We are all saddened by the passing away of Dr. Maheshbhai Mehta, the founder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA). He was a visionary who devoted his life to unite Hindus living in America under one umbrella in order to protect and further Hindu Way of Life here. He had this vision in early 1970s at a time when most Hindus were trying to settle in America and develop their professional career and the idea of Hindus uniting in America was farthest from their mind. Maheshbhai, with several close associates, founded Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) at a time when most people had not even imagined the need for a national Hindu organization.
I first met Maheshbhai at a dinner party in Boston in 1979. As is usual in Indian parties, the discussion soon turned to Indian politics. I argued with Maheshbhai defending the imposition of Emergency by Indira Gandhi. Despite these differences, we soon became friends. Our families also became very close. Maheshbhai asked me to run the Boston Chapter of VHPA.
As an immigrant community Indians were concerned about being in touch with their identity and educating their children about Indian History and Hindu religion and culture. While most Indian immigrants were satisfied with a local India Association and a rare Sunday school, Maheshbhai developed the idea of summer camp where Hindu children can get to know other Hindu children, learn about Hindu festivals and culture while having fun in a relaxed summer camp atmosphere. VHPA summer camps became instant hit with lot of parents as well as children and brought many people into VHPA who might otherwise have shied away from any Hindu organization.
I was always impressed not only by his knowledge of Hindu Philosophy and history, but also by his dedication to the cause of Hindu Unity. He was kind enough to give me an opportunity to work on various VHP projects, such as Conferences, including organizing the Northeast Regional Hindu conference in New England in 1987. He encouraged me to write articles projecting a positive image of India and nominated me to be Editor of Hindu Vishwa. I always looked forward to listening his speeches at either VHPA Boston Chapter meetings or at national and international conferences.
I have always been impressed by his vision in developing different organizations to increase the awareness among Hindus in America as well as programs under which well off Indian Americans can help the poor in India. Since late 1950s, most universities with sizable Indian student body had India Associations which primarily arranged screening of movies and Diwali celebrations. Maheshbhai realized that the second-generation Hindu students at American universities would need an organization that will help them stay in touch with their roots and educate them about the religion and culture in order to buttress their identity and he therefore started the Hindu Students Council with chapters at various universities. This provided the backing of a national organization to individual university chapters.
By mid 1980s most metropolitan areas had a few Hindu temples to cater to the religious needs of Hindus. Maheshbhai thought of the need to create a network for these temples so that their interests and resources can be shared by all and created the Hindu Mandir Executives Conference (HMEC) to achieve this goal.
America has always been a land of immigrants and has been a magnet for scientists and professionals since 1930s. Changes in immigration laws in 1965 allowed highly educated Indians to migrate to America, where because of their scientific education they quickly achieved economic success. Maheshbhai and VHPA utilized the desire of Indian Americans to help their countrymen by creating organizations such as Support a Child, Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation, Seva, etc. He also brought many Hindu Americans together by organizing national and regional conferences under the banner of VHPA.
He was a visionary and dedicated leader who completely changed my outlook about Hindu history and philosophy. Through Maheshbhai, we had the good fortune of meeting many Indian political and religious leaders at their home in Boston.
Whereas most people concern themselves with their family and friends, Maheshbhai was always concerned about the society and devoted all his time to these causes. In a sense, Maheshbhai was a social entrepreneur, who saw the need before others did so, but with the objective of improving the society and not for his personal gain. His work in America for over fifty years brought thousands of Hindus across three generations together.
We will all miss Maheshbhai’s warm personality, friendliness as well as his vision and dedication to the cause of Hindus all over the world.
Dr. Hemendra Acharya has served on VHPA’s Governing Council for a number of years. He is former editor of Hindu Vishwa. He is an accomplished writer.