Remembering Mahatma Gandhi on Republic Day
On February 6, the Gandhi Foundation of USA observed a momentous triple celebration of the 7th anniversary of the dedication of Gandhi Statue, the 56th Republic Day of India and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s 76th birth anniversary.
The ceremony began with the garlanding of the towering statue of the Mahatma by Troy Lissimore, the former Superintendent of the Martin Luther King National Park Service, and a steadfast supporter for the installation of the statue. The program continued at the Ebenezer Baptist Church where once Rev. M.L.K. Jr. preached and which is looked upon as the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement.
Atlanta's well-known musician Krishna Kali Bakshi and her young students Aditi Acharya, Manali Adi, Akhilesh Gupta, Shiva Mishra (vocal) and tabla players Anish Patel and Vishnu Natrajan gave a soulful rendition of "Raghupati Raghava". Representing the youth, these children deserve much praise for their participation.
GFUSA Youth Wing Director, Vinita Thapar, emceed the program. A minute's silence was observed in memory of the victims of the South Asian Tsunami disaster.
In his brief welcome address, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin's Chief of Staff and GFUSA Vice Chairman, Greg Pridgeon, happily announced that Atlanta will soon have Fukuoka, Japan, as its sister-city. He said the visiting delegation was excited about the GFUSA; one of Atlanta's shining lights, and its mission of promoting world peace, love and harmony. He added, "We hope this brotherhood and sisterhood that we push forth through the Gandhi Foundation will be emulated in other young cities around the world." He concluded by thanking the Foundation on behalf of the people of Atlanta, the Mayor Shirley Franklin and the M.L.K. Jr. National Historic Site.
Troy Lissimore, on his part said that despite much heartache, he felt privileged and honored for his role in helping in the installation of the Gandhi Statue. It was a personal passion and would remain an abiding inspiration for him, he said. It being Black History Month, he appropriately drew comparisons between Mahatma Gandhi and world-renowned black educator and agricultural chemist, Dr. George Washington Carver. Both were alike in appearance and stature. Both were vegetarians. Interestingly, Gandhi wrote to him for advice with his diet. Similarly, when India was ravaged with polio, Gandhi sought his advice for a cure. Dr. Ralph Bunch, Nobel Prize Winner, pronounced Carver to be "the least imposing celebrity the world has ever known." Echoing this, Mr. Lissimore described him as a man of genius. "The similarity between Gandhi and Dr. Carver only shows how the world is interconnected", he concluded.
In a forceful speech, Marta official Jawana Jackson, daughter of civil rights leader Dr. Sullivan Jackson, spoke about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Civil rights movement led by Dr. King. "The Indian freedom movement was taken as a blueprint for the American civil rights movement by Dr. King. Both were seekers of truth", she said.
Ravi Ponangi, Community News Editor for India Tribune, took the event forward by paying homage to the martyrs. "Those who laid their lives for India's freedom ought not to be forgotten. A man is not dead until he is forgotten", he said. He recalled the joy of participating in the joyous celebrations in his young days as a student in India. He thanked the Gandhi Foundation for observing Republic Day and organizing celebrations to mark the historic day. He also dwelt on the progress made by India since Independence and the improving relations between India and the U.S. He exhorted all to help India. "Freedom does not lie in what we do, but what we should be doing. So let's rededicate ourselves to make our countries happy and secure, with smiles on billions of faces", he said.
Atlanta's highly respected and accomplished author and Professor of religion at Emory University, Dr. Uma Majmudar paid homage to Gandhi. She read an excerpt from her forthcoming book, Gandhi's pilgrimage of faith: From darkness to light, about how as a child, she felt the day Gandhi was shot. She recounted her personal sadness and anguish on that heart-wrenching day. "The whole country mourned like a widow that night which seemed longer and darker than any other night in the history of India." Speaking about martyrs, she said Gandhi was different from other martyrs because his goal was higher than mere political freedom. He strived for peace and communal harmony.
GFUSA Executive Director, Giri Raj Rao complimented Dr. Thrivikraman for organizing the program. He then spoke about his recent experiences in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the States that were most affected by the tsunami. He spoke in particular about the need for psychological reconstruction through counseling. He went on to speak about the impressive strides taken by the Foundation in the year 2004 and its involvement in raising funds for tsunami relief. "The Gandhi Foundation has raised a modest sum, out of which $350 was raised by the Youth Wing, and the process continues", he said. Rao acknowledged the presence of India American Cultural Association (IACA) President Tushar Sanghvi, Asian-Pacific-American Council of Georgia (APAC) President Bala Pant and Atlanta's well-known Kuchipudi danseuse Sasikala Penumarthi in his speech
Tushar Sanghvi and Bala Pant shared their efforts to bring relief to the tsunami victims. GFUSA Director and SAI Health Fair Co-ordinator, Dr Sujatha Reddy, received a gift from Raj Razdan on behalf of Smt. Geeta Raghu for her generous patronage of the Gandhi Foundation.
The evening came to a close with a vote of thanks and with Krishna Kali leading the gathering in singing India's National Anthem. The joyous, memorable celebrations concluded with serving of refreshments.
- Mahadev Desai
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