Raj Kumar Syal Endowment Fund at UH for Needy Engineering Students

By Raghunath Prasad

Houston: I met Raj Syal in the summer of 1964 when I was looking for an apartment. I noticed an apartment whose door was open and inside two Indian men were eating their lunch. So, I peeped in and asked if there was a vacant apartment in the complex. Syal sahib said “you will certainly find an apartment, but first come in and eat lunch with us.”

Since that day, it has been a great privilege and blessing to know Raj Syal. In him, I found the elder brother whom I had left back home.

He came to Houston in 1965 and started working with Texas Highway Department, and I followed up, arriving in 1966.

Back then, we would go to watch Indian movies that he had arranged to be screened at the University of Houston. I never saw Syal sahib actually watching any of the Indian movies, but he would be the first one in the auditorium. He would bring snacks – pakoras, samosas and Coke – with him. There were no Indian restaurants in Houston those days, so his wife, Krishna bhabhi used to make them with help from her friends. She is the woman behind the man.

Even though we all had young kids at that time, he used to be the last person to leave the place and sometimes I would stay with him out of respect.

One day I saw him cleaning up trash, including dirty diapers, from the auditorium floor, so I began to help him. One day, I casually mentioned that the University would not continue to let us screen movies if the place was left so dirty and that we needed to have a place of our own.

If anyone gave him a good idea, even in conversation, he would work to implement it right away, for the good of people, not for himself. Within a week Syal sahib had gathered several socially active Indian people and groups to advocate building a place for ourselves. That was the start of India Culture Center and I am so glad that his dream came true.

Syal sahib has done a lot for my family and me, and I am very indebted for his selfless and unexpected generosity. Though it was a small, and fast growing community, he knew most of the Indian people in Houston. When he learnt what someone needed, he would be there right away to help: whether fixing someone’s car, broken dishwasher or pipe in the house. This was the story with our own car.

We all take care of our own needs, but the person who helps other selflessly, we Indians call a “mahan atma.”

Raj Syal was truly a “mahatma”.

What we do for ourselves goes away with us, but what we do for others stays here in this world. Syal sahib will be always in our hearts. He and his deeds will be remembered forever in Houston.

I miss you, my brother.