Leela Devi Kamnani 1938 – 2016


By Jawahar Malhotra
On special days, and especially at Diwali which was celebrated at the store, Leela Devi Kamnani greeted people with a wide and friendly smile at India Jewelers on Hillcroft at the Southwest Freeway. She always had encouraging and warm words to say to all the people who had become friends and loyal customers of the business that has been a fixture of Little India since 1990.

Leela ji passed away this past weekend on the morning of October 27 after a year-long battle with pancreatic cancer at MD Anderson Cancer Center. She had first been diagnosed with the disease almost a year ago last November.

Leela Devi Kamnani was born on September 1, 1938 in Sindh and after the Partition of India, her family settled in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, India. She was married to Raj Kumar Bhagwan Kamnani from Jaipur, Rajasthan and they had five children. three sons – Surender, Narain and Gobind all of Houston – and two daughters – Dhanwanti of Calcutta and Mohini of New York. After her husband passed away, she lived with Narain and his family. Surinder works with Mercedes Benz at Greenway Plaza.

In 1969, her husband moved to the US to start up a business in 1969, opening up the first Indian handicraft store in the original Galleria – Best of India and later Royal India Jewelers in Galleria II, both of which operated till 1997. Though her husband visited the family periodically in India, she single handedly brought up her children making sure they finished high school and college. In 1984, she joined him, along with the whole family, in Houston. As the years passed by, the sons joined the father in the family business which has operated under the name of India Jewelers since 1990.

Leela ji was a loving wife to her husband, a caring mother to her children, a dotting grand mother to her 8 grand kids and a friendly mother-in-law to her daughters-in-law, Mamta, Sneha and Chandni. “She always had a smile on her face and a positive outlook on life,” recalled her youngest child, Gobind. “She will be missed by all the souls she touched in her life.”

The last rites and funeral were held at Winford Funerals in Houston, on Saturday, October 29, to a standing room only line of mourners. The memorial service was held at 5:30pm on Wednesday, November 2 at the Gurdwara Sahib of Southwest Houston.