I first met Ramesh (Kali) Kalicharan about thirty years ago. He ran his real estate office in Hillside Avenue and his sister Shobna worked there as well. I quickly learned that Kali was more than a real estate magnate. During our conversations it became clear that Kali was the pulse of the Indo-Caribbean community. He had at his disposal records galore on the community and most of them were in pictures.
Kali was well organized. Facts and figures were at his fingertips as were the photographs. But he was more. He made one feel at ease; his orders for chai or tea at the store next to his office were legendary. He explained that one had to be comfortable or the conversation would stutter. Kali always made his guests feel at home.
Kali is a person of many parts. He was born in Bush Lot, Essequibo, in Guyana and migrated to New York in 1970. As the big brother Kali took his responsibilities seriously; he looked out for the members of his family and he worked hard to help them legally settle in the United States. Kali had a close relationship with his parents whom he treated with respect. He would bow at their feet in the traditional Hindu way and they would give him their blessings.
One of his strengths is that he is solidly entrenched in the culture of the community. His wife Judith is from Puerto Rico. They make a great team and it is admirable how they both have a worldview of cultures. Kali and Judith invested their time, talent and treasure in the upbringing of their children. Romanee became one of the finest classical dancers while Jagdesh and Nadesh excelled in the playing of musical instruments.
As Kali’s business ventures thrived so did his ability to found and sustain community organizations. These occurred at two levels. The first was his talent for bringing peoples together and to form organizations that would last.
In the eighties, he teamed up with a number of priests and together they founded the USA Pandits’ Parishad. The Parishad became the headquarters of the Pandits. It was housed at the premises of Pandit Chandrica Persaud and later moved to its own building in Jamaica, Queens.
Kali also help to found the Gyan Bhakti Satsangh temple with Pandit Anand Sukul, and others. This began in Hillside Avenue; it has been renamed Prem Bhakti Mandir and is also located in the Jamaica area of Queens. In 1988, Kali teamed up with a number of other persons, including Pandit Ramlall, to found the Phagwah Parade. He also brought professional floats on Liberty Avenue. The Phagwah Parade celebrated another anniversary in 2017 and Kali is proud of its achievements.
But there is another organization that is dear to Kali and it is one that will cement his legacy. It is Kali’s Travels and Tours. The Bharat Yatra tours reconnected Indians from the Caribbean with their ancestry. They became very popular and over the years thousands have booked with Kali to visit exotic places, both in the North and South of India and other places in the Far East. There were many highlights of the tours; visits to temples and famous places such as the Taj Mahal are memorable.
It is said that Kali’s tours are so popular that meeting with famous Bollywood stars are commonplace. Pandit Chunelall Narine of the Shri Trimurti Bhavan in New York was on one of Kali’s Bharat Yatra tours. According to Pandit Chunelall, ‘Kali knows India. He knows the country but more important he knows how to take care of his visitors. He treats them like royalty and many of them have returned with him a second and third time to India because the tours are so well organized.’
Seeta Panday is a well-known singer in the New York community. In 2012, she went on a Bharat Yatra tour with Kali. She is Kali’s Rakhee sister. Seeta was able to demonstrate her talent in India by singing with some of the stars there. She has nothing but high praise for Kali and his team.
Seeta was so impressed with the standard that she went again in 2015. She points out that Kali is so popular in India that the major stars want to be associated with his tour. Apart from entertainment there is also religion and culture. The groups would often meet with Swamis, and other holy persons, in places such as Rishikesh and would worship on the banks of the Ganges.
Kali’s Travels and Tours is over twenty-five years old; the travel agency has been recognized by the Tourist Board of India. This is indeed a high honor. Over the years, a number of Kali’s passengers started their own businesses and are taking visitors to India as well. Kali welcomes the fact that he is able to open the door for others and he wishes them well.
In his daily interactions in the community Kali is known and respected by the people from the Indian subcontinent as well as those from the Caribbean. In 1991, this paid dividends as he teamed up with Indian promoter Yashpal Soi to introduce Dr. Cheddi Jagan and Mr. Samuel Hinds to the New York community. It turned out to be a massive fund-raising event. Dr. Jagan became President of Guyana in 1992 and Mr. Hinds was the Prime Minister.
At a benefit concert for the Tsunami victims Kali was able to use his contacts and get Bollywood music director Ravi to attend. The concert was a great success.
Kali brings warmth to any occasion; and whether it is an Akand Yagna, or Romanee dancing to the music of Manna Dey, or Kali leading a group to the sub-continent, or taking part in local parades and festivals, or designing a magazine, there is no doubt that he has built lasting bridges of peace and friendship.
Kali’s smiling face, his bubbly personality, his helpfulness, and the energy that he brings to an occasion have cemented his legacy. His praises will be sung wherever people meet to talk about the good and the exalted. We wish him and his family all the best in the future.