By Yogendra Upadhyay, M.D.Class of 1956Founding President of AOA, 1982 – 1986
From “The Aiimsonians of America Journal”, Vol 3 No. 2, Dec 1992.
It all began with a phone call. My good friend and fellow Aiimsonian, Virendra Bharel, called to let me know about the death of one of our mentors, Dr. Atm Prakash. We both wanted to do something to express our sorrow, but we were so far away from the Institute, in time as well as place. Because there were more than a few Aiimsonians from the early batches living here, I decided to let them know through a letter about the death of Dr. Atm Prakash, and to appeal for contributions to a fund for Mrs. Atm Prakash and her children. We were able collect a sum of $1,200.00, which we sent to Dr. H. D. Tandon, the Director of the institute at that time, to be forwarded to Mrs. Atm Prakash as a small token of our heartfelt concern for her and her family.
The letter, however, also served as a unique opportunity for me to get in touch with old friends who I hadn’t seen or spoken to for a long time. The news of the death had made me acutely aware of being an Aiimsonian. Most of us had spent our adolescent years at the Institute. We had grown in competence from year to year, in our studies as well as in our daily lives. We had developed a sense of identity, a sense of who we were, which could never be dis-associated from the Institute. Those of us who were from the first and second batches and who settled in the New York area were already in touch, getting together on holidays and family celebrations. But there were others who were far more venturesome, than one from the early batches that I knew, and those from the later batches that I had never met. The idea of forming an Aiimsonian group here had come up from time to time in various conversations, but none of us thought it was important enough to do anything about. Moreover I, personally, was very averse to joining any specifically Indian group because such groups always managed to become more divisive than anything else. Dr. Atm Prakash’s death seemed to change all that. At the Institute we had been nurtured to feel special. We were the chosen few, the best and brightest, and being an Aiimsonian had superceded any communal or regional feelings we hay have once had. I thought the time might be right to form an Aiimsonian group here, and I suggested this in the letter.
The response was very gratifying, Dev Chitkara, K.K. Gupta, Virendra Bharel, Avtar Josen, Manjit Bains and their spouses were the anchor people who were instrumental in putting together a constitution for our first Aiimsonians of America gathering, which was held at the Tandoor Restaurant in New York City. It was held on September 25, 1982, in honor of “Institute Day”, the day the Institute was founded in 1956, which had a special meaning to us. Forty-five Aiimsonians and their spouses attended this first Annual Dinner. The constitution was quickly ratified and our first set of officers chosen, after which we partied late into the night, long after the rest of the restaurant was empty. Time and distance had disappeared for us. We had regained our adolescence and were back at the institute, calling each other by our nicknames, singing songs, and being generally raucous.
After the following year, however, when the meeting was held at Great Gorge in Wisconsin, we realized that this was an inconvenient and difficult time for us to meet. This was America, and we couldn’t keep following Indian time and hope to be successful. We then agreed to change the meetings to the second week of August, which has proven to be more opportune. Of course, there were problems. In those early days, I was anxious about the ongoing success of our fledgling group. Sure, it was great fun to get together once a year and let ourselves go, but a lot of work had to go into the planning before good time could be had. The new organization was like a precious newborn, clinging to life, and it had to be carefully nurtured before it could take its first steps and go off on its won. For one thing, we had very little money, and I had to rely heavily on my family for legal and accounting services. My wife’s bother, a CPA, and her uncle, an attorney, provided their time and efforts without charge to us or our organization. During those first couple of tentative years we worked by trial and error, but with the unfailing support of my good Aiimsonian friends and my wife, Cecil, we managed to keep it alive.
Naturally, there were triumphs as well as failures along the way. For example, we wanted to have an ongoing relationship with the “Aiimsonians” in India and with the Institute. I must say I had very little success in this regard. I also remember the difficulties we had when we decided to make “Aiimsonians of America” a non-profit tax exempt organization. We filed all the necessary documents in New York State, but were informed that we needed one more – a letter from the Institute as parent body, stating that they had no objections to our using their name. In spite of repeated letters and personal contacts at various levels, it took the Institute more than two years to send us the necessary letter. By this time, the filing period had expired and the process had to be started all over again. I had to leave my term of office with this disappointment, but, thanks to Yogeshwar Dayal, who was the newly elected president, we finally achieved that goal.
Although all of us had high hopes in those early days, some of them realistic, others not, I always looked upon the Aiimsonians as a model family. I wanted us to work together as loving families do, sharing the good times and bad. This has happened beyond my wildest dreams. Now, even our children, born and raised so far from India, who may never attend the Institute, consider themselves Aiimsonians. I have seen the “Aiimsonians of America” grow and get better every year and I am proud to have been a small part of its development. What began with a death has been transformed into a living, growing entity.