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Funeral arrangements: Viewing on Tuesday, Sept. 28, 3-5 pm and 7-9 pm at Moloney Lake Funeral Home, 132 Ronkonkoma Ave, Lake Ronkonkoma, NY, 11779; tel: 631-588-1515. The cremation, for family only, will be held on Wednesday at 11 am. Please note: A separate SAJA memorial service will be planned for the weeks ahead.
Please post your comments and memories of Amrit in the comments section below or e-mail email@example.com - we already have comments from S. Mitra Kalita, former SAJA president; Shashi Tharoor, Indian parliamentarian and author and many more. Add yours!
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Amrit Kakaria, a leading Indian-American journalist in the U.S., died on Sunday, Sept. 26, 2010, in Long Island, New York. The cause was a heart attack (he had been battling cancer, but it was under remission). He was 72. He is survived by his wife Bettina Kakaria and other family members, including, his brother Bal Kakaria.
Kakaria retired in 2002 after 45 years in the media business, most recently as head of U.S. operations for the India Today group (he had earlier launched India Today's North American edition and also worked in New Delhi and London).
An early member of the South Asian Journalists Association, Kakaria played a critical role in the group's growth as an adviser to the group's founding members. In 1996, wrote a personal check for $2,000 to launch its most influential program, the SAJA Journalism Awards.
"Amrit was SAJA's guiding spirit and a mentor to dozens of us in the media," said Sree Sreenivasan, SAJA co-founder and a professor at Columbia Journalism School. "His passing is a tremendous loss to all South Asian journalists in the U.S.," he said.
In 2005, he was inducted into the SAJA Hall of Fame, which recognizes pioneering South Asian journalists for their contributions to U.S. media as well as veteran U.S. journalists who helped shape coverage of South Asia (other inductees include Gobind Behari Lal, who won a Pulitzer Prize for science writing in 1937 and the first journalist to write about cancer research; his nephew, Brij Lal, a veteran broadcast journalist who joined ABC News in 1952; Gopal Raju of founder of India Abroad; Peter Bhatia, executive editor of The Oregonian and former president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors; Rajan Devdas, a photojournalist for more than 60 years in India and the U.S.; A.M. "Abe" Rosenthal, the former New York Times editor who covered South Asia as a young correspodent and continued to write about it as a columnist and James W. Michaels, former editor of Forbes, who first covered India during its struggle for independence and revisited the region in reports over five decades).
"Amrit was involved with SAJA from its very early days and cared deeply about SAJA," said John Laxmi, SAJA treasurer and board member. "He took the liberty to call me and email me every now and then to give me tips, advise and admonitions to keep SAJA on its track and committed to its mission. Anyone who has dealt with Amrit will miss his kind and gentle friendship," he said.
As part of SAJA's 15th anniversary celebrations in 2009, Kakaria was profiled by Sweta Vohra. From her SAJAforum post:
Amrit Kakaria is an industry veteran who has had a hand in shaping the South Asian media landscape. The 70-year-old started his career as an intern in India at the India News & Feature Alliance, and has since worked for nearly a half dozen publications on three continents.
After moving to the US in 1977, he joined India Abroad. In 1988, Kakaria moved to India Today to become its chief North American representative.
Kakaria has been part of SAJA since its birth in 1994. For him, the organization fulfills a personal aspiration to unite ethnic Indian journalists. SAJA, he says, “helps South Asian entrants to journalism" and is "a reassuring entity for them to belong to." He looks to SAJA becoming a powerhouse with a stronger voice.
Kakaria, however, has a less aggressive future mapped out for himself. His personal mission: to improve his golf game.
Kakaria was born and raised in New Delhi. He earned his B.Sc. from Hindu College in Delhi University and also had completed a Thomson Foundation course for senior journalists in Cardiff, U.K.
UPDATE: Here are the remarks he made at the SAJA Hall of Fame induction ceremony in June 2005:
It's been said many, many times before and would no doubt be repeated endlessly: I don't know what I did to deserve this honor. … I thought all I did was survive in the tough environment that is New York. Nonetheless, it more than compensates for the disappointing salary raises that I got as a working journalist.
Months before the creation of the South Asian Journalists Association, Dharam Shourie of Press Trust of India and I attempted to form a similar organization. It was still-born because we circulated the idea only among journalists posted in the U.S. by the press in India. Thus, for me, SAJA has been a magnificent realization of my dream.
It's heartening to see so many talented newspersons from South Asia, and the ever-increasing interest in the subcontinent among others. I am sure they will greatly enrich and strengthen the profession of journalism.
However, I can say from personal experience that it was different when in 1977 I arrived in New York from India. I thought I had an impressive resume, but straightaway ran into a Catch 22 situation with potential employers. The common theme of the polite rejections was: Oh, you have an impressive record, but so sorry you have no "American" experience. How may I achieve that unless you give me work? Went unanswered.
Perforce, I turned to the fledgling ethnic press, and was pleasantly surprised to find it intense and vibrant.
Twenty-eight years is a long time, but the gains made by the South Asian diaspora in the field are thankfully quite impressive.
And now, briefly, I want to suggest something which may not find favor with most of you, but I thought might be worth your consideration.
Today, there are countless awards for, of and by journalists. These certainly strengthen the media. But I wonder why there's none by journalists to recognize or honor those who strengthen the news media by owning and investing in it.
Why have we not given a "Friend of the Media" award to a Katharine Graham or a S.I. Newhouse? Wouldn't such recognition motivate at least some entrepreneurs to invest more strongly, and owners to accord greater respect to our profession?
We well know that journalism has suffered setbacks from the occasional disastrous encroachment into the editorial field by an owner looking for name recognition. This could be a small remedy.
No, folks, I am not looking for a job. I am happily retired and my big pursuit now is golf. (I wouldn't mind, though, if my idea is rewarded with an invitation to play at an exclusive country club!)
And, of course, an abiding faith in – and well-being of – SAJA. Thank you SAJA, and thank you all.
Please post your comments, memories of Amrit below.