We approached ace conversationalist Ajay Madhavan if he would do us the honor of talking to the first ever IAM Shabaashi recipeint Mr. Vipin Shah. Ajay had no second thoughts about it and did a wonderful job of talking to Mr. Shah and creating a profile of him that all of us can’t help but admire. Thank you Ajay for the great interview!
Living in Memphis, Tennessee for the past 40 years all the while donning a multitude of roles from a successful civil engineering consultant to a husband and a parent, Mr.Vipin Shah or Vipin bhai to those close to him, has been instrumental in the founding of the Indian Association of Memphis and ensuring its continued good health all along.
Whether it be making a thousand gulaab jamoons for an IAM event or ensuring the accuracy of the numbers on the income statements of IAM year after year, he has done it all with a sense of purpose and unflinching integrity. Here, this admirable man shares his perceptions and views on IAM and his life in general.
Ajay: Why did you come to Memphis of all places in the USA?
Mr. Shah: I moved to Memphis looking for work after finishing my Phd in Earthquake engineering from Rice University in Houston. I taught at Christian Brothers college which is now a university for about an year when financial cutbacks at my department eventually led me to accept a position at a engineering consulting firm where I was employed till 2009.
Ajay: Take us through your life in India before you set foot in the United States of America.
Mr. Shah:I graduated in engineering from Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and later obtained my masters from the University of Roorkee. After my graduation I was appointed as a reader( Assoc. Professor) and it so happened that I was the youngest one ever to be appointed in this job at my college. During my school and college days in India we didn’t have access to electronic calculators for computations. We had to either use a slide rule or logarithmic tables and since the slide rule was the expensive option among the two I had to make do with logarithmic tables while the rest of the class used the slide rule.
I met my wife Kalavathi in India. Let me share an interesting tidbit here, although we were married only after I graduated from college in 1964, we were in fact engaged when I was aged 12 and she was 7. I came to the United States in 1967 and my wife and son followed in 1969.
Ajay: Any interesting experiences that you have had when trying to adapt to life in the United States?
Mr. Shah: In the 1970’s getting a green card was a piece of cake. I was issued one on the third day after applying for permanent residency. But once issued, I had to appear before the selective service commission which was mandatory for drafting men into military service. I thought I was going to be packed off to fight a war. All men between the ages of 10 to 25 were required by law to register with the selective service commission. But then I was rejected by the commission on account of overage.
Ajay: Do you find an increasing involvement in the affairs of the IAM by the Indian community from the time it was founded ?
Mr. Shah: Yes, we have indeed grown by leaps and bounds from the time IAM was officially registered as an organization back in 1980 to now 30 years later. We have people from all over India speaking different languages and having a variety of cultural backgrounds. In spite of all these differences the level of engagement in conducting the various events has certainly broadened over the years across the various groups and communities. For instance, the India fest celebration conducted annually by IAM has been setting new benchmarks since the past few years.
Ajay: What was the most challenging work that you have done for IAM?
Mr. Shah: Writing the bylaws for the Indian Association of Memphis was the most challenging work I have ever undertaken for IAM. These were first written in 1980 and then I revised them in 2003 after spending approximately over 200 hours researching and documenting them. Bylaws need to be revised every 10 years to account for the changing environment.
Ajay: In your role as a friend, philosopher and guide to the various executive committees of IAM, which activity have you found to be the most difficult for the masses to follow?
Mr. Shah: One of the most difficult activities that I have seen for people to follow is to keep a tab on the finances of the organization. Also, the importance of auditing accounts every year has to be realized. If not, there is a substantial chance of the organization getting audited by the IRS.
Ajay: What are your other interests, apart from keeping tabs on finances?
Mr. Shah: I spend a lot of time gardening, especially vegetable gardening. I have maintained a vegetable garden since the last 34 years. Back in the 70’s due to the dearth of Indian groceries over here we used to order them from Chicago which were worth around 600 USD and distribute them amongst the families here in Memphis. Seeing the hoops we had to jump through just to eat what we wanted, I started tending to a small vegetable garden.
Ajay: What varieties of vegetables have you grown?
Mr. Shah: I restrict myself to vegetables which are not easily available in grocery stores over here. For example, I don’t grow tomatoes. Some of the vegetables that I normally cultivate are squash, snake gourd, eggplants (Chinese, Thai), hot peppers of various varieties, cluster beans and okra. Another one which is a favorite of mine is called tindola in gujarati and kundru in hindi (http://hif.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kundru). This is a vegetable grown in most parts of India.
Ajay: There is a general perception that you are a stickler for rules. Have you always been like this or have there been any experiences that made you like this?
Mr. Shah: In a generic sense, rules help establish acceptable behavior. But only if you follow them would you stay out of trouble and this applies to you, me and everyone around us. In the case of IAM, I am a stickler for rules only so that we don’t get into legal issues or law suits, which can be a truly energy sapping experience.
Ajay: Have you visited the redesigned IAM website, and if you have do you have any comments on it?
Mr. Shah: I do visit the IAM blog, and read through it. It is nice to see the participation from the community.
Our sincere thanks to Mr. Shah for giving us some of his time and for sharing his experiences with us. We value all the wonderful work that you have selflessly done for the Indian community thus far and look forward to your guidance and support in the years to come. Shabaash Mr. Shah!