Despite differences in her faith and background, Pritha Lal has found acceptance at BYU and in her Utah community.
For some, Provo is an alien environment. Traveling 8,000 miles from India to Utah when her husband, Indraneel, took a job in the state two decades ago, Pritha Lal (MOB ’00) began taking graduate classes at BYU as one of only a handful of Hindus on campus. Though customs, dress, and mannerisms were new to her, she soon discovered familiarity in the faith of her Mormon friends.
“BYU just validated that faith is your core, and it doesn’t matter that I live halfway across the world from my country, my temples, my spiritual guide, my religious leaders. I can be all that I want to be in a completely alien environment because of faith.”
Lal was used to living in new cultures and environments. Her family had moved all over India throughout her childhood, eventually settling in Kuwait. She attended India’s top-ranked HR business school and then earned her MBA from the prestigious Xavier Labour Relations Institute.
Upon moving to Utah, Lal recalls, “the first thing that struck me was that people were really friendly. I remember going to Smith’s in Provo to pick up some groceries and the lady said, ‘Hi, how are you? . . . I thought, ‘Why is she being so friendly? . . . She doesn’t even know me, so why is she talking to me? When you go to India and you see someone, you just say, ‘Namaste.’”
Despite being just one of two non-LDS students in her master’s of organizational behavior class at the Marriott School, Lal says she felt accepted. “Nobody at BYU ever, ever, ever in my time there said, ‘Pritha, you need to come to a devotional because I think you need to be a Mormon,’” she recalls. “I felt the university truly accepts you as you are.” And she was impressed to see students of all types—from “huge football players” to art students—willing to pray and talk about their faith in an open way. “That made me feel that you need to be proud of your faith,” she says.
“Sometimes we would start off class with a prayer. That never bothered me. We may pray to different people, but most of us pray for the same things or seek the same things in life. I was [already] praying inside. . . . It was nice to hear [the prayer] out loud.”
Moreover, Lal says, “families matter to me, and that’s a similarity I found with BYU that I loved: it’s so familial.” Lal’s family has always been extremely important to her, and she makes regular trips back to India to visit her parents and in-laws. Her journey to having her own family, however, has not been easy. Just before her 40th birthday, three separate car accidents left Lal gravely injured. “I wasn’t sure I’d be able to walk again.” To add to Lal’s distress, that same month Indraneel fell ill with a serious virus that left him bedridden. Then their basement flooded, forcing them to stay in a motel. As they worked to recover their health and home, she and Indraneel began considering parenthood. Lal ultimately decided to leave her career as an HR practitioner and devote herself to being a mother.
“The moment I got pregnant, I knew where my calling was. . . . I knew this is what I needed to do,” says Lal, who finds time in her full-time work as a mother to blog and write poetry. “When it was my academics, I gave it my 200 percent. Now, this was a new chapter, and there were no ifs and buts about it. . . . I think if I can place one honest, good human being in the world, I will consider myself worth something.”