The following story ("National Treasures") appeared in a 2007 issue of our campus newsletter.
While his radiant wit, health and effervescent nature make him ageless and forever young, Dr. Vrajlal Vyas is actually 78 years old!
Born in 1928 and raised in Bombay, India, Dr. Vyas was fortunate to be part of an educated and well-placed family. As an adolescent during World War II, Vyas became acutely aware of the urgency in India's political climate as its people struggled for independence from British colonialism.
At the time, there was only one political party, the All-India Congress Party, and virtually all of India's people rallied behind the "father" of the independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi. Vyas, in his early teens, personally knew and worked for the historic leaders of the day, including both Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.
"We believed in non-violent non-cooperation because we were fighting for independence. At that time Gandhi was the top leader," recalls Vyas. "In August of 1942, they launched an independence movement called 'Quit India,' whereby they told the British to quit and leave India. I was probably around 14 years old. There were a lot of volunteer organizations, and I was in one of them. At that time I came to know a lot of the movement's leaders while helping and serving them."
Vyas was also arrested during that last movement at about the same time that all the independence leaders, including Gandhi, were thrown in jail. "We were participating in various activities, including selling the people literature containing messages from the leaders who were in jail. We worked hard to distribute their words and instructions to the people to keep the movement alive. So, I was caught, arrested and thrown in jail for four months." Vyas says his treatment in jail wasn't bad, because all the leaders were there.
After jail, between 1942 and 1947, Vyas still remained part of the reform movement while finishing high school. The leaders were still in jail. At the end of World War II, Winston Churchill was defeated in England, and the new prime minister started negotiations with India through Lord Mountbatten, who, in Vyas' recollection, was a very decent man.
One of the main issues in the negotiations was splitting modern day Pakistan from India into its own separate nation. Leaders like Gandhi and Nehru opposed dividing India, but India's Muslim people demanded this as part of the negotiations. Thus, Pakistan became an independent nation at the same time that India won its independence.
Shortly after India's independence, Vyas enrolled in college and started working on his first love--medicine. He earned an MD in Pathology, and was very active in sports, including cricket and swimming. After college, from 1954 to 1959, he went to work in a hospital. During college and his early career, he was still very active in India's political scene, which had now split into multiple parties of varying ideologies.
Vyas sided with the Democratic Socialist party, and was a delegate to the International Democratic Socialist Conference where he had the opportunity to meet many world leaders. However, Vyas soon became disillusioned with politics and eventually withdrew from active participation in 1959.
"Once independence was won, regular 'politics-as-usual' set in, and things became very corrupt and dirty. I didn't like that part of it and so gave it up. My philosophy was to fight against injustice, for independence, equal opportunity and doing good things for people. But once regular politics took hold, everybody wanted money and power. Those old days are still inside of me, though. It is still in my blood: I cannot put up with injustice," he says.
Vyas came to the United States for the first time to serve a medical residency in Tennessee from 1959 to 1962. He returned to his hospital work in India in 1962, but came back to the United States in 1971 to settle permanently.
"I'd always wanted to live in a foreign country," says Vyas. "I'd considered Canada and Australia too. But I chose to come here, because I knew the United States from my residency." His first job upon his return was with Northwest Community Hospital in Chicago, where he worked in pathology for two years. In 1973, he was invtied to teach at Los Angeles College of Chiropractic, where he met and married his wife, Connie. (Connie was a secretary at LACC.)
"In 1977, I had the great opportunity and invitation to come teach at National," says Vyas. He is now one of our veteran faculty, having engaged National's students in the study of pathology for 30 years.
He has not been back to India since 1976, but his family has come to visit him here often. He says that his family has always understood his penchant for independence and never tried to force him to adhere to old cultural notions like caste system or arranged marriage. He appreciates their instilling in him the importance of education.
Vyas has three children, two sons and one daughter, and two granddaughters. He attends church regularly--a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church--after converting from the Hindu religion to Christianity after his marriage. "I've always been interested in the spiritual life. Gandhi, too, was a spiritual man, not just a political man. He respected all religions. Spirituality played a very important role in his life, and it does in mine too. Things have changed ever since I started going to church. My outlook on life changed."
What is Dr. Vyas' fondest memory of working at National for the past 30 years? Vyas says, "I was lucky to be able to meet and work with a man like Joseph Janse. He was a leader and a man with principle. I always followed a leader. I'm a follower. Leaders like Gandhi, like Joseph Janse, they leave an impression on you."
Likewise, the never-failing goodwill, patience and wisdom of Dr. Vyas have left an impression on many decades of students and colleagues. That's why he's a "National Treasure."