Hillol Ray: The Incorruptible Sculptor of Success from Ground Zero

  • By An Anonymous Villager (104 years old)

From Hijalpukur, Habra Thana, 24 Parganas North, West Bengal, India

Since the dawn of civilization, “Morning shows the day” has become a colloquial word among the friends, philosophers, and guides throughout the world.  And this has been verified many times over.  But, today, the indisputable ascent of Hillol Ray to a global prominence from obscure poverty, starvation, and inhuman sufferings in his formative years while living in West Bengal, India, weaves the unimaginable movie fable that we are going to talk about.  At the same time, we are going to see the invalidity of the colloquial word as well.  An Engineer (Civil and Environmental) by profession, and a Poet by hobby, his lifelong recognitions, and accomplishments since his early days (age of six) captivate and mesmerize the audiences from all walks of life, and swiftly negate the aforementioned colloquial word.  Without a doubt, he is an exceptional and a rare polymath among the NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) in the United States of America.  But th(ere is more to this Bengali Hindu Asian-Indian American with a coating of transcendental meditation (™) and eastern spirituality in his inner soul!


The mystique tale of Hillol Ray (affectionately called as “HiRay”, is derived from his first and last name initials). “HiRay” pronounced as “HeeRay”, is a Bengali word, (in English, it means “Diamond”) is awe inspiring. Born and raised in the remote village of Hijalpukur, Habra Thana (Police Station), 24 Parganas North District, West Bengal, India, in extreme poverty, starvation, and inhuman hardship.  He lost his father at the early age of five (5).  Survival situation became even worse when Mrs. Ray was illegally deprived of her family home, property, and all other assets within two (2) weeks of her husband’s funeral (cremation), by the brothers of her husband.  She was not given any choice, except to live in the street shelter, in the coldest month of December month of severe winter with foggy morning on her own.  With eldest son Hillol, and his younger brother Kallol. It was the year 1954.  Her youngest son, Chanchal, was born approximately eight (8) months later. From the date of her husband’s cremation.


Totally penniless with no source of income in those days in a remote village, Mrs. Ray’s hardship along with raising her three children can better be imagined, and cannot be described, in any suitable words.  By the grace of and faith in God, she fought herself against all the odds in utter silence, without asking for any social charity or public help, and sowed on her own the seeds of her inalienable determination and didactic spirits, as the future investments into her three young children.

As a contemporary neighbor since this saga started, I can vividly remember, describe, and authenticate each and every episode of Mrs. Ray and her three children.  Having reached the age of 104 years and being a resident of this village throughout my life, I feel obligated but proud to share the triumphs of Mrs. Ray today against all the odds so far.


HiRay’s early education started at local Habra Udbastu Prathomik Shiksha Niketan and later to Habra High School (Multipurpose).  He was always a topper in all examinations and received full scholarship with free tuition fee.  Hillol studied under the moon and street lights, tutored his fellow classmates, poorer than him, dree of charge, and was minimally clothed in all seasons (no warm clothes in winter months), and always barefooted from his childhood till completion of the Bachelor of Engineering (Civil)  from Bengal Engineering and Science University, formerly known as Bengal Engineering College (under Calcutta/Kolkata University), Shibpur, Howrah, West Bengal, India, with full scholarship and free tuition Hillol graduated with First Class in Civil Engineering.


While at Primary and High Schools, for lack of money and inability to buy the text books, school supplies, writing papers/notebooks/pens, etc.  to do the homework, Mrs. Ray tutored HiRay herself, guided him on his studies, homework, and handwriting on the dusts and sands of nearby rural unpaved Boralia Road, close to her shelter.  Through her strong discipline, occasional spanking, until perfection of calligraphy handwriting was achieved, and her rigid requirements of best handwritten calligraphy, Hillol developed the penmanship since his kindergarten days.  His handwriting/calligraphy in English/Bengali/ Sanskrit and Hindi languages are just like the finest prints, as if they are done by a word processor or an IBM typewriter.  Undoubtedly, his handwriting r/calligraphy resembles the display of perfect cultured pearls in the stores of the Ginza District of Tokyo, Japan, as often described by his fellow classmates, teachers, professors and magazine editors.  It’s simply amazing, and hard to imagine, “HiRay” did the homework and his calligraphy skills on the dusts and sands first, using the bamboo twig (Konchi Kalom)  as a pen , and later transferred on papers  to submit the homework in schools.


He often completed his childhood poems, from the age of six, on the scrap newspapers, canvas, palm and banana leaves picked up by him during his neighbor’s cattle grazing.  He used various colors, like red, yellow, green and blue, to make the poems readable/viewable, as a contrast against the black prints, and any other odd colors, on the newspapers, canvas, rtc.  He developed his manuscripts (poems in Bengali and English) as multi-layer on the same piece of newspaper, canvas, and leaves.  Hillol grew up as a “Rakhal Balok” (Cattle Keeper), and made a living for himself and his family, by grazing the villagers’ cows and goats, baling hay on his head, in bullock carts and rickshaws, and ploughed the neighbors; lands with a “Toka” (straw hat) on his head, like a farmer of rural Bengal, or a day laborer on a construction site.


As a social worker at heart since his childhood, to serve the needy poorest of the poor people of his village, who were willfully neglected, and who had no one to represent to draw the attention of the authority in power, he took the situation upon himself, often risked his own life, and often voiced his own feelings through his writings, and eventually succeeded in wiping their tears.  He believed in and preached pen is mightier than the sword.  With that frame of reference in mind, he started to compose his childhood poems while grazing the cattle and in between playing his own hand made flute, in the open fields or on pasture lands, under the shady lonely trees.


Due to his strong grasp of languages and best handwritten calligraphy from his childhood school days, he was able to draw the attention of classmates, teachers, and editors, and used to be appointed as the Sub Editor at school and college magazines.  Inspire of his own hardship that offered him the “insight” of reality of life, he worked closely with Mother Teresa of Missionaries of Charity of Calcutta/Kolkata, India.  In various capacities, during the evenings and weekends when he was studying at Bengal Engineering College, Shibpur.  He worked hands on – face to face with Mother Teresa and helped her to spread her missions of helping the poorest of the poor and destitute of the society.


Hillel’s selfless service, determination to wipe out the tears of the poor, and dauntless efforts to achieve higher education in Civil/Environmental Engineering in a foreign country, did not go unnoticed by the God, and were eventually rewarded.  One late evening, while working with Mother Teresa, after a long hard day, he fell asleep in a slum bear the Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata.  As he was in the middle of his dream, he started to scream “O my gosh, I heard a prophetic voice .  “Your dream will be fulfilled soon with a Permanent Resident Visa (Green Card) and University Fellowship from the United States of America, and life will be totally renewed to change the miserable life of others” Ray asserts.  Realizing soon he was spiritually adrift, Ray started to visit the saints and monks nearby, practice Transcendental Meditation ™ and reclaim the feelings of oneness within.  With his analytical mind as an Engineer for the eradication of hardships, “I went into seclusion , with a vow of silence, and a few years later, emerged with a need for reality check”, Ray says.  His life began in dire deprivation, due to the untimely death of his father when he was only five (5) years old, and “I grew up in abject poverty  that you can’t imagine,  and I barely survived from a hand to mouth situation”, Ray vividly remembers.


Along with his wrestling with poverty, hungry stomach, barefoot and dilapidated clothes, he was a victim of caste discrimen as well.  While at school, the teachers soon sensed his strong affinity towards literature, geography, science, and mathematics, as he was able to speak and spell “unusual” vocabularies and rhyming words in Bengali (mother tongue) and English at ease, describe an unknown city on the global map, and correct answer ot mathematical problems/equations , even before the teacher had barely written out on the blackboard.  Consequently, through his merit, intelligence, and beautiful handwriting, this young protégé was noticed by the headmaster and the other teachers of the school.  At the end of a school year, the school’s Headmaster Bibhuti Bhusan Chakraborty, who was a Brahmin (Priest – upper caste) used to invite him to dinner at his home.  Along with a few Brahmin students from the same grade level.  Because Hillol was a Vaishya (Lower Caste), compared to Brahmin, he had to sit on the floor six feet away from the dining table on which the food was served only to Brahmin students and guests. At the end of dinner, Hillol used to be asked to wipe the area, where he sat and dined , with Ganga Jol (water from the Indian Holy River “Ganges”)  used in Brahmin’s home, to sanctify purity/purify  a place/spot where any one other than a Brahmin may have sat or dined, and wash his own dishes  and utensils.  “I noticed that the maid servant picked up the dishes used by the Brahmin students and washed them!!  This type of discriminatory treatment towards me placed my determination on a whirlwind of human behavior, due to the so-called caste system of the society”, he recalls. When I was in 11th Grade, most of the kids liked me for my politeness, academic brilliance, and they used to take me to their homes to introduce me to their parents and offered me foods and drinks.  And in many ways, they used to tell me if I was Brahmin, then they would have me marry their sister or niece”, Ray quips.


Upon graduation from Habra High School, Ray continued to excel, academically by winning scholarship with free tuition to Bengal Engineering College, Shibpur, to study Civil Engineering.  While in the 4th year class, Ray’s original Crossword Puzzle on “Road Engineering” got selected and appeared in the Science magazine, published by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), located in Rafi Marg, New Delhi, India.  The originality and depth of this puzzle caught the attention of several universities from USA, Europe, and Africa, who offered to bring Ray with fellowshipand free tuition to continue higher studies in Civil/Environmental Engineering.


After obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering (First Class from the University, Calcutta/Kolkata, India, Ray worked with PLACON Limited, a private Civil Structural Engineering Consulting Engineering Firmin Calcutta, for a few months , while his paper works and application process for National Science Foundation (NSF) Fellowship and Immigration /Naturalization to USA were going on.  Necessary paper works related to NSF Fellowship and the Green Card (Permanent Resident Visa to come to USA) were approved and completed in 197.  The day for departure to USA finally arrived for him, and in early 1975, Ray boarded the New York, USA  bound Air India plane , with three dollars in his pocket, a mini brief case half-full, and wore a pair of shoes for the first time in his life.  In order to assist him with his plane fare, clothes, and shoe, the villagers of Hijalpukur collected donations of any amount.


After a brief stint in New York, Philadelphia area, Ray flew to Fargo, North Dakota to pursue his graduate studies . The NSF Fellowship in Fall 1975from the North Dakota State University (NDSU) , Fargo, North Dakota, helped to pay the rent for Ray’s apartment, doods, and school supplies.  Besides attending the Graduate School, and conducting graduate analytical research under the tutelage of famed Dr. Stanley L.  Klemetson (Professor Environmental Engineering) full time, Ray worked on and off-campus jobs to earn extra money to support himself and send the left over mother to support his two younger brothers .  By the way, the abstract of technical paper based on his thesis (analytical research) towards a Graduate Degree in Environmental Engineering at NDSU entitled: “A Preliminary Investigation of Coal Washed Waste Water And Sludge Characteristics with an Emphasis on the Climatic Influence  on Sludge Disposal” was accepted by the Research Symposium Selection Committee from the University of Indiana at South Bend, Indiana, USA on May 24, 1977, and he was invited to present it at the 50th Annual Conference, organized by the Water Pollution Control Federation (WPCF) on October 6, 1977 (same date as his date of birth) in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.  The paper was widely acclaimed immediately in USA, France, Germany, Venezuela, and in many other countries later on.  Such news quickly arrived in his rural village where he was born and brought up.  The news brought tears of joy in the eyes of villagers, who had collected his passage money to study in USA, and wanted him to visit them at the earliest possibility.  “The pull to visit my villagers was getting stronger daily.  So I was contemplating and planning to go back to my village in India upon upon completion of my Graduate stud, to help my mother, two younger brothers, and the villagers, but the fate intervened in Fall 1977, when I received a professional job offer with a lucrative salary from the world renowned private Consulting Farm, Brown & Root, Inc., Engineers and Constructors, in Houston, Texas, USA.  I went over the pros and cons on the job offer for several days, discussed it with my professors and friends, and later on, I decided to accept the job offer, and move to Houston, Texas” – Ray asserts.  Upon relocation from Fargo, North Dakota to Houston, Texas, I joined the Brown & Root, Inc. in February 1978, and this was a real turning point in my professional carrier in USA.  Soon my lifestyle began to change for  better, and years continued to roll on”….

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With accumulation of wealth and professional recognitions over the incoming years, the more he enjoyed the good life, the more he became a connoisseur of traveling and writing poems in his spare time, and created more global awareness through his English poems about the environmental pollution, human rights, women empowerment, ocean and outer planets, human trafficking, and poverty eradication, etc.  These recent days, Ray’s reading is as rapacious ever.  “On  regular basis, I keep up with the latest developments of research in environmental technologies, followed by the needs for a sustainable planer, eradication of hunger and poverty, religious harmony, and a cohesive world of peace.“  Ray maintains.


“Dreaming the dreams is a human nature, and I am never an exception to this either.  From my childhood to adulthood, I have been subconsciously driven through dreams to excel in personal life, be creative, and serve the poorest of the poor.  Accumulation of personal wealth and happiness bring a short term joy but may not be able to fulfill each and every crevices of a human cravings, and that’s how I feel myself now., from time to time”, Ray sighs.  Withdrawing to his primary residence, “Milestone”, in Garland, Texas, USA, modeled after the White House Rotunda in Washington, D.C., and replicated by him on a smaller scale, according to his own design, Ray began to explore on his own lifestyle changes, compared to his formative years in India.  Friends abd international visitors often call his residence as “Ray Mahal” (like Taj Mahal), with its exterior tall columns, sprawling flower gardens, split level balconies surrounding the main house and over the driveway, custom made iron railings in the front and back from floor to ceiling level, and accented by the huge iron gates.  Interior decoration includes rare wall paintings, antique furniture, silverwares dining and bedroom suites, his own handmade wall and mantle clocks, and ceilings are adorned by the Swarovski crystal chandeliers.  In spite of his saturation with material things like these, Ray reflects on the issue about how and where he had gone wrong.  He recapitulated his activities during early 1970’s, while working with Mother Teresa, at the Missionaries of Charity.  “I found the spiritual strength within me, in spite of my own physical weakness due to malnutrition from lack of food, and I was truly mesmerized by the verses and inspirations of Mother Teresa.  Her blessings and the implanted thoughts of helping the poorest of the poor, instilled in the back of my mind, still reverberates in my brain, and navigates my life, Ray points out, “so, with aging process, living through sacrifice, my priorities of personal life are changing for the last chapter of years”.


During a recent interview at his residence “Milestone”, in Garland, Texas, USA, this once upon a time “Rakhal Balok” (Cattle Keeper) of Hijalpukur, freely shared his awesome jaw falling tale of formative yearsin India, and wanted to convey his deepest gratitude to his village people who laid the foundation to make himwhat he is today.  He is an ardent follower of ‘Thkur (God) Ramkrishna’s  religious and spiritual philosophy.  The villagers  of Hijalpukur now convey their heartfelt thanks and gratitude to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) for discovering this “HiRay” (Diamond) in the dusts and sands of rural Boralia Road of West Bengal, and allow them to determine  this diamond’s Karat today.  In addition, the same villagers also thank the Department of Civil Engineering at North Dakota State University, Fargo, North Dakota, USA, for providing Ray with NSF Fellowship  to carry out his Graduate study and Analytical Research in Environmental Engineering.


Before conclusion of this epic tale of Hillol Ray, a few words need to be told about Mrs. Ray and two of her other children, Kallol and Chanchal.  Mrs. Ray, now an octogenarian, has struggled very hard since the untimely demise of her husband at the age of only 29 years, and she deserves to be regarded as a role model to all other mothers and the society.  Kallol and Chanchal are now Executive Engineers(Civil), with the Government of West Bengal, India.  So the family foundation built by Mrs. Ray is now on a strong footing, and the hardship of family formative years are now like a fable of the past.  During her spare time from the voluntary social work and public appearance, Mrs. Ray visits her children, grandchildren, friends and relatives in USA and India.


Well, the villagers of Hijalpukur  now beam with pride today on the various achievements of their native son, Hillol Ray, and affectionately call him “Ek Tukro HiRay” (A Piece of Diamond).  With population explosion and modernization of the village of Habra, the street shelters are gone and have been replaced by the overcrowded high rise buildings, but the light post under which Hillol used to study for his future and planned the future of the villagers is still there, well preserved, and it will remain untouched for the millenniums to come.  Each and every villagers of Hijalpukur shed tears of joy when they embrace their very own native son Probashi (Alien) HiRay, when he visits his childhood village, and “HiRay” equally reciprocates the same feelings…

On behalf of all the villagers of Hijalpukur, West Bengal today, I pray to God for the long life, good health, prosperity, and global eminence of our native son, Hillol Ray, the incorruptible sculptor of success from ground zero!!!


Hillol Ray, D.Litt., Ph.D. (Doctor of Humanity), D.Phil. (Theology), Ph.D. (Honoris Causa), D.Phil. (Nigeria), D.Litt. (Morocco), Poet Laureate, Author, Translator, is an Environmental Engineer with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Dallas, Texas. He is listed in Who’s Who in Asian-Americans, Marquis Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Science and Engineering, and Who’s Who in the World.    His books “Wings of Time”, “Metamorphic Portrait” (Amazon. Com) -recently released.


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