Rao Ratnala

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Interview with: Rao Ratnala
Interviewed by: Sita Mutyala
Date: March 22, 2013
Archive Number:


SM: My name is Sita Mutyala. I am a Houstonian since 1981. And today, Friday, March 22nd of 2013, me, Sita Mutyala, and Mr. Rao Ratnala, are here as part of Indo-American Oral History Project which is part of Foundation For India Studies along with Houston Public Library and HCC, Houston Community College. I am very excited. Mr. Rao Ratnala Garu, welcome and namaste!

RR: Namaste!

SM: And I am very excited today because we are going to talk about Mr. Rao Ratnala Garu’s experience, life and his whole life in Houston and even before. So, as we talk to Mr. Ratnala about his experiences, we want to keep in mind that we want to capture how Houston benefited by the immigrants like Mr. Rao Ratnala and how the immigrants benefited by coming to Houston. All right! Mr. Ratnala, welcome to you. We want to talk about you and your life. Where were you born and raised? Please tell us briefly about your growing up and education before you came to United States?

RR: Thank you for your invitation. I am glad to be part of your interview. And to answer your question, I was born in Secunderabad, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. At that time it wasn’t Andhra Pradesh, it was only Hyderabad.

SM: Part of Hyderabad, okay.

RR: Part of Hyderabad. It was in 1937.

SM: Okay.

RR: And I was born and raised in that area, went to school, high school was in Bolarum. My college, I went to Government Technical College in Hyderabad, I used to commute everyday. And after my studies I went to join PWD as a civil engineer, worked for four years before I moved to United States. I came to United States for studies.

SM: Oh! Okay. Now, this is then I want to ask you.

RR: Sure!

SM: Can you tell us how the idea of coming to United States formed? Was it your mission or your family’s interest or what? What was your motive in coming to United States?

RR: Motive was mainly -- at that time -- before I came to United States, it was very difficult to get a visa or even permission to come to studies in United States. During that period I think they relaxed a lot of restrictions, and I heard from my old classmates saying that hey! It's a good place to go, get additional studies and whatnot. So that's how I started applying for some colleges here. That's when I received my admission in a couple of colleges and we decided to come on over.

SM: Which year was it?

RR: I came here in 1962.

SM: 1962.

RR: Yes! And in fact when I came in here, three of my old classmates, we all applied the same time, came to United States the same time.

SM: Three of you?

RR: Two of us came. The third one had to wait for another six months or so because of visa delay.

SM: So how old were you when you came to --

RR: 25.

SM: 25. All right! Okay, so you came as a student then to United States?

RR: In 1962.

SM: In 1962.

RR: Yeah.

SM: Okay. When did you come to Houston? And I am sure you had a choice. Why did you choose to come to Houston?

RR: Well, in those days the most of the reasons were where you get the job situation. So I was working in El Paso, and I went to school close to El Paso. And I was offered a project in Houston. That's when I moved in to Houston in 1969.

SM: 1969.

RR: Yeah.

SM: Okay. So what was your first impression, first impression, when you arrived to Houston? Please tell us about your memories as an early migrant to Houston?

(00:05:01)


RR: Well, it was very difficult to say the least, difficult in the sense first of all change in the dietary situations, what you eat and what you get here compared to what you eat in India, as you know, Andhrites usually like what, rice and dal. So I could hardly find that in here. When I came in here, we had to stay in a college dorm, no restaurants, other than cafeterias at the school, completely American.

SM: Food.

RR: Food and all that.

SM: Hmm, hmm.

RR: So that's one of the deals. Other one was not only the language situation, but also mingling with the Americans; it was very difficult in United States.

SM: Cultural.

RR: Cultural difficulties, that’s correct.

SM: All right! Okay. You already mentioned that you came to study, where and what was your further education after you left India? Can you give us more details about it?

RR: Sure! In India, I got an engineering degree in civil engineering but not a B.E., it was a diploma. They used to call it L.C.E. I went to school in I don't know if you need to know the school name. It's not even there anymore. It used to be Government Technical College in Koti, and later on they changed it to Polytechnic Institute and all that stuff.

SM: Okay. And then here -- you went to United States?

RR: I went to New Mexico State University.

SM: Oh! In New Mexico?

RR: That's correct, Las Cruces, New Mexico and chose that because of the climate situation. I got admission in other schools also in the northeast to go also, I chose New Mexico. So, I went to school there, finished my B.S. in two years and then I went to – I had a full scholarship to do the masters at University of Virginia.

SM: Virginia.

RR: That's right.

SM: Okay.

RR: I finished that in two years and then I was studying for Ph.D., came back to New Mexico State again.

SM: Oh! Very good!

RR: Because I liked the professors, professor, his name was Gunaji, he is an Indian professor. He was there for a long time. He liked me very much. So with that, and climate was better for me, dry climate a little bit like Hyderabad. So I came back to New Mexico, but did not finish my Ph.D.

SM: Because you got a better offer I am sure.

RR: No.

SM: Okay. All right! So now this is a good time, let's talk about please describe your professional background and experience? I know you mentioned that you came to Houston in the job opportunity.

RR: That is right, yes.

SM: Right? Okay. So is that where you worked for a long time, please give us a little bit?

RR: Yeah, before I came here I used to work for an engineering company in El Paso, worked for probably a year-and-a-half or so, but then I got a much better offer to a larger company. So I came to Houston. And I worked for that company for 15 years.

SM: Oh, you did? Okay.

RR: Yeah. And as you know, at least in those days people don't change jobs that much.

SM: Yeah, that's right.

RR: But, I am an old-timer, let's put it that way. So, I stayed with Brown & Root for a long time.

SM: Brown & Root?

RR: That's correct.

SM: Okay.

RR: So, I joined them in 1969 and I was there until 1984-1985.

SM: Okay, at a certain time. Then?

RR: Then I started my own company in 1985.

SM: 1985?

RR: Yes, Ratnala Engineering.

SM: Okay. So you want to tell us about your company a little bit?

RR: Yeah, I think when I started, I was a one man operation, started working out of my house, slowly building it up and then I got a partner later on about five years later, then changed the company name from Ratnala to my partner’s name also.

SM: Oh! What's the name now?

RR: Ratnala & Bahl. So, we have been still doing the same thing for last about 27 years.

SM: Really, 27? So I am sure you --

RR: I think it’s 20 – what, from 1985 to --

SM: 1985, to now, 2013.

RR: Yeah, that's right, yeah, so about 28 --

SM: So I am sure you grew – your company grew.


RR: Yeah, 27/28 years, yes. Well, it grew, but then it started slowing down too.

(00:10:16)


SM: Economy, along with the line, economy.

RR: Plus I think other reasons.

SM: Okay. So now at this time, I want to ask you what adjustments you had to make to live in United States and in Houston. How did you overcome the cultural, we mentioned a little bit about it. How did you overcome the cultural and language barriers, what did you like and what was it that was terrifying? What kind of learning experience you had over the years in Houston?

RR: Okay, in Houston, it was not that big a learning experience, because when I moved to Houston I was already married to my wife in El Paso. She is from El Paso and most of the adjustments I had to make or were made between `62 and `68, in that six year period. And you are right, when I first came here; it was very, I won’t say scary, but lot of different adjustments I had to make. One of the major reasons -- well not the reason, one of the major adjustments was in those days there were hardly any foreigners in that area, especially where I went to school, okay, mostly there was a lot of Hispanic influence. But that was one of the major adjustments I had to make. So, but slowly, going from there to Virginia and coming back to New Mexico and moving to El Paso, I learned most of the stuff.

SM: And their adjustments.

RR: That’s right. But once I moved in to Houston, there weren’t major adjustment I need to go through, other than just, it’s finding a new place, new weather conditions, that’s basically, yeah.

SM: Okay, so what do you like the most? Let’s look at what you liked in Houston life? What you like in Houston life and what do you think you are missing here compared to your life in India and what does the City Houston mean to you and how it influenced you? And how do you assess the life and opportunities in Houston?

RR: Okay, Houston lifestyle, it’s a big city lifestyle. It’s similar to more or less I would say like Hyderabad.

SM: Hyderabad.

RR: Okay, and where I was going to school was very small town and that’s a big difference. So it was very easy to get adjusted to Houston as an environment per se. But when you talk about the involvement with other people, like of Indian origin, there weren’t many Indians around here. So it was kind of difficult. So mostly, I related, I communicated or dealt with only the Americans around here. So that is maybe one of the reasons why most of my Telugu speak ability and all that is kind of lost. I hate to say that way, but that’s what has happened.

SM: You are still speaking Telugu very well, when I talked to you in Telugu. You haven’t forgotten it all.

RR: No, no. but once my nephews came in here I started speaking a little more, but we can get to that later on. So in Houston I think adjustment was not – it wasn’t that difficult, but then I started developing lot of new friends. Slowly that Indian community in Houston was growing slowly. Okay! And it started growing real fast in `80, if I am not mistaken.

SM: And 90s and 2000s.

RR: Yeah, that’s right. So that’s when I started my company and then that’s when I started putting more emphasis in to not only my work, but also the social and the political deals.

SM: Excellent! Okay, so let’s talk about your social life. Over the years what is your involvement in forming or sustaining of any social, cultural, religious and political organizations? I am sure I have heard lot of good things about your involvement in several organizations, and please tell us some of that information.
(00:15:15)

RR: What do you want me to talk on the political?

SM: Yeah, let’s talk about some politics.

RR: Political, I think I need to give most of the credit to my wife Candy, because she used to be, even when she was in school, she used to be a Vice County Chair for Republican Party in El Paso. Okay, and after I got married, after we moved to Houston until mid `80s, I didn’t have any interest in politics and she had interest, but she didn’t have any time because of the kids and all that. But she got very involved during Clinton election time and she went full force at that time and that’s when I started getting involved with politics. And then after that with a couple of friends from locally, we started creating a Political Action Committee. Okay, I was involved with two others, I don’t know whether you want the names or not, with those two others, we could from a PAC, Indo-American PAC.

SM: Please go ahead and mention the names.

RR: The first two people were Jagat Kamdar and Randhir Sahni, were the two people, and Randhir, after I started my company, I started talking to Randhir because he already had his own architectural firm. So that’s when I knew him. So we slowly got involved with the politics and started Political Action Committee at that time and from then on, we started having fundraisers for a lot of politicians, not, only Democrat but also Republicans .We had lot of Congressmen, Mayors, Senators, quite a few of those.

SM: Are you still active in that PAC?

RR: I am active, but I really – now others have taken over, we don’t – three of us, we don’t get involved, we do get involved, but not actively. Political Action Committee is run by somebody else now, but that’s our political background. In fact, I think we went to Clinton’s inaugural two times and went to White House several times in those days, because she was very active in getting, in the election period of Clinton.

SM: Is she still --?

RR: Well, no, with here health she has completely stopped everything and not only that we have a lot of Congressmen, we used to have Congressmen from other areas.

SM: Fundraisers.

RR: Fundraisers for them and also other help, Mayors in the City of Houston. Sheila Jackson Lee, she came to our -- we have gotten fundraisers at our house for quite a few of these people.

SM: So how about social, cultural and religious organizations?

RR: Social is political social, may be you can say religious organization, so I support all religions. I have helped quite a few times for Meenakshi Temple Organization and building some new buildings and then inspecting them and designing some parking lots, what not. Yeah, but that was all – I haven’t got involved in the last 6-7 years over there, because I am slowing down I guess, getting old. But not only that we have helped some mosques and –

SM: In Houston?

RR: In Houston, yeah, because one of our associate was working with us, he wanted some help, yeah, we did that. We also helped some churches too, and most of those, most of those are pro bono. We don’t – we just do it for free, most of them and so that’s the religious aspect of it.

SM: That’s very nice.

RR: And we go to Baptist Church here, but in India we used to -- I was a devoted Hindu, but my nephews are still Hindus here, and we go everywhere. Okay, and that’s about the religious and political we talked about. Okay, cultural, like I said, communities, okay, we started the South Asian Chamber of Commerce.
(00:20:03)

SM: Okay!

RR: I was instrumental in that. And then I was instrumental in -- as I said ours, I am not the only one, don't get me wrong.

SM: Sure!

RR: And we are also instrumental in starting Indo-American Chamber of Commerce.

SM: A-ha! Very important organization!

RR: That's right, and in fact that happened when what was that, council member –that Sardarji was here, first time.

SM: Which year roughly?

RR: Well, that's about 15 years ago.

SM: 1980s, 1990s?

RR: 1990s I think, right?

SM: All right!

RR: Swashpawan Singh

SM: Okay, oh, yeah, right.

RR: Swashpawan Singh,

SM: Swashpawan Singh, he is the ambassador --

RR: He is an ambassador now.

SM: Consul General, yes.
Male Speaker: First Consul General.

RR: Yeah, that's right. Now he is an ambassador, I think, but yeah, first Consul General. We used to have meetings over there before we formed Indo-American Chamber of Commerce.

SM: That was only about around 15 years ago, not longer than that?

RR: I don't think so.

SM: Hmm, amazing! It's very important organization. I know you were involved in Gandhi statue, tell us about it.

RR: Thanks to me!

SM: Hmm, tell us about it?

RR: I am sorry, yeah. I think Gandhi statue, because as I said, we try to help anywhere we can, because God has been good to us, okay? So, this is the time we can repay somebody else.

SM: Giveback.

RR: That is the reason why we started doing all this extra work. And my friend Krishna asked me to come help with the situation, because we are arranging this. We can go out and design the foundation, whatever it is.

SM: You have the capacity.

RR: Capacity to do all that, that's true. And we also had the contacts with the City government also. So combination with those, we could design the foundation for that Gandhi statue, and we had a ceremony, and they invite us to go participate and we had done that.

SM: Excellent! Exciting time, I am sure having the Gandhi statue in Houston.

RR: Exactly! It was so hard to get all that arranged here. Mr. Krishna Vavilala had to spend a lot of time on it. He had to -- at the last minute he was also trying to get the statue in time was getting to be a very difficult deal. So he has to call some people, get everything done.

SM: I am sure you received an award for it. I heard you received an award for it.

RR: Yeah, I did receive an award. Yes, I didn’t bring it here, but I received an award.

SM: And some recognitions from Mayor and all that?

RR: Oh yeah! Mayor presented the plaque and said thank you for all this extra work we have done and all that.

SM: So these are all your contributions and involvement in mainstream political, social, and economic environment in Houston.

RR: Yeah. In the business also we were recognized for fastest growing company after we started. We were -- in fact, not many companies have the distinction of fastest growing company in a six consecutive years.

SM: Oh, six years?

RR: Continuously.

SM: Consecutively.

RR: Based on that I think this was -- my picture was in the --

SM: Oh, yeah! Let me show this one. Now, let me see where you are.

RR: I am there with the hard hat.

SM: Right there with the hard hat. He is right here with the hard hat.

RR: Yeah.

SM: I don't know whether we can --

RR: You cannot recognize, right?

SM: Whether you look exactly the same or not, very close, very close.

RR: I know. So not only -- yeah, there were --

SM: And you brought something else to show to us, okay, you want to show something else.

RR: The thing I think they have a description as to what it is –

SM: A little description to – aha, okay, on the cover.

RR: Yeah, I can leave this with you all if you want to.

SM: Okay. And you've brought something else to show.

RR: I was also the first company to be -- not first company, rather first time when Metro was honoring Asian, okay? So this is what they did.

SM: There you are! You look exactly the same.

RR: I wish.

SM: Yeah, very nice! Asian-American Heritage Month.

RR: Yeah, that's right. That's the first time they started Asian Heritage Month by Metro because we talked to some of the mayors and all that. They said, hey! You have to show some Asian participation, because at that time even though we were the second largest Asian --

SM: Construction Company?

RR: No, number of people.

SM: Oh!
(00:25:03)

RR: Okay? Because in those days I think -- not Korea, what is that? Vietnam was the largest, okay? And then followed by Indians and all that, now India took over that, there are lots of -- So there are a few other deals like that. I don't know what else I can say, anyway.

SM: Okay. So this I think you've already answered, but I want to ask you again. To what extent you think you have integrated into mainstream American society, and culture?

RR: Well, that's maybe a little too easy for me to say because I got married to an American long time ago. In those days, I mean I don't know whether I should say that or not, but especially in the south, in New Mexico area, they take a double take when they look at me and wife go together. But we are used to it. Now, it's not like that anymore. So that's all right.

SM: So, you think you are integrated into American society.

RR: I guess, I have --

SM: Well, from what you tell me. Okay, then the next thing I want to go into the Houston is a cosmopolitan city, in all these years what kind of interaction you had with Non-Indian communities, colleagues and neighbors etcetera? I think you already mentioned quite a bit on all the experiences that you mentioned?

RR: I can say some -- few other things in that too.

SM: Okay, please do.

RR: In that, the integration like that what you’re talking about is not only meeting with these people, I was the Board Member in some organizations. Okay, Board Member first of all, I was a Board Member on Red Cross, then I was asked to join the Board Member for UT Health Science Center.

SM: Hmm, hmm, UT Health --

RR: And then University of -- I mean what is that -- HCC.

SM: Okay.

RR: Okay. And then the other one is the University of St. Thomas, and a few other organizations, I don't even know what those things are.

SM: Okay.

RR: I am sorry, I didn’t bring it. Right now I resigned -- not resigned, some of those, you stay only six to eight to ten years.

SM: Oh, time!

RR: That's right. After that they get away from there. So, right now I am not in any of those, but I got involved with all those deals.

SM: Now, I am going to ask you a touchy question. In all these years, whether it was in profession or as a resident of Houston, have you ever thought you were discriminated? You don't have to go into any details, but I feel it is important fact to note in this project?

RR: Yes, I think yes.

SM: Well, only once, or more than once, and to what extent, significant, or non-significant?

RR: No, in the beginning, yes there was significant, especially in my college years.

SM: College years, okay.

RR: Especially because the American society was not exposed to all these foreigners in those days. As you remember, I was here early 1960s. In those days, they were not very -- especially when you go to south, if you are in New York, that's a different story, okay? In fact, when we went to some restaurants in El Paso, when you’re going to school in early 1960s, they used to come and speak to us in --

SM: Harsh way?

RR: No, no, in Mexican language.

SM: Spanish.

RR: Yeah, sometimes they used to get mad at us, why don't we speak in Spanish?

SM: Interesting! Very interesting!

RR: But afterwards I think -- what is the other question you said, there was some other thing I wanted to say?

SM: That's the gesture that I was looking for.

RR: Oh, yeah! That's right. The other thing is discrimination. Well, I won't say discrimination. The reason I left Brown & Root is because I was there for so long, and I was next in line to get a promotion as an Assistant Manager of the department, and I was bypassed, and that was given to a younger engineer.

SM: That was a significant experience you had on discrimination.

RR: That's in early 1980s. So, I didn’t like that. So, that's when I just quit Brown & Root and started my own.

SM: So this is going to be an interesting one. In all these years in Houston have you ever thought that you do not fit here and you want to go back to India?
(00:30:10)

RR: No, I never thought I don’t fit here, that never come to my mind and whether I want to go back to India, no, only because I have been raised here and my kids are here, even though my brothers and sisters come here often, and in fact, I even brought my cousins here on visa, with company visa and all that. But no, I never thought.

SM: Okay, how do you identify yourself, Indian, American, Houstonian or what?

RR: Indo-American, that’s it.

SM: Okay.

RR: Whenever you go there –

SM: That fits right in, right?

RR: That’s right. Nowadays everybody is like that, because they are Indo-American or Pakistani-American or Vietnamese-American; all hyphenated

SM: If you have any, how much of a feeling about the loss of Indian cultural identity in you? Do you have any feeling?

RR: Yes I do, and sometimes I kind of miss that, but I think their lifestyle is such that I had to forget it and not forget, but try to put it behind me and move on. That’s the way I can prolong.

SM: Also I think that you brought something with you which stays with you even though it may transform a little bit, but you never lose it completely is -- what I, I don’t know, my 2 cents worth thinking. Okay, when did you become a citizen of the United States? Was that a quick decision or very well thought for a long time decision? And by the way how often do you go to India?

RR: Okay, first of all I became United States citizen in, I think `72 or `73, okay?

SM: Okay.

RR: And this is kind of a area, I don’t know how to answer it, but at that time I think once we had some bond we decided that time we better settle down either here or there, and that has prompted us to settle down here. And how many times I have gone to India, I haven’t, that is that I know.

SM: Since you came?

RR: Since I came here.

SM: Really?

RR: And one reason or another, after that I had some health problems, and in fact, I was invited to join some of these large organizations and one organization -- I don’t even know what it is, you have to go outside and climb a mountain and all that for 3-4 days. I am very bad at names as I said.

SM: Okay, that’s all right.

RR: And they asked me to join and I talked to my doctor, he said, no, you can’t do that and then I was invited to go to India with Clinton.

SM: Oh! Well, that was a good opportunity.

RR: I know, I got the paperwork and everything else and the doctor said, no, you cannot, because you would not get your medical deals and all that. See, I had a lot of health problems, that’s the thing I am making. So my health problem started in early `70s.

SM: I see!

RR: So that’s when he said, no, you can’t go, so I was very disappointed, because Clinton went to Hyderabad and stayed there for a day or so, and only myself and one other individual was invited to go with him from Houston.

SM: From Houston, yeah.

RR: Yeah, so this is the reason.

SM: Okay. Now, let’s talk about your family. Please tell us about your family. I think you already mentioned that you were already married by the time you came to Houston, tell us about your children? At this time I would like to capture your opinion in interethnic, interracial and inter religious marriages.

RR: One thing I can say it all depends what you make out of it, and because even though I got married in early `70s, no `60s in fact. Okay, late `60s.
(00:35:09)

SM: How old were you?

RR: 30.

SM: Okay.

RR: Yeah. So I was married in `68 – no.

SM: You were not a teenager?

RR: No, no that’s true, yeah, in fact, when I came here I was 25 and so I worked in India for four years before –

SM: Before you came.

RR: Yeah.

SM: Okay.

RR: I lost chain of thought, what were we talking –

SM: We are talking about your family and also -- plus the children.

RR: Oh I see, yeah, that’s right, yeah.

SM: Let’s talk about children.

RR: So I have one son and two daughters and so they are all born --

SM: In Houston or --?

RR: One was born in El Paso, my son was born in El Paso, my two daughters were born in Houston.

SM: Okay, they are Houstonians.

RR: Houstonians, that’s true, yeah. The whole family lives in this area.

SM: In Houston, they still live in Houston.

RR: Yeah, all three of them.

SM: All three?

RR: That’s right, yeah. And my son is a – I don’t know what you want to know about that. Any details or any --

SM: Well, professions and what are they doing to contribute to Houston, I guess that’s – in which way.

RR: My son is a very smart kid, but I am not going to the details. He was a – I am trying to think of the name. Anyway, right now he is a lawyer, practicing lawyer. In fact, he went to Washington only last week and he got a certificate to or whatever, he was admitted to practice law even in Supreme Court.

SM: What is his name?

RR: Ravi, Ravi Ratnala.

SM: Okay.

RR: And my daughters, my first daughter is Melissa, she is an Executive with one of the companies, I have a name here, I don’t remember.

SM: In Houston?

RR: In Houston, for a long time she worked for Enron.

SM: Oh okay.

RR: And before it went down, she went to –

SM: Left out, left out before?

RR: I know, yeah, wise decision, so she went to Calpine and from there now she got a good promotion and she is a manager in this company, in fact, she is supposed to be going to Thailand for a two or three month -- not a training, but to review the projects.

SM: Okay.

RR: And my youngest daughter is Melanie and she is a – her husband is a Pastor in one of the churches.

SM: Wow!

RR: And so she is a --

SM: Interesting!

RR: Yeah, she is a full-time mom and also helps her church and all that.

SM: So none of your children are professionally involved with you in your engineering company?

RR: Well, yes, but not at this time, but my son was professionally involved, because he is also a civil engineer.

SM: Oh okay, interesting, that’s excellent!

RR: But the only difference is, he is a very smart kid and he never wanted to read any books, he gets everything naturally, so he looked at his dad and he says, you work too hard, I am not that kind, I want some free time. So I said, forget it. He got away and then went to law school and got his lawyer’s degree. So now he is practicing law.

SM: Okay, successful in his chosen profession.

RR: Yeah, none of them wanted to be doctors, because – anyway that’s another story.

SM: Okay, so to complete, you started explaining or talking about your opinion in interethnic, interracial and inter-religious marriages. I want to give you an opportunity to complete your thought and –

RR: No, it depends on what you want to make it out of and some people I know, it’s individual, I won’t say preference, it’s a choice that’s how they do it. I have known some of my friends were in interracial marriage, they didn’t last for four-five years and they went back and said that’s the problem. And others I have seen, I had some friends who were in marriages like these, they are still married and they have been there for 20, 30, 40 years.

SM: You are absolutely right; it all depends on how you want to make it.

RR: Yeah, that’s right.

SM: Okay, I want to say –I want to repeat what Martin Luther King Jr. said once, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
(00:40:07)
Can you tell us about some of those challenging times and where you stood, have you ever attempted or thought of influencing some of the public policies in Houston or Texas or United States, tell us about that?

RR: Yes, I have, because now since you have mentioned that, now I remember one situation. This was – I was also – I think I already told you, I was politically involved and I had good relation with even Ann Richards, I don’t know if you know this or not.

SM: Oh yes, yes. That’s very good.

RR: Okay? And what has happened was for some reason they are trying to – I don’t know it’s a good thing to say about a minority participation and all that are special, what do you call the Minority Business Enterprises and all that, that Texas used to have some kind of system like that also saying they will give a some kind of a – not a special preference, but similar to that to any ethnic people like Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, everything like that. So somebody started as we all know Indian community is a very well thought of in the whole country and also because they work hard, they produce a lot, and they are in a much higher position than most of the other ethnic people, and to some extent even like Americans, in fact. So in those days that some – I won’t name any ethnics who create the problem, they thought Indians should not be part of it, okay? That is when there were some hearings and all that which were conducted in Austin, so that’s when I think we took initiative, when I say ‘We’ it was only handful of us, it’s myself, I just told you Jagat Kamdar and Randhir Sahni and the only other person was Victor Bhatt, I don’t know whether you know Victor, four of us went there and –

SM: To Austin?

RR: -- to Austin, and defended ourselves and before that I already talked to Ann Richards. I said, this is what is happening, this is not fair, we are also minorities, if you want to find out what kind of treatment we get from this other people, you need to be listening to this. That’s when she said, well, there is a hearing going on, you go talk to them. So then, we four of us went there and what they did is instead of saying, okay, we are going to include you, but they decided in that meeting saying that we will not exclude Indians anymore, but we want to review it, but if you find out later on, it’s not – you don’t deserve, we will take you out.

SM: Did it remain that way even till now?

RR: Till now, it’s still there.

SM: Very good!

RR: Okay?

SM: Okay.

RR: Okay.

SM: All right, and then, so how many grandchildren you have?

RR: Three.

SM: Three grandchildren and they are all in Houston as you mentioned.

RR: Yes.

SM: And you already mentioned some of the awards, is there any particular awards that we missed?

RR: I don’t know, I don’t know what I remember, I have got several --

SM: That’s okay, I am sure we covered all these once.

RR: Yeah, because time is running out, so.

SM: Sure! And then there were only couple of – only one other thing that I want to ask before we close this. I know that things changed a lot in India and in Houston as well. Today after living in Houston for so many years what advise would you give to someone who is coming from India to Houston?

RR: I am not good at giving advices, that’s the problem I think. But as I said, I brought my nephews here and all I have told them is now you are here and any help you need from me, let me know and I am here, but you are on your own and this is what the challenges I faced and you may or may not face this, because the times are different.

SM: Right, right.

RR: Okay, so that’s – I leave them alone.

SM: Okay, very good! And myself, I, Sita Mutyala thank Mr. Rao Ratnala and Foundation For India Studies and Houston Public Library and also Houston Community College for this opportunity, for this interview, and thank you very much! Bye-bye!

RR: Thank you!