Community Stalwarts - Narain and Vidya Bhatia
To Indian-Americans in the New England area Narain and Vidya Bhatia are familiar names. To Lexingtonians, they are a ubiquitous presence in the mainstream scene, involved to their very core in activities that elevate and sustain this diverse community. Over the 31 odd years they have lived in the area, the couple has become well known for philanthropy and fund-raising. Their many contributions over the years have made them the pillars of the community that they are.
We are welcomed into their beautiful home in Lexington by Vidya, who leads us straight to their airy spacious kitchen and we sit down to a simple but tasty Sindhi lunch. Narain’s joins us and welcomes us with warmth. He is effusive and endearing. Before we can ask him a single question, he starts to ask us about ourselves. The keen interest and curiosity he displayed about our lives and our stories is quintessential Bhatia.
“I have a curious mind,” he says. “I want to know your world, inhabit it for a moment. I possess an inherent sense of curiosity to know how things work, how people think.” He then proceeds to relate interesting anecdotes about his interest in various aspects of his friends’ lives. During his reminiscences, Vidya helps jog his memory, filling in details and adding more flavor to his stories.
Vidya worked in the financial sector before her second daughter was born and she decided to devote her time to her family. She helped and supported every venture Narain embarked on and while talking to the Bhatias we get the feeling that theirs is indeed a match made in heaven!
Narain Bhatia moved to the US in 1966 and earned a master’s degree in management in a year, winning the Dean’s student of the year award in the process. His wife Vidya joined him in due course. After college, Narain joined management consulting giant KPMG. Rising quickly to become one of their youngest partners and the first Indian-American to do so, he endeared himself to his clients with his personal approach to their management needs. His help went beyond management advice, becoming involved in the day-to-day life of his clients and their businesses, he succeeded as a compassionate and kind friend to his clients.
There were very few Indian-American immigrants in the area at the time and Narain’s eyes have a faraway look as he recalls helping write the constitution of a then fledgling organization, IAGB (India Association of Greater Boston).
Narain and Vidya moved to Lexington in 1973. With a degree in Mechanical Engineering obtained prior to his management education, Narain was interested in the business of manufacturing and operating manufacturing units. When he quit his job at KPMG and along with Vidya’s brother Ashok started Minuteman International, he was clear on what he wanted to accomplish.
“I wanted to save people here costs, by getting their products manufactured in India.” A pioneer, indeed, considering the recent boom in outsourcing. Narain had started the activity about thirty years ago. He went about visiting warehouses and manufacturing units across the region and found that there was great need for reasonably priced Iron Kettles for use in homes with wood burning stoves. Soon, he was traveling to India, then to far-flung places like Brazil, Belgium and Taiwan for various wood burning stove accessories. While his clients in the US were pleased with his service, the real breakthrough came when Narain and his company began to supply woolen hearth rugs. The product was a runaway success. All his hard work, travel and meticulous planning had worked out.
Narain was now ready for another challenge. After selling the company to his partner and brother-in-law, Narain turned to one of a new passion: the Internet. It was 1995, and few companies offered the services like the one he wanted to provide to the community. An online matrimonial service! “This was, by far, the most challenging enterprise I have undertaken,” he confesses. But with his Midas touch ‘Suitablematch.com’ was soon a viable business with people beginning to take notice and availing themselves of this invaluable service. When Narain sold the business he had over 5,000 registered users.
Then came a short stint in an effort to integrate small insurance agencies to provide a combined service plan to companies and clients. By now his daughters had grown up and Narain had more time on his hands. Having always been involved in various community organizations like the Rotary Club, Narain also helped launch the Indian Association for Political Education (IAFPE) in 1986. He was also involved in the Lexington town activities; he was among the first Indian-Americans to help build the bridge to the mainstream American community. Hosting informal information sessions with all the candidates standing for town elections, Narain and Vidya embraced both the experienced politicos and the novice aspirants into their home and introduced them to the Indian American Community. Narain also helped with the Fund Raising efforts for the Town Library (Cary Memorial)
“It is very important for us to bring attention to the fact that we are indeed a community that brings great commitment and adds value to society as a whole. I believe in getting involved and I wish all Indian-Americans would get more involved in the workings of their community. Be it political, social or even fiscal.”
His latest venture is an effort to build a local organization comprising all non-profit organizations in the town of Lexington. Along with another Lexington resident he designed ‘The Nonprofit Net, Inc. “We want to unite these non profit organizations with the community, so that donations and volunteers have a choice. Lexington is our first step. I have spent hours and hours developing a business model that will work and I hope one day other towns will also use this model and succeed.”
Another major passion of the Bhatias’ is anti-discrimination. Narain has worked to bring the plight of discriminated South Asians to the attention of the New England area residents and he reiterates that discrimination of any kind disturbs him in a profound way.
Vidya and Narain have two accomplished daughters; their eldest Dr. Sangeeta Bhatia was recently featured in the Technology Review's October 2003 issue in its list of 100 brilliant young innovators under 35. Sujata Bhatia who is a consultant at Bain and Company in London, UK, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2001. Vidya showed us pictures of the newest addition to their family, he granddaughter Anjali Bhatia Shah.
As we left their home we could not help feeling humbled by their achievements and the commitment they have to the world that they inhabit.
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Vidya and Narain Bhatia
A rug Narain Bhatia helped design