I moved to Cleveland in the summer of 1981 directly from one of the largest, and most densely populated, cities in the world – Kolkata (previously Calcutta) India. It was family connections that persuaded me to come to Cleveland.

Growing up was in a close-knit family of six, with four siblings – me being the youngest. It was a typical life in a big city, with plenty of global exposure. A good part of my education was in a school run by Belgian Jesuits, and that helped to acquire mastery of the English language, even American dialect. I was very familiar with culture and lifestyle in America long before I came to the US, through friendships with Americans and family connections, American literature and magazines, Hollywood movies and TV shows, sports, TGIF parties at the American consular residences, and so much more.

At first sight, Cleveland offered few shocks and surprises. I felt at home pretty quickly. Many people expressed surprise that I was a newcomer. Yes, I spoke with a different accent, but much of what I said was not outrageous.

The surprise was the physical landscape – taller buildings, wider streets, more cars, interstates and high speed traffic. Seemed like fewer poor people.

Interestingly, there were very few challenges as I settled in. I was fortunate to immerse myself into the local lifestyle very quickly. Not much adjustment needed. From the moment of my arrival in Cleveland, I was incredibly fortunate to walk through any door as a stranger, but pretty much coming out appreciated, understood and loved. I was struck by the warmth and welcome from most of my encounters. Life in Cleveland has truly been gratifying for me, to have been welcomed and included into the vast network of Clevelanders from all walks of life. So, today, I am a self appointed champion and ambassador for my hometown. I spread the values of living in Cleveland every opportunity I can create, encouraging migration.

When I first arrived in Cleveland, it was like a ghost town. Economy was bad; businesses and people were leaving in droves for better opportunities elsewhere. Poverty was such a challenge. Crime and safety were major concerns.

There were times when moving away would have made good economic sense for me personally. But I made discoveries that were so compelling that the thought of moving away quickly exited my thinking. First, the character of this community, warm friendliness, the compassionate and giving attitude, and the beauties of so many cultures in one place made me feel at home. I was different, but not really so!

And just as importantly, the priceless jewels that are the museums, the orchestra, cultural gardens, the Browns and the Cavs and the Indians, the theatre, comfortable lifestyle and manageable cost of living, the diverse population – it was all so overwhelmingly attractive. Add to that the optimism of the Clevelanders!! The forward looking spirit of the people. Together, we Clevelanders always believe in the hope for tomorrow. And the promises come true. The Cavs this year. Perhaps the Indians too?

It has been heart-warming, and a joy, to watch Cleveland grow over the years, the fire and the beauty re-emerging, the pride returning! Loyalty getting stronger. Today, it is all so personal.

I have spent almost all of the time in Cleveland, engaged in making difference in the lives of regular people. Worked in inner-city education. Owned and operated an international travel business. However, large portion of my life has been spent involved in Community building. Bringing people of many cultures together on a single platform to transform Cleveland into an attractive and desirable place to live.

As much as I have embraced and celebrated the beauty of the American culture, I have continued to practice most aspects of my Indian heritage. The large Indian community made that possible.

In order to continuing to make Cleveland a welcoming destination, we should, first and foremost, engage the entire community, in all its glorious diversity, to be part of the process of welcoming and settling of newcomers, in every conceivable way. The more the old and the new intermingle, the easier the understanding and appreciation of each other. Displaying and sharing of individual cultures uncover the skills and talents that benefit social and economic growth.

The strength of a hand comes from all five fingers TOGETHER!! Not all fingers are same but there is strength in each.