Fowler staffer Laura Mills stands with Radha Jalan in front of the art exhibition at the Fowler Branch Library.
Fowler staffer Laura Mills stands with Radha Jalan in front of the art exhibition at the Fowler Branch Library.

Building Bridges with Radha Jalan at Fowler Library

By Andi Graceson - Library Innovation and Communications Specialist

Both branches of the Concord Free Public Library (CFPL) will be closed for the holidays Sunday, December 25, Monday, December 26, Sunday, January 1, 2023 and Monday, January 2, 2023. Both branches will close early at 1 p.m. on Saturday, December 24.

As an employee at the CFPL whose office is housed in the Main Library in Concord Center, I always yearn for more opportunities to visit the amazing Fowler Branch Library in the heart of West Concord. So, I was thrilled to receive the invitation to visit Fowler last Tuesday to attend one of the first “Fowler After Hours” programs, this one featuring a conversation with long-time Concord resident, community activist, entrepreneur, and author Radha Jalan.

Born in India, Jalan recently published her memoir From Calcutta to Concord: The Journey of an Independent Woman and discussed her challenges and achievements throughout her life with Fowler Branch Library staffer Laura Mills, in front of a packed room. Jalan received her Master’s degree in Hindi language and literature from University of Calcutta and her Ph.D in Education from the University of Florida, Gainesville, where her husband was getting his Ph.D in chemical engineering.

Tragically, Jalan’s husband died suddenly and prematurely while the couple was living in Concord and raising two daughters. Jalan ended up taking over her husband’s fuel cell company, ElectroChem, and worked very hard to provide for her daughters. However, one thing remained constant throughout Jalan’s life, from her early education to the death of her husband to writing her memoir: bridging divides between people and community activism.

Jalan joked during the conversation that the first suspension bridge built in India — in Calcutta  -— and the Concord Bridge are the two most important bridges of her life; both adorn the cover of her memoir. Of course, these bridges visually represent everything that Jalan does. “Feeling like you belong is such a basic need for human beings,” Jalan told the room as she spoke about the Kabila group she formed for single women – primarily of Indian descent – after her husband passed. By gathering together people who are not related, over time, Jalan found that “my friends in my kabila group are my family.”

Jalan also spoke to how early community service was introduced to her, with the quote “no virtue is equal to helping others” adorning the wall of her school in Sanskrit. Jalan took that message to heart, building bridges for mill workers in India by teaching them literacy skills, continuing her community work in both India and the United States, and presenting herself at various conferences for her business as a strong, independent Indian woman, often wearing a sari.

With all the bridges Jalan has built, she said one thing really mattered to her: “I wanted people to accept me for who I am.” Ending on that note, there was a lively conversation between Jalan, Laura, and the audience, about staying true to one’s culture and self, and educating others about one’s culture – tools effective in bridging gaps between people, resources, and communities.From Calcutta to Concord: The Journey of an Independent Woman was published in 2022 and is available at the CFPL For more information about Jalan and her journey, the CFPL Special Collections houses an oral history with Jalan from 2011.

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