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All-Indian Mela Attracts Over 6,000

September 2004
All-Indian Mela Attracts Over 6,000

Festival of India

On August 14, over 6,000 people visited the Gwinnett Civic Center for the Festival of India (FOI) extravaganza. The elaborate, daylong celebration included cultural shows, seminars, a fashion show, a visa camp, a health fair, a colorful mela with the ambience of an Indian bazaar, business exhibits, non-profit organization and corporate booths, and culinary delights.

An Olympian dream

Ani Agnihotri, a co-chairman of the FOI council, welcomed the guests and requested Hon. Consul General, S. K. Tayal, to get the festival under way. Much to the audience's delight, Tayal said that during the past two years he has attended Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations in Houston, Tampa, Orlando and Dallas but the level of participation and enthusiasm in Atlanta was extraordinary. He felt proud that the Indian-Americans were being recognized in various fields. However, he expressed disappointment that Indians had not yet excelled in sports at an international level.

Referring to the Greek Olympics, he said he would feel happy if India won even a single medal. "We should be collectively ashamed of this reality. There is no lack of talent, but it needs to be nurtured, supported, promoted and guided." Turning to the keynote speaker, Andrew Krieger of IMG Academies, the world's leading network of multi-sport training facilities, Tayal said, "I wish you luck in what you are trying to accomplish in your vision of building next generation sports champions."

Chand Akkineni, also a co-chairman of the council, echoed Tayal's sentiments. He confessed that it was only after moving to the US that he became aware of the effort, training, skill, money and parental support needed to win medals. "India has a vast pool of talent and Krieger is the right man to help tap it." Akkineni ended on an optimistic note, "In year 2008, I am confident India will bag a few Olympic medals."

Krieger, chairman of IMG Bharata (IMGB), is a US-based businessman and sportsman. Krieger said his fascination with India began when he was a child. He went on to study the Vedanta, yoga, Indian philosophy and Sanskrit. Krieger majored in Indian and Western philosophy and received a master's degree in South Asian studies. He then switched gears to earn a MBA in finance from Wharton and went to work on Wall Street. In 1988, when he visited India for the first time, he was taken aback by the general state of affairs. Krieger was perplexed by the contradiction that lays in Indian mastery in yoga and its inability to compete successfully in the arena of international sports.

An agreement was signed with the Government of Andhra Pradesh and IMGB was launched in June 2004. Four hundred acres of land has been acquired near the proposed international airport. Krieger presented a picture of the site and sports complex ? a $120 million project. It proposes to have training facilities for tennis, cricket, field hockey, basketball, aquatics, soccer and a PGA standard Golf Course. There will also be a seven star resort hotel. It will also train about 7,000 coaches from all over India. Krieger said that Olympic medals would not be won overnight but after four to eight years, champions will emerge.

Folk and Fusion

The audience in the nearly packed ballroom was entertained with many performances: traditional folk dances, fusion dances and patriotic songs by Kala Subramanian and Seetha Vallurupalli. Children were entertained with face painting, drawing, puppet making and other interesting activities.

Aspiring fashion designer Shweta Desai introduced Anand Jon, the internationally acclaimed couturier. Anand was the cynosure, especially for the women in the audience! The New York-based, 27-year-old has had a meteoric rise in the fashion world. He is credited with designing for prominent celebrities, socialites and royalty. He has received numerous accolades and honors for his creative skill. The multifaceted Anand fashions jewelry, paints, writes and is also involved with films. Anand said that on occasion he feels that non-Indians are more educated about Indian culture than Indians themselves. He felt it was high time Indians became ambassadors of Indian heritage. The designer made way for a scintillating fashion show emceed by Meghna Nagarajan, Miss India-USA 2003. The models received a thunderous applause as they sashayed across the stage in Christine Philip's couture.

Later in the day, the chief guest, Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor graced the festival. He was escorted around the vendor booths and other exhibits by Ani Agnihotri and Executive Vice President Sunil Sehgal. Taylor stopped briefly at author Robert Arnett's booth who presented him with an autographed copy of his book India Unveiled. After the tour, Agnihotri and Sehgal accompanied Mr. Taylor to the ballroom. In a speech punctuated with frequent applause from the audience, he said, "I have enjoyed seeing the exhibits and now I greet you on behalf of eight-and-a-half million Georgians. Thank you for choosing Georgia as a place to live, work and raise your family. We are so proud of the contributions that the Indian community is making. We appreciate your commitment to education. We appreciate your entrepreneurial spirit. We appreciate the friendship and partnership that has led to stronger economies in both India and America, and we look to a brighter future as these two countries grow even stronger as friends and partners in the world community. I appreciate the example that India provided to the world in this year's national elections. We can live together as Indians and work together in a coalition government, encouraging all faiths to be involved in the political process ? a wonderful example of democracy, cultural and religious diversity co-existing in incredible harmony. I hope that people of Georgia, including all of you, will follow that example: register, vote and participate in our democracy on November 2, 2004."

Hon. Consul Tayal presented Mark Taylor with a Friends of India Award along with the film Gandhi. Responding to Taylor's words, he talked about the excellent cooperation between India and the US on the economic front, in the fight against terrorism and many other fields. Referring to the upcoming US elections he said it would not be a bad idea to outsource counting of votes from India!

After presenting a Friends of India award to Andrew Krieger, IACA President, Dr. Paddy Sharma, said that she was heartened to learn that by the afternoon, more than 6,000 people had attended the festival. "How do you manage such big numbers?" she was asked. "We are used to big numbers. Even at our weddings we have more than a thousand guests," she quipped.

Introducing the guest speaker, Michael Leven, Chand Akkineni commented, "Just as the Indian National Congress was founded by Sir Allen Hume, an Englishman, Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) was founded by Mr. Leven." The CEO and president of US Franchise Systems, Inc., Leven lauded the achievements of the Indian Americans in the hotel industry. He was presented with an award by Raghbir Kumar Sehgal. Anand Jon received an award from Hon. Consul of India, Kenneth Cutshaw.

A series of informative seminars continued through the day. The topics included: "Respiratory problems in children", "Latest trends in immigration", "Hate crimes post 9/11", "Bikram yoga", "Surviving cancer", "Incredible Indian women" and "Career choices for Indian American youth".

The camps and booths

People started queuing for the visa camp organized by the Indian Consulate in Houston as soon as it opened. Many people availed of this personalized service which saved them from the long drawn process of corresponding with the embassy by mail.

Georgia Association of Physicians from India (GAPI) in association with BAPS Medical Services and Gujarati Samaj of Atlanta, organized a well-attended health fair. The president of GAPI, Dr. Asha Parikh and past president of GAPI, Dr. Naresh Parikh said they were happy with the response. "The health fair was funded by GAPI which donated $1,500. Gujarati Samaj provided on site registration, while BAPS provided the phlebotomist. More than 125 blood samples were taken." Emory research cardiologist, Dr. Arshed Quyyumi and his team provided insight into cardiology and engaged patients for research. Emory physicians Dr. Sudhakar and Dr. Hegde were present for consultation.

Myriad booths filled the exhibition hall. From those seeking to invest in India, to those on a spiritual quest, there were booths for just about everything. There were the staple, such as the traditional clothing, and art/henna. There were social service organizations, professionals and even specialty cookware vendors. An attraction this year was a photo exhibit of Robert Arnett's collection. Arnett, the author of the acclaimed India Unveiled displayed some of his best work from the book, making for a visually stimulating experience.

People looking to satisfy their taste buds headed to the food court where more than a dozen Indian restaurants proffered scrumptious specialties.

-Mahadev Desai

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