Narain Kataria, the way I knew him
By Gaurang Vaishnav
Vice President, Global Indians for Bharat Vikas (GIBV)
As I sit to write a few words about Sri Narain Kataria, who passed away on November 3rd, memories rush in like a torrent of floods. 40 years is a long time to be friends with someone, who also is a mentor. It is hard to write in the past tense for a giant Hindu leader who was with us till yesterday. I came to know Katariaji, as we affectionately called him in 1975-1977 when some of us NRIs were fighting Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s emergency rule. That intense struggle of 18 months brought us quite close. Later on Katariaji joined Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) as a member of its Governing Council. He also became a Life Member of VHPA.
Working with him, I realized that here was a man who was totally fearless, unwavering in his commitment to protecting Hindus and not caring to be politically correct. Katariaji had amazing ability to connect with one and all. He built strong relations with the Jewish leadership, Progressive Christians, Hindus from the Caribbean, Hindus from Afghanistan, Hindus from Bangladesh, Hindus from Pakistan, and the list goes on.
Narain Kataria (extreme left in striped shirt at a planning meeting of the year 2000 UNO Millennium Peace Summit)
Sometimes, some of us would get upset with a person who might not play the game by the rules but Katariaji’s standard response was, “he is also doing something for Hindus, he is our brother.” In that sense, he was an अजातशत्रु (Ajatshatru, a man without enemies.) But that doesn’t mean that he was all goody-goody and naïve. He had no doubts about the danger that the Islamic Jehad, terrorism sponsored by it and Christian conversion paused to the very existence of the Hindus and Bharat, i.e., India. He minced no words to articulate his views on every forum. He spoke at rallies and demonstrations, he gave dozens of interviews on TV and he wrote his views in incessant emails that reached 100,000+ readers. He fought enemies of the Hindu society tooth and nail without respite.
There is a phrase, अत्र, तत्र, सर्वत्र (Atra, Tatra, Sarvatra, i.e., Here, there and everywhere) that aptly described Katariaji. If it was a cause of Hindus, he was there; if it was a program or event that would further Hindu cause, he would be there. He would not mind driving from Queens, New York to the farthest end of New Jersey, Washington DC or Boston if he felt that he should be there to provide moral support. Katariaji was accompanied most of the time by three persons- Arish Sahani, Nand Ramsinghani, and Subhash Arora. It was as if they were peas of a pod. At times, one or two of this quartet might be missing, but not Katariaji. He was a person of limited means, but he never shirked from giving. 100 dollars here, 500 dollars there, 1000 dollars somewhere else; there was no end to it. Only a few days back I was talking with him and the subject veered to finances. I asked him how he did it because I knew that only recently he had given assistance to a couple of Hindu activists from Bharat and Bangladesh. He said that it was getting difficult, but his children were well placed and didn’t need his money. His social security took care of his basic needs and his investment income went to support Hindu causes. He ended it saying, अरे भाई देना पड़ता है, कैसे चलेगा ? (Are Bhai, Dena padata hai, kaise chalega?, i.e., Brother, we have to give, how would I not, when someone asks?)
Katariaji was a master organizer, yet he was not a man of an organization. He told me, अरे भाई, मैं काम कर लेता हूँ , पर मुझे और झंझट पसंद नहीं । (Are Bhai, main kaam kar leta hun, par muze aur zanzat pasand nahi.” i.e., I accomplish all the work but I cannot stand all the rules and constraints of an organization.) Thus he had excellent relations with some of the premier organizations, Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA), Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS), Overseas Friends of BJP (OFBJP), Global Indians for Bharat Vikas (GIBV), Paramshakti Peeth (of Sadhwi Ritambharaji), Ekal Vidyalaya, etc., but he was not bound by any of them.
In mid 90’s Katariaji founded Indian Americans Intellectual Forum (IAIF) to bring thinkers and writers on one platform and facilitate dissemination of ideas to protect and strengthen the Hindu society. He started with the celebration of the Hindus as an annual Hindu Sangathan Divas in 1996, which morphed into Hindu Unity Day. I am a witness of 20 years journey of Hindu Unity Day. I might have missed only one or two programs in the two decades. It started as a very much disorganized function. There would be so many cultural items and then speeches that the program would drag on and on. It was as if there was a start time but no end time! The program used to be in a squalid, old school building. Over a period of time the program became very professional, drawing best minds to articulate Hindu issues; it became completely disciplined and moved to the modern facility of the auditorium at New York’s famous Ganesh Mandir. Katariaji’s intense efforts resulted in having the 700 seat capacity auditorium being “houseful” year after year. It became a much sought after and “in demand” program. At the Hindu Unity Day, people were treated to thought-provoking talks by luminaries like Dr. Subramanian Swamy (a regular speaker over the years), Sadhwi Ritambhara, Rajiv Malhotra, Suresh Chavahnke (Owner of Sudarshan TV) and dozens of others. Hindu Unity Day also became a venue for networking of several Hindu organizations.
Narain Kataria at Hindu Unity Day, 2015 (at microphone)
Katariaji excelled in the art of demonstration and rallies. I stood with him at countless demonstrations in front of the Bharatiya or Pakistani Consulate offices. Sometimes we would have 100 participants and sometimes only 10. But it didn’t matter to him. He was just focused on giving publicity to an issue at hand. At times, it was a march. It was mindboggling to see Katariaji whipping up a frenzy with a bullhorn. He never tired of slogan shouting. Katariaji was in such a robust health that at that time I didn’t know his age and assumed him to be my contemporary. It was much later that I found out that when we were protesting against 26/11 massacre in Mumbai on a cold November day in 2008, he was already 78! That was a demonstration where a big contingent of Jewish people joined us, again, thanks to Katariaji’s efforts and connections.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited New York in 2014 September, Katariaji was assigned the task to bring busloads of people to the Time square where the organizers were planning to have live coverage of Modiji’s speech inside the Madison Square Garden for the overflow crowds. About two weeks before the event, Katariaji’s wife who had some ailments suddenly passed away. He didn’t inform any of us. Only a few very close people knew about it and we came to know about it only a few days after the fact. When we asked him, he said that this was bound to happen and he kept doing assiduously the task of bus management for Modiji’s program.
Katariaji had one distinct achievement. In 2007, he was sued by Overseas Congress on behalf of Sonia Gandhi for “defaming” her in a New York Times full-page advertisement. He was one of the four persons, thus sued. The advertisement costing upward of $30,000 was placed on behalf of all the NRI activists of USA to expose misdeeds of Sonia Gandhi just when she was going to address UNO on non-violence Day. The multimillion dollar suit was designed to break activists like Katariaji. The case was dismissed by the court since Sonia Gandhi and not Overseas Congress was the aggrieved party. A second case was filed then in a New Jersey court which met the same fate. This was a huge victory for NRIs who had been fighting Sonia Gandhi’s regime in Bharat by proxy. It cost upward of $50,000 in legal fees, but such was Katariaji’s standing in the society that all us activists came together to take care of the legal fees.
Narain Kataria at Sonia Gandhi protest- in black jacket with megaphone
Narain Kataria at Global Dharma Conference, September 12, 2015 (extreme right)
Last I worked together with Katariaji in September of this year. We were asked at a very short notice by the organizers to get banners and placards prepared and get volunteers to greet Modiji when he was to arrive at his New York hotel. Katariaji asked me to raise the funds and he took care of getting the banners and placards made. We stood together on September 23rd to greet Modiji and on 25th in front of the United Nations Building. Katariaji played a very important role to diffuse the threatened anti-Modi demonstration by some misguided Patidars from Gujarat. Though Katariaji was a known and respected figure, he never hankered for publicity or being on the stage.
There is only one regret. The organizers for Modiji’s program in New York both in 2014 and 2015 took advantage of Katariaji’s sincerity and nobility. While many a questionable characters were invited to a dinner with Modiji in 2014, Katariaji, who had worked very hard despite losing his wife during this time, was ignored and not invited. In 2015, he was asked to do all the running around, but when it came to having an audience with Modiji, he was not invited; of course many former Congress supporters and people who had not done anything for Modiji were given an opportunity to meet Modiji. I had brought up this subject with Katariaji and for the first time, I saw that he was pained. Not that he expected anything, but it was painful to him that many less deserving people were getting to meet Modi and him, who at the advanced age of 85 was standing with placards in the cold was overlooked. He asked me to take it up with powers that be so that in future sincere workers wouldn’t be taken advantage of by so-called “leaders.” I am writing this because society should know what kind of leaders it has, that surround Modiji when he comes to the USA. With all that, Katariaji told me, we have to keep working; we are not working for Modiji or BJP. We are working for the Hindus and for Bharat.
Very few people would know that Katariaji was fond of music and played the banjo very well. As a matter of fact, he gave me an audio cassette of his recording long time back.
It will be very hard to replace or replicate Katariaji, one of the tallest Hindu leaders in the USA. We will miss his can-do attitude, unbridled enthusiasm, and boundless energy. We will miss his sharp pen, accurate sense of the history and resounding voice. New York and the tri-state area will never be the same again.
Last I talked with Katariaji was on October 21st, I asked the usual question: “How are you, how is your health?” And his stock answer as always was: “Vaishnavji, I am not going any place. I think I will be OK for another 20 years, there is so much to do.”
Dear Katariaji, yes, there is so much to do and we will take up from where you left off. I will say goodbye to you with your special greeting, “Jay Ho!”
Saturday, November 7, 2015,
11:00 AM to 1:00 PM
Park Funeral Chapels
2175 Jericho Turnpike
Garden City Park, NY 11040
Tel.: (516) 747-4300