India House Gala: An Evening of Hope & Heroism

Houston Indian Americans honor Kansas Hero, Ian Grillot at the 14th Annual India House Gala, on Saturday, March 25 at J W Marriott, Houston.

Houston Indian Americans honor Kansas Hero, Ian Grillot at the 14th Annual India House Gala, on Saturday, March 25 at J W Marriott, Houston. Photos: Bijay Dixit

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By Vanshika Vipin Varma

HOUSTON: J W Marriott was a place beaming with stars and VIPs on Saturday, March 25, as it was the chosen venue for the 14th Annual India House Gala. The grand and successful festal, graced by the presence of numerous dignitaries and prominent Houstonians overwhelmed over five hundred people.

Constant endeavors by India House has led to stronger ties between the Indian and mainstream American community. But what made this gala extra special was the felicitation of Ian Grillot, the hero who was shot in hand and chest trying to save the life of a fellow human in the ill-fated Kansas shooting of February this year.

Being consistent in approach, the opening ceremony of the show began with the traditional singing of national anthems of both countries. The American national anthem was followed by the rendition of the Indian Anthem by Pt. Suman Ghosh’s disciples and daughters Amiya and Apurva Ghosh. While Pooja Lodhia from ABC 13 played the perfect emcee with her delightful presentation skills, Dr. Manish Rungta, India House President, welcomed the guests warmly and then went on to highlight the various feats achieved by India House in 2016. Eminent guests, trustees and renowned elected officials were lauded and notable events of 2016 were shared followed by a video message from Senator John Cornyn.

Ian Grillot (second from left) receives a check for $100,000 from India House Houston trustee Charlie Yalamanchili (left) and India House Gala Chair Jiten Agarwal (far right) in the presence of Indian Ambassador to U.S. Navtej Sarna.

Ian Grillot (second from left) receives a check for $100,000 from India House Houston trustee Charlie Yalamanchili (left) and India House Gala Chair Jiten Agarwal (far right) in the presence of Indian Ambassador to U.S. Navtej Sarna.

The audience was delighted with what followed next. Col. Vipin Kumar, Executive Director of India House introduced the Board of Directors, Council members, staff and volunteers of India House. It was amazing to note that various legends and dignitaries such as the Former President of India Dr. Abdul Kalam, Governor Rick Perry, Governor Nikki Haley, Senator John Cornyn, Baba Ramdev, Pandit Jasraj, to name a few, had participated at numerous India House events in the past.

The Consul General of India, Dr. Anupam Ray, called up Navtej Sarna, the Indian Ambassador and the guest speaker of the evening on stage. Sarna exclaimed, “This is the first time I am visiting Houston and India House has made it a memorable visit”. By praising and wishing India House for its continued success he mentioned that he was happiest to be a part of the gala that planned to honor Ian Grillot. Navtej Sarna expressed his honor in meeting with the hero and his parents. He had unlimited words of praise for the courageous young man. Magnifying his heroic deed, the Ambassador added, “No amount of honor that the Indian American Community or India bestows on him will be recompensed enough for that moment of exceptional fortitude and character”. True that!

Dr. Virendra Mathur and Nalini Mathur being presented the Life Time Achievement award by Mayor Sylvester Turner and Dr. Durga Agrawal (right).

Dr. Virendra Mathur and Nalini Mathur being presented the Life Time Achievement award by Mayor Sylvester Turner and Dr. Durga Agrawal (right).

And finally, the moment to felicitate Ian Grillot had arrived. A check of $100,000 was presented to Ian as the video of God Bless USA played in the background. Ian is a true hero of America who risked his own life to save another. Emotions ran across the hall as Ian was greeted with a standing ovation and endless applause. Charlie Yalamanchili, a trustee of India House matched every dollar raised by Jiten Agarwal, India House Gala Chair to present the money that will help Ian to buy a house in his hometown in Kansas. “No money can compensate for the heroism and true spirit of America that Ian has shown but we can all appreciate his extraordinary courage. Ian has given us an occasion to reaffirm a tie that binds us all as Americans, irrespective of where we come from. This also reminds us of the famous Shakespearean quote- ‘For he that sheds his blood for me today is my brother,” said Jiten Agarwal.

Speaking of Ian’s heroism, at a young age of 24 he selflessly stood up to save a fellow human being in a shooting incident in Kansas. On February 22, 2017 a navy veteran was targeting Indians at a bar and went on a shooting spree. Unfortunately, Srinivas Kuchibhotla could not survive the attack but Ian’s heroic deed saved the life of his colleague Alok Madasani. Like a true hero, Ian mentioned, “I don’t know if I could’ve lived with myself if I wouldn’t have stopped or attempted to stop the shooter because that would’ve been completely devastating. I do now have a very powerful message and if I can help empower people and spread hope and love, then why not? I am honored to be at India House that serves so many families from so many communities in the Houston area.” Amidst a roar of thunderous applauds and cheer, his emotive speech did led to a tear or two rolling down a few eyes.

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Jiten Agarwal then thanked and appreciated the supporters of India House on stage. He invited the next speaker, the Guest of Honor, the adorable Chef Vikas Khanna, to speak a few words. Chef Vikas is a man who dons many feathers in his cap. One of the best Indian Chefs in the world to one of the hottest chefs of America are only some of his countless achievements. A successful restaurateur and cookbook writer Chef Vikas Khanna is a philanthropist as well. His signature restaurant Junoon proudly boasts of being awarded a Michelin star for six consecutive years since 2011. Sharing his experience as an immigrant, chef recognized India House to highlight the true values of India. After extending gratitude to Ian for his brave act, chef stated, “Ian did not save a life, but he saved hope”. He proceeded to inform about Smile Foundation that is a NGO based out of New Delhi in India and that aims to combat malnutrition and hunger among children. Over twenty one thousand under-privileged children from over twenty-one states have benefited from this organization. Chef Vikas is the Goodwill Ambassador for the organization’s ‘Nutrition for Education’ initiative. It was the perfect opportunity for him to inaugurate the US chapter of this noble institute here. (See related article)

India House trustee, Dr. Durga Agrawal then called over the Mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner to speak a few words. A huge supporter of the India House and the Indo-American community, Mayor Turner lauded Ian’s heroism and thanked the India House for bridging the gap between Indian and local Houston community. His announcement about an Indian- American, Karun Sreerama being elected to the post of Director of Public Works & Engineering Department for the first time in history of 180 years of Houston city was received with loud clapping. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and Nisha Biswal, Former US Assistant Secretary of State spoke next and congratulated India House and its members for the excellent job being done by them.

Dr. Virendra Mathur, a renowned successful cardiologist who contributed sixty years to his profession was the perfect choice for the evening’s lifetime achievement award. He is also the India House trustee and an active and dedicated member of India House, and has been associated with India House since its inception.

Dr. Mathur and wife Nalini Mathur have been major contributors in the successful running of the organization. The honor was bestowed upon him by Mayor Sylvester Turner and Dr. Durga Agrawal. With all humility he mentioned, “I don’t have the words to thank you all, but I am very much humbled and very grateful to be part of this community, particularly those who have supported and built India House. It has been an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve”.

Consul General of India, Dr. Anupam Ray read the message from Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi addressed to India House. In his address Prime Minister Modi conveyed his wishes to India House and said that the community service provided by India House is highly commendable and the Indian diaspora in America is true ambassador of Indian culture in all its ethos and spirit.

Among other attendees at the gala included; Ambassador K Nagraj Naidu, Kalikesh Singh Deo – Member of Parliament (India), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Congressman Al Green, Jay Guerrero – Rep Senator John Cornyn, Tori Macfarian – Rep Congressman Pete Olson, Harish Jajoo – Council Member (Sugar Land), Dr. Renu Khator – President and Chancellor UH, Neeta Sane – HCC trustee District VII, Cesar Maldonado – HCC Chancellor, Lynden Rose – Honorary Consular of Bahamas, and several prominent Indians and Wall Street Journalists.

Executive Director, Col. Vipin Kumar extended a vote of thanks to all the invitees. Pooja Lodhia, the emcee for the evening was presented a plaque as a token of appreciation. A mesmerizing dance performance by Karmagraphy from California uplifted the sentiments across the house to a cheerful note. Karmagraphy integrates culture through music, dance, art, acrobats and more.

Delicious dinner and finger-licking desserts by Bombay Brasserie provided the icing on cake for such a beautiful evening. People twirled and swayed to the beats of BJ Josan (DJ Impact). Live sounds and lights coupled with professional high-end equipment by Darshak & Mona Thacker from Krishna Sounds Production created the perfect ambience. Bijay Dixit handled the photography.

It was truly a night to remember, a night that glorified courage and saved hope, and bid farewell on mixed emotions.

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To watch videos from the 14th Annual India House Gala, click here!

For more information on India House and its various programs visit www.indiahouseinc.org or contact vipin@indiahouseinc.org or call at 713-929-1900.

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