2005 NetIP National Conference
2005 NetIP National Conference
Style and Substance Make for an
From an Olympic star and a supermodel, to a Pulitzer finalist?the speakers, presenters and entertainers that greeted the 900 professionals from all over the country who attended?formed a veritable list of Who's Who amongst Indian-Americans nationwide.
Yesterday's successes, today's dilemmas, and tomorrow's visions carved the agenda for the 2005 Network of Indian Professionals (NetIP) Conference in Atlanta. Addressing controversial issues such as HIV/Aids, the power of Vedanta, and the leap towards Bollywood culture in "Desi America," the conference was a phenomenal success. Held at the Westin-Peachtree Hotel over the Labor Day weekend (Sep 1 - Sep 4), it provided a plethora of networking opportunities with several breakout sessions and social events.
Over 900 professionals attended this year's conference with distinguished guests and executives from leading corporations including The Home Depot, PepsiCo, MTV and The Blackstone Group. Over 40 speakers and entertainers were featured during the 2005 NetIP National Conference including: Mohini Bhardwaj, 2004 Olympic Silver Medalist and U.S. Gymnastics team Captain; Suketu Mehta, 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist and author of Maximum City; Nusrat Durrani, Senior VP and GM MTV Global (parent of MTV Desi); Pooja Kumar, Actress ? Bombay Dreams, Flavors; Saira Mohan, Supermodel; Panjabi Hit Squad ? London, England; Tigerstyle ? Glasgow, Scotland
This prestigious roster was further enhanced by local speakers and presenters such as Dr. Sanjay Gupta, senior medical correspondent, CNN; Dr. Jagdish Sheth, nationally recognized professor of marketing at Emory's Goizueta Business School; C. N. (Madhu) Madhusudan, President, NIIT Ventures, Shyam Reddy, Candidate for Democratic nomination for Secretary of State, Georgia; Dr. Ashish Goyal, Founder and Executive Director of AVSAR, a social service organization providing healthcare to the underprivileged in India; Manish Goyal, actor and filmmaker, and Malika Garret, artist.
Friday: Networking, style, entertainment and high expectations
Expectations and standards set for the weekend's conference were almost immediately placed above par at the welcoming night. Beyond the efficient technology utilized for smooth stage runs, beyond the high enthusiasm and professionalism placed by conference coordinators, there was a sense of collective?a collective of ambitious, spirited professional youth, thirsty for change, thirsty to engage and make a difference.
The welcome reception on Friday night commenced with opening remarks by Ashish Mistry, Chairman of the Conference, who addressed the audience with authenticity and open heart. The entertainment began with a vibrant collection from an up-and-coming fashion designer, Nina Arora. Her tastes hit the spot for many a women in the room looking for that perfect, elegant yet simple piece. A short film, Call Center, was next. Directed by a talented young filmmaker, Amyn Kaderali, and starring Manish Goyal, both present in the audience. The film's witty and satirical story line struck a chord with many. As Monica Kulkarni, a NetIP member from New York City, exclaimed, "Hilarious! It's really nice to see Indians coming up and doing well in unconventional streams such as film and fashion." Amyn, the director himself, was very pleased by the energy in the room as he remarked, "This conference is great: the people, the attitude, and the spirit!" Atlanta's Whole World Theatre performed for the finale of the show. Although some concerns arose about people's noise levels disturbing the performance; the situation was handled promptly and firmly, a sign of professionalism and respect for others by the conference leaders. Whole World Theatre gave a great show, even showcasing more South Asian talent, as Akash Gaur was a member of their troupe. And the night did not end until the after party with music by Jay Dabhi, and featuring an exclusive DJ set by Tigerstyle. Sanjay Dipchand, a member from New York City said, "I had a good time. It was in a loft type thing, good music and a bit of bhangra at the end?it was great."
Saturday: Enigmatic speakers and deep ponderings
Saturday's agenda opened with a "close-up" interview with Ms. Mohini Bhardwaj conducted with flair by Sushan Arora. Bhardwaj explained the struggles and challenges she faced to be an athlete and how she overcame her obstacles because of her determination to make it to the national level. Despite having an injury during training, Bhardwaj's perseverance led her to take the silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games. She jokes, "I was kind of disappointed that I didn't get first because, yes, I am a sore loser." Delving into her personal life, she adds, "I am a vegetarian and I have always enjoyed being one." She concluded by talking about her upcoming India trip and "how to work hard to achieve your goals."
Over a dozen sessions and panels were available in the conference, addressing many timely and relevant topics, such as HIV/AIDS in India, the philosophy of Vedanta, Indian-American influence on the U.S. political landscape, capitalizing on globalization, racial profiling, Indian-Americans in Hollywood, the emergence of an Indian-American identity, and strategies for Indian-American women.
The panel "Guilty by Association" was led by Mr. Manjit Singh (Co-founder and Vice Chair of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund), Amit Bose, Gordon Todd (Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.), and Habib Ilahi (Attorney and Director of the National South Asian Bar Association, NASABA). Open dialogue addressed racial profiling, its presence, trends, and the processes we can initiate to eradicate it. Gordon Todd spoke of the current state of laws within the government to mitigate profiling: "Without engagement [of different communities], fear and mistrust are allowed to breed.? We're proud to be the first administration to take action against racial profiling and executing civil anti-bias laws." Mr. Manjit Singh educated us about his work and showed us shocking visuals and life stories. His talk outlined profile behavior, development of human intelligence, building partnership with community, and employment of "community policing." Mr. Singh's passion and inspiring work engaged the audience to open progressive dialogue and communication. Mr. Habib Ilahi provided a comprehensive legal perspective on the matter. The discussion of specific situations and the role of the media and the education system instigated several conversations and thoughtful engagement among the workshop attendees. The panel demonstrated the need for much more of this open dialogue to occur among South Asian youth.
"Hello MTV, Goodbye Apu"?the Indian-American desi identity session featured Nusrat Durrani, senior VP of MTV networks; supermodel Saira Mohan; Falu Bakrania, an assistant professor of ethnic studies; and Krishnan Menon, Chief Strategic Officer at DDB, the highly ranked, worldwide advertising agency. The notion of the 'stereotypical' Indian image was addressed as well as how we are now being perceived as part of the American social fabric. The success of Indian authors, the emergence of Indian fashion models, and the recent launch of MTV Desi have contributed to an image shift showing that not all people of Indian origin are secluded in the world of information technology. There were some controversial questions from the audience about the authenticity of using MTV to represent the desi culture in mainstream America. Menon talked about marketing techniques used to launch new products (e.g., having a competition on who can break the competitor's products in the fastest time). Menon's analogy with actors being products, networks being retailers, and the audience being consumers sparked some interesting comments. Mohan talked about how it was to be "half Indian," as many segments of her family still did not accept her or her mother. She pointed out that "it is your willingness to break through [your own] self-imposed boundaries [that allows you to succeed]." Other issues included the imitation of the Indian accent in American TV shows such as The Simpsons.
Saturday evening concluded with a "speed-dating" event for singles, followed by an entertainment extravaganza for all at the historic Tabernacle. Music was by Jay Dabhi, with Karmacy featured, a DJ set by Panjabi Hit Squad, and a lively performance by Lady Ru.
Sunday: A fitting climax
Sunday's schedule of events was buzzing with, if possible, an even greater energy. After a delicious round of brunch, Suketu Mehta, 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist, delved into a few excerpts from his prize-winning non-fiction book, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found. The audience had a series of thoughtful questions answered carefully by Mehta. What moved the author most in Mumbai were the children?he is currently setting up a children's legal fund in the city.
Successful Indians in the entertainment industry?including Miss World, Aishwarya Rai (Bride and Prejudice) and M. Night Shyamalan (director of The Sixth Sense, Signs, and The Village)?became the topic of discussion in the session titled "Changing the Face of Hollywood." Model/Actress Shazia Deen talked about preserving her Indian-American identity by being selective about her roles. She articulates, "Being Indian isn't just wearing the 'red' bindi on my forehead as many directors prematurely assume, but about being the person I am, respecting both cultures." Deen says the opportunities have dramatically changed for Indian-Americans in Hollywood, although it was difficult convincing her parents that this was her dream. Pooja Kumar, a former Miss India USA and heroine of Flavors, says, "I always get asked, 'Can I do the Indian accent?' Of course I can, because I grew up being Indian."
An evening of fireworks can best describe the energy at Westin over the weekend. The conference was a process gaining momentum with time, with a cocktail reception, gala dinner, and closing ceremony being the grand finale on Sunday night. Although chief guest Dr. Sanjay Gupta could not make it (As CNN's senior medical correspondent, Dr. Gupta was pulled away to duty on account of Hurricane Katrina).
NetIP North America recognized the NetIP San Francisco and NetIP Dallas Chapters as their Best Large and Best Small Chapters, respectively. In addition to the chapter awards, Chicago, IL was announced as the host city for the 2006 NetIP National Conference. "We look forward to hosting the membership of NetIP in Chicago over Labor Day weekend in 2006.. This is the city where NetIP was founded and we are proud to host the Conference on the organization's 15th anniversary," said Sharad Agarwal, incoming Conference Chairman.
Dan Nainan, a half-Japanese, half-Indian professional comedian from NY/LA, made the audience laugh with his witty self-deprecating humor, which, because of his mix, could target two large populations of Asia. A hilarious mix, as he also remarked later: "I would encourage Indians to mix with non-Indians: it's time to embalm other cultures and also important to learn about other cultures." This important point was also addressed within panels of the conference and is a growing trend among the 2nd generation South Asian youth today. The night closed with a wonderful dinner and, of course, good music provided by SunSet Entertainment, vocalists Lady Ru and Bela Bhatt, and much dancing.
The Conference was widely and enthusiastically heralded by attendees, speakers and sponsors. Gagan Sandhu, an attendee from Canada, was impressed enough to express his wish that the forum be further expand in Canada. He, however, also shared that he was a little puzzled at the age level at the conference. "I was expecting more of a mature crowd."
"I'm extremely honored that we were able to host the 2005 NetIP National Conference in Atlanta. It was simply the right place and the right time for our culture, community, and city," said Ashish Mistry, NetIP Conference Chairman. "Our achievements as a demographic group have been highlighted on a global stage, and our goal for this Conference was to bring individuals tied to these accomplishments face to face with attendees. We worked very hard to make this happen, and the results were simply amazing," said Mistry.
A complete pictorial of the Conference along with session presentations and videos can be found at www.netipconference.org. As Saira Mohan concludes, "Know your individual identity because identity shift can be nerve-wracking."
The expectations that have developed along the way, the goals and ideals lurking behind smiles, and a drive among the Indian-American youth that is manifested only after serious conversations have now been revealed. New friends were made, new projects underway, and new ideas afloat.
By Mrinalini Sharma and Archith Seshadhri
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