Crossing cultures

Indian immigrants find a home in CoMo.

Crossing cultures
Indian immigrants find a home in CoMo

Naveen Mahadevan came to Columbia from Chennai, India, to study photojournalism at the University of Missouri. Before graduating in May with a master’s degree, he documented the lives of Indian immigrants who live in Columbia and who work or study at Mizzou.

Mizzou celebrates Indian culture with an annual India Nite extravaganza.

India is home to unparalleled diversity in languages and regions, religions and sects, castes and sub-castes, rural and urban communities, food and style of dress — which also are reflected in diaspora communities. The Indian diaspora in the United States is large and diverse.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Immigration and Nationality Act, eliminating per-country quotas and introducing immigration on the basis of education and professional experience. More Indians started migrating to the United States, and the Indian community grew from 5,000 in 1960 to approximately 3,000,000 in 2010, becoming the nation’s third-largest ethnic group. Indian immigrants are among the most educated and affluent ethnic minorities in the United States, and many work in science and technology, medicine, engineering, accounting and management. As a result, they’re subject to related stereotypes and pressures.

In Columbia, Missouri, about 1 percent of the population is of Indian origin. Education plays an important role in these Indian households; most of the adults in these families migrated to the United States in pursuit of higher education and passed their penchant for education on to their children. These photos attempt to shed light on some of the cultural and familial aspects of the Indian immigrant community.

The Patel family

The Patel family and friends celebrate the third birthday of the Patels’ twin boys, Aadit and Anuj Patel. Nitu Patel, the boys’ mother, moved to the United States in 2000 to work as a medical technologist in a Chicago hospital. In 2009 her husband, Hiren Patel, joined her and their U.S.-born daughter, Mansi Patel, in Columbia, where Nitu had relocated to work at University Hospital. Nitu is pursuing a master’s degree in health administration at Mizzou. Hiren owns two Columbia liquor stores and manages his father’s businesses in Uganda during the summer.

Dr. Anand Chockalingam

Dr. Anand Chockalingam is a cardiologist at University Hospital. He came to the United States in 1997 for a Pittsburgh residency program. He returned to India in 2000 for cardiology fellowship and married Dr. Smrita Dorairajan. Dorairajan was training as a pediatrician in India when Chockalingam took a job as a cardiologist in Charleston, West Virginia, in 2004, to give the couple quality education, varied clinical exposure and research opportunities. The family relocated to Columbia in 2006.

Nephrologist Smrita Dorairajan

Nephrologist Smrita Dorairajan, a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, teaches a group of young girls the classical Indian dance style in preparation to perform at India Nite, a show organized by Mizzou’s Cultural Association of India every fall. She also teaches weekly dance classes at her residence in Columbia and has performed for the public in the United States on many occasions. Dorairajan was awarded a fellowship in nephrology in 2008 and has been practicing at the Harry S Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital since 2010.

Anand family on couch

Cardiologist Anand Chockalingam and nephrologist Smrita Dorairajan have two children, Kavin and Laya Anand. The two say they value Indian traditions and culture and plan to return to India, using their skills to help improve the health of underprivileged people in Chennai, after Kavin has finished high school.

Holalkere R. Chandrasekhar

Holalkere R. Chandrasekhar was born in a small village in the southern Indian state of Karnataka. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in physics, chemistry and mathematics in India and then moved to the United States, where he earned a PhD at Purdue University. In 1975 became a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Stuttgart, Germany. There he met Meera Chandrasekhar, whom he married in 1976. In 1977 Chandrasekhar gave a lecture in physics at Mizzou and then was offered a faculty position here.

A reflection of MU physics professor Meera Chandrasekhar

MU physics professor Meera Chandrasekhar works on a PowerPoint presentation on spectroscopy for her class. Chandrasekhar was born in the large city of Secunderabad, in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, but moved frequently because her father was in the Indian Army. She came to the United States in 1970 and earned a PhD at Brown University in 1976 before doing post-doctoral research at the Max Planck Institute, where she met Holalkere Chandrasekhar. The Chandrasekhars moved to Columbia in 1978, and Meera Chandrasekhar joined the MU physics faculty in 1983. She is the recipient of the prestigious 2014 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching and will teach at Baylor University in fall 2015.

Holalkere and Meera Chandrasekhar

MU physics professors Holalkere and Meera Chandrasekhar unwind in their garden. Having spent the majority of their lives in the United States, they have no plans to move back to India. They have three daughters, born and raised in the United States, who have settled throughout the country. Meera Chandrasekhar's mother, Kusum Chandrapal, has been living with them since her husband passed away in 1995.

Kusum Chandrapal

Kusum Chandrapal sings along with other devotees during a bhajan session at Shanthi Mandir, a Hindu temple and community center where many of Columbia’s Indian residents gather. Chandrapal has been living with her daughter and son-in-law, MU physics professors Meera and Holalkere Chandrasekhar, since 1995. She spends three days a week at MU Adult Day Connection, enjoying the company of other participants.

Ajit Tharakan

Dr. Ajit Tharakan has been chief of cardiothoracic surgery at University Hospital since 2009. Tharakan was born in a small town in the southern Indian state of Kerala and raised in Chennai. He and his wife, Rinu Tharakan, moved to Columbia in 2003 and later spent three years in Boston for Ajit’s fellowship in thoracic surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital. Rinu has a degree in medicine and currently is an at-home parent to the couple's two children, Matthan and Anna. The Tharakans' long-term goal is to improve health care in developing countries.

Anna Tharakan

Anna Tharakan is a voracious reader and a regular patron of the Daniel Boone Regional Library, the public library in Columbia. She writes short stories in her free time and learns tennis and violin.

Matthan Tharakan

Matthan Tharakan plays music while sitting on the tennis-ball chair his mother, Rinu Tharakan, made for him. Matthan devotes up to four hours every day to learning tennis. He was ranked No. 2 in the Missouri Valley region in the Boys’ 12 Singles category. Matthan is also musically gifted and plays several instruments.

Akhil and Ashwath Elangovan

Akhil and Ashwath Elangovan learn chess from Timothy Campbell, a Mid Missouri Chess Academy coach, at their house. The brothers have two tutoring sessions every week. Ashwath, a student at Columbia Independent School, is a seeded tennis player in the Missouri Valley region in the Boys’ 14 Singles category. He holds a black belt in taekwondo, plays the piano and belongs to his school’s Science Olympiad team. He attended Duke University's Talent Identification Program (TIP) in summer 2013.

Raghuraman Kannan

Raghuraman Kannan is an associate professor of radiology and bioengineering at MU. He and his wife, Anandhi Upendran, moved to the United States in 2000. Upendran serves as the director of Nanoparticle Biochem, Inc., a nanoparticle-based research company, and is an adjunct faculty member in physics at MU. The Kannans say their prime reason for leaving India was to pursue professional opportunities. They zeroed in on the United States specifically for its great infrastructure and support for scientific research. They hadn’t planned to stay long, but now both of them and their son, Saatvik, are U.S. citizens.

Saatvik Kannan, 8, waits for his chess opponent to make her move

Saatvik Kannan waits for his chess opponent to make her move in the Parkade Open at Parkade Plaza. Saatvik lost the match, but he placed first in his age category in the tournament. In addition to playing chess, Saatvik is passionate about computers and attends Kumon, an after-school math and reading program.

Shashikanth Gajaraj

Shashikanth Gajaraj has lived in the United States since 2007. He earned a master's degree in environmental engineering from San Diego State University and now is close to finishing his PhD in civil engineering, with a specialization in environmental engineering, at the University of Missouri.

Anitha Subramani and Shashikanth Gajaraj

Anitha Subramani and Shashikanth Gajaraj are both from Bangalore, India. They married in 2009 and moved to the United States together to go to school. Subramani earned a master's degree in computer science engineering from MU in 2011 and now works as a project manager for Cerner, a health informatics company, while her husband finishes his doctoral work. The two say life in the United States is more comfortable than life in India and that staying away from their respective families has made them more independent. Eventually, though, they want to move back home.


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