Three Indian Americans were named among 75 recipients of the 2017 Padma Shri awards, to be awarded Jan. 26, on India’s Republic Day.
The Padma Shri award is India’s fourth-highest civilian honor. It was announced Jan. 25 along with the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan, and will be conferred onto its recipients by the president, in a special ceremony in March or April each year.
This year’s list of recipients highlighted India’s “unsung heroes,” including a Telangana man who has planted 10 million trees; an elderly woman skilled in the ancient martial art form of Kalaripayattu; and a 91-year-old gynecologist, who has been serving the poor for free for over 60 years.
The Indian American recipients include sitar and surbahar maestro Imrat Khan; MIT professor Anant Agarwal, CEO of the online education portal edX; and H.R. Shah, chairman of TV Asia.
edX – termed “Harvard for All,” was founded by labs at Harvard and MIT, and launched in 2012. The portal offers courses at no cost from some of the world’s best universities, including Harvard, MIT, UC Berkeley, Georgetown University and the Sorbonne, among others. Agarwal taught the first course on edX – a class on circuits and electronics – which drew 155,000 students from 162 countries. (See earlier India-West interview here: http://bit.ly/2jW8GXN.)
Agarwal, a pioneer in computer architecture, was named as one of the top 15 education innovators by Forbes magazine in 2012. In addition to teaching electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, Agarwal is a serial entrepreneur who founded Tilera and Virtual Machine Works.
Agarwal is the recipient of several awards, including the Harold W. McGraw Jr., Prize for Higher Education in 2016, which recognized his pioneering work in the field of Massive Open Online Courses – MOOCs. The education innovator is an IIT Madras alumnus and received his Ph. D. from Stanford.
Agarwal also holds a Guinness World Record for the largest microphone array.
Imrat Khan is the younger brother of the late Vilayat Khan, and is considered one of the world’s greatest players of the surbahar, a deep-toned, sitar-like instrument that was developed by Khan’s great-grandfather, Ustad Sahabdad Khan, and Ustad Imdad Khan.
Born in Calcutta in 1936, Imrat Khan formed one of the first sitar-surbahar duos with his brother Vilayat, and pioneered the “gayaki ang” technique, a “vocal manner” of Indian instrumental music. He and Vilayat performed in the Soviet Union in 1956, and he was the first Indian classical musician to perform at Royal Albert Hall in London in 1971.
Khan was awarded the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1988. He is currently a visiting professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.
H.R. Shah, chairman and CEO of TV Asia, came up from humble beginnings. He was born in a remote village in Gujarat, one of seven children. His father died when he was just two years old. He graduated with honors from college with a degree in chemistry, but had difficulty finding a job.
In 1967, when a cousin immigrated to the U.S., Shah imagined his own next steps. Four years later, he landed in the U.S., and worked a series of odd jobs, including driving a taxi.
Shah next started a brokerage house and eventually bought out the failing Krauszer’s Food Stores in 1991. In 1996, he took over TV Asia and rescued the floundering media outlet. TV Asia today – a 24/7 channel – has more than 350,000 viewers, according to news reports, and 30 news bureaus in the U.S. and Canada.
Shah is also known for his prolific philanthropy. He received the Ellis Island Medal of Honor – an award given to outstanding immigrants in 2005.