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Festival Brings India Closer To Atlanta

September 2005
Festival Brings India Closer To Atlanta

The 9th Annual FOI at Gwinnett Civic Center

Some spirited performances made up for a poor turnout and organizational challenges

The 9th Festival of India held on August 13 at the Gwinnett Civic Center not only had an expected air of festivity about it, but also proved to be a platform for reflection ? about the past, the present and the future.

Organized by the India American Cultural Association (IACA) of Atlanta, the theme this year was "India Unveiled." The festival mirrored the diversity of India, with 30 community organizations from metro Atlanta participating in the success of the event, which was spread out over three weekends. The one-day event at the Gwinnett Civic Center included cultural shows, seminars, a fashion show, an Indian consular visa camp, a health fair, youth activities, children's corner, and various exhibition booths belonging to small and big businesses, non-profit organizations and, religious organizations, media and of course, Indian restaurants.

The Festival of India began in 1997 and has now become a much-anticipated and attended annual event that revels in the culture and heritage of India. This year, however, it appeared to have lost steam considering the relatively smaller turnout. If food can be considered an integral part of showcasing a culture and ethnicity, the number of food stalls (three) set the tone for an overall downsized Festival. Compared to the crowded food court featuring over a dozen choices in previous years, the floor at the Gwinnett arena around the food stalls as well the exhibition area remained sparse.

Even so, the number of attendees throughout the day was in the thousands with the crescendo having built soon after lunchtime. Akkineni inaugurated this year's festival and welcomed the guest of honor, Dr. Subramaniam Swamy, former union minister and a member of parliament who is also a Harvard University alumnus. Tushar Sanghvi, president of IACA, recalled that when he came to the U.S., there were hardly 4,000 Indians in Atlanta, which now has more than 50,000. Swamy spoke at one of the series of seminars organized by IACA and the Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (GIACC). P. R. Subramanian, the GIACC vice president who chaired the seminar, "Fundamentals of India's Renaissance", introduced Swamy, who is a visiting faculty at Harvard. In his keynote address, aided by a PowerPoint presentation, he vouched for India's future by pointing out to the country's upper hand in information technology, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and new energy technology. He said for top corporations India was not only a destination for outsourcing, but also an important center for research and development. More than 100 international companies had established R&D centers in India in the last five years, according to Swamy. He highlighted the success of non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the U.S. But he cautioned them about the many attempts to distort history and send out a negative image of India, which, he said, remains a secular country.

As in the past, this year too say an interesting set of seminars and panel discussions. A discussion was held on the similarities and challenges facing the two largest democracies, India and the U.S. The participants, Dr. Behruz Sethna and Dr. Cedric Suzman, were moderated by Robert Arnett, author of acclaimed book, India Unveiled. In another discussion, The Power Triad, Dr. Penelope Prime, Dr. John Graver and Dr. Jagdish Sheth argued on the global impact of the three-way relationship among India, China and the U.S. C.N. Madhusudan was the moderator. Dr. Laurie Patton, Dr. Rashid Naim and Dr. Tara Doyle participated in a lively discussion on the Role of Religion in Contemporary India. Dr. Lawrence Carter moderated the discussion. India Unveiled also saw a practical demonstration by the Art of Living Foundation and youth events organized by Raksha, the South Asian women's support group. Moreover, Dr. Uma Majumdar's talk on Gandhi's Pilgrimage to Faith was well received by the audience.

Besides the fun, food and music, the festival provided service to the community through a Health Fair and a Visa Camp. People started queuing early at the visa camp organized by the India Consulate in Houston. Hundreds availed of this preferred personalized service than the hassle of correspondence by mail.

As in previous years, the Health Fair was well attended, and Dr. Naresh Parikh, one of the key organizers, was happy with the turnout and the service provided by the voluntary participation of physicians and nurses. Then there was the India-American Scholarship booth, managed by Dr. Suvrat Bhargave and his colleagues. Right across was Dr. Robert Arnett, the author of award-winning travel book, India Unveiled, and the children's book, Finders, keepers?

Dr. Uma Majmudar, a professor of religion at Emory University, was signing copies of her book, Gandhi's Pilgrimage of Faith: From Darkness to Light, at the booth of the Gandhi Foundation of USA.

Cultural Performances at the Gwinnett Arena

Kala Subramanian, the Festival of India Cultural Coordinator and IACA board member, felt that the "cultural event unveiled the (country's) mystic in various forms of cultural and artistic expressions through dance and music in a packed hall." The program began with music played by Tarang Orchestra Youth group, followed by religious and film songs (in Hindi and regional languages) by the South Carolina-based artists. Lalita Das, a doctoral student from South Carolina, put up a scintillating Bharat Natyam dance. Overall, the event was a presentation of traditional and contemporary culture. From Garba to Bollywood, the program touched all bases.

The spirited performances of energetic youngsters were marred by mismanagement. Parents could be heard complaining about how kids had to wait hours past their scheduled time to perform, all the while sweating in their outfits. Performances scheduled at 10:30 a.m. did not occur until 3:00 p.m. Audio tracks of performances had been misplaced. A three-piece bhangra item that should have been performed sequentially was performed randomly. After the first two parts the stage remained empty for a significant time. The remaining third part was performed later in the program, completely out of context.

The morning started off with a drawing competition and a fancy dress competition for various age groups followed by a Shloka Recital competition. It was very heartening to see such a large number of kids reciting shlokas with such clarity and with perfect pronunciations. A lot of credit should be given to the parents for making such credible effort with their children.

A group called Tarang monopolized the first hour of the cultural festival. Their performances included a very talented youth orchestra, a live band and singers. The lag time between each performance dragged making the crowd restless.

The program picked up momentum with a garba performed by the Nritya Sankalpa. What was noteworthy besides their performance was that the participants had made all the jewelry for the dance at their summer camp. Garba was followed by a Tilana performed by Lalita Das to a rendition by Balmurli Krishna. A three segment Bhangara item was followed by two fusion dance items. The first, a blend of classical and western, by a group of eight grade students and the latter a medley of Hindi movie songs by a trio called the Masti Girls.

For a break from the dancing, solo vocalist Rohit Munagala enthralled the audience with Telugu songs. The next item performed by the students of Anupa Thakurta was a tribute to Rabindranath Tagore. It was a series of dances based on Tagore's poems performed by different groups. The series ended with the Indian national anthem. To the dismay of many, not one person in the audience stood up when the Indian national anthem was being played.

This was followed by a rendition of bhajans by the students of Abhay Gorde and a fusion dance by the students of Prem Rehman. The piece-de-resistance of the afternoon was the Bridal Fashion show choreographed by Praveena Vadrevu. The"The Brides and Grooms of India" presented colorful wedding finery from more than 13 states of India. The traditional outfits, jewelry, music and wedding rituals from the various states in India were showcased.

An antakshari competition was hosted by Vaibhav Sathe who kept the audience and the participants on tenterhooks. The event was an opportunity for budding Indian-American artists to try out their talents. In the nearby room, the Children were entertained with face painting, magic show, and other interesting activities.

- Mahadev Desai and Parijat Chandra

The 9th Annual FOI at Georgia Tech.

A Striving Cultural Showcase

When the IACA committee initiated a cultural program in 1997, they had envisioned a celebration to broaden its horizons by reaching out to larger audiences every year. However the 9th annual cultural program at Georgia Tech drew a very small turnout. The menu for this year's theme, "India Unveiled," included a variety of items including jugalbandhi performances, a bridal fashion show, a ventriloquist act and several dance pieces. However, the performances were marred by poor coordination.

Suchita Vadlamani and Suvrat Bhargave emceed the event gracefully, and added a personal touch to each item by explaining its significance. The opening item, by the Tarang Orchestra was a rendition of the American and Indian national anthems followed by an evergreen classic, "Mile Sur Mera Thumara." Some unique items such as Anupa Thakurta's "Khajuraho" that symbolized the elements were well received. A group called Sa-Ri-Ga-Me coordinated a music-medley item, singing many foot-tapping numbers from Mission Kashmir and Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham and weaving in some soulful patriotic pieces from Roja and Swades.

Praveena Vadrevu coordinated a bridal fashion show illustrating the many different Indian wedding customs and traditions. This show was one of the highlights of the evening as the crowd witnessed the spectacle of brides and grooms from several Indian states including Kerala, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Punjab, Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Karnatka, Goa, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and West Bengal. The careful coordination of the songs from each state and the unique choreography made this bridal show unique compared to traditional fashion shows. After each wedding couple was introduced, all the participants embarked in a "grandeur ensemble," as the skit approached its finale.

The students of Aparna's Kathak Academy gave a breathtaking performance with incredible coordination and ornate outfits. Sangeeta Mayur and Vinnet Chandra coordinated two items adding variety to the program including a welcome dance titled "Suswagatham" and a Marathi dance, "Aamchi Mumbai."

The group that vowed the audience's attention last year with their "Chaiya Chaiya" performance continued to enthrall this year with a medley of Bollywood songs. Preeti Shah choreographed this piece by the "Yatra Dance Ensemble" who danced to songs from Dil Se, Devdas, and Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, to name a few.

Savita Vishwanathan and Preeta Sayekrishna presented a spectacular bharathanatyam item titled "Nritollosam." The beauty of Indian music was exemplified in Kakali Bandopadhay's jugalbandhi piece.

The sheer dedication of some of the coordinators of the cultural items and the hard work of the participants went under-appreciated by a poor turnout.

- Archith Seshadhri

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