MEERA GANDHI, MOTHER, HUMANITARIAN AND PHILANTHROPIST, NEW YORK
New York city is one where partying is a serious obligation. Almost every institution, museum, fashion brand and charity is supported by the black-tie set that raises millions for a good cause, while enjoying themselves. Within this circle, Meera Teresa Gandhi has made a name for herself. A champion fundraiser, she hosts many charitable events at her historic townhouse in Manhattan that was once the home of the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. It is a beautiful, large house that Meera and her husband Vikram, (“my childhood sweetheart”) restored over the years, taking care to keep the history of the place alive through old photographs and the like.
Meera grew up a devout Catholic, the philosophy of which she imparts to her three children. “I keep reminding my children to try and live life by the motto “Love begets love, respect begets respect – so treat people as you would like to be treated.” It has become a philosophy she has taken to heart. As she once quoted in an online interview. “There is no reason at all for people like me not to give back. When I was growing up, one of the first things my parents instilled in me was the thought of giving back. The thought that I could so easily have been one of those people that we are trying to help, is another motivation.”
It would not be possible to list the innumerable causes Meera is involved in, but the fact that she and Vikram were given the Fulbright Humanitarian Award in June of this year speaks for her contribution toward creating cross-cultural awareness and understanding. She has worked closely with Asha Dan since high school and is also associated with The Happy Home and School for the Blind in Mumbai since 10 years. She is associated with CRY and Pratham, has co-chaired 40 dinners for Asia Society’s New York chapter, raising over quarter of a million dollars. She is actively involved in the Presidential campaign of Senator Hillary Clinton and hosted a fundraiser with her for the Eleanor Roosevelt at Val-Kill, Girls Leadership in 2003. Her personal website details her many other associations.
Born to an Irish mother and Indian father, Meera describes her childhood as “a time of great happiness.” Perbodh Nath Agarwal was an Admiral in the Indian Navy, the result of which was “we moved every three years or so. I grew up in London, New Delhi, Mumbai and Pune.” She is a unique woman. A loving mother, an initiative taker, a social entrepreneur, a philanthropist and a leader in every aspect of interaction in her life. And her life spans many cultures, countries and causes. She has an MBA from Boston University and it was here that she learnt a lesson for life – an incident that “taught me three, incredible lessons at the same time. I learnt that everyone impacts your life, never take anyone for granted and that respect begets respect.” It’s something she is forever grateful for.
Meera has a full life as a mother with three children in tow. Kanika and Kabir are still schooling while Kiran is now in college at Georgetown. Meera’s mornings start with yoga and meditation with her Swedish yoga teacher, followed by answering emails and catching up on projects and news. More often than not, “I head out to a charity luncheon or event that I am supporting.” She says her biggest desire for her three children is for them to be happy. “Nothing is more important than this,” she emphasizes. “They are all so gifted and talented – I know they will use their gifts wisely.”
The lady is Indian at heart. “I visit India two to four times a year. I come from a very close knit family and I am very close to them,” she says. “Also, our Indian ethos is so generous in human spirit, our culture so deep-rooted. I can go anywhere but I am, at first an Indian. After 10 days of traveling I crave Indian food!” She supports India when she can, through its people, food, fashion and literature. In her own words “India is on the cusp of a whole new growth curve. They are leading the wave in creativity, technology, spiritualism and dynamism.”
As she sends me an invite to a party she is hosting at her residence for the launch of Dev Anand’s autobiography Romancing with Life, Meera’s energy bubbles over in the way she talks, her expressions, her choice of words, her inherent vibrancy and her understanding of human life. She sums it up when she says, “It is great to receive but a real privilege to be allowed to give.”