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Mahatma Gandhi


NRI brings Gandhi to California


Los Angeles, March 10, 2005
Gurmukh Singh

Only a few people know that America became the first country after India to honour Mahatma Gandhi by issuing two postal stamps in his memory in 1961.

Still fewer know that America is the only country where the Mahatma's ashes are enshrined at the Lake Shrine run by Paramahansa Yogananda's followers in Los Angeles.

And now the UCLA (the University of California, Los Angeles) has become the first American university to have a full-fledged Indian History Chair dedicated to promoting Gandhian and Indian thought.

Established at the initiative of a local Indian businessman, Navin Doshi, the Chair has already invited scholars to discuss issues ranging from the Indian Constitution to the ayurvedic system and to the Indian nuclear programme.

``From India, we have invited Ashis Nandi and Rajmohan Gandhi. I know Gandhi is more relevant today than ever before,'' says Doshi who became a follower of the Mahatma after a chance meeting with him in the1940s.

A former classmate of noted Indian psychologist Sudhir Kakkar at Ahmedabad in the 1950s, Doshi says Gandhi exerted a huge influence on the West. ``When we came here as students in the 1950s, people used to respect us because we came from Gandhi's country. The Mahatma was a role model for so many Americans, including Martin Luther King. I was so impressed by their interest in Gandhi that when I took my initial English test in Michigan University, I wrote an essay on Gandhi. The opportunities we Indians got in this country are due to the high esteem in which Americans held Gandhi. The first generation capitalized on that goodwill and built a reputation for Indians. The current generation is cashing in on that reputation,'' says Doshi.

Interestingly, this former aerospace engineer made his fortune by catering to American craze for India velvet patchwork fabric in the swinging seventies.

``The Beatles introduced India to America in the 1960s. They brought Mahesh Yogi and Ravi Shankar to this country. Their arrival spawned a huge interest in Indian classical music and transcendental meditation here because America was in the throes of the counterculture due to the Vietnam War. So eastern tastes -- classical music, yoga, meditation, incense and patchwork quilts and velvet fabrics -- became very popular among Americans. Those were Nirvana times,'' he recalls.

In this so-called Nirvana boom in America, Doshi, who was on the verge of returning to India in 1971, saw a huge business opportunity for selling Indian patchwork textiles.

``For about 15 years, we did a great business is selling patchwork quilts. My velvet boom lasted till the Nirvana boom into the early 1980s before Ronald Reagan came on the scene,'' he says.

From the velvet boom, Doshi went on to cash in on the bond/stock market boom. ``Simultaneously, I entered the real estate business and benefited a lot,'' says the multimillionaire Gujarati businessman. (Hindustan Times)