History is Made as South Asians Unveil a Simple Monument Honoring Gandhi

Gandhi 4in

Photos: Raghu Thakkar

Click here for Photo Collage

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON:  Under the shade of an ash tree, in the landscaped esplanade which butts into the traffic intersection at Hillcroft and US 59, more commonly known as the Southwest Freeway, a new monument sign proclaims the name that was bestowed on this area five years ago on January 16.


Then, Houston Mayor Annise Parker unveiled the first sign, attached to poles under the street names, designating this area (which is better known as Little India) as the Mahatma Gandhi District, extending all the way on Harwin Drive to South Gessner and northward to Westpark. That event was held in the parking lot of East West Appliances, with snacks served in the vacant hall next door.

Gandhi 1in
As in 2010, the India Culture Center spearheaded the installation of the new monument sign this past Sunday, August 16, proclaiming the area the Mahatma Gandhi District, with side panels made of Indian redstone labelling it the South Asia Zone. The large panels that face the north and south lanes of Hillcroft are made of Egyptian cream colored granite, with a bronze medallion of Gandhi. On the bottom, in the same Callibri font as the district name, but smaller size reads “India Culture Center Houston” in homage to the efforts of the group in making this a reality.


It was an effort that was four years in the making for the ICC and its then President retired Indian Army Colonel Dr. Raj Bhalla who tirelessly pursued it through the entire labyrinth of the Houston City apparatus. He brought in team players from the ICC: Swapan Dhairyawan, Charlie Patel and other members of the Executive Committees of the past four years. They turned for support to City Council, finding it in District J Councilman Mike Laster, and also got encouragement from the entire Board of the Southwest Management District and its Chairman Kenneth Li.

Gandhi 2in

Assisting them was the design architect Mahesh Wadhwa and his son Pankaj who developed the monument concept and other professionals from the City – Shailesh Patel and Jayant Patel – who helped guide the plans and paperwork through. Dan Khatri of TDK Construction didn’t hesitate when he was asked to build the foundation and install the monument; Liyakat Maknojia donated the granite and Riyaz Momin provided the light fixtures. Tommy Schlitzberger of Schlitzberger Stone Designs completed building the monument and Prince Signs spent long hours over the last four days to install it.


But nothing great ever goes off without a hitch, and in this project there were plenty. The cost came in at $25,000 and the team fanned out to raise it from local businesses bordering Hillcroft. “The first medallion didn’t even look like Gandhiji,” exclaimed Bhalla with a chuckle as he spoke in front of the still unveiled monument to about 80 diehard supporters, local politicians and the Indian Consul General Parvathaneni Harish.  Four days before it was to be installed, the medallion was re-etched by Bronze Memorials and the rest of the assembly went at breakneck speed so that it could be unveiled the same day as the Indian Independence Day festival in the afternoon.

Gandhi 3in

It was bewildering for motorists to see a crowd at the esplanade posing for pictures with the monument as one lane of traffic in each direction was closed off for the ceremony. The rest of the installation – a concrete pedestal and an overhang, landscaping and façade lights – are due to be finished soon and will make the spot a much visited photo-op landmark, no doubt. It was just this sort of branding of the area – and much more with arches, benches and other streetscapes – that Indo American News had written about in two articles 15 years ago, encouraging area businesses to forge together. Said Dhairyawan, “The unveiling of the Mahatma Gandhi monument in Hillcroft has been a dream come true!”

After the ceremony, the supporters and guests moved to the nearby Bhojan restaurant for more celebratory comments by Bhalla, Dhairyawan, Charlie Patel, Congressman Al Green who lauded Gandhi for his influence on Dr. Martin Luther King and CG Harish who complimented the organizers for “thinking outside the box to make the world a better place.”

The ICC presented etched glass tear-drop shaped awards to all those who helped with the monument, including Bhojan owners Haren and Protima Mathuria who donated the hall and the Gujarati buffet breakfast. And, as he was walking out of the door, Congressman Green outbid the others in the silent auction for a portrait of Gandhi made by Barkat Khowaja using 3,500 knob-head pins.