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Culture, color and cuisine mark 60th anniversary of Independence

September 2007
Culture, color and cuisine mark 60th anniversary of Independence

While Jul 4th is traditionally celebrated by Americans with fireworks and a family barbeque, August 15th is celebrated by Indians abroad with color, culture, craftworks and cuisines! Thanks to organizations like IACA for coordinating such grand scale events on an annual basis, the Indian culture is still kept alive with vibrant melas in the Atlanta community. On Aug 11th, the Gwinnett Center was transformed into a cultural extravaganza as the venue for this year's Festival of India marking the 60th anniversary of India's Independence.

The theme was "India-Freedom to Prosperity." Dr. Gouranga Banik, IACA president, praised the community by referencing a quote from Gandhi, "India lives in its villages," and making analogies to the Atlanta area with IACA lives in its members. The one day event was filled with euphoric festivities including absorbing cultural shows, a health fair, seminars, exhibitions, competitions and a mela with enchanting stalls and divine cuisine.

Cultural Show, Stalls, and Speeches

Organized by Neeta Shenvi, Seetha Vallurupalli and Raktim Sen, the cultural section of FOI was one of the most entertaining element of the festival. A fancy dress competition, general knowledge quizzes and art contests were held during the day. Fetching performances by children under the age of 11 began the cultural segment. Dressed in radiant Bharatnatyam costumes, a group of children danced to "Madhuram Madhuram," a song dedicated to Lord Krishna. Following that, a performance to "Barso Re" and "Kajra Re" sent the audience in a state of merriment. Choreographed by Srivali Kondur, "Des Rangila" was the highlight of the children's segment with girls dressed in gorgeous yellow and blue lehengas.

The cultural programs after lunch started with the American national anthem sung by Movina Nagarajan and the Indian national anthem performed by Raktim Sen, Tirtankar Das Gupta and Mohua Mukerjee along with the audience. By this time, the show was running 30 minutes late. After the national anthems, Parijat Chandra introduced the winners of the Miss Indian Georgia and Miss Teen Indian Georgia Pageant.

On a more serious note, plaques were presented to Paddy Sharma and Tushar Sanghvi, past presidents of IACA, to recognize their service to IACA. Consequently, Dr. Banik made a speech recognizing all the dignitaries and thanking volunteers. Dr. Jagdish Sheth, a renowned scholar and expert in the field of marketing, made a speech about alluring topics including the future of India.

Although the speeches during the day included prominent speakers of the Indian American community, the length did draw some of the audience members away as many of them were under the assumption that the cultural program had come to a close.

The visibly thinning audience started to regroup once the dances resumed. One of the primary highlights was a fusion dance between belly dancing, hip-hop and bhangra, presented by an all girl dance group called Aandhi. Adults entered the stage arena with a dance to golden oldies, that included "Pyaar Hua Ikraar Hua," "Hum Tum Ek Kamre Mein," "Jeena Yahaan," and "Aaja Aaja."

As a finale to the cultural show the music group Sa Ri Ga Me presented several songs by Raghu Sivaraman, Deepa Sreetal, Aishwarya Naredhran, Archith Seshadri, accompanied by Ashwin Seshadri on the keyboard and Amit Narayan on percussion.

Several jewelry stores and fashion outlets put up booths to showcase their wares including some vendors from out of state! Cultural organizations, publications including Rivaaj, and non-profit groups including Raksha put up booths as well.

Stand up comedian Dan Nainan provided humor and created a light mood for one and all. Raksha presented a seminar on "Because We Have Daughters." This campaign is a project of the Decatur based social justice organization, Men Stopping Violence. During the Festival of India, concerned fathers and facilitators discussed the social, media, familial influences that affect the choices that are presented to women and the choices women make in their lives. Raksha volunteers also talked about their upcoming charity event, "Ek Shaam Raksha Ke Naam" with an Atlanta Desi Idol contest on October 13th (www.raksha.org).

Starsearch Talent Contest

The FOI Starsearch talent contest was launched this year to identify the best vocalist and the best dancer. Classical, Bollywood, and medleys in dance and even A Cappella performances were presented by candidates who were screened earlier in an audition round on July 28th.

Tkevin, Rifka Mayani and Anupa Thakurta as dance judges and Lakshmi Rao, April Pettus and Tirthankar Dasgupta as music judges were introduced by Viren Mayani.

The contest started with the dance finalists and alternated with the vocal finalists every three acts. In the vocals, Anjana Shajan, Ramya Ramakrishnan, Ragu Sivarman and Supriya Shridharan were favorites. However, it was young Anurati Romesh's remarkable rendition of the Titanic song that won the audience away. The talented finalist not only received an overwhelming response but won the hearts of many alike by reaching the high notes with an impeccable vocal range.

The dance finalists also showcased their talents with Ayush Dayal, Pujita Gorti, and Yathurshi Rajendra came out on the top. Jaya Mallik and Kriti Lodh placed in the top three.

The audience's applause was a "behind the wheel" judge to give an extra variability so that they cheered on for the best talent. Rifka Mayani said, "All the contestants are winners," while Lakshmi Rao graciously congratulated many of the younger singers who sang with feeling.

The first place for the vocal category ended up with a tie between eight year old Anurati Romesh and a senior singer, Ragu Sivaraman. The tie was broken by pulling names (as in a lottery) because the contest had run into time issues with the premises and a tie-breaker round could not be organized. However, this solution did not go well with many in the audience. A casual poll revealed that many would have preferred declaring a tie, and awarding both as first place winners.

Vocal star awards were given to Ragu Sivaraman (winner), Anurati Romesh (1st runner up) and Supriya Shridharan (2nd runner up). Dance star awards were given to Rohit Mudgala (winner), Kirti Lodh:(1st runner up) and Jaya Malik (2nd runner up).

Some of the sponsors for this year's Festival of India included The Coca-Cola company, Church's Chicken, American United Bank, HavenTrust Bank, United Central Bank, Scientific Atlanta, Georgia Power, NIIT and MoneyGram. IACA released a booklet which focused on general information on India including details on population, major religions, national emblem, national anthem, national animal, flower, bird, tree, GDP etc.

A platform for local talents to display their skills, vendors to push their wares, competitions and educational seminars, Festival of India continues to be an event for families and individuals to partake in India's rich heritage every year.

Running to fight cancer in India

By Supraja Narasimhan

Runners and walkers of all ages braved the starting line to help fight cancer in India at the second annual "Festival of India 5K/Walk for Freedom" held August 25th. The event, which raised over $16,000 for the American Cancer Society's (ACS) India Initiative program, took place along tree-lined pathways on Georgia Tech University's campus.

Georgia Tech South Asian interest fraternity Alpha Iota Omicron (AIO) launched the inaugural race last year to address cancer in India. This first student-organized fundraiser for the India Initiative raised almost $4,000 for cancer prevention, screening and treatment programs in India in August of 2006.

AIO president Liju Varghese described how the support for the cause spread since then: "Because we got more organizations involved this year, it's turned out to be a much bigger run," he said. Besides mobilizing other on-campus student groups to join the cause, AIO even engaged Georgia State University's Indian Cultural Exchange to participate this year.

Hip hop beats from live DJs welcomed both individual participants and families at the finish line. After hustling in among the top finishers, runner Angela McCord took a breather on the sidewalk. "It was a fast course, but the hill at the end was cruel!" she laughed. McCord also appreciated the spirited crowd: "You can tell how impassioned the students are about the cause, which really attributes to the race atmosphere," she said.

Event organizer Jacob David applauded volunteer enthusiasm that helped make the race a reality, in spite of initial obstacles. "Three months ago, we were going to cancel, but three weeks later 30 people showed up inside a room!" he said.

Organizer Brittany Marks explained what drew her to the cause: "When I first got involved, I was amazed that two dollars could save someone's life," she said, speaking of the low cost of screening one person for cancer. "Because my grandfather died of cancer, the opportunity to provide education and resources for cancer prevention and treatment means a tremendous amount to me."

After the race ended, participants refueled with donations from Einstein's Bagels, Kroger, SOYJOY and Starbucks Coffee. While munching on refreshments, they listened to an address by Dr. Shalini Vallabhan, Director of South Asia Strategies and Programs at ACS. She described how ACS and India-based healthcare institutions are collaborating to transform cancer patient care in the country.

She told the story of a woman named Karuna, whose pre-cancerous was lesion was identified through an ACS screening program. The subsequent treatment she received saved her life from cervical cancer. The India Initiative also focuses on reducing tobacco use in India, which may increase the risk of lung and oral cancer.

In the award ceremony that followed, the fastest runners walked away with medals, while top fundraisers received honorary plaques. "Thank you for creating hope," said ACS National Vice President Cynthia Currence, as she presented her organization's Music of Hope CDs to the top finishers. Live electric guitar and drumming by Eucalyptus and the Kamikaze Koalas took center stage after the closing ceremonies. In anticipation of the subsequent race, Jacob David concluded with, "Let's do it bigger next year!"

Indian Ocean strikes a chord with Atlanta

Vibha1.jpg: Rahul Ram, Bass Guitarist, of Indian Ocean, performing live at a charity concert organized by Vibha and IIT Southeast Alumni. (Photo Credit: Kunal Mehta, Squared Pixel Lounge)

Vibha2.jpg: Band members from left to right: Amit Kilam on drums and vocal, Rahul Ram on Bass Guitar, Susmit on Lead Guitar, and Asheem on Tabla, percussions and vocals. (Photo Credit: Kunal Mehta, Squared Pixel Lounge)

After selling more than 40,000 copies of their first album within a year of release, Indian Ocean has struck gold with the release of their popular work, Kandisa. To classify their music as rock would be an understatement, to fit it into jazz would be an injustice. The artists who call themselves "Indian Ocean" performed live at Vibha's cultural event in collaboration with IIT Southeast Alumni at Roswell Cultural Arts Center.

Formed by Susmit (Lead Guitar player) and Asheem (Tabla, Percussions and Vocals), the band came full circle when Rahul Ram (Bass Guitarist) and Amit Kilam (Drums, Vocals) joined the group. Indian Ocean is a contemporary fusion music band from India. Its unique music encompasses shlokas, sufism, environmentalism, mythology and revolution to name a few.

The opening act was a dance sequence by Anupa Thakurta with her young students dancing to the tunes of Khajuraho, played by the band in the background. The second song, "From the ruins" was a definite testimony of Asheem's vocal strength. Filled with rhythmic structures, the modulation and variety in his voice was enthralling.

The band continued their performance with light hearted songs such as "Desert Rain" and instrumentals such as "Melancholic Ecstasy". The last song before the break was "Hille Le". Based on a Bihar poet's lyrics and traditional folk music by the band, this was a song that would force any weak feet to get up and dance.

During the break, Bala, representing the IIT Southeast Alumni, talked at length about their association's various activities.

This was followed by a moving presentation about Vibha and its impact on the lives of children. A defeaning silence during the presentation and a thunderous applause afterwards was a testimony to the presentation and Vibha's life changind social work.

Soon after the presentation, Niyati Desai, cultural team lead, said, "One of the amazing things about Vibha is the positive difference that it enables us to make in the lives of underprivileged children. We all have been fortunate enough to not worry about the basic necessities in life and to afford a good education and have had ample opportunities to learn and grow and be where we are today. However, not everyone is fortunate enough - Vibha gives us a medium to ensure that every underprivileged child attains his or her right to education, health and opportunity."

The first song after the break was "Bandeh" from the movie Black Friday. The song gelled so well with the audience that the Black Friday audio CD on sale at one of the stalls sold out moments after the show. Such was the clarity and depth in his voice that it felt like a surreal voice commanding, "are ruk ja re bandhe; are thum ja re bandhe, ki kudrat has padegi ho".

It was now time for Amit Kilam to show his percussion skills. What started off as a genuine display of creativity with the famous Gabgubi instrument soon emerged as a raw power of pure skill and talent!Trying to catch up with him and succeeding a great deal was Rahul with his base guitar and Asheem with his tabla.

The show culminated with the title song Kandisa sung again by Rahul Ram. The band had to accede and play "Kaun" from the Kandisa album after the encore requests from the audience. The energy from the band was exhilarating despite the fact it was its 11th concert in the month. The band made an honest attempt to reflect the true spirit of its slogan, "The sound of contemporary India getting to know itself." Indian Ocean's performance was a true reflection of the fact that genuine creative artists do exist.


Poetry aficionados enjoy 3rd Pak-o-Hind Yakjahtee Mushairah

Poetry1.jpg: Pictured from left to right - Naeem Alvi(Top Line award Inc chairman), Nadeem Siddiqi and Waseem Brailvi.

The 3rd Pak-o-Hind Yakjahtee Mushairah (poetry reciting) series was organized by Gehwarah-e-Adab, USA's Atlanta chapter. Held at Berkmar Community School, in Lilburn, Georgia on August the 4th, it turned out to be an enchanting evening. Gehwarah-e-Adab is a non-profit social organization working to uphold the culture, language and heritage of Pakistani and Indian Americans living in USA.

Sandhya Bhagat and Talat Alvi began the program by welcoming the poets and audience with the message of unity. After this, Gehwarah-e-Adab's Atlanta coordinator, Aslam Pervez, introduced the poets according to their stature while reciting inserts of poetry.

The evening was illuminated particularly by the presence of Waseem Barelvi and Mairaj Faizabadi from India and Rafi uddin Raz and Khuwaja Razi Haidar from Pakistan. Local poets participating included Aslam Pervez (Nizamat), Kushkumar, Sadaf Farooqui, Mohd Sadiq, Manorma Pandit, Tahir Syal, Sudarshan Baharai, Rehana Anjum and Zaki Kakorvi (sadar-e-mushaira).

The chief guests were Haven Trust Chairman Bobby Patel and Top line award Inc Chairman Naeem Alvi, who gave away awards to key individuals.

Despite a late start and some confusion with the food, the poetry more than made up and the event proved wonderfully successful in spreading the message of Indian and Pakistani friendship & unity through spoken poetry of incredible depth. In the last 5 years, 3 tours of Pak-o-Hind Mushairah's have been organized in 17 cities. For more information, visit http://www.gahwaraheadab.com

~ Gaurav Bakshi and Sandhya Bhagat




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