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Indian physician donates $2 mn for India Center at Johns Hopkins University

May 29, 2008 22:16 IST

Dr Mohinder Sambhi, a promiment California physician, who has spent his entire career teaching at American and Indian universities, has kicked in $2 million to the South Asia Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, in the hope that it will help catalyse an India Studies Center at this prestigious university that has produced several leading diplomats, policymakers and academics.

At a ceremony attended by nearly 200 well-wishers, including several faculty, students, Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen, a leading Indian entrepreneur and a founder of Infosys Nandan Nilekani, leading lawyers from Chandigarh Mac and Nithi Sarin, who are involved in furthering Sambhi's philanthropic work in India, Sambhi was felicitated at the University's Kenney Auditorium as the Minno and Mohinder Sambhi Endowment for Indian Studies was announced, which Sambhi said was dedicated to his late physician wife Minno, whose portrait was also unveiled at the event.

Sambhi's donation is envisaged to support student fellowships, a professorial lecturer and eventually a professorship, which the university said would "be held by a scholar or practitioner whose eminence and promise in the field deepens scholarship and instruction at SAIS."

Jessica Einhorn, dean at SAIS, in her welcoming remarks, in lauding Sambhi for his generous contribution, said, "As many of you know, the great private universities of the United States succeed in competing in two very important markets -- we compete for our students who are free to go and study where they please and we compete in the markets of philanthropy."

She said the philanthropy and generosity of the likes of Dr Sambhi "rewards performance and potential," and that SAIS was immensely grateful for his contribution to the South Asia Studies Program.

Sen in echoing Einhorn's sentiments and lauding Sambhi's gesture, said, "While on his subject, I would like to say that Professor Sambhi and his late wife Minno are representatives of fine examples of first generation Indian-Americans who have contributed so much to this country of their adoption -- the United States. Contributed significantly to the intellectual capital of this country, contributed as entrepreneurs, as innovators, as scholars and educators, and contributed in actually in different forms of a broad range of activities."

He said these included "physicians, hoteliers, and across the board recognisd for their achievements as Nobel laureates, winners of Pulitzers and Booker Prizes and also Emmy Awards, and yes, and a couple of very fine astronauts."

Sen said the generosity of Sambhi was a tangible manifestation "of this fine Indian-merican community and the vital role it is playing in acting as a bridge between India and the United States --it's an invaluable role and I salute the role of the community."

He said this innovative India project, instead of years in the making, "I hope will be months in the making till we see a center, and I hope that Dr Sambhi's example will be followed by others because there is a need -- without belittling our neighborhood because we have a vital stake in the stability and prosperity of our neighbors -- that India by itself deserves more attention and study."

"Also, its neighborhood because our biggest neighbor is China and is took a tsunami for people to realize that our second-biggest neighbour is actually Indonesia, and that we are just about 40 miles away from Central Asia," Sen added.

He also said India was "vitally affected by he developments in the Persian Gulf and West Asia, and also in the Ocean -- it is the only ocean in the world named after a country, that is the Indian Ocean."

Sunil Khilnani, professor of South Asia Studies and director of the South Asia Studies Program as SAIS,  told that ultimately the proposed India Center would cost an estimated $15-20 million, but said "hopefully Dr Sambhi's generosity will be the catalyst to get other Indian-Americans to come in and chip in."

He said that Sambhi's contribution "is the first step in the ladder we need to climb to get to the $15-20 million mark to ultimately get an India Center."

Sambhi told, "I looked at several institutions, including Harvard and their competitor Georgetown (University), but as I told you I didn't find these kind of people (Einhorn, Khilnani) anywhere where I could share in their confidence, perfection, dedication and commitment as I did here at SAIS."

Sambhi acknowledged that "one reason I wanted to do this was very personal -- nothing gives me more joy than to honour my Minno. And, the second one was that I wanted to implant a nucleus  in Washington, DC for an India Center. I am not rich enough to give them all the money for an India Center -- I would if I had and could. But, if I can be a means to an end, that's good enough."

Several years ago, at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he taught for several years, Sambhi also endowed a chair in Indian Classical Music, which he said, "is doing very well."

Sambhi received his medical degree in 1950 from the University of Punjab and his MSc in Investigative Medicine in 1959 from McGill University in Montreal, Canada. 

He then went on to receive his PhD in pharmacology in 1968 from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Sambhi was on the faculty of USC from 1961 to 1971 and thereafter on the full-time faculty of UCLA from 1971 to 1994.

Besides, his endowment for a Classical Indian Music chair at UCLA and now the $2 million for the proposed Indian Studies Center at SAIS, he has set up an endowment several years ago to the PGI Blood Bank of Chandigarh called the Minno Sambhi Free Blood Transfusion Program for Thalassaemic Children.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC