Inder Singh (5th from left) has strived to make young Indian Americans aware of their Indian roots

“Flaming enthusiasm, backed up by horse sense and persistence, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.”
—Dale Carnegie
By Sayantan Chakravarty
You could put it down to flaming enthusiasm. Or may be to pure persistence. Whatever way you like to go, one man has made a huge difference to how, today, the Indian American community views the success of its young, bright members.

The journey began 25 years ago, with a single step. Inder Singh wanted young people in the Indian American community to be honoured for their meritorious performance at high schools in southern California. He discussed his idea with several people before pitching it before Prof Frank Chookolingo who Inder Singh thought could really understand the project, and help with the seed money that would set things on course.

But why did he choose Dr Chookolingo? The professor had just retired from Pierce College, Woodland Hills, and had donated a substantial sum to the University of Southern California for the promotion of Indian culture. It didn’t take long, before Dr Chookolingo decided to give a one-time donation of USD 5,000 for the cause of the Indian American students who excelled. And the first India Heritage Awards was born.
The function took place at the Marriott Hotel at the Los Angeles Airport in 1987. But as it turned out, the seed money, quite clearly, wasn’t enough to organize a full day packed with seminars and later the awards banquet for 300 people. More funds were needed, and Inder Singh chose to rise to the occasion. Since that maiden event, he has been raising funds to recognize and reward the Indian community’s brightest and the best, graduating from high schools in southern California. 

During the quarter century in time that he’s helped in ensuring recognition for the Indian American students, Inder Singh has made several other journeys, one of which places him, at present, in the very prestigious position of Chairman of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO), an international body fighting for the issues and concerns of overseas Indians.

Recognizing and Rewarding Excellence of Community’s Youth

The scholarships are awarded to top meritorious students selected from among high school graduates. But academic distinction is not the only criterion for selection, the awardees need to demonstrate a strong all-round performance at the high school level. In addition to GPA and SAT scores, excellence in extracurricular activities pulls in much points. The Foundation started with eight scholarship awards and today the number has increased to eighteen. IFrom the start a quiz had been introduced. Its purpose was to test the students’ knowledge on India and also their awareness of the achievements of the Indian American community. Inder Singh saw the quiz as something vital: “American schools do not teach any course about India and Indian Americans as part of the school curriculum. I, therefore, thought it imperative that these students should become conversant both with India and Indian Americans who struggled hard to obtain civil rights in their new homeland.” The quiz has gone down well, not just with the students, but with numerous parents as well. Each year parents thank Inder Singh, not just because it has helped their wards gain better insight into the Indian community, but also because it helps the parents to shore up their own knowledge and information base on the history of India. Besides, they become more aware of the goings on within their own community in the USA.

Ask any fund raiser, and he’ll tell you that raising funds is a bit like walking uphill. But year after year, Inder Singh has managed to find sponsors who have contributed generously and help sustain the awards. And now the awards have become an institution. But it wasn’t always like this. Inder Singh discovered that the Indian community—among the most affluent in the USA—would not hesitate to spend lavishly at marriages or for the under privileged in India. But when it came to honoring academic excellence among Indian American students, the spending turned minimal. Not any longer though. Now the Indian American community finds it a privilege to be a part of the Awards. 

One thing is for sure. The bright stars that shine in the Indian community have much to be grateful for. Without the flaming enthusiasm and persistence of one man, the India Heritage Awards would never have been the success they are today.

April 2011

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