Vijay Amritraj honors Martin Luther King III at gala in New York

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From left: Former tennis star Vijay Amritraj, his wife Shyamala, Martin Luther King III, American human rights advocate and community activist; Katrina Adams, CEO and President of the United States Tennis Association and Anand Amritraj, at the annual Vijay Amritraj Foundation gala, in New York, May 12, 2017. Photo: Jay Mandal/On Assignment.

NEW YORK – The Vijay Amritraj Foundation (VAF) came back to New York City for the second time after a decade for its annual gala to raise money for some charities in India, at The Pierre, on May 12. The inaugural gala was held in Beverly Hills 11 years ago.

The founder and chairman of VAF, former tennis great Vijay Amritraj, and his equally famous brother, the Hollywood producer Anand Amritraj, were in attendance at the gala, which saw some 350 people gather for a cause.

The duo, of course, are rated as perhaps the best tennis doubles player India ever produced, only after Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi.

Prominent attendees at the gala included Shyamala Amritraj, the wife of Vijay Amritraj; Martin Luther King III, the American human rights advocate and community activist; Katrina Adams, CEO and President of the United States Tennis Association (USTA), and Stan Smith, former world No. 1 American tennis player and two-time Grand Slam singles champion. The gala was emceed by Alan Wilkins, the former English county cricketer, and commentator.

Martin Luther King III received the Vijay Amritraj Foundation 2017 Lifetime Achiever award   from Vijay Amritraj, at the gala.

Last year, the gala was held in Boca Raton, Florida, and in 2015, in Palo Alto, California, where former President George H.W. Bush and actor Sidney Poitier were honored.

The VAF’s focus is on funding the smaller charities of India who do not have the ability to raise money or awareness for their causes. Some of the charities they have supported include those that serve children and adults who face extreme challenges in life; family abandonment, and individuals ostracized by society for their illness like HIV/AIDS. Recipients in the past include Naz Foundation, the Sri Poorna Mahameru Trust, Chennai’s Samrakshan Orphanage, Rajan Eye Institute, Prajwala and Mitra Jyothi.

Vijay Amritraj expressed his happiness at the turnout for the gala. He told News India Times: “The New York crowd was spectacular. We are grateful for their support and we look forward to continue to make a difference in the lives of the most needy in India.”

Some of the attendees praised the dedication of Amritraj to the cause of VAF – he was sick as a child for long with a breathing disability before he took to the sport of tennis which helped him recover. Amritraj makes it a point to visit the charities he gives money to.

Kapil Mahendra, volunteer and Board member of VAF since 2008, told News India Times: “It is a pleasure to be associated with Mr. Amritraj and the great things he does.”

Gautam Patwa, an attendee at the gala, who has been friends with Vijay Amritraj for 25 years, said he has attended several VAF gala over the years, and has been impressed by his “sincerity” towards the cause of the underprivileged in India.

“For me, his (Vijay Amritraj’s) personality is what matters,” said Patwa. “He is warm, sincere, caring, emotional person. Very straightforward.”

The organizers are yet to tabulate the proceeds from the evening, as of going to press.