• Links to Oral History Sessions: Kapoor, Inder (February 24, 2023)

Description:

Inder Kapoor is a retired scientist and corporate executive who owns and operates a farm in Pennington, New Jersey. Born in 1937, he was educated at Central College of Agriculture at Delhi University, before immigrating to the United States for graduate school. He studied first at University of California, Riverside and then earned his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. In a career at American Cyanamid spanning over twenty-five years, he began in research and then moved over to management as Vice President of Acquisitions and Licensing. Since the 1980s, he has grown a variety of vegetables native to India on his farm and has sold them throughout New York and New Jersey.  The Rutgers Oral History Archives received an operating support grant from the New Jersey Historical Commission, a division of the Department of State. In the 2022-2023 cycle, this grant assisted the ROHA staff in making this oral history available to you for your use.

Dr. Kapoor was born in 1937 to a Sindhi-Hindu family in Multan in what is now Pakistan. He spent his early years in Quetta in Balochistan, located near the border of present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has a brother and two sisters, and his father had children from a previous marriage. He grew up speaking Urdu and went to schools where oral math was emphasized. He recalls of his upbringing, "The Hindus and Muslims were living together intermixed. We used to share each other's festivals, and there was really no difference between the two religions at that time. I think the problems started when the partition business came along, and that wreaked havoc." His father worked for the railway in Quetta.

In 1946, his father was transferred to a position in Delhi. Sensing instability in the region due to tensions between Muslims and Hindus, the family left for India, first living briefly in Ghaziabad and then settling in Delhi. The family's migration at that point proved fortuitous, as the family was not affected by the violence that occurred following the partition of India into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan on August 15, 1947. He remembers having to learn English and Hindi, the languages used in school. He also recalls balking at the custom of signing letters "Yours obediently," a vestige of British colonial rule. "I'm not their servant," he remembers telling his father at the time. "I don't have to sign like that."

All along the way in life, various influential figures played important roles in guiding Dr. Kapoor. His mother, a teacher, earned her bachelor's degree at the age of fifty-five and instilled in her children that education was the key to success in life. In school, there was a teacher who encouraged him to pursue the sciences. "I'm grateful that soul put me on a totally new path," remarked Dr. Kapoor. "That's how I got into science." He attended Central College of Agriculture at Delhi University. During college, he read the works of the renowned entomologist Dr. Robert L. Metcalf, who was a professor and administrator at the University of California, Riverside. He aspired to go to graduate school in the United States and become a student of Dr. Metcalf's. After graduating in 1957, his mother encouraged him to work and save money to go to graduate school in the future, and the prospect of future studies with Dr. Metcalf remained in the back of his mind.

While working in the Indian Ministry of Food and Agriculture, he made some connections with scholars at universities in America, which led to his application and admission to the University of California, Riverside. "Then, I launched the project of how in the world am I going to get enough money to go to the United States," he remembers. It was a daunting prospect, but, primarily, support from his sister and brother-in-law, as well as sponsorship from his father's boss, enabled him to move to America. He studied for one semester and earned an assistantship to pay for graduate school.

At the University of California, Riverside, Dr. Kapoor initially studied with a particular professor who proved to be difficult and eventually threatened his success and wellbeing. One day, he met with the Vice Chancellor for Research of the university to discuss this problematic professor. That Vice Chancellor proved to be affirming and even offered to bring Kapoor with him to the University of Illinois, where he had just been hired. "This professor was Dr. Metcalf from the book that I had read in 1955," describes Dr. Kapoor. "In my case, dreams do come true."

At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Dr. Kapoor studied entomology with Dr. Metcalf, who steered him towards learning chemistry to complement his strengths in biology. Dr. Kapoor's research focused on pesticides and biodegradability. He describes of his research, "We had developed a model ecosystem for studying biodegradability and the fate of pesticides in the environment. That was one, and as part of the study, another study I was doing, what is biodegradable and what is not, and what is essential? What kind of chemical modifications can be made to make a non-biodegradable pesticide into biodegradable? So, you synthesized different analogs [to] see which ones are biodegradable or not, or less toxic and safe in the environment." The program was funded by a grant from the Ford Foundation.

With his Ph.D. in entomology, he began his career as a researcher at American Cyanamid Company, a manufacturing and chemical conglomerate headquartered in New Jersey. Overall, his career at American Cyanamid spanned almost three decades. Initially, he conducted research exploring the degradation of herbicides in animals and the environment, work in which his expertise in chemistry was essential. Later, he was promoted to manage a group discovering new molecules. Eventually, he went into marketing and became Vice President of Acquisition and Licensing.

Dr. Kapoor and his wife, who was born in Mumbai, settled in Pennington and raised their two children. They bought a twenty-acre farm on Pennington-Titusville Road and began farming as a hobby. "I had really no plans to do farming, even though my scientific background was agriculture." He describes growing crops new to the Garden State, "[In] the 1980s, most people didn't know how to grow Indian vegetables in the United States. We were kind of pioneers in figuring out how to grow them here, and we used to supply Indian vegetables to many stores in New York City." On the farm, they began growing karela, methi, luffa squash, chili peppers, and ornamental plants such as jasmine. "With my scientific background, I knew that Indian vegetables need warm temperatures. How do you make earth warm?" He figured, "Put plastic mulch on it, so that the black mulch is going to make the soil hot." He sold the vegetables to stores in the region, arranging for twice-weekly shipments.

A formative moment in Dr. Kapoor's life occurred when he was looking for a sponsor so that he could immigrate to the United States, and his father's boss agreed to help him. "For me, a guy helping me who had no reason whatsoever to help me became my guiding light in life to help as many people as I can," he explains about the impact this made on him. Dr. Kapoor has consistently tried to give back to help those around him, especially young professionals and family members. At American Cyanamid, he encouraged people who worked for him to continue their educations so that they could achieve their professional goals. "If I hadn't gone to school, where would I have been?" he proclaims. "I worked eight years in India before I went back to school, so I never gave up the idea of going to school. If I could do it, others could do it, too. Education is the key to success in life." He enabled his brother to migrate to the United States, where studied journalism in graduate school and became a professor at Illinois State University. Additionally, Dr. Kapoor facilitated the immigration process for his nephew, the son of his sister and brother-in-law, who had paid for his move to America years earlier. His own children have grown to adulthood following their dreams as well. "Help as many people as you can because you have one life to live, you'll be happy. It'll bring you more happiness than you can think."