Dr. Randhir Sinha

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Uncorrected Transcript

Interview with: Dr. Randhir Sinha
Interviewed by: Anjaly Thakkar
Date: October 5, 2013
Archive Number:


AT: Hello! I have Anjaly Thakkar. I am a native Houstonian and I am an educator in the Houston area. I will be interviewing Dr. Randhir Prasad Sinha today. We are interviewing on behalf of the Foundation for India Studies, Houston. This is an interview for first generation Indian immigrants for the Indo-American Oral History Project being done in partnership with the Houston Public Library and Houston Community College. How are you doing?

RS: Good, thank you.

AT: So, tell me what makes you come to this country at first?

RS: I came here for very specific reason. I was always interested in being a neurosurgeon and United States provided me the opportunity to further my career and be as good a neurosurgeon as one can be.

AT: So in India where did you come from?

RS: I came from a city called Patna in north-east part of India which is very historical city. It was capital of Asia when King Ashoka and Chandragupta used to be the emperor. It’s a capital of the State of Bihar.

AT: And did you -- tell me about your early education in Patna?

RS: Well I had my high school and then the college, and then I went to Prince of Wales Medical College in Patna. I finished my medical degree there and then I decided to go to England first and there -- I was there for a year and a year and a half. However, I did not think the training was good enough. As such at that time I decided to move over to US where I found the training was lot better and opportunities were lot more.

AT: So would you say, that the conditions in India what were they like, compared to -- at the time as you were growing up, was there anything that with the conditions in India that kind of made you want to migrate?

RS: The opportunity for being a neurosurgeon was, there was not much of a training program there and so you have to go abroad virtually at that time to get the proper training.

AT: Okay. So did you have any work experience in India or you came directly with your education?

RS: I was there for about a year and a half before I went to England and I was in England for about a year and a half before I came to US.

AT: Did you come directly to Houston?

RS: No, I went first to Baltimore and that’s where I did my internship and then I did my residency in University of South Carolina, in Charleston and after I finished that and I was a teaching fellow and then I came to Houston start my practice.

AT: And in what year did you come to Houston?

RS: In 1975 I came to Houston.

AT: What were the conditions like there -- at that time?

RS: Well, one of the thing people ask me, why did you come from Houston from Charleston? Well at that time Houston was up and coming, oil related city and some of the hospitals were then trying to recruit neurosurgeons which was -- there were not that many at that time. So they approached me and when I came to see the place and I liked it and then first I started in Houston but there was so much of traffic at 59 and I60, and that’s when I moved to Clear Lake and as a Clear Lake there was no neurosurgeon between Houston and Galveston. I was the only one for couple of decades at least and well of course that life style was little better, astronauts and the NASA was there, we were friends with many of those original astronauts and in fact I treated some of them, operated on some of them and I built my practice over there.

AT: And was there Indian community at all when you came?

RS: When we first came there, there were very few and in fact I was the first doctor to be in the Clear Lake area, there was one other and 04:54 who came at the same time and then subsequently more and more I started coming.
And there was no cultural organization, so we, eight or ten of us sat down and started what -- it is called Indian Culture Center of Clear Lake which is much bigger now and so that’s how we started at that time. Slowly and slowly we got more and more people, so we got involved in many other things like political things. We decided that since we’re going to live here we need to get involve with the politics. We have to need -- to get involved with the mainstream America and one of the ways to that, to get the politician to know that we have our all own concerns and we need to get them to know that.
So we got political action committee in the Clear Lake. There was a bigger one in Houston, so we got coordinated with them, we used to raise funds for them, we used to tell them our concerns, so we started doing this in those time. At that time I remember some of the anecdotes which were interesting when the Indian Culture Center was formed.
But there was nothing and there was one grocery store, one or two restaurants and there was no movies and nothing and interesting part was that we used to have one probably you all know Mr. Sanyal (ph) he is to bring it-- the big reel and we will sit down and we will project it and those were the days when we started all this and the community where we started was extremely conservative community.
And when I started practicing you need to show that you are not only good but you are better than everybody to really get all the referrals from that and luckily I had a situation when I first started, when there was a very difficult case which came in and that propelled me into lime light that everybody released that how good – that I was good enough for this, what happened to that, there was a five-year old kid who walked underneath a saw.

AT: An electric saw.

RS: An electric saw his grandfather was doing and his skull and the brain was cut right through it and it was bleeding and it was -- and it’s a big story. Everybody was frantic so I spent hours trying to fix him and eventually we constructed the whole thing in couple of months and he completely recovered and they had, they used to own newspaper, Galveston, so in fact two, couple of pages, my pictures and all those were there so everybody knew in that area who I was and what I do and after that I was established.
I started a lot of referrals and my practice just took off and then the University of -- in Galveston they asked me to be a -- also 08:20 professors which I understood in that and I can -- I go there, I used to go there, now I -- since I’ve retired I haven’t been there much but coordinate with them with some of these clinical neurosurgical practice.

AT: Do you feel that even though you worked so hard to establish yourself and built this reputation for yourself, being here in the 70s do you feel like you still faced some racial discrimination of any sort sometimes or what was that culture like here as far as various culturally, possibly religiously --

RS: Yes -- they were not exposed to people from India. They had no idea who these guys were. When I was in training, I was the only resident in Galveston too and here also first in Clear Lake area first Indian to start practicing. So they were extremely conservative group of people. They had no idea what it was.
So initially everybody was hesitant to see who this is, is he -- and once they start to know this -- he is educated, he can speak English as good as anybody, in fact I remember when they used to say, oh you speak good English, I said, no I used to speak good English now I speak Texan, that’s what I tell them.

But this what happened, once they start to know those, that you are good, as good or even better, then they start accepting you and then you become a part of it and I can remember where I live in Nassau Bay and the community was extremely conservative community, very educated community and the astronauts were there, the scientists were there and initially they will look at you but once you got part of it, then you will just become part of the society over there.

AT: How about with your family, how about with your wife and friends that you made, your children, and the school they went to, do you feel that being in the early generations where there weren’t as many, did they – were they faced with any sort of --

RS: I am sure they faced a little bit, but once they begin to know everyone, we all got accepted. We all got accepted as part of it and so I think initially everyone looked at you that oh it looks a little different than what we are, but once they start to know you -- you speak the same language, you do the same thing, you are -- then you are fine, that’s the part of it.

AT: Have you seen the Indian population grow since then?

RS: It has exploded. I mean in Clear Lake itself, I can see that, I don’t recognize 95% of the people and it’s from that small number that you can count on fingers, now there are few thousand just in Clear Lake alone. And the other thing – that was thing that we didn’t have any place to worship at that time when we were also very religious, I mean of course a lot of people were religious, now the questions was what to do?
Then we started having meetings on that and to start a temple and that’s when Meenakshi Temple was started over there and we were part of that and we still go there when we need to and that’s how it started and look at the Meenakshi temple, it is so much bigger, there used to be one small place and I used to have a trailer, we used to sit there and worship over there.
So the things have improved, things have gone for better. We have a very big community now vibrant, over 100,000. We have almost everything you can think of in Houston, culturally, socially, professionally.

AT: And a Chamber of Commerce as well?

RS: Yes around 2000 or so, one of the Counsel General he had the idea that there should be a good business relations between India and US and at that time we used to have very tough time, even a minister who will come here and he will have tough time getting an appointment with the CEOs to do any business.
So he said, well let’s start doing some work and so I was invited also, so we sat down and formed Indo American Chamber of Commerce. I was one of the founding directors of that one and later on I was the president also. And that has now grown and that has helped a lot in many ways, in many areas in corporation with India in the business, health and education.

AT: In future, your children, your grandchildren do you have any concerns about how they will maintain their culture values or whether growing up in American culture, they will be able to maintain some of their cultural heritage and background?

RS: When you look at that, they have all that they need because we have both cultural and social and religious organizations, and quite a few of them and they have the opportunity to participate and propagate their own culture as they need. So I think -- I am optimistic and I also –
I look at my own house, we never pushed for anybody but all my children they go to temple, they do all the religion and social activity. When the time is there, they all participate in part of it and become a part of it. So I feel that yes, they will do fine. 

AT: And overall for generations to come, what do you envision for Indian Americans in this country? Do you --

RS: Well Indian-American will do well. One of the things is that we instill in them the very basic philosophy that you will need to be responsible, education and the responsibility and most of the families do that. Once you have that, then sky is the limit, you will do fine.

AT: So tell me about your family, how many children do you have?

RS: Well I have two children, a son and a daughter. Son is educated in Colombia and New York and he is involved in managing the -- money managing, runs a fund and my daughter got educated in Berkeley and University of Houston, she taught in the University of Houston and also she is teaching at the Kinkaid math, and we have five grandchildren, five beautiful grandchildren, Laxmi, Vaishali, and Sasha, and Sameer has Revati and Anisa, so all of them -- we spend lot of time with them and we enjoy there -- how they are growing up and what they do.

AT: And do you children have - - are they involved with the Indian community as well? Do you find that they feel -- they identify with their Indian community?

RS: Yes they did, they are doing it still. My son was involved with Pratham and I also donated some time for all this and daughter had a -- she had a Urban India beat which she has to fuse east and west dances and is to perform and choreograph those. So they were all involved in it and but now they have -- today they have kids so they have less time for those than they used to have.

AT: Do you feel that they are passing their Indian heritage down to their children and do your grandchildren now have involvement with the Indian community or with learning about their Indian culture in different ways?

RS: That’s very true. The grand kids are also getting involved because my daughter, she did her arangetram and she did all Indian dances. Granddaughters are also doing, they are learning tabla, they are going to learn Hindi classes at the temple, what’s name of that place?

AT: Arya Samaj temple.

RS: Arya Samaj temple and they school there and so they are following that and I think they are doing good.

AT: Are there any issues that matter most to you politically speaking, that you have tried to be involved with as far as promoting the Indian community and gaining that support from your local government officials possibly 18:54?

RS: In fact there were -- in fact there were many issues. I recall this -- one other time when there was earthquake in Gujarat and our Congressman Nick Lampson recalled it and he arranged for tents and all the other things and then there was this nuclear deal was going on so the ambassador came and he talked to us, so we talked to all our senators and congressmen, those people for who we raise funds and to see if they can get it through, because there was some problem at that time.
Now you are going to ask me, whether I am a Republican or Democrat? Well of course, Nick Lampson is a good friend, he is a Democrat but at the same time as a political action committee I support a lot of conservative like Republicans too. So it’s a question of what are the concerns that we have for the Indian community, I think those issues too, but basically I am conservative and fiscal conservative, not social.
Socially I am liberal, but fiscally I am conservative and this is what happens when I see this deficit and all the other problems going in the -- I sometime don’t understand how one can spend more than what they can make.

AT: So growing up or living in the Clearlake area you must have had friends both physicians and friends that were engineers because the NASA being so close by, with the Indian community did you find that you had support on both sides of the political spectrum with the Indian community or do you find most of your friends to be like you fiscally conservative and socially liberal?

RS: Most of them are, but some supports democrats, some supports republican but when it comes down to issues concerning the Indian they are all unite.

AT: So tell me more about that when you would have these fundraisers, would you invite and how did the community come together for these sorts of fundraisers for --

RS: Yes during course of 30 years I had several of those. We had fundraisers at my house and they are also at the restaurants and we raised funds for different political persons from congressmen to a local person, person attached to local state reps. So we did that and I invited them at my house to meet with the Indian Consul General from Swashpawan Singh to Gavai, all of them, each one of them and I get to introduce them to my congressmen, and so they get to know each other and communicate with each other.
And in fact I remember when I was in Chamber of Commerce, I got the ambassador to see some of the very well know business people from this area, I introduced that time, one of my good friends who passed away, Bob Berry, and he and the investors were getting together on phone talking about the opportunities. So because you know he was so much involved, Mr. Berry was involved with Republican Party that was a little help to the investor in getting some of this, maybe some of the things going through, pass through the Senate or Congress.

AT: Do you find over the years that the Indian community is becoming more and more involved when you have such events as far as the number of people are interested and come to these sorts of events when you have them?

RS: Well I like to see more because I remember that last few years, I don’t see that much activity as we used to have and I know I’ve slowed down a little after 37 years so -- but I like to see it little more, the younger generation pick up this and work with the representatives whether it is local level or it is the Washington.

AT: So is that what you would think is the younger generation, you like to see them become more involved and pick up where your generation has done quite a bit to get involved politically?

RS: Yes, that’s what I like to see it happen more and more.  

AT: And so tell me little bit about hobbies. Do you join any American hobbies along with some of the Indian hobbies that you grew up being a part of?

RS: Well I was also very much involved in the sports. In India I played almost every sport. I represented my college in badminton. I played tennis there, and cricket. When I came here after some time for say when I was in training from early years I was so busy, I didn’t have much time for it, well then I started my old hobby of tennis, picked up golf and I still very regularly play those, play bridge when I get a chance.
So those are my still hobbies that I do very regularly and the other thing that I love to do is traveling and I have few places on the earth which I have to finish and I am going to finish it one by one but I have traveled quite a few -- quite extensively and I am trying to do more and more of it.

AT: With some of these hobbies like tennis and golf you feel like being a part of having those interests helps you become a part of the mainstream community, not just the Indian community, get to know the Houston community outside of the Indian community, do you feel like those were, those hobbies really helped you in that way?

RS: Yes. Tennis and golf, like my wife also plays tennis so who are our friends, almost all of them are non-Indians, they are locals and if I go to Country Club who are there, there maybe one Indian or two Indian I will see but almost everyone is a local guy, business people from all over and tennis club when I go there, or in my regular group, I am the only one who is from -- of Indian origin and so we do get to have interaction with everybody and make friends with everybody. 

AT: Do you think that was really crucial or really helpful to you in your life here, in raising your children here in new a place where you didn’t grow up, do you feel that having that, having that interaction really helps you make those choices and how to live and how to raise your children here in Houston?

RS: Well it helps a lot because – also my children got involved in all those sports activity, I was coaching, then everybody else was, so it all becomes a community project and I was part of it like everybody else and the children were -- they made friends, we made friends and that’s a good way to get to know everybody in your community. 

AT: Would you say your children had Indian friends or did they have more non-Indian friends or a combination as a result of this or --

RS: Yes, they had a combination. They are in the schools there were mostly non-Indian but if they go to say dance, or something else then they will have lot of Indian friends, so they have a combination, and when they grew up in the community there are lot of non-Indian friends and they grew up like that. 

AT: Do you have a final message that you would like to say, if there was anything that could think of that you wanted to pass on as a final message about your experience being one of the first Indian-Americans in your area that you were in Houston?

RS: Well first thing is education, number one education and keep up with it, then get involved in all the activities and don’t give up. If any -- if sometimes you may feel that discrimination or the other things but just persist with it and keep on going and I think you will conquer in the end, that’s what I said to the kids, keep on going with your work, with your activities and get involved and just be part of it.

AT: Thank you very much. It was wonderful talking with you. 

RS: Thank you.