Anantha Aiyer

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Interview with: Anantha Aiyer
Interviewed by: Dr. Padmaja Parthasarathy
Date: May 17, 2013
Archive Number:

 


PP: I am Padmaja Parthasarathy, and it gives me great pleasure to be interviewing Mr. Anantha Aiyer on behalf of the Foundation For India Studies Houston and for the Indo-American Oral History Project. And we are doing this in partnership with the Houston Public Library and the Houston Community College.
Thank you Mr. Anantha, as I said, it's a privilege for me, I have known you for a number of years and it's truly an honor that I am having this opportunity to interview you.

AA: It's a great honor to sit with you and talk to you about this project. And I keep thanking also Mr. Krishna Vavilala, who is the founder of this organization: Foundation For India Studies, is an excellent, excellent way of doing things. Bringing out all the people to the public, to the mass, it's a great thing, I will tell you.
And I am honored and he gave me the opportunity to sit with you and talk to you and I really thank you as well to have an interview with me. I appreciate it, thank you!

PP: Tell me how your story began in this country and particularly in the Houston area, because as you said, this is a great project for our posterity and for us to have a kind of a thread that goes in, the contributions of immigrants and the experiences of immigrants, and how we share that with our future generation. But from your perspective; what brought you to this country and how did you manage to choose Houston to settle down?

AA: Beautiful! I will tell you, basically I am an engineer.
Interviewer: You are an engineer?

AA: Yes.
Interviewer: Okay.

AA: From India, particularly from Tamil Nadu. Then I studied and then I started working with two good companies, Royal Enfield Motorcycles and then one in TVS Group was called a Girling – Brakes.

PP: What area of engineering were you involved?

AA: I am in the manufacturing.
Interviewer: Manufacturing, okay?

AA: And then having worked with them in two bigger companies, five years and two years, then as you know as well, they pretty much – we have a British influence, in all collaborations from England those days, we had not known Americans and we don’t know much about, honest to God, I did not know much about America those days.

PP: So, when was this around the time?

AA: That was `56, `58, `60s.
Interviewer: Okay, early `60s, late `50s.

AA: Listen, I am 80 year old already, I am 81 now. I want to let you know that I graduated BE in `56 and then I started working and having worked with the British influence there under the technicians from England, and they injected the idea that I should explore the possibility to go in other countries and have the experience.

PP: So it was kind of your adventurous spirit in you kind of inspired by others.

AA: Yeah, you said it correctly.

PP: Okay.

AA: What happened then, I said okay, let’s go I will try, because I happen to be only one son of my parents, my father was not there, and I am only son. And then I have two sisters and I was not married then. Then at the same time I don’t want to leave my mother alone. My mother said you know I should not even -- if I had a job in Northern India those days, she never let me to go there, you know she wants me to stay only in Madras within that circle.
And I said, okay let’s -- and then I want to just break the barriers somewhat that I wanted to go. Then she said, okay, why don’t you get married, we will think of all that. Then that was time, and of course you know, pretty much those days were all arranged marriages, you know. So, Padma is my wife actually and she was in the Government Medical College and she was working Nursing Graduate Program.

PP: Okay, so her field is nursing.

AA: Exactly.

PP: And you had an arranged marriage.

AA: Yeah, right, and of course, she is a relative also, you know, one of our relations. So, anyway, we decided to marry and my mother said to marry. Our marriage took place in the year 1965 in Madras.
(00:05:05)
 and then immediately I said to her you know, I think we should go to England, because there were two guys working me, and their technicians said to me, you can get a job, you are an engineer, and your wife, she is going to be in nursing. There should not be any problem, job is just like that. And I thought about it very carefully and then I talked to my mother, and she said, okay, all right, if you want to go, you go for only for two years, not more than that.

PP: So, this was your foreign expedition you could say, began in the United Kingdom, England, right?

AA: Exactly!

PP: And your mother let you go at that time being very protective for two years, okay?

AA: And then I said, okay let’s go. Then she said, okay, she is also, let’s okay, of course we want to explore the possibility of other country and I want to gain experience also from other countries. So, we were all qualified, so we got there, I mean no problem with the job or anything. I mean not a very big on the rich community level, but at least we were okay. So, I thought let's go. So, we came to England, then even though I had a job offer from Birmingham, you know, both companies are one in Redditch and one       in Birmingham, I could have gotten job in the Royal Enfield or with Girling – Brakes, but instead I – you know, because the weather was so bad.

PP: So, you were in England, but what brought you to America and to Houston?

AA: That’s later on, if you cut this story, this one is very important, okay.

PP: Okay.

AA: When I was there in England, then I got the job and I said let me stay in London itself, I don’t want to leave there. Then I joined Smith Industries one of the great companies those days, I worked with them about 60 years. Then we have lot of people crowed, the exodus from East Africa, Tanzania, Biafra, Kenya. Lot of people used to come to England those days.

PP: England was the magnet that attracted people from different Commonwealth countries.

AA: Exactly! When they come in, because those guys are all got independence and when they moved there, the option to come to either go to India by origin, or they can come to England, because they have been ruled by British. So, they opted to come to England. So, it was so crowded, the density of the population had become so, so, so big there, those days. 

PP: The density of the immigrant population or --

AA: Exactly! Immigrant population, obviously, I mean lot of people. Then at the same token we have got a child also, okay. That’s my daughter Luckmi born in there.

PP: This was in England.

AA: Exactly!

PP: Okay.

AA: Then I decided you know say then we were supposed to go within two three years then, but we didn’t go, since we did not go, my mother wanted --

PP: Go back to India.

AA: Exactly! My wanted an insurance. So what I decided, we sent her a – and when she was only about two months old, I think it's three months, I don’t remember rightly. We put her with – those days Air India was so nice. The air hostess came to our house, picked up the child and put her on the flight and then they took her to India and delivered home delivery to my mother.
Interviewer: Okay, that is some kind of an experience.

AA: Exactly! Big, big --
Interviewer: But I am sure you were kind of trepidation.

AA: Exactly! Meanwhile my son Kumar 08:43 was born after three years, then we decided it’s okay, let’s go to another country, explore the possibility, let's see how the betterment is?

PP: Oh, the adventurous spirit.

AA: Exactly! While I was there, I am very fond of – I mean I am like a -- by the way, I never come for studies or anything, I had never gone to, because my engineering is good enough for me.   

PP: So, you had your engineering education in India, but you did not pursue any graduate here?

AA: Exactly! I had never gone to England or to the United States, but except the fact attending some seminars or special courses which I have been sent by the company from time to time. At the same time I was very passionate in theatre, wherever I go, my way of looking at it is we have got to – I mean, this thing is for my betterment, that’s why I am not also denying that. At the same time I want to promote our culture, out tradition, that’s more important, wherever we go, we want to just do that, that’s the way.

PP: So, using the medium of theater, you wanted to promote among the Indian community to maintain their tradition.

AA: So, when I was in England at that time, in London, I started the Tamil Sangam also, Organization.

PP: Tamil Group.

AA: Exactly! So, there are people from Singapore, Malaysia, Ceylon, they are all there, they are part of it. And very successfully we have done it. And within two, three years I moved to England -- I mean, beg your pardon, to United States, I came to New York and then--

PP: Tamil is your mother tongue?

AA: Yeah, right! My mother tongue, yeah. And I have a great passion for theater, actually, I will tell you, because also I know a little bit of music also, I enjoy. And I am not good learned musician, at the same time listen to the music well. And I repeat, if you sing a couple of lines, I will repeat it very easily. So that kind of a -- God has given that kind of a --

PP: Talent.

AA: Exactly! So, the theater, anything you want to do, you got to be more, more strong in language, you need it.

PP: To me the primary criterion is creativity and you had that.

AA: Exactly! We need a lot of people, we need lot of subscribers, it's not a one man show, theater is with lot of people involved.

PP: It's a project, it's a big project.

AA: So, what you do is, I decided, I want to find out people who could speak Tamil well, but it was very good to me when I come to New York. New York is a more student community was there at that time, lot of engineering students, doctors, scientists, you name it, you know so many people.

PP: You had larger Tamil population.

AA: Tamil, Telegu, Kannadigas, you know.
Interviewer: So, lot of South Indians.

AA: Exactly, precisely! We had lot of people there. Then I started a theater group.

PP: Oh, wonderful!

AA: Okay, in the year 1973.

PP: Okay, so you started a theater group there?

AA: Theater group there.

PP: This is among the South Indian who had settled down there or --

AA: Yeah, lot of people there, and we were also very lucky, we were very fortunate; our temple was also being built at that time.

PP: This is temple --

AA: It's called a Ganesh Temple.
Interviewer: In New York?

AA: In New York, Queens, New York. Okay, what I did, we stayed in Manhattan those days, then after living there for one year, I moved to Queen base, because a lot of Indian concentration only in that, particularly South Indian concentration in that area, which is closer to the temple. I will tell you what, we are so much involved with the temple organization and the cultural activities and there is one Tamil Organization called, Bharati Society of America.
And the year I went there in `72, `73 I was a Board Committee Member, then following year I became a Secretary, and then following year I became the President of the organization.

PP: So, you played a very active role in not only maintaining, but inspiring some of the other immigrants who were there to get involved in theater, because this created kind of a social connectedness for all of them. And you know, when you are an immigrant you have a sense of insecurity, may be you are settling down so there are some fears. Through drama, and through theater and through music, they can not only enjoy themselves, but kind of feel at home. So, you gave them that opportunity through your work in the cultural area.

AA: It was not only for Tamil community at that time, I was so lucky, we have an counterpart in the Telugu organization there. 

PP: These are all South Indian language, Telugu, Kannada. 

AA: Telugu, Kannada all there. So, fortunately we have in Telugu community at that time, then the President to secretary was my friend Krishna Vavilala, he was there.

PP: The founder of the Foundation For India Studies.

AA: Exactly! Founder of this great organization, okay. And he was there at that time, we together you know, he is fond of you know, he said, Anantha, why not we do it together sometime? Okay, all the music concert which you come, Shankar, 14:31, lot of people, the Balamuralikrishna, lot of things.

PP: The famous musicians.

AA: The musicians. When they come here, joint venture you used to do. Also in temples we were all involved at that time, and oh, I will tell you what --

PP: So, you brought all this kind of experience of having started these organizations and promoting these organizations to Houston when you came?

AA: Sure! Over there was a good unity amongst the regional groups as well, okay, that’s it.
(00:15:06)

PP: Okay, there was a kind of cohesiveness.

AA: Exactly! Okay. Then spending some time there, then I decided when -- you know our great friend in the city, Rathna Kumar.

PP: The dancer, who runs the dance course.

AA: Exactly! Anjali School of Dance. Great person, she is a good friend of mine. And she came to New York. When she was attending the TANA Conference, Telegu Association of North America, and she gave a performance, then in turn I asked her to do one for our Tamil organization at that time. And Rathna did it and then Rathna said to me, Anantha uncle, you better come to Houston, lot of prosperity there, oil blooming, good jobs are all available.

PP: Just like today.

AA: And she said, you should come there, you could do lot of cultural activities and I envy you, you better come there and I said, okay let me explore the possibility of that door. Then when I came here with her help, her husband Anil came and picked me up, then in one day I got three job offers in this city.

PP: Must have been a booming time, truly booming time.

AA: Exactly, because the oil energy that time, you know, it's a oil and gas, it was really pretty good.

PP: What year was that?

AA: `75/`76 that President Carter had given us some oil energy concession those days, you know incentives. So, it was very, very good though. When I came here I got three job offers and finally excepted one with the Joy Manufacturing, which gave me the moving expenses and all sort of, but absolutely no problem with my wife’s job, because she is already full fledged registered nurse within Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. 

PP: Quite a famous hospital.

AA: Exactly, and she got a beautiful job offer, she was interviewed there itself and she got a job offer for Methodist Hospital. Believe me, ever since she joined that hospital in the year 1977, still she is working, okay? In fact, you know, I asked her to come today to having an interview with you lady, but they are so bumped with – shortage of people and their schedule is going on and I couldn’t get her, I feel very bad about it that she is not here, however --

PP: She is contributing the society in a very significant way just like you have to this community, everyday in and day out, for how many years now, since `77, right? So, for number of years, over 30 years, she has served the --

AA: We are fortunate, we have another temple organization set up here also. Sri Meenakshi Temple in Pearland. We are very lucky and we got involved, ever since we had experience from New York.

PP: Yeah, you brought all that with you.

AA: Exactly, they said they wanted us to do here, something. Our contribution was so great, in fact, on that area, on the religious faith that she had and she really wanted to do a good job, she took a lot of position, office position. And even today she is there as one of the Executive Director there. And I was there, and we are the group involved in the beginning, we were there right from the steering committee to the first who set up the people who were elected to the office, I was one amongst them.

PP: So, this is part of the temple activity. This is besides theater activities that you were involved in. You were also volunteering at the temple and because these were in the early stages of building the Meenakshi Temple or -- And so you were contributing to the various executive activities, the building activities, the worship activities --

AA: While it is there, I don’t want to leave my theater activity, that’s my passion, all the time. Okay, so what I decided, again here an excellent group of people I got, I got into that, we started doing the play and in 1977 the year I came in, I started, registered the origination called Tamil Stage Creation. That was the first play Rathna acted, so many people acted those days.

PP: So, the name of your theater group is called Tamil --

AA: Stage Creation.

PP: Tamil Stage Creation, and which is very apt, because it's your creativity that inspire the start up of this organization.

AA: Through this origination we made lot of fundraising events for the temple project. 
(00:20:04)

PP: Okay, so when you charged a fee for the tickets, you contributed that money for the temple.

AA: It goes entirely to the temple and the best place all is, more than 26 years I have enacting plays only in Jewish Community Center in Chimney Rock Road.

PP: Okay, so you know there was already that into the mainstream community, but integrating or working with the mainstream community, and they are also a kind of a --you could call it an immigrant group.

AA: They are also very, very receptive, whether it is the Jewish, or Black, or Hispanic, or White American, whoever it is, maybe, they are all so great and they have passion for theater, passion for culture. They want to know about our culture, our religion, our kind of faith; it is very, very beautiful way that we interacted those days. Even today is good; of course, the community has gone so big these days. 

PP: The Indian community.

AA: Exactly! So, but there are lot of denominations, the lot of people are all there in different group of churches and temples, in synagogues, lot of things, there are all there, but with all that you know, I mean Houston is the greatest place.

PP: Tell me about this theater group, and I know, I have myself acted in your drama, but on a personal note, both my husband and myself and my son too, anyway, you have won many, many awards and accolades from the community, as I said before, what are the most important thing about this kind of thing, is the social connectedness that you bring to the immigrant community? But tell me some of the things that you got great recognition. Do you want to share some of the things?

AA: Absolutely, I am glad you asked me that question now, I will tell you. 

PP: Yes. That’s your -- this is show-and-tell time.

AA: I will tell you, this is a group of pictures and I could tell you --

PP: This is in Houston?

AA: No, no these are all from India, that’s what I wanted to tell you exactly.

PP: Okay, so how your story began.

AA: Yeah, in 2005 I was awarded from the Nataka Academy.

PP: This is Drama Academy, in Chennai?

AA: Yeah, in Chennai.

PP: Chennai, India.

AA: Exactly! In association with probably four other different organizations there, Parthasarathy Gana Sabha, Brahma Gana Sabha, Krishna Gana Sabha all these guys, they are all joined together, they awarded me a title, it's called Nataka Seva Ratna.

PP: So, several cultural, music, drama organization together in Chennai.

AA: Right!

PP: Together they granted you an award for promoting the Indian culture abroad.

AA: Exactly!

PP: And also, especially focusing on the drama aspect of that Indian heritage.

AA: And they call me as a cultural ambassador.

PP: Yeah, you were definitely a cultural ambassador, truly.

AA: That’s what they do, especially for promoting the theater.

PP: Okay.

AA: And this is a distinguished gentleman called A.B Sharvanan.

PP: Okay, Sharvanan.

AA: Exactly! A very great person, they have got AVM Productions and is a very, very popular. 

PP: So, they gave you a shawl and a special crown and --

AA: Exactly! Right and this is the Y. E. Mahindran another excellent theater group guy. And this is S. P. Muthuraman, he is the greatest one of the directors, who directed Rajnikant movie, 25 movies he did to his credit.

PP: Okay, so all of these are people who were involved in the Chennai scene on the theater and the movie.

AA: Exactly, and this is Venkat, another great director you know on the field. So, this one is a thing I want to cherish my memory with these sort of things, because they are all great to me all the time. Oh, this is another Shrikant, very old actor who acted with Sivaji Ganeshan and Muthuraman and all those people are great fellow. He used to work for American Embassy also those days.

PP: Okay, in India?

AA: In India, Madras. And the other one is here, our Bharathi Kalai Manram in Houston.

PP: Okay, Bharathi Kalai Manram, they were the ones who were organizing a lot of events, music concerts, drama and --

AA: They, I think they set it in the year 1974 in Houston. Then, when I moved in `77, I put the first drama for these also.

PP: Okay for this --

AA: Oh incidentally, I was the first person to bring and to promote Tamil dramas in the Untied States.
(00:25:02)

PP: Yeah, that is great, congratulations! I didn’t know that, okay. This promotes the language and promotes the medium of drama, both.

AA: Exactly at the same time when India was setup for the television serial in Tamil, I was the first person to get the story here ‘Washingtonil Thirumanam,’ Marriage in Washington which is a great author SAAVI wrote it up and I took rights from him and he permitted me to – I shoot in this soil, in America. I started from New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Washington, and ended up in Houston.

PP: So the film was shot, the drama or the film?

AA: No, no, it's a film actually.

PP: So, you shot it and --

AA: For the television, for the Indian television.

PP: For the Indian television.

AA: Exactly, for Madras Doordarshan.

PP: So, you had several venues where you went --

AA: Exactly, and I brought most of the artist from there. And then with our amalgamated, with our own group of people --

PP: The group from Houston?

AA: Yes.

PP: Okay, so you brought celebrity, and you were not only a celebrity, but you bought special recognition for all those who work with you.

AA: Yeah, Dr. Ranganathan acted; Padmini acted, other Dr. Padmini, okay. And then, who else, who else, Dr. Saranathan, so many people acted in that play.

PP: Okay, so the local people.

AA: Exactly! My wife is a great actress too, and she did the big role, she teamed up with Dr. Ranganathan.

PP: Okay.

AA: And my daughter happened to be the heroine in the play also.

PP: Okay, both the family and the community and everybody, bring them into the limelight and --

AA: Exactly! And I will tell you, I am very fortunate to have a good supportive community and my family, because my daughter dances well and she studied well, and she did her Psychology Major there, then subsequently, by the way she became the Miss India USA in 1987 here.

PP: Well, you have an illustrious family here, that’s why you did it right and your children are doing it right.

AA: Right! My son is also very popular, he is an attorney and he studied in Austin and he has his Masters degree in Public Policy whatever you call it, and then he joined the City of Houston with the Mayor at that time; he became the Chief of Staff for him also those days.

PP: Okay, and he is an attorney, and he has also a background in Public Policy.

AA: Exactly! And his wife is also an attorney, currently she is employed by the city also, she is an attorney there.

PP: So, you are one happy family.

AA: Exactly!

PP: That contribute quite a bit to your drama production.

AA: We pass on all our culture and tradition and since my daughter dances well, she started teaching her daughter also, my granddaughter and she is also good accomplished girl, right now she is about ten year old, fantastic dancer, and she is learning from Divya Unni, she is a master from Kala --

PP: Kalakshetra.

AA: Yeah Kalakshetra, no, from Kerala Kalakshetra.

PP: Oh from Kerala.

AA: They are very good. And she is a good actress of those days. And we are very happy and this is another of my credentials which I got it, Nataka Sirpi, which is what they call it.

PP: The sculpture of drama, the sculptor, drama sculptor.

AA: It's a title, exactly! Bharathi Kalai Manram Houston, they gave in the year 1997, okay.

PP: Okay, this was another award?

AA: And then another one this one is in the year 2002, okay, again, they complimented for all the services, they put everything together, the number of plays which I did right from 19 --

PP: Oh, so they have listed all the places.

AA: Exactly! Listed all these things, which are all in Tamil, obviously, it takes long time to read. And this one is also, I think this is in 1998, they gave me -- how they felt myself as a --.

PP: So, they have written a poem, in honor of –

AA: Exactly! They consider me as a big banana tree. And not only that with banyan tree, right, is it banyan tree?

PP: Which one?

AA: In Tamil we call it -- I don’t know

PP: Ala Maram.

AA: Ala Maram.

PP: Ala Maram, is banyan tree.

AA: Banyan tree.

PP: Because banyan tree spreads its – it’s kind of almost the shape and the branches wide around, yes.

AA: Exactly, right!

PP: That’s what you did, because with your drama, with your culture, with your activities, you gave kind of an umbrella for all the people to come under there, and give them a sense of security, continuity of tradition and continuity of our heritage, which strengthens us and makes us feel strong.
(00:30:07)

AA: But the good work into theater what have been doing here, State of Texas. Okay the Senator of the State of the Texas, they made a proclamation, I think during the year `98 I think of this one.

PP: Okay.

AA: Okay. They awarded me this one, they made the day, Tamil Creations Day, okay?

PP: Okay. That special day was proclaimed as Tamil Stage Creations Day.

AA: Exactly! And then this one, I am sorry, it takes a little longer time for you.

PP: That’s okay, another proclamation.

AA: Another proclaim from the City of Houston.

PP: Okay, that was from the State of Texas and this one is from the City of Houston?

AA: This is `98, that’s a `97, this is `98 they gave me, and they also -- October the 17th, 1998, Tamil Stage Creations will host a production and at this day recognize the importance of the diversity, the City of Houston is pleased to congratulate and to commend the Tamil Stage Creations for its deep commitment to introducing Tamil culture to the residence of Houston.

PP: Yes. You have contributed very significantly. I would have to say that you have enriched the City of Houston with your contribution. Not only enrich the life of other immigrants, but the city itself, by introducing and working with the Jewish Community Center and receiving all these awards and inspiring all the other young people to continue your path that you have fact out.

AA: This is the last one, very recently in the month of February. Austin, there is group there, a organization there, they are all connected with the theatre heritage and they have honored me with a title, you know, Kala Brahmam they call it, you see, you know, creator of a --

PP: Drama and a culture.

AA: Exactly!

PP: Upholder of the culture.

AA: Exactly! This is a Dr. Nagarajan, he used to be, you know, in New York also he was a former IBM and he has also done a tremendous service for the community and I think currently he is the President of the India Fine Arts Society in Houston.

PP: And so there was an article recently.

AA: Yeah. Exactly!

PP: This was in the Houston Newspaper?

AA: Yeah. No this is, yeah, Houston newspaper; it was republished by Herald also.

PP: But focused on the consultation company.

AA: Yeah, yeah exactly! And 32:51 everybody had did this one.

PP: Oh, congratulations! You have won many awards and accolades and I know that, you know, it requires a tremendous of persistence, of course, first and foremost creativity and the fluency in the time of language to be able to write plays, to stage plays, to direct plays, congratulation! Tell me what person in your childhood that maybe inspired you to get involved so heavily involved in drama and theater and music?

AA: My mother was a great singer, she used to sing and my eldest sister who is no more now, and she graduated in music in Annamalai University and the great guru was Tiger Varadachariar, a great person who taught music to my sister. I was only about 6-7 years old, and she used to learn from her teacher rather, and he used to harmonium, which we call it those days, with that you know they teach.

PP: Like an accordion.

AA: Exactly, exactly! Like a keyboard, the older version of that one. Which she was doing it, and she started singing, I was listening, I used to stand behind my mother, I holding the sari like this and watching to that, and after the teacher gone, my mother continued the session with my sister, okay, sing that one, and then my mother asked me, why don’t you sing that? Then I immediately repeated, all that I --

PP: So you had a natural inclination and talent for music.

AA: Exactly, the flair was there and that’s the way I started.

PP: And then music led to – were you in school plays or did your school encourage a lot of drama, and theater and all that or was it more as an adult when you came to New York?
(00:35:01)

AA: No before that I used to act in the high school and college everywhere, because of that’s where you know, once you get into that one, theater, because I was watching lot of dramas and in those days it was called the TK Shanmugham Brothers.  

PP: That was in Chennai?

AA: In Chennai, no, they were all over, and of course, they are from Tamil Group and obviously they did lot of plays, like a historical and a mythic plays and excellent, and lot of good social plays also. I learnt actually the floor marking. I was in college beginning, I used to go and watch them, because they are about in one act, there are about 30 to 40 people who used to be there, because that’s kind of a historical play. 

PP: So there were actors, actresses, they were about 30-40 people.

AA: How to do that positioning themselves, the key to the person to say with the dialog, when you finish the dialog, you could look at him on that one, so that I finish my dialog, you start saying.

PP: So you had first hand experience watching how they were being trained.

AA: Exactly! I learned the think from them. It actually motivated me to do, even today I am learning, to be honest with you.

PP: Yes, we are all learners, everyday we learn something new.

AA: A lot of good people, a lot of youngsters are all doing tremendously good job, and a miracle, even handling the camera these days, look at that inner digital device now, how beautifully they all do. Those days, it was a big camera, Mitchell,they are holding on the big shoulder, run around here and there. Now, look at the way they do, so beautiful! I am fascinated to see all these things. I am thinking now, it’s my humble request to maintain our culture, our tradition, our way of doing, you have to protect the language; you have to learn the language.
Once you learn the language, arbitrarily then you can get into the theater or music, dance whatever it is. Then you will enjoy more of that, that way. That way lots of schools are all here, Tamil schools, Telugu schools, a lot of schools, Hindi heritage classes. In fact, you started the heritage class too. I distinctly remember when you came to Houston.

PP: Yeah, long, long ago. At least what you are saying is the exposure to our culture, to our language, to our tradition and to how our heritage is extremely important in order for our future generations, to have a secure identity. I think you made a very important point, that’s extremely important. Tell me when you were settling down in Houston, were there any -- do you have fond memories, do you have any not so fond, not so pleasant experiences, or how was it when you settled down in Houston?

AA: I’ll tell you very -- I can categorically say, no discrimination.

PP: You didn’t experience any discrimination?

AA: Never ever. I want to tell you that.

PP: That’s a great story to talk.

AA: Indeed, indeed! See my wife working in the medical field, in the nursing area. It’s a beautiful hospital. They are all so busy, people have no time to talk about your discrimination, or anything at all.

PP: Nothing from the patients either?

AA: Nothing.

PP: That’s very good to know.

AA: Okay, she is a nice person also to move with anybody.

PP: Yeah, that’s important.

AA: You should have the charisma to do that. You should have a very – like you, you should have a charming face like that --

PP: Thank you!

AA: Obvious, everyone should have it and one should be receptive to each other. If you smile, I am going to smile. If you are rough, I am going to be all right, okay thank you so much, that’s it. That’s life you know.

PP: To a large extent as an immigrant, we have to try and reach out. It’s that --

AA: That is true, I am not saying no.

PP: If we can make our chores that are very positive; we are likely to get positive returns.

AA: But I want to add one more thing in this area. One may think why in general Indian people are not interacting with the other community? They may ask or you may ask, I don’t know, you may ask that question, but I will tell you upfront that answer to that. In those days, when we came in early `70’s, we didn’t have much of a density population of the Indian, particularly in the South Indian; they were not there that much. Subsequently, in Houston they have grown so big, so when we come to know at that point, it’s only about ten families, fifteen families, but today about five hundred families, so your time is not adequate to go and mix with the other community.
(00:40:05)
But I’ll tell you one thing; I used to work in an engineering company. We have a lot of pool together to play on a football note, whatever it is, then you go to the -- and in the evening hours we will go for our drink or whatever it is. Baseball, basketball, football, we get a lot of free ticket also those days in Oil Companies, I enjoyed myself.

So, my dear lady, I never have any discrimination at all, I really enjoyed it and I want to say that to everybody, and if you are nice to people, people will be nice to you, that’s the way I look at it.


PP: That is substantially true, but you are saying you may have very important point there that the immigrants who were now recently settling down are not sufficiently interacting with the mainstream community. Is that what you were trying to --


AA: You maybe absolutely right in that point.


PP: No, you were saying that they are not interacting that much. So do you -- what do you suggest? For especially we have a continuous stream of immigrants settling down in this community, Houston is thriving, it is not just thriving, it’s a boom town now. So we are likely to attract lot more immigrants and certainly engineers and doctors, not only that, but other professions too, but do you have like a message or do you like to share something?


AA: My message is only, people look for -- you know, they got to create a time, because these days the baby-boomers or youngsters who got recently married, they all have children. One wants to go to tennis, another wants to go to swimming, another wants to go to dance class. You know, so many ways your time is spent. Either the wife or the husband has to go and do things for them.

When your time is used up for the sake of your children, you don’t have any time to go and spend outside, unless it is a big what can I say, you have a football game, you know, we all sit together and enjoy, have a beer then watch it, then that time only people will all do that. Because not only that, there are several people in the IT sector, they are actually located in Houston, but they frequently fly to other cities to do the job onsite with the clients. When they go there, they don’t have time to go and mix with the people here, at the same time, I don’t know whether they definitely do in the airport. They will sit with the guys, other guys they will talk, you know, they want to spend three, four hours, they have missed the flight, or have to catch the flight, you know, you bump the flight or whatever the case maybe.

So it is possible, the only thing, everything is in your mind, the desire is only in you, within you, yourself, you got to create a time, if you want go and talk to someone, I got to makeup myself to do that.


PP: Yeah. And also find some activities where you have more opportunity to interact, is what you are saying.


AA: Yeah.


PP: You have got to find a solution and not isolate yourself just with your community, but reach out --


AA: Exactly! You used a very correct word, do not isolate yourself.


PP: Yeah, yeah.


AA: Try to mix with the people.


PP: Okay. And anything that you want to share with -- younger generation, a message, your children grew up here. There are many others who are settling down; their children grew up here too. So is there -- do you have, you know, with your interest in drama and music, what is that that you would like to share with them?


AA: Good, good, good, good. I’ll tell you --


PP: Because you are the kind of like the guru in this Town of Houston for inspiring all the people to get involved with the theater.


AA: Thank you! I am honored; I am humble at the same time.


PP: No, no. You definitely. I don’t think anybody has spent so much time, energy, their creativity, their knowledge, their ability, fluency in the Tamil language, oh, you’ve contributed greatly to enriching certainly for the Tamil speaking community, but I think generally Houston. So tell me what message you have for the younger children growing up here.

(00:45:01)


AA: Children are all on their own these days. It’s very difficult for them to impeach a certain thing or to inject into their mind. At the same time we should ask them -- you pass it on -- you know, look at the way you know, we are creating all this information record to go to the library.

One day my grandchildren or some other person’s, all the youngsters will have an opportunity to take a look at it, hey, this guy did something, you know, which is, you know, I think we should follow that, it’s very interesting, you know. Like these days you study about how the America was built out, with a lot of immigrants and so on and so forth, it’s a great opportunity in everything. The property was all there, I made a lot of bucks and I enjoyed it, I got a beautiful house, I have got a five bedroom house, and I got a Lexus car I am driving and I am proud of myself. Same way, they all did, because of the hard work which they did, the parents did. And at the same time they retained their identity. The richness are all, who you were, what you were.

So you should not to forgot your identity, because if you look at it all, invariably our Indians are all, who came into this country are all well educated people, regardless whether it’s a North Indian, South Indian, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala or Tamil Nadu, whatever you call it, they are all well qualified, put a bunch of graduates, they can speak good English, okay, and they get a job, honest citizen of this country. Once they became a citizen of this country, then what they do, well, you know, I am very happy about the whole thing. I achieved what I want to do that.

So, you tell your children quietly, look, I worked very hard, I became this way and I am sure if you retain your culture, your identity, you got to portrait yourself what you are all the time, that recognition will be there. You know how many children of our people, they are all, you know, study so well, you know.


PP: Yeah. So, as we conclude, tell me how has Houston and America enriched you, I know you have enriched this city and America with your creativity, so this is something that the children will also appreciate, that this is what America gave me, and this is what I gave Houston.


AA: Good, good! America gave me the opportunity to bring my culture, my religion, my way of thinking; I can say whatever I want to say. We have built a good temple –


PP: Freedom.


AA: Exactly, the freedom was there. The independence, we enjoyed it. So they allowed me to do that and I am really thankful to the great America. At the same time I want my children, my grandchildren, our youngsters, our people to understand, you try to retain this, you’ll get the merit always from anybody, the recognition will be there, providing you do not forget your identity.


PP: And your heritage.


AA: Exactly! Your culture.


PP: And the values of our culture --


AA: Exactly!


PP: Okay.


AA: You know that’s it, which is all based on the language, that’s it.


PP: You have brought out the richness of our language and you’ve shared it with the community. Thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure.


AA: Thank you so much.


PP: And in conclusion, I’m Padmaja Sarathy again, and if you’ve missed it at the beginning, I am an educational consultant and I write a number of books, I have written a number of books in the area of early childhood education and special education. And again, I thank Mr. Anantha Aiyer for giving me the pleasure of interviewing him and I also thank the Foundation For India Studies. Thank you very much!


AA: Thank you, thank you!