UH degree: PhD in philosophy ’69 Mānoa
Family: Sons Raj and Ravi Kumar Malhotra
Preach what you practice: He writes a column on yoga for the local newspaper and teaches it via a public access TV channel for those who cannot afford to pay for a class
Honors: SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and Distinguished Teaching Professor title, East-West Center Distinguished Alumni Award, UH Distinguished Alumni Award
Unusual assignment: Consultant for the TV series Kung Fu: The Legend Continues
To illustrate his philosophy—each one, teach one—Ashok Kumar Malhotra applies simple arithmetic to the seemingly massive problem of illiteracy in India, where 400 million people cannot read. If each of the 700 million literate residents taught one sibling, parent or friend to read, the country would have a 100 percent literacy rate, he points out.
He is doing his part through the non-profit Ninash Foundation. Formed to honor his late wife, the organization promotes literacy among children and adults throughout the world. Its work has twice earned Malhotra nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Malhotra knows what it is to be poor. Born in Punjab, India, he arrived at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa campus in 1963. “I came here with $8 in my pocket. I had nothing,” he recalls. The East-West Center paid for travel, tuition and living expenses and provided the opportunity to participate in a semester away program at New York University. There he met and fell in love with his future wife, Nina. They married at the East-West Center’s Japanese garden. He completed his PhD and accepted a position to develop the philosophy department at the SUNY College Oneonta.
Influenced by the University of Hawaiʻi (especially Professor Chung-Ying Cheng, who introduced him to Chinese philosophy), Malhotra incorporated Asian and comparative philosophy 43 years ago, making his the first department in the SUNY system to do so.
“Professor Cheng never ages and his mind works perfectly. He is a good model,” Malhotra says.
When his wife, a teacher and social worker, neared death from breast cancer, Malhotra made her this pledge: “I can’t build you the Taj Mahal, but I can build schools in your name.” In 1996 he drew on his personal resources to form Ninash Foundation, named with the first three letters from each of their given names. That year the foundation launched its first Indo-International School in Dundlod, India, a one-room school house for 50 underprivileged children.
Today, six schools serve 1,200 students in modern buildings with three state-of-the-art libraries, computers with Internet connection and clean running water. Malhotra and his partner Linda Drake travel to India every two years to check on the progress and lead groups of students, faculty and community volunteers on humanitarian missions.
The Ninash Foundation has also donated 153 dairy goats to help sustain more than 600 Dundlod villagers with a regular supply of milk, cheese and yogurt and provided funds for a road, eco-gardens, after school activities center and food for the children in the schools.
Nor has he forgotten his adopted homes. Malhotra endowed four SEVA (compassionate service) awards at the University of Hawaiʻi, East-West Center and SUNY College Oneonta and other scholarships at the Oneonta City Schools.
A prolific author, Malhotra dedicates four hours a day to writing. He has published 14 books. He has served on the SUNY Press editorial board and National Endowment for the Humanities board.
Web video extra
Malhotra talks about the founding of the first Ninash school in Dundlod, India.