Five Famous Indian and Pakistani Houstonians

Categories: Texas

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India and Pakistan are 64 years old this week.
Dust off your South Asian flags, because this week we celebrate India's (August 15) and Pakistan's (August 14) Independence Days. Sixty-four years ago, India freed itself from the Brits and split itself into two countries. Luckily many crossed the hemispheres all the way to Houston, making us indebted to the subcontinent for everything from space shuttle martyrs to bikini-clad medalists. Here are five famous Indians and Pakistanis who have made Houston their home:

Mariyah Moten
5. Mariyah Moten
When Karachi-raised Mariyah Moten entered a beauty pageant in 2006 wearing a bikini, her homeland was not pleased. Moten repped Pakistan in China's "Miss Bikini of the Universe" pageant (apparently a thing) and by doing so infuriated officials back home, who believed that a nice Muslim girl doesn't represent her country in a bright red bikini. It was the first time Pakistan entered the contest. According to Britain's Daily Mail, Pakistani authorities denounced her claim of being Pakistani:
"We have asked our missions in Washington and Beijing to investigate this because it is against our policy, culture and religion," senior Culture Ministry official Abdul Hafeez Chaudhry said.

In an interview with DesiClub, Moten stood by her participation. "It's always hard to accept changes but with time people learn to accept them," she said. "I hope that this will allow people to see the different types of beauty Pakistan holds within it." The firebrand model has since graduated from University of Houston with a degree in hotel management.

Renu Khator
4. Renu Khator
Renu Khator, the president of UH since 2008, is the first foreign-born head of the school and the second woman. Nationwide, she's the first Indian-American to lead a major research university in the U.S.

But when she lived in India as a young woman, she didn't even want to leave her homeland of Uttar Pradesh. At age 18, according to her biography, Khator's parents arranged a marriage for her to an Indian living in America. She went on a ten-day hunger strike in protest. Eventually she moved to America, began to learn English and fell in love with her husband. Khator went on to get her PhD in political science/public administration. After 22 years as the provost at University of South Florida, Khator became UH's thirteenth president.

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Kalpana Chawla
3. Kalpana Chawla
When she left her North Indian hometown of Haryana in 1982, Kalpana Chawla didn't know she was headed for the history books. The aerospace engineer got her master's degree from University of Texas at Arlington, then got a second master's and PhD at University of Colorado at Boulder. (Feeling underaccomplished yet?)

She joined NASA, and became the first Indian-born woman and second Indian ever to fly in space. Chawla's third flight into space ended in tragedy. In 2003, space shuttle Columbia exploded over Texas as it returned home. Every crew member died.

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