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Tribute: Police Officer Paramhans Desai

By Viren Mayani Email By Viren Mayani
May 2022
Tribute: Police Officer Paramhans Desai

Killed in the line of duty, his death was tragic—but his life was upstanding and inspiring. A tough childhood, when he was often bullied, along with a deep sense of wanting to give back to the country that had given him everything, laid the foundation of an unshakable calling to serve in law enforcement.

Paramhans Desai was not one to follow the flock. While most Indian-Americans choose entrepreneurship or professional careers in pursuit of wealth and prestige, Desai fought tooth and nail to become a police officer. “He didn’t do it out of desperation or because he was not capable of doing anything else,” says Desai’s sister, Divya.

“I can’t begin to describe everything this country has given me and my family ever since I came here as an immigrant at the age of six. I owe my life to the U.S.A. We often forget the greatness of this country because we are, for the most part, comfortable. But I remind my son, the way my father reminded me, that this comfort was brought to us by people who gave their lives. I am forever in debt to those who gave everything, and I will die honoring them,” Desai wrote in his police application.

Much of Desai’s passion for law enforcement also comes from having a tough childhood. “The hardship began as soon as we landed,” says Divya referring to the time they emigrated to the U.S. in 1991, landing in Ohio. Within just a few weeks of staying with a host family whose support they were counting on, they were asked to move out and fend for themselves.

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The huge turnout of the police fraternity at Officer Desai’s funeral speaks of his popularity.

Paramhans was only six years old at the time, and Divya was just a couple of years older. Their parents couldn’t communicate in English. They ended up taking jobs in a factory for $4 an hour. They had to leave at five in the morning, leaving both the kids by themselves. “Param and I were alone and scared. But we had each other. We persevered and stood our ground on days when we could and succumbed on days when we couldn’t,” reminisces Divya. “To say our childhood was tough is an understatement. There were days when we went without food all day, or just ate plain bread when there was nothing else. We wore nothing but second-hand clothes from the Goodwill store.”

The kids were routinely bullied in school for being different and for having less. “We were the only two brown kids in school back in those days in Ohio. We were always bullied. I know that was a big drive in him (and in me). We didn’t like being picked on. He went into law enforcement because I think he was looking for power—the power to make things right,” offers Divya. “It’s ironic that the very pain that broke him down every day as a child, built him up to become a hero as a man,” observed Divya in a speech at Desai’s funeral.

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These formative experiences instilled in Desai a penchant for discipline and strength. Not only had he chosen, from an early age, to become a police officer, but he had also developed his mind, body, and spirit for it. Thanks to his exceptional fitness, Desai became a correctional officer at the young age of 19. His goal was always to become a police officer, but his parents would have none of it. It took him many more years to convince them. They finally relented when they saw that it was indeed a deep calling for him. Desai finally joined the police academy at age 36, after choosing one of the most rigorous training programs available in Georgia.

[Top] From happier times: Desai, with his wife Ankita and sons Om and Namah.

The fateful day

November 4, 2021 was the auspicious day of Diwali, the “Festival of Lights.” All through the day, the Desai family was in good spirits exchanging Diwali greetings over phone calls and WhatsApp groups. Just before returning to his shift in the evening, Desai, as was typical, had wonderful light moments of banter with his wife, Ankita. The couple also had a phone call with Divya to discuss the plans for the upcoming Bhai Beej. They were all excited and looking forward to meeting as a family for this festive occasion.

Officer Desai left home at 5:55 p.m. to start his shift. Within hardly 20 minutes of that, a team of four to five officers from the Henry County Police Department knocked on the door. The news they brought suddenly turned Diwali very dark for the Desai family. Officer Desai was shot at close range while responding to a domestic violence call not too far from his own home. The officers escorted Ankita and the kids to Grady Memorial Hospital, where Desai was admitted. Tragically, Desai remained on life support until succumbing to his wounds on November 8.

Loved and honored by the police fraternity

“I don’t cry much but the night that I found out [about Officer Desai], I cried so hard on my wife’s shoulder,” wrote Matt Davis, Desai’s Field Training Officer, to Divya.

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“Desai was one of my first friends at the police department. He helped me with my first arrest. He was one of the best guys I’ve ever met in my life,” remarked Justin Franklin, a fellow officer from the Henry County police department.

[Left] Desai, with sister Divya. 

“We were like brothers, arguing about finance, politics, and fitness. Your brother’s heart was a giant amongst mortals. He was a problem solver. When he spoke of his wife and boys, it made me love my family even harder,” wrote Adam, a correctional officer who worked with Desai for about eight years at Clayton County prison.

 Officer Desai’s funeral saw a procession of 300 police cars. Later, on March 19, a massive parade with over 500 motorbikes was held in McDonough, GA in his honor.

Even after months of his passing, Ankita continues to get visits from fellow officers in the department. They offer help in any way they can. Ankita and the kids continue to get invited to social events at the police department.

A disciplined and loving family man

Tribute_6_05_22.jpgDesai had a disciplined daily routine: wake up at 3 a.m., work out for a couple of hours, and catch up on the administrative part of his work on his computer. With fitness being a top priority, he also managed to get in a run in the evenings. “I remember the day after his second son, Namah, was born. As soon as Param ascertained that his beautiful wife, Ankita, and the newborn were good, he asked the nurse if he could take off for his evening run,” remembers Divya.

Ankita loved to wake up early in the morning to spend time with her beloved husband. “I liked to spend every minute with him. In those one-and-half hours, we used to share all the small details that were left behind in our busy schedules,” she says. “It is really very hard now because my life revolved around him. We loved and respected each other so much. Definitely, the kids were the most important part in our lives,” she adds. “Param wore his heart on his sleeve, and he loved Ankita and his two boys, Om and Namah, deeply, profoundly,” adds Divya.

“Even though he was busy with his schedule, we used to talk all day long like friends. After work, he used to play football and frisbee with the boys, take them running, and do push-ups with them. Only after that, we’d have our dinner and sit a little bit together—that was our routine. He went to sleep by 7.30 pm on most days,” Ankita remembers fondly.

Desai lives on in his home through the memorial dedicated to him

Speaking of Ankita’s pain of losing her husband, Divya says, “Ankita is a soldier’s wife. It’s definitely not easy. I can see her emptiness, but what keeps her going is the sacrifice he made for his family and his community.” Ankita adds, “If he can do so much, then I have to learn to live for my boys. I have to give them a better future so that they can make their father proud.”

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Ankita is determined to keep her husband’s memories alive. She has created a memorial in their house—a collection of all the mementos associated with Desai: his official police department picture, his commemoration certificate, the letter they received from the White House on his being killed in the line of duty, his many other honors, family portraits, and much more. Thanks to Ankita’s pride for her husband, every little article of his gets framed, every part of her house symbolizes him. She says proudly and affectionately, “He may be dead for the world, but he’s not dead for us. He will live on with us till our last breath.”

Meant to be a police officer

Ankita and Divya have been endlessly anguished with questions like “Why him?” and “Why did we not stop him from the dangerous job of being a police officer?” But of course, they soon realize that if they would have stopped him, he would never have been happy. Serving in law enforcement was not just a preference or a phase for Desai. It was a deep calling. It’s not that he was unaware of the risks or that he was fearless. As Divya pointed out during her brother’s funeral, Desai was a perfect example of what President Franklin D Roosevelt meant when he said, “Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” For him, Divya said, protecting others was more important than fear. And so, when the anguish of his tragic and untimely demise threatens to overcome them, Divya and Ankita take solace in Desai’s own words, written in his police application: “I am forever in debt to those who gave everything, and I will die honoring them.”

Serving in law-enforcement was a deep calling for Desai


Viren Mayani is a senior contributor at Khabar with a wide repertoire of interviews with leading personalities in various fields such as sports, entertainment, business, and more.

 

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