Another Multi Faceted ‘Festival of India’
The Indian community in Atlanta celebrated the 7th annual Festival of India during the weekend of August 15-17th at the Gwinnett Civic Center. Festival of India was started in 1997 by the India American Cultural Association to commemorate the 50th anniversary of India's independence. Since then it has become an annual event showcasing the culture and heritage of India.
The festival was inaugurated by Ambassador Andrew Young on August 15th, who spoke about Gandhi's influence on him while working with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and also about his friendship with Ricky Jaipal, who was India's UN Ambassador at the time when Mr. Young was representing the USA. While welcoming the audience, Dr. Padmini Sharma, President of IACA, encouraged the members of the Indian community to become members of IACA. Mr. Ani Agnihotri, one of the Co-Chairmen of the festival introduced Mrs. Nandita Das, a popular Indian film actress. Mrs. Das spoke about freedom and also distributed prizes to winners of the essay competition on freedom. Mr. Chand Akkineni, also a Co-Chairman of the festival spoke about the highlights of the three day festival. This was followed by a cultural program. The Program was coordinated by Dr. Ravi Sarma and Ms. Ayesha Khanna. Later, the film "The legend of Bhagat Singh" was screened.
On August 16th, the festival started early. Along with the fun and festivities more serious issues of the community were also taken care of. A Visa camp organized by the Houston Consulate was a big draw; hundreds of people were helped with their visa and passport issues. Health, which is a concern to many was not ignored. Health Fair was held by the North Lake Medical Center and other supporting physicians and Blood Donation drive was held by Red Cross.
An event of this nature is never complete without the participation of children. The morning of 16th saw cute little children parading on the stage for a Fancy dress competition where the creativity of some parents was clearly evident. There were programs for everyone. The artistically inclined children participated in a drawing competition with much enthusiasm and interest.
Later in the morning, Ms. Patti Tripathi, ex-CNN news anchor, welcomed the chief guest and the audience in her characteristic lively demeanor. The chief guest was no other than Governor of Georgia, Sonny Perdue who graced the occasion and inaugurated an exhibition on Dr. Kalpana Chawla, one of the crew members of the Columbia that tragically crashed on February 1, 2003. Governor Perdue lauded the efforts of the Indian community in Georgia and the US. He called on the community to participate actively in public life and support him in his mission. Special recognition awards were presented to Mr. Ani Agnihotri and Mr. Murthy of TradeAm for their continued support to the festival. Hon. Congress woman Denise Majette, a member of the India Caucus group, also graced the occasion and spoke about the support she received from the Indian community during her election.
This was followed by a cultural program that ran throughout the day. Several talented performers entertained the audience with dance and music. A glittering fashion show organized by Ms. Purva Mehta, on behalf of NetIP proved to be a big crowd-puller, where talented models displayed the latest designs in Indian attire.
While the entertainment was in progress there were several others who were enjoying the delicious and mouth-watering delicacies being served in the food corner. Several popular Indian restaurants did fast business in one day.
Along with the exhibition on Dr. Kalpana Chawla, several other informative posters were displayed. These provided information on various aspects of India ? economy, major ancient contributions, business, culture, heritage, cuisine, places of interest, alternative measures being taken by India to develop the rural sector and much more. The objective was to project a positive and progressive India.
Apart from the exhibition and fun and frolic, series of informative seminars were also held. Mrs. Nandita Das spoke about being an Indian. There were other seminars by Dr. Jay Chaudhuri, Dr. Uday Saxena, Mr. Abhay Joshi, Mr. Shivender Nagar and Dr. Venkat Narayan. Raksha and NetIP organized interesting seminars for the youth. Kids activities were well received.
For the first time, in the history of Festival of India, the exhibition halls were overcrowded exceeding the capacity of 4200 and the fire warden had to stop the new entrants until some of the people inside moved out. The organizers were thrilled at this response received from the community.
On Sunday, the celebrations moved to the Atlanta Civic Center for "A Journey Through India", a variety entertainment program organized by local organizations and dance academies. Ms. Suchita Vadlamani and Mr. Suvrat Bhargave were the MCs for the event. Dr. Paddy Sharma highlighted the activities organized by IACA and talked about the secular nature of the organization. Dr. Sharma is the first woman President of IACA in the last 32 years. Mr. Chand Akkineni, who started the festival in 1997 as the President of IACA, had a vision of creating unity in diversity among the Indian community organizations in Atlanta. The festival provided an opportunity to accomplish that vision. Hon. Consul General Mr. S.K. Tayaal lighted the lamp to inaugurate the program and he invited the successful Indian Americans to attend the next NRI (Bharatiya Pravasi) day in New Delhi in January 2004. He mentioned that the government of India recognizes and appreciates the efforts of the Indian community in US in helping India in strengthening ties with US. He also expressed that America needs to appreciate the security concerns of India and give due recognition to the efforts by India to control terrorism.
The Journey through India was a synthesis of audio, video and live performances by the artists. People thoroughly enjoyed the professional quality programs. Special recognition was given to Ms. Alka Roy, Shridhar Ranganathan, Dr. Raktim Sen, Shankar Sengupta, Kala Subramanian, Madhu Sehgal and Chand Akkineni. The event organizers look forward to the next festival in August 2004.
The success of this event has elicited a very enthusiastic response form the community and individuals who feel inspired to participate and make their small contribution in building the image of India thorough programs such as these.
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