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Arabian Nights Meets Bollywood

April 2003
Arabian Nights Meets Bollywood

Planning an event requires hard work, perseverance, strong attention to detail and above all immeasurable love. On Tuesday, March 18 Raksha hosted Open Mic Nite, meticulously organized with charity its main cause; but in the end, it was the patrons and performers who were the most richly rewarded.

Khurram Hassan, President-elect Raksha?s Board of Directors, said, ?Open Mic Nite was a huge success due to the community?s need for positive creative outlet especially in these turbulent times.? The twenty-two performers expressed poetry, classical music (vocals & instrumental) and comedy in the ultra-comfortable Istanbul Caf�. The restaurant, closed to event non-patrons, provided a perfect setting with huge ornate sitting pillows, ground-level tables, and billowy fabric reminiscent of a Bollywood-esque Indian wedding sangeeth.���The night filled with laughter and frivolity as each performer, whether dilettante or master, took charge of the microphone and blazed a glorious path of entertainment.

The night began humorously pleasant with several jokes followed by a powerful poetry reading by one of the event?s organizers, Shazi Sardar. The dramatic Urdu poem spoken in his native tongue and then translated into English bore resemblance to an elder statesman mesmerizing a crowd with sagely advice. Sardar?s traditional shawl draped in perfect detail added to his commanding voice which held the audience awestruck.

Istanbul Caf�?s charm lies mainly in its intimate setting which blended perfectly with Fakima Khan?s reading a piece called ?Her Diary?. Not a pin drop could be heard as Khan voiced the identity questions that almost every South Asian brought up in the States confronts: ?Where are you from?? describing the all-too-painful inquiry that bicultural, hyphenated-beings (Indian-Americans) face.���

Open Mic night continued with equally stellar performances. Each performer was greeted with a rousing welcome. While the adorable amateurs were fun, the masters such as classical music artist, Kala Ramnath were commanding. Ramnath, accompanied by Harshad Kanetkar on the tabla, has traveled internationally playing to guests all over the world. Dressed in a svelte pink salwar kameez, her fingers plucked musical magic as she made listening interactive. Her joy in feeling the rhythm pulsated through every chord and with every tilt, sway and hum she had the audience clinging to every strum.

Hassan, the charming emcee during the night?s festivities, didn?t miss a beat even when asked spontaneously to tell a joke. Good-naturedly Hassan rattled off some jokes, thanked the audience for their endless support for Raksha, made sure everyone had ordered food and then flowingly introduced Brian and Dwayne who sang both cover and original songs. These two guys exemplified how not to judge a book by its cover. At first, the two admitted not knowing too much about Raksha but were proud to support religious tolerance which seemed a pervading theme throughout the evening. The duo sang harmoniously together, matching guitar rhythms, giving and receiving lead vocal time. Their art-house songs were most like ?Bare Naked Ladies? except Brian and Dwayne were constantly giving compliments to the audience whereas their counterparts were used to their screaming, adoring fans. At one point, Dwayne asked the audience to join in as they had brought an extra guitar. Without a second?s pause, Brian added, ?Please don?t be shy, there is so much love being directed towards the stage.?

Raksha will begin to host monthly social events to create community and have an atmosphere where South Asians can mingle without always having to be in a bar setting Hassan said. Atlanta community members are in for quite a treat if subsequent events showcase the talent and creativity of performers such as Mrinalini Sharma. The 21-year-old pre-med Emory student has studied South Indian classical music for only 3 � years but plays with an astonishing voice and heart. Raksha?s Open Mic night was an overwhelming success. So much so that after the performances had finished, people stayed over and danced to Bhangra music. No gathering is complete unless it?s toped off with the foot-stomping, shoulder-shrugging ?Dolae, Dolae.?

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