A Zoom Tribute to Raj Syal: Iconic Leader of Houston’s Hindu Community

By Jawahar Malhotra

Houston: The response to the Zoom call to pay tributes to a local pioneer who preferred to stay in the shadows, Raj Kumar Syal, was expected to be huge and so it was opened up to as many people as possible. At its peak, 150 different callers had joined in, most with their family or spouses in tow, to hear the virtual tribute to Syal, held through the auspices of the Arya Samaj of Greater Houston and the Hindus of Greater Houston this past Sunday, October 11.

After several years of declining health, Raj Syal finally breathed his last on Thursday, October 1, at his home, surrounded by his family. He was 86. He is survived by his wife Krishna, children Anju, Rajinder (wife Georgiana), Rupinder and grandsons Krishan (wife Chandler) and Daniel.

People who knew Syal and of his efforts to build a strong base for Hindu activities in the Bayou City logged in from across the nation, a few even from India, to watch as the 90-minute meeting paid homage to a selfless man. Among the 11 featured speakers were prominent leaders of the organizations that Syal had helped build, several friends and his grandson Krishan Syal, who spoke on behalf of the family, about his love for his “Baba”.

The meeting opened with a welcome by ASGH President Dev Mahajan and a pravachan (sermon) by Acharya Surya Nanda of the Arya Samaj, followed by a slide show of Syal’s family produced by his daughter-in-law Georgiana. This reporter (who has known the Syal family since 1969) was the emcee of the meeting and introduced the line-up of speakers which began with his grandson Krishan; followed by family friend Dr. Durga Das Agarwal representing India House; Beth Kulkarni of the Hindu Temple of The Woodlands and Thara Narasimhan, President of HGH and co-host of the Sanathan Dharma radio show (and co-producer of the meeting).

After a short musical interlude, Swapan Dhariyawan, representing the India Culture Center spoke, followed by Radha Dixit, of the Youth Wing of the HGH; Gopal Rana, a family friend and Ramesh Bhutada representing the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh.

After another short musical interlude, Ravi Goel and P.C. Sharma of the Hindu Worship Society sent their messages, followed by Sam Kannapan representing the Meenakshi Temple of Houston and another family friend, Raghunath Prasad. This reporter thanked everyone for attending the meeting and Acharyaji closed it out with a shantipath.

After it ended, a few other dear friends and fellow community leaders – Lachmann Das, Krishna Vavilala and two more – remembered what Raj Syal meant to them. The Zoom meeting was co-produced by Somansh Agarwal, and Vijay Pallod and has since been edited and turned into a video available of Youtube. 

As a measure of what he had achieved in his life, the following day, the Monday issue of the Houston Chronicle carried a prominent page 3 story on Raj Syal.