Those who knew Gopal Raju will find it hard to believe that he is no more. He always conveyed the impression that he will be around forever. “Look, I’m 60 and I’m not thinking of retiring,” he told me when I mentioned my plan to retire in three years’ time and return home from Bangalore. “I am an Indian, Gopal,” I quipped, “you are an American.” That was 20 years ago.
Raju reached the United States as a young man and made it his home. Like other immigrants, he carried a bit of India with him but he spanned the Indo-American socio-cultural divide in a way few others did. He was a soldier who could not hang up his boots because there was always a battle to fight. He ventured into fields where others feared to tread. No one expected his idea of an Indian vegetarian restaurant in New York to work but he persevered and made it a success. He later moved into the travel business and made it a greater success. Still later he marched into the media, the last battlefield where he was to score a string of even greater successes.
All of Gopal Raju’s battles furthered the interests of fellow Indians. When he reached the American shores, Indian presence in the country was limited to a small band of farmers on the west coast and students scattered in a few campuses. As the community grew in size and its composition changed, he recognized the immense potential of the amorphous body of upwardly mobile professionals, and fought to weld them into a vibrant entity capable of playing its due role in the country’s polity.
Raju had been in the US for two decades when he launched India Abroad, which was to propel him and the community forward. Its phenomenal success can be traced to the unique character that he imparted to it. Breaking away from the traditional pattern of Indian publications, he pioneered a new style that combined Indian content with American form. He hired American professionals to give finishing touches to the Indian output and thereby give it the desired American form. It was a strategic move which helped the journal to extend its influence beyond the Indian community to official and academic circles. After he sold India Abroad, his team transformed News India Times using the same strategy.
To meet the needs of the large Gujarati community in the US, he published the weekly Gujarat Times and to cater to the requirements of the new generation of Indian Americans he launched Desi Talk. Early in his career as publisher, he started an Asian journal. It did not succeed because its time had not come.
Two institutions which he created are today making significant contributions in India and the US. Since 1975, the Indian American Foundation, which he promoted, has been raising substantial sums by way of donations each year to assist projects in India. The Indian American Center for Political Awareness, which he set up in 1994, has provided invaluable service by provided young Indians opportunities to play their part in political life at different levels through Congressional internships and local leadership development programs. Generations of Indian Americans will remember him with gratitude for welding them into a political community. Hopefully, he will be around for a long time, if not forever, through the institutions he has left behind.-- News India-Times, New York, April 25, 2008