Teji Sahni at the celebration of the founding of The International Club of Atlanta 25 years ago.

The National Academy of Administration is nestled in the lush green hills of Mussoorie at the foothills of the Himalayan mountains in India. It is here where the country’s top-flight civil servants are trained to serve their government around the world.

Fifty years ago, what was called the “1966 batch” included a number of members who became senior officials in the Indian government with illustrious careers. Among them were C.H. Chaturvedi, former Cabinet secretary, Deepak Chatterjee, former commerce secretary; N. Gopalaswami, former chief election commissioner Bhupatray Shashank Shashank, former foreign secretary, and C.M. Vasudev, former finance secretary.

Earlier this year, the government of India hosted a “Golden Jubilee” reunion for the “1966 batch” including many former chief secretaries of India’s different states, to share their experiences and advice with this year’s batch of civil servant entrants.

While others traveled from their homes in India and elsewhere, Teji Sahni was the only member of the “batch” to attend from the United States. Before departing from Atlanta, he prepared an essay that he opened with his recollections of the “orgies” the group had experienced during their youthful trainee days.

Quite obviously, these were not the orgies associated with unrestrained behavior, but orgies focused on bridge, the card game that they played incessantly between their training tracks. Bridge became almost mandatory, Mr. Sahni told Global Atlanta.

The club’s 25th anniversary was held at the Georgian Terrace Hotel.

Besides his essay, he took along what he considers his most prized possession, a book titled The International Club of Atlanta. It was given to him by the club‘s grateful members for his having brought it to life in 1991 as well as for his role in bringing them together, and for encouraging the club’s many activities.

The book was presented to him during a 25th anniversary celebration held in April at the Georgian Terrace Hotel. It is filled with praise for the friendship that he engendered among the members who have often traveled together and participated in discussion groups, books clubs, hiking trips and foreign adventures.

Reunited with the “batch,” he proudly shared with them the book and the many friendships that he has developed through the club, telling them that if he was at home and his house caught on fire, the book is the first object that he would reach for while escaping the blaze.

In keeping with their training, he also prepared a paper for his batch-mates describing how India’s official government offices overseas can assist owners of small- and medium-sized firms in India  to enter export markets.

The club’s launch occurred during a propitious time for Atlanta, which in the early 1990s learned that it had been selected to host the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. At the time Atlanta’s selection as host of a worldwide event raised many questions concerning the International Olympic Committee‘s judgement and its decision was considered by many to be an overreach by the city.

A record of appreciation for the ICA's 25 years
A record of appreciation for the ICA’s 25 years

But Mr. Sahni seized the day recognizing the city’s need for a venue that would provide residents with international experience the opportunity to socialize and, in his words, “culturally enrich each other.”

Andrew Young, the former mayor of Atlanta who served in the city post after having left the United Nations where he had been the U.S. ambassador, agreed to join the founding executive committee to help launch the club, which soon attracted about 40 members.

Timing is everything, and as Atlanta – essentially at the time a provincial regional center despite its legacy as the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr. – prepared for the Olympics, it needed all the help it could get.

Mr. Sahni sensed the opportunity to play an important role in raising the city’s profile internationally. He had first arrived in Atlanta in 1985 as the president and executive director of the Indian government’s Jute Manufacturers Development Council.

In this capacity, he was focused on the U.S. carpet industry. He quickly realized that its manufacturing center was based in Dalton, Ga., and he managed to convince his government to allow him to move to Atlanta with his family while maintaining its trade promotion office in New York.

Club members visited the Taj Mahal together
Club members visited the Taj Mahal together

With the establishment of the The International Club of Atlanta, he had a platform from which he could work to raise the city’s profile as a cosmopolitan center.

In addition to the social events such as the bridge games and ethnic dining parties, its discussion group evenings included leaders from throughout the city’s institutions such as the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, distinguished academics and professionals, members of the local consular community and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.

Even Gov. Zell Miller got into the act when he invited the club’s members to attend a reception at the Governor’s Mansion in Buckhead.

In the meantime, the club was in full swing as it hosted social events with a string of parties that each time spotlighted the culture of a selected country including an Indian wedding, a Caribbean carnival with a steel band, an Oktoberfest with a Bavarian band, waltzing in Vienna, dancing to the rhythms of African drums, an evening of Brazilian sambas, a British evening dancing with ribbons around the Maypole, a Scandinavian smorgasbord and a mid-summer night festivities at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens.

Club members visited the Hindu temple in Lilburn.
Club members visited the Hindu temple in Lilburn.

Dorothy Toth Beasley, who at the time was chief judge of the Court of Appeal of Georgia,, recalls vividly the Indian wedding party where she was mesmerized by the dancers, and Indian feast. The event was so well received that Jacqueline Celeste, wife of Richard Celeste, the former governor of Ohio and ambassador to India, helped Mr. Sahni arrange at a later date another banquet featuring the latest sari fashions.

More important for the judge than even the evening spectacles, however, are her recollections of the friendship that she developed with the Indian ambassador, Siddhartha Shankar Ray and his wife, Maya, both barristers, who traveled from Washington to attend the event at the invitation of Mr. Sahni.

Mr. Sahni wisely placed her at dinner next to the ambassador, with whom she talked about India’s precolonial legal systems. “I was fascinated,” she told Global Atlanta, marking the beginning of a professional and friendly relationship that she calls “a highlight of my life.”

The Turkish gala where models wore Ottoman dress.
The Turkish gala where models wore Ottoman dress.

The ambassador was famous as a protege of Indira Gandhi, the only child of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. She served as prime minister from 1966-77 and then again from 1980 until her assassination in 1984. After the party, Ambassador Ray and Mrs. Ray invited Ms. Beasley to their suite so she could look through the leather-bound copy of India’s ancient Laws of Manu, about which he had spoken in his dinner address. It was a volume he had had rebound at the request of Mrs. Gandhi.

With her curiosity about India kindled from her encounter with the ambassador, she bid on an Air India and Oberoi Hotels package that was an auction item. She kept circling the auction items to keep an eye on the package and kept raising the ante by $50 until she was assured of winning.

But once she had the prize in hand, she could only ask herself, “What am I going to do with this?” she recalled, aware of her many obligations as a judge, which would force her to keep extending the prize’s validity.

That evening, however, only marked the beginning of her relationship with the Rays. Before long the ambassador called on her to attend an elaborate Indian party he and Mrs. Ray were hosting at the ambassador’s official residence in Washington at which U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist would be a special guest. The ambassador asked her to help him keep Mr. Rehnquist politely occupied that evening, since his wife had recently died, and then stay over for a visit with the Rays.

She finally did get to India on her auction winning and, while there, spent part of her time as a guest of the Rays, who invited her to their residences in Delhi and Calcutta. She was dazzled by Delhi but also enjoyed perusing Mr. Ray’s many generations’ law library. It was in the English style of books from floor to ceiling, with a rolling ladder, and it dated back to his family’s days representing the East India Company.

Most memorable, she said, was a trip that Mrs. Ray had arranged for her to visit the Mother House where Mother Teresa had worked in Calcutta.

Andy Young
Andrew Young with Mr. and Mrs. R.K. Sehgal at the opening banquet.

Teji arranged my trip to include stays with the Rays in Delhi and their permanent home in Calcutta, visits with his family in Delhi and Mumbai…it was the most magical trip of my life, for which I am grateful to Teji,” she says in the book. “And so I owe to him my love of India and my fascination with its history and culture and my friendship with people in India.”

Mr. Sahni’s behind the scenes role also came vividly into play when members of the International Olympic Committee came to Atlanta as it was evaluating the city’s prospects as an Olympic venue.

Two members of the committee were from India, including a member of the erstwhile famous ruling Sikh family from Patiala part of the Punjab region. Maharaja Bhupinder Singh, who ruled from 1891-1938 is a legendary figure who is considered the origin of the “Patiala Peg,” roughly the amount of liquor needed to fill a glass equal to the height between the index and little fingers when they are held parallel to one another.

His descendant Raja Bhalendra Singh, the second oldest member of the IOC and the senior most member of the delegation that visited to evaluate Atlanta as a site for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, was hosted by then-Mayor Andrew Young at a special dinner held at City Hall.

He later surprised the Sahnis by announcing that he loved to cook – certainly an oddity for a maharaja – and even prepared a special fish according to a traditional recipe from the maharaja’s kitchen for a formal dinner they hosted for the visitors. His son Randhir Singh, a former member of India’s rifle team replaced his father on the IOC and attended the Games in his stead.

While the club played an important role during the early 1990s in hosting officials and doing what it could to assure Atlanta’s selection as the Olympic venue, its role has mainly been to support its members with activities that draw on their experiences and interests.

For instance, Anne and Jerry Godsey returned to Atlanta after having been stationed abroad with the intention of moving to Florida. “Although we had lived in Atlanta twice before, in the late 1960s and late 1970s, we had never considered Atlanta as being an international city and had planned to retire in Florida,” they say in their tribute to Mr. Sahni.

But it was through the friendships that they made through the club that helped them to decide to retire in Atlanta. “…we found the group to be welcoming, diverse in its membership, intellectually stimulating and interested in travel and the world around them,” they add. “Becoming members of the ICA helped to influence our decision to retire in Atlanta rather than move to Florida.”

Nor are they alone in their appreciation of the important role that the club has played in their lives.

Each member of the club has memories they relish. While Mr. Sahni remains enthusiastic about the India events, he is no less so about the event where the club hosted the Turkish ambassador from Washington and featured a pageant of Ottoman fashions and another gala when Australian wines were presented and the Australian ambassador attended.

Throughout his career he has made a point of cultivating his friendships dating back to his school days and addressing common concerns. For instance, when he was at the Mussoorie reunion, he and his companions addressed ways of maintaining ethical behavior and rooting out corruption in India’s extensive bureaucracies.

Mr. Sahni recalled that he and his wife, Anita, came to the United States in 1972 when he was assigned to the Indian embassy in Washington. To explore the country, they traveled by Greyhound bus from New York to San Francisco where they stayed with Mr. Sahni’s friend and former 1966 batch member Ranendra “Ronen” Sen, who then was a consular officer there.

Mr. Sen eventually became India’s ambassador to the United States from 2004-09, and played an important part in the landmark U.S.-India nuclear deal.

Nancy Hollister, the club’s current president, emphasized during an interview with Global Atlanta, the importance of developing such relationships. A world traveler, who has visited 128 countries so far, Ms. Hollister draws upon the acquaintances and knowledge of club members before setting out.

In support of the club, she and her executive committee have launched a website and currently she is exploring ways to include younger members, who would be interested in learning from the global experience of its more than 150 members and developing the sorts of relationships that the club offers.