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Interview with: Sita Naren Kapadia
Interviewed by: Supal Vora
Date: November 16, 2019
Archive Number: FIS OHE 62

Transcribed by:


[At the time of this interview Sita was 82 and Naren was 92 and hard of hearing. Sita is, therefore, the primary participant.]

SV: Hi! My name is Supal Vora and today I am going to be interviewing Sita and Naren Kapadia on behalf of the Foundation for India Studies, Indo-American Oral History Project in partnership with the Houston Public Library and Houston Community College. Sita, Naren, welcome!

SK: Thank you!

SV: So Sita, I would love to learn a little bit about you and please share with me about your background, what was life like in India and how did you come here?

SK: Life in India was wonderful for me. My family and I had no problems. We had a close and wonderful relationship. I was born in Ahmedabad where I have only gone twice since. I was born there because my grandfather was a Civil Engineer with the Government of India and he happened to be in Ahmedabad.

SV: Oh wow!

SK: But we are from the Surat District and our mother tongue is Gujarati.

SV: And what were your early formative experiences in Ahmedabad like?

SK: Well, I was just a few days, two weeks, three weeks in Ahmedabad.

SV: Oh, okay.

SK: Yes, my hometown is Gandevi but I grew up till my marriage in Mumbai and my parents were very progressive. They were Gandhians. At the same time, they believed that an education in English was important, as it was important in Gandhiji’s life.
So I went to a Church of England School and my teachers were English, Scottish and Irish. So I got to see the differences of the British and I also saw their attitudes. We had compulsory religious studies, The Bible, and there was no problem with having Jesus as the Lord in school and coming back to Lord Krishna at home. There was absolutely no contradiction in my childhood heart, and my grandmother didn’t think my parents were very religious, but that was okay. They were very spiritual, and my father was very progressive.
So we had liberties that other children, other girls didn’t have at that time. We went to a hill station called Matheran, where not only I but even my mother wore breeches and went on horseback.

SV: Oh wow!

SK: Okay. So in fact we were a privileged class and so to come away from there needed something else other than monetary security for the future. It was really that we wanted to -- well, it was Naren’s decision, but we will come to that probably later when you ask about his education.

SV: So, you felt empowered to study, your parents were encouraging you to go ahead and proceed forward?
SK: Yes. Always. In fact, my mother was a graduate and a double graduate. She had a degree, BA and she had a GD Art.

SV: Oh wow!

SK: She went to art school, and in fact, I should tell you this because it’s so unusual that when I went to college, my father said to my mother “You always wanted to go to art school. You can go now.” She said, “Me, at this age?” He said, “Sure, what’s the problem? You want to go, you go!” So that’s the kind of person he was.
So, my mother, I don’t know what age she was, somewhere in her 40s, maybe -- must be, that’s when she went, that was very unusual in India.

SV: Very unusual, yeah. And then, where did you go to college?

SK: I went to Elphinstone College and I did my BA there, then we went to Singapore, came back, did my Master’s at the University and I also did my Ph.D. there. I was lucky. Very rarely do humanities get All India University Grants Commission Scholarship, and I was lucky enough to get it. So, with two little kids running around, I did my Doctorate.

SV: Wow!

SK: Yes, which was, hey, I was lucky, I had a mom to take care of the kids, and a dad who was so strict. He said, “No, you are not going to break your discipline.” Because I couldn’t do the work at home, I had to go to the University. So, I had a loving mother who sang and painted, and I had a father who was spiritual, and he was an anonymous giver and just a saintly man. How lucky, how lucky can a person be?

SV: Wow! Wow!

SK: Tell me.

SV: That’s amazing. And then, Naren ji, can you share a little bit about your early life in India and what it was like?
NK: My father was in Bombay. He was there in a diamond company. I will show his photograph there. And I had my graduation at Fergusson College in Poona, and then I had a Master’s from School of Economics and Sociology, from Bombay University. And I also did my Law degree in Bombay. I also had a certificate to practice in Delhi Supreme Court if I wanted, but in the meanwhile I got the offer from New India Insurance Company, the biggest and the best insurance company in the world, I think. TATAs own that, and they offered me to undergo training for overseas branches, because they were expanding overseas.
In Singapore there was already a branch and they were getting in -- asking us to stay there for eight years. So at that time my branch manager was a very good friend of mine also, and he was in Bombay at that time and then at that time Singapore office was in-charge of offices in Penang and Kuala Lumpur.

SK: In Jakarta?

NK: No, not Jakarta

SK: In Perak State.

NK: Perak State.

SK: In Malaysia.

NK: So, in Perak State I made a study and they said, “Well, we are going to open a branch in Ipoh, Perak State, because that is the richest district in Malaysia.

SK: Yeah, it was a rubber plantation and tin mining center --

SV: Oh!

SK: So it was very rich, (with good business prospects).

NK: So tin mines and rubber estates were very -- so I went to open the branch there. Then in the meanwhile my branch manager in Singapore was going back to India, he had finished the eight years. So I was asked to go to Singapore and control all these branches. So --

SV: And that was before Singapore, while Singapore is still part of Malaysia, correct?

SK: Yes, that’s right. And I joined him there, after we got married in 1958.

SV: Oh, I see.

SK: And then I joined him in Malaysia, in Ipoh, and our first child was born there. Arti, She’s named Arti. Then we moved to Singapore (two years later).

SV: I see, I see.

SK: So, I was 2 years in Ipoh and two years in Singapore.

SV: So, what was life like when you first left India and went to Malaysia?

SK: Yes, this was the thing about us that gave us the advantage when we came here that we had already lived abroad and lived amongst different people in an international community before we came here. It was wonderful in Ipoh, Malaysia. I taught at the Anglo-Chinese Boys School. The first two years of college were in the high school, you know, like our community college.

NK: In Indo-Chinese school?

SK: Yes.

NK: And there the school Principal was an Indian.

SK: Indian yes. Indian guy was the Principal, Sardarji --

SV: Oh, I see.

SK: And his wife and I became very good friends.  She knew I did artwork.  So when one of the teachers was on maternity leave and she was an artist, my friend suggested my name.

SV: I see.

SK: She was teaching art. So, everything seemed to fall happily in my lap, because they needed a Literature teacher, and they needed an Art teacher. I taught both of those subjects.

SV: Yeah, yeah.

SK: You know, again, how lucky! And it was the best thing that happened to me.

SV: So, can you tell us a little bit about that early relationship in Malaysia?

SK: Well, Malaysia was very nice. We had such simple joys. We would go to a tin mine which was abandoned. Where the digging had been done the cavity had filled up with water, and it was an un-spoilt area around that little lake. We would go and eat some very special Malaysian peanuts which are really sweet and small. You know, if you have ever been there.  And so, we would eat peanuts and have ginger ale, and enjoy ourselves on the lake side. Of course, till our daughter came. Then we were busy with that baby. But my mom came. As always, she was there for us.
 So, it was great in Ipoh. Then in Singapore, I didn’t work. Singapore is a city where you socialize all the time. So, Bank of India, New India, and other large companies had lots of parties and social obligations.

SV: So, what prompted to move out of Singapore?

SK: In Singapore, after eight years, people were required to go back to the head office. But in the head office, it was a very different scenario from there (Singapore), because in Singapore, you had initiative and you had challenges and an ambassador-like social life. (Not so at the office in Bombay- Mumbai).

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: But, back in India, do you remember what you told me, Naren? By that time, do you remember, insurance was nationalized. (Everything by the book. No challenge. No enterprise).

NK: Yeah.

SV: Yes.

SK: So at the head office, he said, “You know, this is not fulfilling because four cups of tea every day and just shifting paper. Whatever I do, I mean it is not fulfilling.”

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: You see we were not deprived people - - (for that kind of cushy job).

SV: Yes.

SK: But, you know, each person wants to have some kind of personal fulfillment.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: And this was his reason for coming here because there were international companies here, and that gave us a preferential entry.

SV: I see.

SK: It was under -- what was it called, the third preference?

SV: I see.

SK: The first preference is the parent or a spouse, and then professionals that the country - US needed.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: The professionals that the US needed. So I was not the professional they needed. At that time it was said that professors were taxi drivers because there were no jobs for them.
 So, the first thing I heard when I came here was – Was I ready to drive a cab.? It was crazy!

SV: Yeah, yeah.

SK: But he applied.

SV: I see!

SK: And he -- then tell them about your job in New York.

SV: In what year did you come from Singapore to New York?

SK: From Singapore we went back to India, that’s when I did my -- finished my Master’s.  He had promised me that, you know, I was -- I interrupted my studies to go -- to get married and go there. So, he said, “At the first chance, I will do everything to make it possible.”

SV: I see!

SK: So, I did my Master’s and my Doctorate with the kids.

SV: I see! Wow, wow!

SK: Yes.

SV: So how long were you in India after Singapore?

SK: We were in India six years.

SV: Six years.

SK: Because our son, Anand, was six, seven years.

SV: Now what was that transition like going back to India after having lived abroad for eight years?

SK: It seemed very constricting.

SV: Yes.

Because of all the social obligations and all the -- I mean we were living such free, and we did whatever we wanted, and also very fulfilling.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: Because culturally, I was always interactive, sharing our culture. I was so interested in the Japanese flower arrangements and orchid growing and all that, I just loved the new experience. And of course, in Ipoh I had even been teaching, so that interaction was great.
When we went back to India, I was busy with the studies. But the social constrictions were there, and for him the fulfillment was not there.

SV: I see. I see, yeah.

SK: And then he was --

SV: So, you were --

SK: He was looking for alternatives, and he said the private sector was also -- I am sorry to say a little corrupt because there are underhand black market transactions. He could not. Yes, his ancestry and mine don’t allow underhand dealings. They are very much concerned with integrity to that extent because of the Gandhian roots, but also their own Vaishnava roots, if you really look at that.
So, it was very important for them. You would rather go hungry than, you know, be a Sudama, than be rich and gain by somebody else’s hurt.
So anyway, this was it. He said, “I am going.” And I was still doing my Doctorate. So, he came here. Say Naren, when you came 19?

NK: 1970.

SV: 1970.

SK: 1970. He came in 1970.

SV: And he came by himself?

SK: And he came by himself, and he was 43-years-old at that time. So my father said that to go as a student, as a young person by yourself is one thing, but to have a family, to have comforts and then still go there because you have a vision and you want to have a personal fulfillment, that takes courage --

SV: It does, it does.

SK: That’s what my dad said to me. He said, “You know, Naren has courage. At 43 to uproot himself from what is given, he could have retired from New India, and had a cushy life and not done anything.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: Not much. So, he came to New York by himself.

NK: Yeah.

SV: What was that like?

NK: Well, I had to be strong enough to think of the future for the children. I started work in an insurance company. I was lucky because of my background. I got a good job in an insurance company.
Finally I was in AIG, which is the largest insurance company in the world and I was asked to handle an account of General Electric controlling all their properties that are all around the world, they were paying $5 million premium every year.

SV: Wow, wow! That’s a big account.

SK: Big account.

NK: And also there was a sort of policy - we don’t want to have everything ourselves, so we have to re-insure some part of it on the safety side and Swiss Re and Munich Re, two big re-insurance companies in the world, I negotiated with them and passed on some insurance to them. So that was my job. But after that I left AIG. I was doing some real estate work.

SV: Oh okay.

NK: And at that time real estate was very strong and we built some homes and sold apartments and all that, but after that I said enough is enough. So we decided to move to Houston here. We have some friends who said Houston has got everything what New York has, but it is much safer and cheaper to work and stay here.

SK: Not so hectic, because he was 63 by that time.

SV: I see.

NK: In New York we had a house, beautiful house up on the hill. Looking out we could see The Statue of Liberty, and the whole of New York in front of us.

SV: Oh, that’s beautiful.

NK: Yeah, it’s a beautiful place.

SK: I have to tell you a romantic thing.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: Yes. When we stood there up on the hill, on Staten Island, and looked out and we saw the  Hudson Bay, and Hudson River coming down, and the Statue of Liberty and the Sun was coming down, it was sunset time, and he said, “All this and you too, this must be heaven”.

SV: Oh wow!

SK: And he has always told me, you are the poet, I am a prosaic guy. Well, who was the poet, tell me that?

NK: And while we were there our grandchild, granddaughter was born in hospital there.

SK: Yes, but I have to interrupt and go back. We have two children, Arti and Anand. Our daughter got married to a friend’s son who was at that time working in West Africa.

SV: Oh!

SK: So she went to West Africa and then they came to USA.

SV: Yes.

SK: In fact I had also been to West Africa with my daughter. No, that’s another story.
So they were relocating to U.S. Our daughter by the way was an environmental scientist in the office of the Attorney General of New York.

SV: Oh wow!

SK: You know, litigating against violators? She was in the Twin Towers. She worked in the Twin Towers.

SV: Oh, it’s World Trade Center, before 9/11.

SK: World Trade Center.

NK: For Attorney General.

SK: Yes. So I am saying 9/11, the witnessing of that, because she was no longer working there, she gave up her job to go to West Africa. Then they wanted to go to a warm place not a cold place. So, Houston was the one, any other place would have been okay, but they said he was going to be in business. He is an accountant, but he wanted to be in business. So, he relocated here. When we came here, we had mummy with us, we had our daughter with us and our granddaughter with us. Our son and son-in-law were still coming.
Now I had not yet given up my job because I had not had 25 years there. So Naren was in-charge of the family, and I was going back and forth in the vacation and in long breaks --

SV: And you were still teaching?

SK: -- I was still teaching. Then I took early retirement, but in order to do that for two years I had to do the shunting back and forth.

SV: So, before we go more into your time in Houston, I just want to go back to New York for a little bit. So, what was your -- one daughter was born in Malaysia, your other daughter was born in?

SK: The other one was our son, born in Bombay.

SV: Son was born in Bombay after you moved back?

SK: Yes.

SV: Got you.

SK: And so when we came here our daughter was something like 12, and our son was 9.

SV: And then your life as an early immigrant in New York what was that like?

SK: We never felt any prejudice because we were comfortable with ourselves. From childhood we never felt like the other, you know, or -- we never felt it, because we were comfortable.
I think it has to do with how you feel about yourself. If you are uncomfortable, within yourself if you are uncomfortable, then any way anybody looks at you makes you feel self-conscious. Isn’t it?

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: So differences never bothered us. And the children -- our daughter was quite advanced. So we had to make that decision whether to put her with socially compatible kids or academically compatible kids.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: You know. But then the teacher said, she’s a good student. Then she’ll be bored if she is with -- you know, the kids who are socially her equal because she didn’t know about the boy-girl thing, you know, and middle school is full of that already in the U.S., she went to a girl’s school like I did. She went to my own alma mater.

SV: Oh, wow!

SK: Yes. Queen Mary’s. I went to Queen Mary’s in Bombay. So, they put her up in that grade and she was a little uncomfortable. She hung on to a big girl, you know, when she got a little timid.

SV: I see.

SK: But our son was okay except that he felt that he was Brown and he would like to be White for a while, but interesting thing happened. Can I tell that story?

SV: Yes, please!

SK: He got very, very ill and he had never been sick before. So we didn’t have a pediatrician and wherever we went, they said, no, our pediatrician is very busy. It’s Christmas time and you go to your pediatrician. But we don’t have one. We don’t have any doctor. So what do you do?

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: And then suddenly our daughter said, “Oh, you know, my friend’s dad, he is a doctor.” At that time, we didn’t know that this friend was a Black friend. You know, there was no distinction in the mind that we are children of a person who was so progressive. We didn’t see these divisions.
So, in walks Dr. Lewis. Black -- black as black can be and tall. He and Anand, our son, had the same birthday. He was the gentlest, warmest human being. So caring, so playful with the boy. All his troubles about being Brown ended.

SV: Oh wow! That’s wonderful!

SK: You know, actually he is light-skinned. But yes, he did feel bothered. But that was a quick end to that chapter. The Lewis family and we became very, very close friends. But that was the only incident of concern.
And my mother stood there and said, “What’s the matter with this child? Who says mangoes can’t be mangoes? They had to become pears.” These are her exact words, and this is her language. She was something.

SV: Now did you start teaching immediately after coming to New York?

SK: No, my first job was in a photograph studio.

SV: Oh, wow!

SK: A lab. Where they touch up the pictures. You know, how when they have a wedding picture and there is a flash on the face of the bride or something like that. Then you touch up very closely, you know, and so it doesn’t show -- and you restore it. So, it was a color lab in which they said they would train me and they would even pay me for it. But I said it was very strange for the boss to offer that because I said, well, if you train me, you teach me something new, how can I accept money for that? She was shocked. She was so shocked.
I said, “I am sorry, I can’t take any money.” But, you know, my husband was doing an evening job also in addition to his full-time job.  He was still doing that because he had to build up. So, the photo lab boss and I became very good friends, because she said, “This one is pretty strange.”  

SV: And -- and then after that job you started teaching.

SK: That was just for a short time. Then, you know, I went for an interview and it was a very interesting interview, because in India you had to go to the college six days a week. When I went in it was a Thursday and a professor came in and told the secretary have a nice weekend -- no, the secretary said, have a nice weekend. I said am I mistaken about the day? Oh no, his weekend has started. I said, “what?” because I was used to the six days in India. And she said the schedule for professors is three days a week, sometimes two days, sometimes four days, depending on how many classes they are teaching a day. I said, wow!
Then I said I have a doctorate. Does that make a difference? Then she looked at me and then she said, pointing to two big piles, “These are the applications of the Masters and these are the applications of those with doctorates. I said okay. Alright!
I got a call from a professor asking me to go in for the interview. I was very happy. I went for the interview. You know something in my upbringing; my father probably made me absolutely free of nervousness. So, they asked me a lot of questions; they asked me about what I would do -- how I would teach certain things.
And when it was finished, I said, “May I have the privilege of asking a question?” He said yes. I said I want to turn your question back on you, because I said I don’t know if you will appoint me, I may never see you again and I will never get this opportunity to see a bunch of professors and ask them the question you asked me. How would you teach this? They looked at each other, because there is no fixed method, right?

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: They said to each other, you want to answer that, you want to answer that, you want to answer that. You know, they were on the defense.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: And then they started answering one thing or the other. So I said, okay, the more creative you are, the more you see who has what difficulty. I said that I would like to customize it for every student, but if not, I try to bring it as close as possible to the need of the group and how they would absorb it best. (I got the job).
So, for me, coming to the States opened up so many, so many avenues just in my teaching. I taught literature, I started the English as a Second Language, then I was on the Chancellor’s group developing those courses. Then I developed the Asian Studies and took the opportunity of teaching Mahatma Gandhi in Modern Asian Literature and taught the Bhagavad Gita in the Early Asian Literature. And I taught at the hospital, the psychiatric doctors about American culture.

SV: Wow!

SK: How would you like that? And then ironic, if you ask me. Then I taught in a prison, you know? It’s been just so special. They say if you want to learn something, teach it.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: So because I had to go to school to learn and teach all these things, the prison experience was so moving, because it’s what all literature is about, understanding human life and not sitting in judgment over it, but extending understanding, compassion, and how a life could be helped.
Every student who confided in me, because literature, creative writing gives us the chance to write it from the heart and they were writing their stories; you can see how hungry they were, how they were trying to help a parent who was taking care of small children and they did desperate things and one thing led to another.
You really have to talk with the person, and they have to open up to you to understand compassion. So, with all these things; hey, by the way, while I was doing my doctorate, I was also teaching Chinmaya Mission classes in Balvihar and I also went and did batik.  
So my family said she is nuts, she has kids, she is doing her doctorate, she is doing her art and she is also running this Balvihar class for which she has gone to the -- those schools that are government schools, what do we call them in India?

SV: You know I don’t know.

SK: So, not the rich, the poor children.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: Yes. Here it’s a different thing. In England public schools are different from what we have.

SV: Absolutely!

SK: So, when I came to New York I started Balvihar and then Swami Dayananda came there and then that whole thing started. So, in New York, then I also started four Bridges Program; I was not the only one, in a group. Four Bridges Program for creative writing for children, personal writing and poems. For all this, and I don’t want to boast, okay, but this is for people, other people to see and my children’s children and grandchildren who don’t know --won’t know me personally, but I was nominated as Outstanding Immigrant.

SV: Oh wow!

SK: I didn’t get it; a very deserving professor of chemistry who was a Greek immigrant, who was a professor of chemistry, he had his patents pending who got it and I was happy for him, but I was happy to be nominated, you know?

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: I was very happy because “naa maange, dodtu ave”, like that.

SV:  Now, what part of your teaching career was most gratifying for you, was it teaching the prison inmates or was there another part, what was most gratifying?

SK: Well, the prison was one thing, the compassion for the human beings, understanding them, but the other was when I taught Gandhiji, I taught Mahatma Gandhi and peace and so many people connected with that.
We read the autobiography, and Asian studies probably was the most, because then I also got to teach Bhagavad Gita in the Early Asian Literature and that was enhancing. Then I could take them to the Tea Ceremony Society when I taught Japanese Literature and we also went to the Tibetan Museum, it was very enhancing because I could see that these people were taking it all in like sponges.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: People get very closed-minded if they are never exposed to these things, but in an unthreatening environment if they see it, it’s wonderful. So it was very, very satisfying for me to do all these new things, you know?

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: There was also another thing I was involved in where they were doing the Rehab and Arts Cultural, Center. I was also a Trustee of the Tibetan Museum.

SV: Oh wow!

SK: So many things, you know? I mean I just loved it. I couldn’t have done it in India, because you’re in a rut and he, Naren, was always the most supportive person.
One of the poems by John Donne in England says the couple should always be lovers and then they are like the arms of the compass, you know, if one has a tendency to go around like this and this and this, the other one has to be firm, steady, right, otherwise you can’t --

SV: Yes.

SK: The two arms, one has to be fixed in the compass and the other can roam around, all full circle. So, he is the steady one and I am the roaming one.

SV: Did you become an American in New York?

SK: Yes.

SV: So, what was that experience like, becoming a US citizen?

SK: At the time of the swearing in it’s very tough, it’s very moving, because to give up, it’s like can you choose between your father and your mother?

SV: Yeah, it’s tough, we can’t do that, yeah.

SK: You can’t. And it is hard and it’s a practical choice and of course anything about India in the news, if it’s not good, it hurts, you know?

SV: Yes.

SK: Anything that’s good is euphoric. It’s the same with America, but over here it was not spontaneous, it was cultivated. But there, it’s good or bad, that’s my home, it’s my mother. We call it motherland. The Germans, they call their country fatherland.
By the way, I have a -- I had a German aunt; my mami was German, because my uncle was studying in England and so he married her, because she was being pursued as maybe a spy during the war so he as an Indian Commonwealth citizen, if he married her, then she was his wife, she was okay.
SV: Wow! Wow!

SK: But I remember her face when the war was lost, just like white-cheeked, but yeah -- but yeah, so coming to Houston.

SV: Yes, what was that like?

SK: I want to say one thing about his, he had a job -- he had two jobs to start with in New York, right, and after the whole day at the big company, he had a small job doing the tallies on the credit card company. And at night in the cold weather he climbed up the hill from the bus station to our home. He did that, he did that. He never talked about it, but that was tough, the weather is something that was tough for us, cold weather and raking the snow and all of that.

SV: Yeah, that is a huge aspect, yeah. Now, what year did you move to Houston?

SK: In Houston we came in 1990, but I was still working there

SV: Yes, you were traveling back and forth for two years.

SK: Yes, for two years.

SV: So what was that experience like, when you were living part-time in Houston, part-time in New York, how did you like Houston?

SK: I liked Houston, but of course we lived on the hill (in New York) and we would be going too on the hill station in India and I would mention it’s (Houston) so flat, it’s so flat, it’s so flat, oh gosh, it’s so flat. But then it was greener than I imagined, cowboy country was very barren, so it was more green and I loved that, and that’s why when I came to Houston I immediately said the flora, fauna here is totally different from New York, and one day I will show you the pictures of the New York house and garden and view and all that.
So I joined the Houston Agricultural Extension Service course and I became a master gardener, because I am an eternal student and he has always been encouraging, you know, and “thane jhe karvu hoi te kar”, because he knows that it’s a losing battle.
So then I continued the Balvihar here.

SV: Oh, I see.

SK: Yes. So there is a question somewhere about culture, how will you -- so we were retired, but I did teach, I have my card. I called it Self-Enhancement Learning Forum (SELF) in which you could do spiritual things or language. So I taught that at home and also I taught through the Leisure Learning. So I could be with mummy, take care of mummy, at the same time I could teach, you know, I wouldn’t have a break in the teaching.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: So with the Leisure Learning I did creative writing. Over here also we have a finished backroom, I did creative writing, but that thing that I did at home I called Self-Enhancement Learning Forum, and I also did tuitions for people who wanted their kids to do well in English.

SV: Oh, here after -- here at Houston?

SK: Yeah, yeah, right here.  

SV: So you have always been really engaged in doing community activity?

SK: Yes, yeah. And so in Houston, technically I was retired, only technically, because I was doing with the Leisure Learning, I was doing at home. I was helping Indian people who couldn’t speak English and who were trying to give their (citizenship) exam. The woman who was helping mummy, Tara ben, she could not speak well, even a sentence and she had to do her test, so I had to help her learn all the names and how to pronounce the different 13 early states and so on

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: Then I had become a master gardener, I joined a Garden Club, and Naren loves to come to our Garden Club. The Garden Club meets for the meeting, which he is not interested in and he calls it the eating club. Every month we also go for lunch, for whoever’s birthday it is, because a lot of the women are widowed or single and so it’s a birthday celebration for whoever is in that class, so he comes to that.

SV: Yes, yes, I see

SK: And then he is quite wily, you know, though he looks very sober and good. He said, hi ladies, I am the thorn among the roses. He says that, what do you think the ladies do? Oh no, no, no, you are not at all like that. You are so sweet, you are this, all this fussing over him, fussing over him, all these girls, they fuss over him and he is a wily one, I told you, that’s how he got me.
So all these activities and more. You will be happy to hear we had the Balvihar here. They were high school students. I said, “Mothers, you can do your errands, you can come back in two hours.”  But they said, “We also want to be in the class.”

SV: Oh, wow, wow!

SK: You know why? Because Hinduism is not explained to Hindus. 

SV: Yes, it’s true. 

SK: Why do we do this? What does it mean? Why is Ganesha like that? Why is Lakshmi standing in the lotus? Why? Well, explain it to them otherwise they are going to drift from your religion.

SV: Yes, you are right.

SK: So, the mothers also sat in there. The children are now all grown, most of them are married and so on, but that’s very satisfying. That has been, very satisfying for me.
And the Garden Club, this is something you would like also, three years ago the person who was the chaplain of the Garden Club, the one who reads the prayer or the invocation as they call it, something spiritual relating to the garden, they had them at the beginning of the meeting; the meeting is declared open and then the invocation is read.
So, three years ago the woman who was doing it for many years, had to be admitted because of ill health to a facility where they can take care of people. And the club asked me if I would mind doing the invocation every time? I said, “Would I mind it! I would love it.”
And now they love it and I use these symbols like the lotus and all that, because I write poetry and some of my poems are listed there, and I get to read my poems at the Garden Club.  

SV: Wow! What a blessing!

SK: So it’s wonderful.

SV: Yes.

SK: Now, another thing before we close. I want to say that Naren has been always very supportive. And I went on sabbaticals and while I was teaching Gandhiji’s autobiography, my students said to me, his wife seems very interesting. We never heard of her. What was she like? I did some research, my dad went and got books and all, but they were just little booklets, nothing much.

SV: On Kasturba.

SK: On Kasturba. So, Kasturba is worshipped, she is on a pedestal, but people don’t know about her.

SV: Yes.

SK: In Delhi there is a Kasturba Marg, but who is Kasturba? I went on sabbaticals, I did research, and I have had too many interruptions, especially with mummy being with us, you know, and he (Naren) was always, always very good. Care giving is an important thing that we have to do also as immigrants, in a different way from in India, where we have more help.
And when there is a mother or father living with you, the spouse of the person whose parent it is, is usually not always very agreeable, you know. There is friction, but Naren was always good, always caring, always said, “Mummy ne kai joye chhe?” On the days of fasting, “Extra fruit lavvannu chhe, Mummy ne matey? He was always caring.
So when I got all these advantages I could do these things, and in closing I want to say that when we lived in New York, we were in view of this beautiful Harbor and the Statue of Liberty and it reminded us of the values that America stood for and that we had been welcomed and we had never felt different or lesser, second class or anything, but the words, and I don’t know if I am repeating myself.

SV: No, no, please share.

SK: The words written under the Statue of Liberty are, “Give me your poor, your tired, your hungry… The wretched refuse of another shore.” We never felt any of these things and yet we felt we were given a special welcome. Any human being should not be treated as a wretched refuse of another shore. Nobody is a wretched refuse, that’s what I want to say in closing.
And I beg to differ with Emma Lazarus, I think her heart is in the right place, but the wording is painful.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: And I want to share that with everybody. And it has been a great pleasure to have this interview with the Foundation for India Studies. I think other cities might take Houston’s lead and do that, and I have not told you that I have been very active here, also in the Mahatma Gandhi Library and in the Theosophical Society.

SV: Oh wow!

SK: Where I have been giving presentations and last year, 2019, what is this, 2018, in 2018 I was the keynote speaker for the Mahatma Gandhi Library, 1000 Lights For Peace.

SV: Wow, wow! What an honor!

SK: At the Hermann Park Theatre.

SV: Wow! Wow! Wonderful!

SK: So I have had great deal of opportunities, wonderful people to associate with and this is one of the opportunities given, and the bonus is that in this project I got to meet this wonderful young man.

SV: Oh Sita, thank you!

SK: And his wife.

SV: Thank you!

SK: And so also Naren.

SV: Yes.

SK: He is not expressive as me, but he is expressing me -- I am expressing him too in my words.

SV: Thank you! Well, you know, it’s been so nice spending time with you, so nice getting to know you, so nice learning about all of your contributions and your life here.

SK: And if there is an idea share it with me, we would go for it.

SV: Absolutely! Well, you know, you say that you are a lifelong student, in the coming years, ahead in life, what are some things that you still are hoping to continue to learn?

SK: Oh, I want to learn so many things. I have a plan for my several lives, because I am not going to -- I am going to be -- so one life is going to be, I am going to be a gardener full-time, you know, I am going to learn horticulture.
Another life I am going to be a physicist.

SV: Wow!

SK: So all these things are going to happen, but I -- we do meditation and I want to cultivate more of that. We do Sadhguru’s meditation; you know Sadhguru, he has a big center here.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: And different learning. I started some Spanish, not that -- I am not fluent, but I can pocito habla español.

SV: Oh, very good! Very good!

SK: But I would like to do something, and I want to write the books, this book on Kasturba, and probably do it on Amazon next year.

SV: Good! Yes!

SK: And also a book of poems which is, I have about 50 ready.

SV: And you are going to have to add his poem, that line that he shared with you in New York.

SK: I will do a little --, what shall we call it? A haiku.

SV: Yes, yes.

SK: We will call it a haiku.

SV: Where would you like to take us?

SK: Well, should I show my things?

SV: Yes, yes, share with us some of your things and then we will also take a look at some of your mom’s paintings.

SK: Okay. This is Gautama Buddha, Prince Siddhartha, his first moment of compassion when he draws the arrow out of the swan.

SV: Did you do this painting?

SK: This is a batik painting by me.

SV: Wow! It's beautiful.

SK: Yes, I put my name here.

SV: And what inspired you to paint Gautama Buddha and this --

SK: Because I have always liked his life, you know, I found it spiritual, that’s why I like the Theosophical Society. It doesn’t have the trappings of religion.

SV: It doesn’t, yeah.

SK: It frees you for spiritual thought. And I like this, this is one of the things I was doing when I was doing my doctorate, okay?

SV: Oh wow! Wow! So while you were doing your doctorate you were also pursuing artistic passions?

SK: Yeah and also doing the Balvihar, that’s why they called me nuts. You buy this from the art store, the foil and they even give you the tool.

SV: Oh, the scraping tools, yes.

SK: So I had many tools because I did the sculpting also, but you can buy this and they give you instructions here, but I didn’t want to do this, I wanted to --

SV: So this didn’t come off a -- did this come off of a template?

SK: No, no, no, that I drew on paper, then I transferred it there, so that’s -- this is different. But I mean you can get the paper and instructions, but I had to do a longer process because I did my own thing.

SV: And you have also done some sculptures, correct?

SK: Yes. This is my sculpture. You can see how black and long my hair was.

SV: This is Rabindranath Tagore. 

SK: The Indian artist. He was the first Nobel Prize winner for literature, first Asian, did you know that? Yeah, yeah.

SV: Beautiful! You were inspired for art from your mother?

SK: Absolutely, absolutely, and also music. 

SV: So would you mind sharing some of her work that you have here in your house. 

SK: Yes. This is the one I want to share most of all. This is what she painted for her mother when she was only 16 years old.

SV: Wow!

SK: Radha and Krishna on the swing. This is Radha and Krishna, we pray to them. It’s the universal spirit, universal soul and the individual soul. When they come together, how beautiful it is, isn’t it?

SV: It is.

SK: And all of nature, all of nature is in harmony because the universal soul and the individual soul are together, you know, like one. Now, here is the surprise, this is my daughter’s.

SV: Oh, wow! Yeah, it’s beautiful! Your kids have also taken up art.

SK: That’s also my daughter’s.

SV: Oh, that’s beautiful, yeah.

SK: That is mine, and that is also my daughter’s. I wish I had something of my granddaughter. People do appreciate.

SV: Yes, absolutely!

SK: A Ginza artist. We were walking along the Ginza. It was cold weather, wintertime, and he said to Naren, “I want to make a sketch of your wife, is it okay?” He (Naren) said yeah, sure. So that’s by a Japanese artist, 1959 January.

SV: Wow!