Dilip K. Dutta and Sukti Dutta

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Interview with: Dilip K. Dutta and Sukti Dutta
Interviewed by: Niranjan C. Banik
Date: February 27, 2015
Archive Number:


NB: Namaste! I am Niranjan Banik; today I am going to interview Mr. Dilip Dutta and Mrs. Sukti Dutta for Foundation for India Studies, Houston for the Indo-American Oral History Project being done in partnership with the Houston Public Library and Houston Community College. This is a joint relationship between the Houston Foundation for India Studies and Houston Community College. Well, Mr. Dutta, shall we start then?

DD:  Oh yeah. Let’s start.

NB: You came to the USA in early ’70s I believe.

DD: Yes I came here, I arrived in May 1970 in New York Kennedy Airport and I have been picked up by a friend of mine who was here before me and my first stoppage in this country was in his apartment.

NB: At what age did you come?

DD: I think I was 33 at that time.

NB: And you started in New York and spent several years in New York.

DD: No, no, no. I stayed in New York for 7 days only.

NB: 7 days only.

DD: Only 7 days with my friends and practically I was lucky. In this respect I would say something of the first wave of -- practically first wave of Indian immigrants in US; I would make some note if you don’t mind.

NB: Before you do that, can we go back, where you come from, which part of the -- of India --

DD: Yeah, of course.

NB: Where you were born?

DD: I was born in Calcutta in 1937, June 1937 and I had most of my education in Calcutta, I was a graduate of Jadavpur University, and then I worked for a company called Braithwaite India Ltd. which had a head office in London, actually Birmingham, so I worked there. I joined there as an engineering apprentice and then I moved and got employed and worked for them for quite a bit of time until 1970, so that’s the one company I worked in India. And after coming to US --

NB: Would you like to say something about your early childhood, what were the conditions you had in India at that time.

DD: Yes, when I was -- in 1937, India got independence in 1947, prior to the independence there was lot of turmoil, and as you know, practically our generation definitely experienced that. That is the independence movement by Mahatma Gandhi and by the way I had -- I was fortunate enough to see Mahatma Gandhi in Calcutta. When he was there in ’46 for -- when there was a riot, communal riot, he was there to stop it and plead both the parties to stop bloodshed, come together and be peaceful. So at that time even as a little boy, with my elder cousin I went there.

NB: You personally met him?

DD: No, personally cannot meet, it’s a huge gathering so I just saw him.

NB: From a distance?

DD: He was lecturing from a platform so that’s what I was fortunate about that, and that is an ugly period of time in India. I don’t think I’d like to elaborate on that, everybody knows that history and lot of histories will be available for people to read. Then, after my graduation, I joined Braithwaite. Graduation what I mean is after I graduated --

NB: You had a BS degree.

DD: No, no, no… that’s what I have just to clarify. I was graduated from the -- not graduated I should say -- the word ‘graduated’ come from this country, everything is you graduated. So I after my intermediate science, I joined that company Braithwaite as an engineering apprentice and for 4 years apprenticeship I got a diploma, then I joined night school in Jadavpur University for graduate degree.
So I worked -- I studied four years in Jadavpur University and finally got my BE degree and I worked there then I went in ’68-’69 period we found out that the US is giving engineering people, especially engineering candidates a non-preference visa by that what I understood is that they are offering immigration to the Indian engineers to come over to this country and actually that is not expected at that time; however, they offered it so how I found out and one of my friend told me, so I went to embassy, actually -- yeah, US embassy and they explained to me why they need and what formalities I have to fill in so that I can get a visa and I went through and in six months, there was a visa in my hand and I left.

NB: I thought that you were pretty happy with the company.

DD: In Braithwaite, yes, I was pretty happy.

NB: I found that you were pretty happy.

DD: Pretty happy and not happy both; happy with the company management, but the situation at that time was such that the Labor Movement is so tense that one day I was ground, you know what ‘ground’ means, they confined the people don’t let go the officers out of the shop and the office premises and I had that. So that I got to how can I walk here, really the company, the British company and when it was handed over it was a beautiful company, very, very well-built company.
But at the same time, this Labor Movement came in, in late ’60s it started, and was ’71 worst even, and you all know the Naxal Movement and other things, you are aware of that. But anyway, so that is why I left, I left and since I got the opportunity to come over here I left India.

cue point

NB: So you came to New York, spent 7 days, and then came to Philadelphia?

DD: That’s right.

NB: Could you elaborate a little bit how you spent your time and how were the collisions?

DD: Okay, I had a friend, known from Calcutta, he picked me up. So my stay, I mean, my coming to US was not any hardship in a sense I would say, considering this situation at that time here for the new immigrants, the new immigrants from India at that time was all 99% engineers. Prior to that, there were the people who used to come as all post-doctoral fellows and mainly in biochemistry field, so they used to work in universities, et cetera, but they didn’t have the immigration,  they had just post-doc, some kind of visa, I don’t recall what that is.
But this first wave of engineering immigrants, those who came here, they had very, very hard time, they couldn’t get a job, in their field, they had to work in restaurants, they had to work in some guard duty and stayed in Clinton Arms, there was a hotel, which is actually in our terms the mess building. So that had a lot of people live there --

NB: In the worst conditions.

DD: Yeah, in the worst conditions, and then we were thinking why then so many engineering immigrants are brought in to this country? So finally we realized in ’72-’71, and in ’72 practically I would say, early ’72, then I realized at one time there were several nuclear power plant projects surfaced. So that’s when our friends, our fellow immigrants got jobs and they scattered all over the United States, from New York, from -- the board of entry was New York mainly. Somebody came to West Coast, but most of them are from New York. So then that spread out all over to all over United States.

NB: Would you like to tell us a little bit about your entry into the industry here?

DD: Yeah, oh what I had -- I already mentioned that I didn’t have as much hardship as others. So I came here and before I came here since I was to work for the British company I used to get ENR (the Engineering News-Record Journal). So in that journal I saw an ad from a company in Philadelphia, so I wrote a letter to them. So they wrote me back that if you come here then we will talk about it, talk about employment or anything, not before that. So that was not an employment letter but a hope. So when I came here, on the second day I called them. There was a telephone number, I called them and they said, okay, well, come in here and we will talk about it. So that’s how I just spent 7 days of vacation in New York and then I took a Greyhound Bus to come to Philadelphia and fortunately again, I had my maternal uncle’s friend living there as a post-doc for Biochemistry. He was a biochemical scientist working for University then. So that’s why he received me and I had very little trouble.

NB: So from that time on you lived in Philadelphia area –

DD: Yeah, for 7 years.

NB: -- and continued for how long?

DD: For 7 years; 1977 I moved to Houston.

NB: So is there anything else you would like to mention?

DD: Well, I would mention a little bit of my Philadelphian life, how I did it and what social work I did. So the moment some immigrants or whatever, whoever of one ethnic background or whatever comes into a place, they want to have an identity among themselves. They want to have a community of themselves because they are people of same thoughts, same likings. So that’s even with all the hardship, first thing we needed to do to form a -- what you call a club or an institution so that everybody can get together and express or practice their own cultural likings.
So we formed a club, first thing. Without an institution or association nobody comes in. So we formed an institution that is known as, it still is in existence called Pragati, it’s still in existence. Then we -- whenever you have a come on all Indians what they do, they do a cultural program. So we had the first cultural program of Tagore-based workshop, so we did that. So that’s how we get together and people whatever talents they had a little bit not very as much as you see nowadays in the US and they are very pretty talented people, dancers, singers, and those were not there at that time.

NB: So that was after you got married and brought --

DD: No, we started before I get married, the Pragati et cetera. Then after I got married then I and my wife I went to India and made a Durga pratima and brought it in Philadelphia as our luggage. So I was in-charge of that institution at that time. So that’s something I did and something I got here.

cue point

NB: So eventually you came to Huston, that was in 1977 I assume.

DD: Then in 1977, you know, East Coast is very highly taxed. So you get state tax, city tax, federal tax, lot of tax, then all of a sudden there was an advertisement in the paper from a company in Huston. That company’s name at that time was Pullman-Kellogg. So Pullman-Kellogg advertisement, so I went to the hotel for interview and I got selected, and then they moved me. Those days they moved me, completely with airfare and everything, but we drove.
And that office at that time was in Greenway Plaza, Pullman-Kellogg, and across the office there was a hotel; I forgot the name of the hotel, PL3 or P, something like that. So I moved to Houston.

NB: Did you know anybody in Houston at that time?

DD: No, I didn’t know anybody in Houston at that time. But I was well-treated by Pullman-Kellogg. Then, within a few days I came to know so many people and I joined Houston Organizations. There were two organizations for the Bengalis, and then there is another organization, if I remember right, the other one was Gujarati Samaj. So I could think of three and the fourth one was the Meenakshi Temple. I think they are active from 1980, not before that. I don’t recall before that. So obviously I joined that cultural organizations and the name of the cultural organization is Tagore Society of Houston. And by the way, you know, there is a Tagore statue in Houston; it is in the Briar Forest area, a full figure Tagore statue, bronze statue installed.

NB: That was last year?

DD: Last year, yeah. Anyway, so I joined there and started doing all kinds of cultural programs, showing movies, pooja, et cetera.

NB: So let us a little bit about the conditions in Houston away from the Bengali culture?

DD: Okay. Houston at that time was not that crowded. I mean the population was not that high, so most of the time the jobs were abundant for engineers. Brown & Root started their nuclear plant so there were a lot of engineers moving to Houston. And there was no tax. It’s a very good living for Houstonians compared to East Coast, so that’s my -- I didn’t see any problem or any trouble at that time living in Houston.

NB: In terms of racial or something?

DD: This is something -- a subject is very -- I wouldn’t say anything about -- I don’t like to say that in detail, but there was at that time Indian engineers were not treated according to their merits, okay, which you won’t find in my understanding, because I still work for the company for only six years ago. So later on what I saw, that thing had gone away, gone away, almost gone away.

Nowadays I don't see any -- actually in the engineering field I can say, there are not that many discriminations right now at this time. Okay, first I know why, because when I came here, people used to think, our education standard is not as good as US education standard. That the myth people had, lot of people had. That restrained them to give us some opportunities to move out there, I believe, that’s, what it is. People need to know who I am and what my background is and it takes time. So as a group it takes longer. So that's what happened. Now I see some young, engineers are holding good positions nowadays. But our time we are always said we need some pencil pusher. We don't want any supervisor; or we don’t want this. This kind of word I used to hear.

NB: Was there any language barrier; it may not be in your case, but did you see among your friends?

DD: Yes, there was, there was, there was language barrier plus accent, some accent, but gradually it’s overcome.

NB: How about your family? How does your family take it, Mrs. Dutta and eventually --

DD: I think she took it well and she liked it, somewhat liked it I think.

cue point

SD:One think I wanted, when we came here we have two or three family we knew, he forgot that.

NB: And they were helpful, I mean you could go visit them?

SD:Yeah. We used to go to them and enjoy. Ashok Gosh and Nivadita, Deepak Dutta, Ranjit Chandra and.

NB: That’s good. I mean some known people.

DD: Yeah, we had. Then we got lot of friends because we are very socially active, that's it. Whether it’s good or bad, we are very much socially active. So therefore, we got lot of friends. Every weekend we got busy.

NB: Tell us about your children, you have two good sons, where were they born, I mean one was --

DD: One is in Philadelphia, my eldest one’s name is Aurko Dutta. Aurko was born name in Philadelphia, Marko, his nickname, actual name is Amarto. Amarto born here in Houston. My eldest, the Aurko is now; he is the Vice President of Company. His office is somewhere in Downtown. And my second, he is an MBA, but he works for Dover, Dover Industries I think.

NB: Yeah, it’s a big industry.

DD: Yeah, he is in the Woodland office. He is in the accounting field. So my eldest son has one son and one daughter named Arup and –

SD:Jenna.

DD: Jenna.

NB: That’s good. So did you experience any issues while raising them, raising your --?

DD: Raising my sons?

NB: Two sons.

DD: I wouldn’t say no, not really, but, we, I personally feel what happened in the meantime I would say one thing, you asked me and sometimes I have to go back if I remember later. One time I had a situation -- these engineering companies have ups and downs, you have job, no job, you get out. No job, next day as I go, here’s your one week’s pay, you go.
So that situation happened one time, and at that time Pullman Kellogg was brought by Halliburton. So they laid off 500 people at one time, one day. Everything is a mess. And I got lucky, I didn’t get laid. But at the same time the next day I was called and told me, go to Indonesia. I said, Indonesia? I have a little, two little kids, how can I go?
(00:25:04)
He said, if you don't go you don't have a job.
So you see, whether you say discrimination or you say they had to do it because they have no choice, so I went to Indonesia and she got sick and that made me come back early. So I thought, sometimes you see if you go, go to expat, there is an expat community, it. Then there is everybody’s friend, whether he is from England, like in our case, I had people from London office, people from Houston office, people from Mexican office, something like that, so we all together worked, we dined together, we had the same hotel.
So anyway, so the Project Director at that time, I told my wife is sick, what can I do? He said go. So that’s how I escaped continuing in Indonesia after a year of course, so I had to – I could come back.

NB: Did you take your children to Indonesia?

DD: No. There is another thing, I had another very good assignment in Caracas, Venezuela that’s where my children could go, okay, because that’s an open offer, you have an expat, you can go to the international school, study there, and a lot of people did that, but my sons did not want to go any other place than that North we used to live and there is a Klein District, I said they will not leave Klein High School, that’s the best school in the whole world for them. And we were so loving in a sense you may say to our children that we did not force. See here, we did not force our sons to be anything, whatever they want to be, they are.

cue point

NB: So, how did you make sure that they could stay in the religious, Indian religious communities, and not biased by the American culture, did you oppose to kind of Americanization.

SD:No.

DD: We made sure that our children are very free to choose whatever they want to choose. This is the way we brought them up, and they are very – but, they didn’t disappoint us, they stayed in the community, my eldest son was the Chairman of the Council of Trustees for Durgabari, okay? So he worked four years for them, for the institution. My son was in the ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ Show, my eldest son Aurko, he went there in what 2000 or 2002 or – I forgot, 2002.

SD:2002.

DD: 2002, he was in there and he faced Regis. Regis appreciated his voice, he said, you have a golden voice, if you happens to see that, that thing you will see that how Regis was so excited with his voice. You know, my son has a very good voice. He has a brilliant voice and he can act, he can sing –

SD:Sing, recite --

DD: He acted that – you may remember, “The Poet and Prophet.” The Poet and Prophet by – it’s a wonderful rendering by -- what’s that name of that institution?

SD:Oh, the theater –

DD: No. Anyway.
SD:      Shunya.

DD: Shunya. Shunya staged that, have you heard of Shunya? I don’t know.

NB: Yeah, I went there today.

DD: You went there, okay. Oh, that’s an awful I would say, that’s great!

NB: So I hear that I mean your elder son also married within the Indian community.

DD: Yes, he married – she is – our daughter-in-law is from Punjab, actually she is from London, I would say, but she was born in London and she is Punjabi origin. Then she is a very, very good girl and we liked her and she has brought a house across our house, close to us and she is chartered accountant.


NB: So they have two children now?

DD: Yeah. They have two children, one son, one daughter.

NB: Okay, you never had to worry about interracial marriage, because you didn’t think that –

DD: Not really. It’s their choice, if they choose and if anything goes wrong they suffer, why should I get on their way and be unhappy for nothing. You know, it’s their life, their life, they should live their way.

NB: But sometimes parents do advise them channelizing their life, something some way you may --

DD: Yeah. It sounds me, but we don’t, we don’t, we are very open.

NB: So, you mentioned about your son’s involvement in Durgabari Society, but you yourself were very much involved also.

DD: Yeah, up to the inauguration of that institution I was there. Six years I was continuously working

NB: Tell us a bit about –

DD: Till 2000 September it was inaugurated, after that I said, now, others should do it, I am not – I have a very -- we may say good or bad, I don’t know, I don’t want to cling to anything, I don’t want to influence, I do my job and after that it’s somebody else. Let them do whatever way they want to run that institution, it’s there. But up to 2000 September, I was strict and I worked very hard to get that started. At that time, nobody could make me bend anyway.
So in public work, there will a lot of resistance, different opinions, all kinds of things, I know we have to – I have to steer through all this.

cue point

NB: Tell us a little bit about the objectives of the HDBS, I mean how –

DD: You see, we call it -- and one thing I would say, we call it Durgabari, which is a residence of Maa Durga. We said residence of Maa Durga, that is why our temples which we call temple is not actually a real Hindu temple structure which we see in India, which has a Garbhagriha and then the deity is in that small and the priest worships. And our concept is, everybody participates in it, okay?
So when the priest chants, we like everybody to hear it, so our concept of that is a body concept, is a home concept. So therefore you will not see small little rooms, it’s all open, and all the deities are on the one side and people can gather all over surrounding the deity and listening to the priest’s mantras, rather than purohit does the puja all by himself, which is the tradition in India. But here everybody listens, everybody circles around, that’s our concept. Plus we have to have the cultural thing going, so we have a auditorium, we have a school, we have a building, so they can practice literature in the library, and still something more to be done which is not being done yet, and I don’t like to interfere, I don’t say anything which is a good children park which is yet to be built.
And we thought of it, a good field, soccer field or something like that which is not done yet properly so that nobody plays there, or indoor games or swimming pool, or table tennis, tennis court etcetera is not being built there. You know, still we have 3 acre land remaining, but the main problem is also parking. We cannot have it -- there is totally 6 acre land, so 3 acre we already built and what you call with the parking lot itself.

NB: Tell us briefly about HDBS, its contribution and how it participates in the Greater Houston Communities, like you know, the food banks?


DD: This is a, yeah, they do, they do feed for food bank collection of foods etcetera. They do -- why I am saying they do, because it's somebody – I am not anyway a policymaker or anything. But as I said, whenever I leave, I leave and let other people do it. I don’t want to believe in, that I want to cling to it and I have to advice them. I feel like others have the same merit and same intelligence as I do, maybe more than I do.
So, that's a part of it, and here again, I would say we need to do more.

NB: More.

SD:We had a scholarship in Houston.

DD: Yeah, there was a scholarship in Houston, that's Tagore Society does for Houston, University of Houston.

NB: Right!

DD: Tagore Society is affiliated with some program and there is an essay competition every year. They award that, and also they -- I think still it's continuing. They send one person from here to Shantiniketan, to Tagore's University with a scholarship for a month or two months, so that they can go there and study in that environment.

NB: So do you see any concerns regarding anything in Houston, about societies or, I mean, do you think that it is going in the right direction, and is all the same that you are saying?

DD: Let me say it this way. You would see now, our generation, those who are 70s immigrants, or even early 80s immigrants, they are becoming older. That older generation, now by virtue of the Internet, what you call revolution or explosion or whatever you call it, by virtue of that, we have many, many Indian immigrants now in the IT Department. So they are younger. They are practically our son's age, age group. So they are here and all the -- I don't know, I am not aware of other communities what they are doing, or how those guys are getting involved in the community affairs, I don't know that, but in our community you would see those IT group of young men are now getting involved in. So they are now taking charge of that institution. This year they have elected all the young generation immigrants who came for IT.

NB: You meant for the HDBS?

DD: HDBS.

NB: Executive Committee and --

DD: Executive Committee and everything, has new immigrants. So one thing is, I am not very sure about the other communities, and nowadays I did not converse with -- I have lot of friends in Gujarati Samaj, but I had no conversation with them for the past few years, after I retired, but for our community this is what I am saying is that, the second generation, let me divide this. Second generations of the immigrants, meaning those who, those of us who came here and our children, that’s second generation, and the guys who are coming from IT, they are also second generation, because they are my son's, our son's age in a sense.

NB: Yeah.

DD: Maybe two/three years plus minus. So they are also second generation. They get involved in our societal affairs, but our children –

NB: They are different.


DD: They are different, so they are not getting involved. When my son became the Chairman of the Council of Trustee, I thought he may be able to bring in the second generation to participate, but it didn’t happen, somehow it didn’t happen. I don’t know whether the same thing in other Indian community or not.

cue point

NB: That’s a good question; in fact, did you ever ask the children if they really need any such organization to stay in the Indian cultural group?

DD: I don’t know, that’s something maybe we need to work on it, as all Indian community, not just sectional, like Bengali or Gujarati or Marathi and all this, we still aren’t able to make an Indian community yet, that’s what is my feeling and I feel bad for it because I am a failure for in that respect also, because I used to get involved in community affairs, that’s why I feel bad about it. I didn’t do it, I couldn’t do it.

NB: Yeah, I would like to close this out after two more questions. I mean, unless you have some additional thoughts, so you have been in America for a long, long time, almost 40 years.

DD: 45 years.

NB: So is there any regret, I mean, you could have stayed back in India and served Indian community there. You did a pretty good job and your company have been top of the ladder, but do you any regret that have you lived in India, you could have done more to the Indian society?.

DD: No, practically no, because if I had, I wouldn’t have gone back. See, I am among my brothers or sisters or anybody, nobody is here, except me. All my brothers are very well to do in India. Two are chartered accountants, one is a scientist, one is in IBM, so I could have gone back to them, but I didn’t. So I am quite happy here.

NB: So my second question is, and this is the last question, unless you, how do you envision the future of these next generation Indians? Do you see a good future for them in the USA or do you think that they have to –

DD: The second generation, second generation, our second generation, I see a good future because they are already – most of the Indian children, they are doing very, very good as much as I know, okay? They are either doctors, scientists, lawyers, because we emphasized on education. Those who have come here, we emphasized a lot on education. This one thing I would say, somebody may laugh at me, education is the easiest way to earn a good living, okay. The word easiest somebody may not like, but it is the easiest way to have a good life.
Any other field is very tough, very, very tough; you can be successful, like say you go to football player, how many get into a club? Basketball player, how many? Hundreds maybe, thousands strive, but how many? Very few. Business, how many can do it, how many are successful businessmen?

NB: Do you think that your children are they still in the same principles to their children?

DD: I don’t know, that I don’t know, that I don’t know, what’s their principle, but this is what my observation is, I don’t know, you may differ my opinion, but see, the business and other things is some kind of different talent you need to be successful.


NB: Okay. With that, we’d like to conclude the interview unless you have some additional thoughts.

DD: I have one thought, I am thanking the Foundations for Indian Studies for giving me the opportunity to speak out, and speak my mind and my background, etcetera and in my opinion this is a great venture and I wish this will be very successful for the future generation or anybody who wants to know something about us, the Indians, they have a good place to go. And thank you for inviting me and thank you for your --

NB: Thank you! It was my pleasure to get the opportunity to interview you. Okay.