The Vijay Amritraj Foundation Vijay Amritraj visits the Samrakshan Orphanage in India during a recent trip for his VAF foundation.
A postscript to today’s column on Vijay Amritraj (linked here):
Amritraj tells a story that occured a couple of years ago, when the women’s pro tennis tour had an event in India at the same time he was there to visit the Mitra Jyothi charity, which helps blind women shunned by their families and helps them create skills such as basket weaving and carpet making.
“I decided to present a check from the foundation to the head of the project — this 4 foot, 11 inch blind woman — at center court of the WTA event, and she stood there between me and Venus Williams,” said Amritraj, who is 6-foot-4. “Venus looks at me after this and says, ‘She makes me feel this big with all she’s done,’” as he holds his finger and thumb on his right hand just an inch apart.
During a visit at his Van Nuys office, not far from his long-time Encino home, Amritraj had plenty of other tales about his visits with those in need in his native India, and how the motto of his foundation — In Giving, We Receive — means more to him now than it did when he started the non-profit in 2006.
For example — a group of mentally challenged men, prone to violent outbursts, are suddenly joking with him as he pays a visit to their group home and spends the next 90 minutes listening to them talk about the times they’ve seen him lose big matches during his impressive tennis playing career. He watches a surgery on a blind young man where they take a tooth from deep inside his mouth and implant it under the skin near his eye for form a natural membrane, which is then taken out and used as a cover for the new pupil, giving the patient the chance to see colors for the first time.
“It’s a wonderful gift to be able to give,” he says quite modestly. “And who’s to say which charity is better or worse than another? There have been a number of great philanthropic attempts from the United States. This country is truely a miracle worker. By far, Americans are the world’s greatest givers — by far — and for the way Americans are sometimes described around the world, I’ll never understand it. We have so much to learn from the people like the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets of the world.”
And from how they help the poor around the world. In India, it’s not just the visuals of children playing in the trash heaps of “Slumdog Millionaire,” being bought and sold as slaves.
For the grace of God, Amritraj knows that he and his two brothers became pro tennis players almost by accident, then had success in the Davis Cup as well as on the pro tour as a doubles team and singles competitors that brought them both riches well beyond their dreams. Vijay, Anand and Ashok Amritraj — who all live in the San Fernando Valley now — were among the first Indians to play in top-flight international tour tennis. In 1976, Vijay and Anand were semifinalists in the Wimbledon men’s doubles.
Ashok is chairman and CEO of Hyde Park Entertainment in Hollywood, which has produced movies such as “Bringing Down The House, “Raising Helen,” “Shop Girl” and “Walking Tall.”
Vijay, the chairman of First Serve Entertainment, says he visits India seemingly once a month, in part because his parents still live there — they’ll be celebrating their 60th anniversary in December — but also to tend to some businesses there and, more importantly, visit some of the projects that his foundation is helping to fund.
He also travels a lot for the Singapore-based ESPN Star Sports network, doing commentator work on tennis and golf programming. His oldest son, Prakash, is a 26-year-old veteran now of the men’s pro tennis tour, several years removed from a championship season at USC. Amritraj’s other son, Vikram, is involved in hip-hop music production.
“I know, from my end, I’m very fortunate to have the parents I have,” said Amritraj. “I could just as easily been in a hole. Who’s to say how I ended up? My life has been so ludicracy blessed. I have to constantly ask myself — Did I deserve this?”
Consider making a donation or attending the Dec. 4-5 VAF fundraiser in Calabasas and Beverly Hills. Sponsors who have underwritten the event include American Airlines, Sony Entertainment Television, Disney, Rolex, IREO, Highglow, Tennis Channel, Standard Chartered and TATA.
Vijay Amritraj accepts appointment as a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2001.
== More to look at:
== The Vijay Amritraj Foundation official site (linked here)
== A list of the charities that the VAF funds, including St. Vincents Home for AIDS Patients, Center for the Aged and Mitra Jyothi, which provides education and life skills to blind women (linked here)