 to rescue, shelter, rebuild and rehabilitate hundreds of people who were affected by the natural disaster despite being flooded out of his own home. “I would like to see Sewa grow in stature like Amnesty International someday,” Ray added, “”And that’s why Vande Mataram written by Bankin Chandra Chattopadhyay in captivity by British India is so important.”

The soulful poem was turned into a song by India’s first Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and was performed before the program by Mukta Saxena Vijayvergia. Sewa Executive Director was the emcee of the program that brought out many other speakers who felicitate Desai on his achievement.

These included Dr. Shuchi Desai, Gitesh’s daughter, who is a gynecologist and mother of two. She revealed that her dad was accomplished in the arts and humanities too as a yoga instructor in the 80’s and 90’s; versed in holistic medicine; an ardent lover of Indian classical music; an accomplished tabla player, writer of poetry and ghazals in English and Gujarati and a devoted painter who spends one evening a week painting in his home studio. In addition he loves to dance the rhumba and salsa, all news to many in the audience.

Others who honored Desai’s accomplishments were Vipin Kumar, Executive Director of India House; Subhash Gupta, representing Hindu Swayam Sangh; Curtis Stroup of the Wood Group and Desai’s longtime manager at his consulting office; Swapan Dhairyawan, President of the Indo American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston; Nisha Mirani President of the India Culture Center; Hasu Patel President of Indo American Political action Committee; Vijay Pallod of Hindus of Greater Houston; and past PBSA recipients Dr. Kalpalatha Guntupalli and Dr, Kamlesh Lulla.

Desai also received proclamations of his achievement from Jay Guerrero of Sen. John Cornyn’s office; Sam Merchant from Congressman Al Green’s office and the City of Houston presented by Hasu Patel.

Overcome by the outpouring of accolades; when it was his turn to speak, Gitesh Desai opened with a short lyric “mere dil ke malik, mere dil per haath rakhna; kahin aaj is kushi mein, mera dil rukh na jaye” (Lord, please hold onto my heart lest it stop with all this happiness).

Desai thanked the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Aurobindo and Vivekananda for instilling in him the values of selflessness, sacrifice and service and to seek truth.