Raj Kumar Syal

Duration: 36Mins 09Secs
Please read and accept the disclaimer below to continue.


I have read and accept the disclaimer terms

The Houston Oral History Project is a repository for the stories, accounts, and memories of those who have chosen to share their experiences. The viewpoints expressed in the Houston Oral History Project do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of the City of Houston, the Houston Public Library or any of its officers, agents, employees, or volunteers. The City of Houston and the Houston Public Library make no warranty as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the interviews and expressly disclaim any liability therefore.

The Houston Oral History Project provides unedited versions of all interviews. Some parents may find material objectionable for minors. Parents are encouraged to interact with their children as they use the Houston Oral History Project Web site to complete research and homework activities.

The Houston Public Library and the Houston Oral History Project retains the literary and publishing rights of the oral histories. No part of the interviews or transcripts may be published without written permission.

Requests for copies or for permission to quote for publication should be directed to the Houston Metropolitan Research Center at TXR.Reference@houstontx.gov or (832) 393-1662.

The Houston Oral History Project reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to decline to post any account received herein and specifically disclaims any liability for the failure to post an account or for errors or omissions that may occur in posting accounts to the Virtual Archive.

I have read and accept the terms of the disclaimer.

Uncorrected Transcript

Interview with: Raj Kumar Syal
Interviewed by: Parul Fernandes
Date: September 14, 2012
Archive Number:

PF: Welcome, Raj ji. I would like to know your full name and the place you are staying right here now in Houston.

RKS: Thanks for inviting me to come over here. My name is Raj Kumar Sayal. And I live over here in 14 Memory Lane in Woodland, Texas, and back in India.

PF: Yeah, in India, where did you come from – from India?

RKS: I came from Punjab. The name of the village is Bilga, it is close to Ludhiana.

PF: Ludhiana.

RKS: And my father actually died in UP, and afterwards my Nana ji, he brought us in the village. My mother and my younger brother, we were brought up by my Nana ji. So, my early education was in that village and which was up to eighth grade. Then I went to other town to get my high school diploma, and my college education is in Ludhiana first, that’s Ludhiana Arya College.

PF: College.

RKS: And my B.Sc. was from Jalandhar, DAV College. And then afterwards, I --

PF: So Jalandhar was the place where you got your graduation from.

RKS: Yes.

PF: Okay.

RKS: Then I started to teach over there, and by the time I joined in Bhakra Dam, over there I stayed three years and then I moved actually to USA for my engineering degree. And I got BSc from Texas A&M and Masters from the University of Houston.

PF: Oh, so you did your Masters from --

RKS: Actually I joined Texas Highway Department after graduation from Texas A&M, and I am a simple engineer and I have a experience with department in construction and design.

PF: Which was that year that you came to Houston?

RKS: I came in ’60.

PF: 1960?

RKS: Yes.

PF: Okay.

RKS: So I stayed with the department for 45 years.

PF: Okay. So you worked with the state, Texas State Department for --
Unknown Speaker:     Please, speak a little louder - just a little louder.

RKS: Okay.

PF: So what actually motivated you to come to America? Just education or --

RKS: Well, actually in USA I came only for the education because I was interested in engineering in India, but unfortunately, I could not get the admission in engineering over there. And here I felt that my children may not be able to go further, you know. The best thing is to come in USA.

PF: Were you married when you came here?

RKS: Yes.

PF: Okay. And your family, what about your family?

RKS: Yeah, I had two kids over there. My daughter and the second son, and third one I got it in USA.

cue point

PF: In USA. Okay. So what were the conditions in Houston when you came?

RKS: Well, my -- even education time when I worked, I came with only $15, and when I got the admission in Texas A&M the staff was very kind to me.

They gave me a paper grading and some -- so I was making enough money by which I could support myself. And during summer I went in California to work over there, I worked in the fields and picking up plumes, peaches. So then that way I make some money over there to go to finish my schooling. Once I finished my schooling, I got a offer from the Highway Department, and so I was make aware that I cannot make work more than a year and you have to have a citizenship or a green card. But in those days, people were so kind and they helped me all the way to get the green card.

So after getting a green card, my job was a little secured. And in that time, my family was in India. So I got a leave for a month to bring my wife and children over here.

PF: So in 45 years that you have worked with the Texas Highway Department, what changes you have seen and what were your achievements in that period?

RKS: Well, the main thing is I was involved in construction. So I got a lot of experience in construction and then afterwards I was put into design. And design, it was not a research or anything, it was only day-to-day work which we were doing. I’ve put up my little emphasis on hydraulics. And that is what you can call it a specialty or something. So, I retired last year.

PF: Okay. Congratulations on that. That’s 45 years of experience. So all the highways and the loops that we see here, can you give us a picture of it how that all started?

RKS: Well, when I came the construction was going on, I am 45, and that was a improvement but in the beginning when I came it was only a two lane.

PF: Two lane.

RKS: Yeah. Then I saw the changes in my year it become three lane, then it become what we call the HOV lanes over there. There was nothing like that. And then they put the shoulders over there. There was no shoulder on that one. And there was nothing actually around there 40 years back, and now it is hard to believe that what happened to the --

PF: So the city in your opinion has expanded a lot?

RKS: Oh, sure. The city was very -- it was not flourished like this one and all the suburbs came later on, and like our head offices in Austin, we used to go in small lanes over there and it took hours to reach over there. And it is now freeways all over, that is the bigger changes, freeways that have taken all those to form the highways.

cue point

PF: So you have made life easier for us and you have made it faster for us to go on freeways and the loops, and so, we thank you for that.
I also want to know how culturally and language issues if you had when you came here, or what was the difference that you found, and how you adjusted to that?

RKS: Well, at that time the people were very simple people, especially in Texas A&M, the school was a military school, but it had only 15,000 to 16,000 people and it was a male school. And the people were so honest that it is hard to believe it. When I was over there, they left the doors open. Nobody bothered the things. And people it was like a village. Now, it is a big city from that one. Here in the department, my colleagues and bosses, they will go out of the way to help. When I came in La Marque, my boss asked me, “Hey, do you have a place to live and how much money you have?” And I told him I have only $15. He laughed and then said, “How you will live and how you will eat?” And he was so nice that he gave me $100 at the same time. And with which I survived for a month and at the end of the month I had got some money.

PF: Some job to that, yeah.

RKS: So that kind of people. I stayed in that city for 15 years then I was transferred to Houston. So till now I am still living in Houston.

PF: Yeah. How about your family? Did you have any family issues of your children meeting you cross-culturally or --

RKS: Well, the main thing is here I got what I wanted. My daughter, she is a dentist. And my son is a medical doctor. And my younger one, he has a business doing over here. And so, they are well to do and I don’t have to worry about their future, what they have to do in here. And my daughter did not marry. And my younger one did not marry. The middle one, he married and he has two sons.

PF: Okay. Has he married in Indian or has he married --

RKS: No.

PF: All right.

RKS: Over here.

PF: He married an American?

RKS: Yes.

PF: Yeah. Okay. So was that okay for you when you really because of you are staying here?

RKS: No, in the beginning I had a desire, you should marry some Indian girl, but then he said, “No, dad, I have this girl, she is my permanent girlfriend and now she is my wife.”

PF: Okay.

RKS: I said, “Okay.”

PF: So you and your wife had consented to that?

RKS: Yes. Still we are having a very good relation. Actually, I was living in La Marque and he is practicing in Woodland. He said, “No, dad, come over here close to us.” And so, he gave me another home where still I am living.

cue point

PF: Okay. That’s wonderful. That’s very nice to see that the cross-cultural communications have not broken down or anything like that. That’s very good. We have heard that you have been very active in the social field too among the community. So what you can you tell us something about your desire to work with the community here?

RKS: Well, the first I was going in University of Houston and only the sort by which the Indian community was united. There was not a big Indian community. There were maybe 200-300 people in Houston. So in order to bring all together, we used to screen movies.
And movies in the University of Houston auditorium and every Sunday or alternate Sunday, we used to all meet together and bring the potluck dishes. So that created a very good relation with all the Indians over here. And then afterwards when the population little will started to increase, then people started to feel that we should have a temple. So first Hindu Worship Society Temple was established on 16:16.

PF: Okay.

RKS: And from there, there are community little in case more than this idea came, really a bigger place. So we bought a land in Pearland, and so started to build a temple with Ganesh Temple first. So there was a big help from each other. People were used to help put the road, clean grass, this one and that one, so that came quite a bit.
Then afterwards, an idea came, why don’t we make something which all religions meet together, so established a India Culture Center. And that India Culture Center was a place which created some inter-caste and where young and old all meet together. And there was a little prayer afterwards the India House came. And India House is a big place which has an auditorium. They have glass room and every facility over there.

PF: So you have been one of the founders of India House of Houston, so that’s one very good achievement.

RKS: Well, that is the Lord’s blessing. I put my share. I cannot claim that I did everything.

PF: Yeah. I am wanting to know what were in your opinion the challenges that came across in your life that you found them as more positive to helping you to go on in life? What were the challenges you faced when you came here?

RKS: Well, I wanted to -- when we established this ICC, at least everybody was coming together. Then in ’70s, these people become a bigger community. So everybody wanted to have their own temple. And they wanted to establish a separate thing Bengalis had separate, Gujaratis had separate, and northern Indians had separate, that broke my heart.

PF: Okay.

RKS: And, especially, we wanted to have one place which can accommodate all the religions wanted to establish a temple, church, and gurdwara, and mosque. But I think they called a couple of meetings where some people had a feeling that it did not happen in India, how can happen over here.
But my argument was this that if we set up an example over here then people will follow. There is no problem. But I was not successful in that and that’s my feeling.

PF: That is something that you had wished had happened?

RKS: Yes.

cue point

PF: Yes, wished had happened, but the success of having one cultural center, your India House, where everybody can go because we did have celebrations of Eid --

RKS: Yes, sure.

PF: -- this time, and so it is moving towards that direction in some ways. Yes.

RKS: Oh, yes, sure. And it happened. I’ll tell you that was a little failure which I can say and --

PF: Is there any other involvement in politics or something that you feel strongly about?

RKS: I never participate in any politics and the only thing when so many temples came, and like Janmashtami they want to have it separately. And so the main thing is, certain people go in certain temple, they never meet each other. So put the foundation for Janmashtami to have together.
So first, Janmashtami was celebrated in Jordan Convention Center and 22 years back so there’s young, old, everybody can come around. In Janmashtami 4,000 to 10,000 people come and they enjoy it, the cultural exhibition, and especially for the kids to enjoy it.

PF: As you have retired now but you must be thinking about some of the issues that do matter to you most.

RKS: Well, the main thing, my only concern about the older people will be gone. The younger generation should take over and so it is happening. Those young people from, you can say, late 40s or 20s, they are all coming in the Janmashtami at least once a year that there is a good gathering. And somewhat now the seed is flourishing. This way that now even Ramlila and this Ganesha, they are celebrating it all in a very pomp and show.

PF: So you see that is a very drastic change from the time you came and the things that were happening at that time and the things that are happening now?

RKS: Well, there was a homogenous gathering that time. Now, it has become big already. There’s a population of Indians. So they are celebrating group-wise and --

PF: Do you think that is a good trend or it’s just --

RKS: I think the Indians are very peaceful. The main thing is we hear the older people, the generation is still meeting together. Those 50-60 families when we were over here, they have a still link there, they participated. Some died, and then they go all in funeral this month. And they are helping their children too for their marriage or education. And like in India House, they have a group where they can sit together and advise them what field you can go, what you can do whether it is engineering or medicine or commerce.
They are helpful. I am very proud that those people are helping their children pretty nicely. And in India, it is open. It is not only for Indians and they are like children coming from the school in the areas and rather than they go to the babysitter for anything, they have a place so that they can assemble together.

cue point

PF: Okay, that’s very nice. So what would you tell a younger person today? What advice would you give a younger person today?

RKS: Well, the main thing is if they start to give little respect to their older, that is all which I can say. Otherwise, these older people will have – they will have broken heart because they left India only for them and if they don’t have little sympathy from our love, from their parents, it will be very hard. But, mostly they are very helpful in doing it. I have three kids, and they are pretty affectionate and lovable and especially my grandkids are very lovable.

PF: How many grandkids do you have?

RKS: Two.

PF: Two grandkids, okay. How old are they?

RKS: One has finished his high school this year, and he is going in college. The other one is in eighth grade.

PF: So you enjoy taking your grandkids out and enjoying Houston, like that.

RKS: I call them home every Sunday or Monday. We go and have breakfast together.

PF: Oh, that’s wonderful! Yeah, that’s nice! Is there any way we can make a difference? You did mention that we respect older people, we teach younger people to respect the older people. Any other way in which our community can benefit from your experiences of your life?

RKS: To us, establishing this India house was the main purpose. See, like Gujarati Samaj has quite a bit of money. I tried to again bring them together, rather than establishing a separate Gujarati Samaj, you can expand India’s land because India House has around 9-acre land, and unitedly that will be a big hall. We don’t need to go any separate halls to celebrate it. So over there they are having some problem or something, I don’t know.

PF: Okay, right. I think in future, when people will think of it.

RKS: Yeah, I am pretty sure, some day some good people will be in the Gujarati Samaj, they will think let us put the money together. At Mahatma Gandhi Center there is no objection, but still they are thinking of --

PF: In your opinion in your life, can you name one achievement that professionally you are very proud of?

RKS: Well, the main thing is I have become Head of this 29:32 Section. In Houston all the project is under Highway Department, and I have a little input on every project because our district is a bigger district in the whole state. That is my feeling -- when I left the Highway Department, I felt very proud that I have a little say that I did in all the projects.

cue point

PF: Okay, that is definitely a very proud thing to be. To be able to give -- say in every project for Houston. So how many projects would you say you gave your opinion into?

RKS: All the projects were – whether it is resident engineers or just their work done, they used to go through me.

PF: So 400-500, how much? How many?

RKS: All the projects – here it depends, and like sometimes we have a $5 billion job, $2 million and the economy fluctuates. At this time, when I left there were only $2 billion of jobs.

PF: So that is a great achievement for you definitely, and for us to be very proud of you that we have an Indian who was able to give his opinion on every project in Houston and we are very thankful to you for that. Is there anything else that you think that your achievement you would like to talk about?

RKS: Well, I love the people. I don’t know. I participate in religious or this --

PF: Social.

RKS: -- in social, because it was my desire that we should have altogether something to do because there should not be any religious difference that my feeling is we are living out of India and we should not bother whatever is creating a friction among us. But sometime back, when there was a problem between the Hindus and Muslims, or Sikhs, but at that time our good wise people out of our community sit down together. They started to say, “Hey, what is happening in India?” Don’t worry about that one and don’t feel some difference. Let us unite ourselves over here. It was a blessing that there was not any riot or any ill feeling to each other. Though Muslims have their own mosques, Sikhs have their gurdwaras, Hindus have their temples over here. But as cultural, these sometimes like Lata or Rafi or Kishore these people who are sponsored by India Culture Center, and so that they can enjoy that. That time the tickets were very cheap, $5 or $10. Now, it is $50 and $100, that is the difference.

PF: I must thank you very much. We are very, very proud of you, Mr. Raj. And we have learned a lot from you today that you came with $15 in your pocket, and today you are a established, well-known engineer who retired from our State Agency of Highway, and that you served for 45 years, and you have a nice family, and you have integrated your family to the American system of life.

cue point

We are also very happy to learn that you were really one of the founders for India House and you brought all of us together. I don’t belong to your generation, but I know that we have this pride. Every time I step into India House I feel, well, thank God we had visionaries before us who could do this. And thank you for coming here and participating in this thing. We hope that this your life story will encourage the younger generation and they’ll learn from it.

RKS: I believe so that this is our pride. The India House is a thing which we have achieved. Now, the new generation people are taking care of it.

PF: Yeah, I think so.

RKS: Now, they have a medical aid for the people, that is free.

PF: Yeah, free clinic. Yeah.

RKS: Yeah, those people, not only Indians, outside people also, they are welcome over there. I think at least 50-60 people are coming every week over there.

PF: That is very good. All your efforts have borne fruits.

RKS: Thank you!

PF: And we thank you very much for that. The Foundation of India Studies also thanks you for coming for the interview and being a part of the oral history project; Indo-American Oral History project.

RKS: Thanks!

PF: Thanks!
[Cross Talk: 00:36:19 – 00:36:47]

RKS: Well, my parents and even my nana-nani, they died very early. When I left India, my nana and nani, they were alive, but they died when I came over here. But I have a desire to make something in their memory which I planned to go within a year or two. Once I go, I will support their new college over there, our hospital because that is what I want to do it.

PF: In India?

RKS: India.

PF: In India.

RKS: And so, that’s all which I can do it. And that --

PF: In their memory.

RKS: In memory, yeah.

PF: That’s really good. Yeah, okay.

RKS: I hope all the Indians should have something like make it some like give some sort of a trust fund or some actual construction in the schools or some poor people to make them some way that their children can study further rather than giving a cash or anything.

PF: Right, right. That is in India you want it happening or you want it happen in Houston?

RKS: No, but I have done whatever I could over here, but I just have a desire to do something in India because my children, they don’t need any from me and they are well-to-do, why they should look whatever I have. I think I have enough by which I can help.

PF: So education is the key to prosperity.

RKS: Yes.

PF: Yes, that’s what probably -- that is why your children are so well-set in life, right. Okay. Thank you so much!

RKS: Thanks!

PF: Okay.