Tak, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel, was among eight Indian American women honored.
Prominent Indian American fundraiser and art collector Mahinder Tak was presented with the American Bazaar Women Leader of the Year award for her contributions to the community in politics, art and culture.
The award was presented at the American Bazaar Women Entrepreneurs and Leaders Gala, held at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, MD, on November 16.
Tak, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel, was one of the eight women honored at the event, which was attended by dozens of Indian American women entrepreneurs and leaders from the Washington, DC, area and around the country.
“It’s a very humbling experience to accept this award in front of so many prominent Indian American women entrepreneurs and leaders here,” she said in her acceptance speech.
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One of the first Indian American women to serve in the United States military, the radiation oncologist is also among the first Indian American women fundraisers to make a mark nationally. As a donor and fundraiser, she has supported and mentored a generation of Indian American politicians and elected officials. Even though she is a Democrat, Tak has raised money for Indian American Republicans as well.
“She has raised money for literally every Indian American member of Congress,” said Gautam Raghavan, a former Obama White House official and Executive Director of the Indian American Impact Fund, who introduced Tak.
She has raised money for, among other candidates and officeholders, Indian American members of Congress Ami Bera, D-CA, Ro Khanna, D-CA, and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-IL; former Republican governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal; and former South Carolina governor and the current US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, another Republican.
Among national leaders, she has raised money for former President Barack Obama, former Democratic Party presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Sen. John Kerry, and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Tak has hosted multiple fundraisers at her house for Clinton, beginning in the 1990s, when Clinton was a first lady.
In 2016, she served in the finance committee of the Clinton campaign. In the 2008 presidential election, she was a co-chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Indo-American Council.
Pointing out that more than a hundred Indian Americans have run for various federal, statewide, and local offices in the just concluded election cycle, Tak, in her speech, compared the community’s “current riches with the struggles of the past.”
Tak said that 30 years ago Indian Americans had no national political presence in the country. “Now we are talking of an Indian American woman or two running for the highest office of the land,” she said, alluding to the much-talked about presidential aspirations of Sen. Kamala Harris and Haley, who is leaving the administration later this year.
“Friends, we have traveled quite a lot of distance!” she said. “I am proud to have been part of this journey.”
Tak also spoke about the political successes of Indian American women. “Now, all the women in this audience will appreciate this: when the Washington State legislature meets next, it will have three Indian American women: two in the Senate and one in the House,” she said. “Isn’t that amazing?”
She said the community should be “thankful to all the candidates who have left their comfort zones and ran for offices, subjecting themselves to grueling scrutiny, all the thousands of volunteers who have worked hard to elect their candidates of choice” and “contributors who made sure that candidates had the resources to be competitive.”
Tak exhorted Indian Americans to “continue to work hard to make sure that election cycles like the current one are the norms, not exceptions.”
While introducing Tak, Raghan also highlighted Tak’s Army career.
“Mahinder is a retired US Army colonel, and not only did she serve our country with incredible distinction and courage, she mentored an entire generation of young women of color who followed her footsteps,” he said. “Just imagine that: to be a US Army colonel in an institution that is traditionally so white and male and conservative and to leave and to mentor and to inspire so many young women to follow her footsteps — that, to me, is one of the most striking things about Dr. Tak.”
Describing Tak as one of the “pre-eminent collectors of Indian art in this country,” Raghavan said, “If you have had a chance to hear her talk about her art, you will know that she knows, for every single piece [of art], what it means, where it came from, who the artist is, and why she has it in her collection. She does it with such passion and love.”
Tak, who frequently lends selections from her collection to museums and cultural centers, also spoke about her interest in art collection. “[While] I see my engagement in politics as an obligation and a duty to our community and to this country, [my] interest in Indian art and culture was something I developed over the years,” she said. “What started as a curiosity is now a passion and obsession.”
The March 2006 issue of the Art and Antiques magazine named her one of the top 100 collectors of art in America.
She has also served for many years on the Board of Trustees of the National Museum of Women in Arts, where she was instrumental in developing the Museum’s outreach committee in India.
She said that through her involvement in the field, she was fortunate enough to be part of several “iconic American cultural institutions,” such as the National Museum of Women in Arts, and a number of events such as “Beyond Bollywood,” hosted by the Smithsonian Institute, and “Maximum India,” curated by the Kennedy Center and Beyond Bollywood.
“This involvement has also given me an opportunity to interact and work closely with some of India’s most legendary artists and cultural leaders, including the late MF Hussain,” she said.
Tak and her husband, well-known Washington area technology entrepreneur Sharad Tak, are also active in philanthropy. They have supported numerous causes and organizations both in the United States and India, especially in the areas of art, and girl’s education and healthcare in India.
Tak came to the United States in 1974 to do a residency in radiation oncology and enlisted in the Army upon its completion. She served, both in active duty and as a reserve, for several years, and attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.
The American Bazaar Women Entrepreneurs and Leaders Gala also honored seven other Indian American women leaders in diverse fields, ranging from politics and business to civil rights activism and astrophysics.
The other honorees were renowned immigration lawyer Sheela Murthy; Vice Chairwoman of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) Jagruti Panwala; NASA astrophysicist Madhulika Guhathakurta; Maryland Del. Aruna Miller; Manisha Gaekwad, the co-founder of CFO of NDS Global, based in Ocala, Florida; Ann Ramakumaran, Founder and CEO of the Chantilly, VA, -based tech company Ampcus, Inc; and Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of the racial justice and civil rights group South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT).