The Man Behind Elizabeth Taylor's Smileby NEHA SINGH GOHIL
When Dr. Amarjit Singh Marwah first set foot on American soil, Dwight Eisenhower was President, Elvis hadn't yet hit the radio waves, segregation was still a part of everyday life in the U.S.A., and Lucy and Ricky represented the quintessential American couple.
Back in 1950, it took Dr. Marwah a month to get here on a ship from India. And when he reached the crowded New York City port, he was quite alone.
He had arrived on a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation as a dentist. Having lived through the harrowing experience of Partition as a young man just a few years before, Dr. Marwah was looking for a way to get the top-notch education unavailable at home and make a new start.
Over the next few years, his work took him from New York City to Illinois to Washington D.C., and finally to Southern California, where he now lives with his wife.
Proudly wearing a turban, Dr. Marwah was one of the first Sikhs to arrive in the United States from independent India. There was one gentleman at the United Nations, he says, and of course, the Sikhs who had arrived at the turn of the century in Central California. But that was pretty much it.
Since then, over the last sixty-odd years, Dr. Marwah has watched the Sikh-American community boom, and has done his part to help it along.
He was there when the first Sikh/Indian/Asian - Judge Dalip Singh Saund - was elected to the United States Congress in 1957.
"That was a tough fight", Dr. Marwah remembers. "Nobody knew that he was Indian, because he was a clean-shaven Sikh married to a white woman, and he could pass as an 'average' American".
That's why Dr. Marwah, who was his manager, never appeared in public beside the candidate. The two waited until the day Judge Saund won the election. That is when Dr. Marwah took him to the steps of the Capitol building in Washington and introduced him to the press and the public as Dr. Dalip Singh Saund.
Another famous Sikh-American - probably the first Sikh who could really be called an American - counted Dr. Marwah as a close friend.
Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind, an Indian physician, arrived in the United States during World War I and became the first turbaned Sikh in the United States Army.
"He's the only one that I remember from that era who was able to keep his articles of faith", says Dr. Marwah, referring to Dr. Thind's turban and beard, unusual even for Sikhs at the time.
Though Dr. Thind had joined and served with the army as a doctor during World War I, he was denied American citizenship until 1935, when Congress passed a law requiring that all World War I veterans be awarded citizenship. "The disparities at that time were great", says Dr. Marwah. No Indian immigrants in the United States before 1947 had ever received even a green card, let alone a U.S. passport.
But Dr. Marwah didn't merely know the prominent Sikhs of his time: his patient list included the Beverly Hills A-list.
It included Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, and stars ranging from Elizabeth Taylor to Gregory Peck.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Marwah became known as the man behind some of Hollywood's brightest smiles.
Mrs. Gregory Peck, Dr. Marwah says, was always a close friend. A few months ago, when he called her to say that Dev Anand was in town and was a great fan of her husband's, she came along to a dinner hosted by Dr. Marwah in Mr. Anand's honor.
"She was very jovial and very nice - 96 years old, but still walking around, talking to everyone, and getting her photograph taken". She passed away just a few weeks later, but that is the image Dr. Marwah remembers of her most vividly.
Despite his ties to the glitterati of Hollywood, Dr. Marwah's commitment to the Sikh community and his homeland have always held strong.
His family has maintained their religious and cultural traditions. So much so that when he sent his three daughters to study at a private Catholic school in Los Angeles in 1962, Dr. Marwah made sure that they would be allowed to wear Indian clothes to school instead of the traditional school uniform. "The dean said no at first", Dr. Marwah remembers. "But they graduated from high school in their own dress".
Even now, when he's lived more of his life in the United States than India, Dr. Marwah considers it his duty to give back. "I owe it to my people and my country, who gave me the basics in life".
That is what motivates him to build schools and roads in his hometown of Faridkot, Punjab. Because of his constant involvement with his homeland, Dr. Marwah has long been a goodwill ambassador of India back in the United States.
And to give others like himself a chance in this foreign country, Dr. Marwah hosts annual lunches for Indian Fulbright students and Indian officials in California.
What would Dr. Marwah tell those among them who might ask him how he came to embody the American dream?
"I was very lucky", he would say in his trademark humility. "I looked like a stranger, but I was accepted by everyone".
March 3, 2008
Conversation about this article
1: Satvir Kaur (Boston, U.S.A.), March 05, 2008, 8:26 AM.
I wish more of us knew about these people and their accomplishments. I only came to know of Sardar Bhagat Singh Thind some time back. This could instill pride in people, and help those who are hesitant of wearing the dastaar. Thanks for the article!
2: Gurmail Singh Brar (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), March 07, 2008, 1:56 AM.
I read the article. It makes me want to know more about our pioneers. I feel proud to be a Sikh. Sardar Marwah, keep up your mission. God bless you. Thanks for the article.
3: I.J. Singh (New York, U.S.A.), March 08, 2008, 6:30 PM.
Neha, for over a century, despite a discriminatory society with unequal laws, Sikhs have made history ... and Dr. Amarjit Singh Marwah is one of them. We need to acknowledge where they have been, what they have endured, and how far they have brought us into the mainstream of this society. Thank you for your presentation.
4: Kamal Inderpal Singh Marwah (Faridkot, Punjab), April 03, 2012, 1:33 AM.
I feel proud to be a family member of Dr. Amarjit Singh. His commitments to his family also have been strong. He has been our pillar of strength and support. May God bless him with a long and healthy life.
5: Harcharan Singh Vohra (New Delhi, India), April 10, 2012, 9:10 AM.
Proud of Dr. Amarjit singh ji, a close friend of my father, late Sardar Balwant Singh of Lahore, Punjab. I was born in the home of Dr. Chanda Singh Marwah at Kotkapura, Faridkot, Punjab, during the Partition riots in 1947. My family and i are indebted to Dr. Chanda Singh and his family, including Dr. Amarjit Singh. They provided shelter and food to a number of refugees from Lahore and other parts of West Punjab. May God give him the best of health and a long life to serve the humanity, just life his father.
6: Sukhmani Singh (United States), February 19, 2013, 1:22 PM.
Dr. Amarjit Singh Marwah is one of the most generous, caring and affectionate persons I have met in my life. His humility and simplicity, despite his tall achievements, are a great inspiration for youngsters like me. I feel lucky to have personally known him and his wife.
7: Dr. Manpreet Kaur Anand (Ludhiana, Punjab), July 10, 2013, 12:58 PM.
We are very proud of Dr. Amarjit Singh Marwah and true Sikhs like him who serve humanity without any bias of color, race or nationality, in the true spirit and ideals of our great faith.
8: Sanjay Suhag (Augusta, Georgia, USA), November 23, 2013, 11:45 PM.
Dr. Amarjit Singh is a wonderful person. I feel blessed that I had once stayed with him and spent time with him a decade ago.
9: Inderpreet Singh (Gurdaspur , Punjab), June 03, 2015, 1:47 AM.
I feel proud to read this article about Sardar Amarjit Singh ji. Waheguru has blessed him with chardi kalaa and long life. I am grandson of Diwaan Kaur, his sister. Now I work as Asst. Prof. at Guru Tegh Bahadar Khalsa College, Dasuya District, Hoshiarpur, Punjab.
10: Surjit Singh Bhagat (Ludhiana, Punjab), July 21, 2015, 6:30 AM.
I'm very proud of Dr. Amarjit Singh as a Ludhianvi because his forefathers were from the Village Daad, District Ludhiana. He is a true ambassador of Punjab.