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Lokvani Talks To Prabhulal And Draupadi Rathi

Ranjani Saigal

Shri Prabhulal Rathi originates from Mithi Sindh, which is now in Pakistan after the partition. He graduated from N.E.D Engineering College Karachi and came to the USA for his graduate study in 1963 at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. He obtained his Masters in Civil/Structural Engineering in 1964. He has worked at various companies including Parsons Main, Lemessurier Consultants, Teledyne Engineering Services, Stone and Webster Engineering Corp, Chas .T .Main, Weidemann Brown Inc and Morgenroth & Associates. He has worked on several important construction projects including the production facilities for New York Times, Baltimore Sun and Washington Post. More recently he was involved in the Big Dig. He also ran a stationary company for six years.

Along with other admirers of Tulasi Ramayana, Rathis helped organizethe first public Akhand Ramayan in the SriLakshmi Temple in 1994. The tradition has continued since.  Prabhulal Rathi was the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the third International Maheshwari/Rajasthani Convention held in Houston, TX in November 2003. He was one of the founding members of the New England Chapter of the Maheshwari Mahasabha of North America.

The Rathis have two children Jaiprakash and Bharat. Both have graduate degrees in engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Boston University. Jaiprakash moved back to India with his wife Veena and two sons Varun and Akash and runs a software consultancy. Bharat and his wife Abhilasha and their two daughters Suhani and Shriya live with the Rathis in their home in Brookline.

The Rathis celebrated their fiftieth marriage anniversary on Vasant Panchami(February) day this year.

What motivated you to move to the United States in the sixties?

Prabhulal: I was working in Karachi and received an offer to go to graduate school in Virginia. After completing my masters, I went back to Karachi. It was 1965 and India and Pakistan were at war. Life for Hindus in Pakistan was a little bit difficult at that time because of the tensions between India and Pakistan. I felt we may have a safer life in the US and so we decided to move. I moved very much against the wishes of my parents. My mother was very attached to me, so it was very hard. I came without informing them .At that time I felt strongly that my children may have a better future here. My parents understood my reasons and  later supported me.

Do you still have relatives in Pakistan? Is life for Hindus in Pakistan very difficult? Is it safe?

Draupadi: We still have nieces and nephews in Pakistan. They love Pakistan and would never think of moving. If you are educated, there are good jobs available. It is difficult for non-muslims to get government jobs, but jobs in the private sector and the educational institutions are available. If you have a good job, the standard of living is better that in India. There is a lot of aid money from the US and Saudi Arabia and people live very well.  Since Hindus are minorities, they can get into the minority quota in colleges. They do have temples and are allowed to practice their religion. Karachi has one of the largest and most beautiful Swaminarayan Temples.

I would say for the most part life for Hindus is safe. Problems only arise when there are wars with India or issues like the Babri Masjid happen. 

Draupadiji, I hear you were married very young. So you must have moved here at a young age at a time when there were very few Indian families in New England. What was it like for the first few years?

I was married when I was fifteen. Girls were never educated beyond eighth grade. So when I came here I did not know any English. There were about 50 Indian families. The big monthly outing was to MIT where the India Association of Greater Boston (IAGB) used to screen Hindi movies. This is when we met other Indian families. We were very excited when Harish Dang started his radio program. In those days there were no radios in the car. So we used to try to be home on Sundays to listen to his show.

When my younger son was five, we moved to Somerville and he started school. I attended evening classes in the high school to learn English and Keypunch Operations.  I got a job with Blue Cross Blue Shield as a keypunch operator. In those days it would pay $2/hr. We also did not have after school care. Jaiprakash, my older son used to bring his brother home from school and watch him till I return.

You were probably not brought up with the belief that women should work outside the home. Was it difficult for you to decide to work?

I was not brought up with idea that I would work outside the home.  When I came here and got the opportunity, I was delighted that I had the option to work. I really enjoy working and even now hate to sit idle.

Despite growing up at a time when there were not too many Indians around, both your children married Indian women and your elder son moved back to live in India. How did that happen?

We really put a lot of effort into finding Indian girls for our sons. Since we were one of the early immigrants, there were no Indian American girls of marriageable age. For four years consecutively I went to India to try to find a match. In fact during the fourth year I decided that I needed more time to find a bride for my son and actually quit my job to go India. I am so pleased I found two wonderful daughters-in-law for my sons. 

You were part of the group that held the first public Akhand Ramayan Pat and have been responsible for initiating this effort in the temple. What was your motivation?

Prabhulal: I grew up in Pakistan where I learnt only Urdu and Sindhi. My knowledge of Hindi was very limited and I did not know the script. When my older son was in high school, he and I took the Hindi correspondence course offered by the Indian Embassy. We went to New York to take the exam. Once I learnt the script, I really enjoyed reading Hindi and Sanskrit. I started reading the Ramcharitmanas because I liked to read Hindi. I also met Dr. Bijoy Mishra, who is a Sanskrit scholar and he was very helpful.

Spirituality was also important to me, but my motivation was the language. Someone told us that in India people do the Akhand Ramayan Path (reading Ramayan during the period of 24 hours). In 1975 we decided we should do it. We had no idea of how to do this when as fate would have it Pandit Kapendraji visited us. He helped make that event a success. 

We liked the idea of doing the Path at the temple. In the beginning we encountered slight resistance since the temple committee was not familiar with this idea. But once they were bought into the idea, they were very supportive.   Even though the priests are not expected to come to the temple at night, when we have the Path they come and encourage us. The first time we did it, we were able to raise about $5000 for the temple through that event.

You have been very active in the Maheshwari Mahan Sabha of North America(MMNA). Could you describe the organization and why you donate so much time to this organization?

Prabhulal: Maheshwari is the name of our community. It is a community from Rajasthan. MMNA brings together members of this community. As you know in India every community has its special culture. MMNA’s gatherings allow us to share our common heritage.  I think we have many obligations in life and one of them is to our heritage. This is my way of ensuring that this heritage will continue. The volunteer work has been very good for me. It encouraged me to learn and become an expert in using the internet.

Mother’s day is coming. Draupadiji, you are a mother, a mother-in-law and a grandmother. What advice would you give to people who have those roles in life?

Draupadi: Mothers have the most influence on their children. It is extremely important that mothers teach children good values from a very young age. It is the mother’s responsibility to let the children have a close connection with God. Take them to temples. Teach them to pray. It is important that parents speak their mother tongue at home and teach it to their children. Take children to cultural events so that they are connected to their heritage. Teach them Indian classical dance or music.

For mothers-in-law, my advice is that we should remain quiet and not interfere too much with the lives of the children.

Grandmothers should give lots of love to grandchildren, cook for them and take care of them. But you should never forget that the mother has ultimate authority over her children and she is the decision maker for their life.

Prabhulal:  I would like to add something about moral values. Not only should you teach your children moral values but you must show it by example. For a short period of time we were running a business. When we were looking for a business to acquire it was very important for me not to acquire a liquor store or a convenience store selling cigarettes for these were things I did not support.

You decided to have your children live with you in a joint family. Why do value a joint family so much?

Prabhulal: A family is all about helping each other. We love our family and want them to live with us. We babysit our grandchildren. My son and daughter-in-law do not have to seek day care or worry about their children while at work. By the same token, we are older and are not able to do everything. Our son and daughter-in-law provide us with any support that we need.  Joint family system teaches a lot to everyone. You learn to compromise and live together and that is a skill which is very useful for everyone in society. That is the secret to happiness.

Any words of wisdom for the younger generation?

Prabhulal: Do not focus on money. Focus on doing good work. Money will come. You must work hard. Prioritize your time so you can take care of your family and find time to volunteer in the community.

Draupadi: Never forget your Indian heritage for that is what makes you special.

Thank you very much for your time

Thank you



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