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Festival of India 2006 (FOI)

September 2006
Festival of India 2006 (FOI)

Announcement of New India Center, Bhangra Workout and More Highlight Annual Tradition

India American Cultural Association (IACA) in collaboration with 45 other community organizations presented a gala 10th annual Festival of India (FOI) to commemorate the 59th anniversary of India's independence. This year's festival was compressed into one day instead of three as in previous years. The jubilant festivities included dazzling cultural shows, seminars, an international-caliber fashion show, a visa camp, a health fair, a Charity Walk/Run, a Mela with the colorful ambience of an India bazaar, art and business related exhibits, vendor booths, delectable cuisine, and fun for everyone.

The health fair and the visa camp kicked off the event. As soon as the doors opened, people queued up at the visa camp organized by the Indian Consulate in Houston. Many availed of this personalized service instead of communicating with the Embassy by mail. In the packed ballroom, the audience was entertained with a live medley of traditional folk dances, music, fusion dances, patriotic songs and heart pounding Bollywood bhangra. The children were kept amused and entertained with Mehndi, face painting, beads, bracelets and kite-making, among other activities. IACA President Tushar Sanghvi, Chand Akkineni, Paddy Sharma, Ani Agnihotri and other representatives of supporting Associations stood on stage as Srijata Mukherjee beautifully sang the US National Anthem. This was followed by the singing of India's national anthem (Jana Gana Mana). Rakhi Banerjee and her group sang swagatam and two rousing patriotic songs befitting the Independence Day celebrations.

Paddy Sharma welcomed and recognized BJP member from Gujarat, Bhavnaben Chikhaliya. Chand Akkineni extended a hearty welcome to all, thanked and recognized the sponsors and patrons and introduced the Chief Guest, Harsha Agadi, President and CEO, Church's Chicken, International. Agadi, born in Bangalore, grew up in Mumbai and later earned his MBA at Duke University. He has previously worked with Little Caesars, American Express, etc. and is currently Managing Director of GHS Holdings.

In a crisp speech, punctuated with frequent applause, Harsha said, "I am happy to be here to celebrate India's Independence Day. We've become independent through non-violence. Since 1991, after embracing American style capitalism, India has a GDP of a trillion and Indian-Americans have highest per capita income in the US. We are unique because we have come from one democratic country to another democratic country. We're not refugees. We've come here to better our lives. We're doing well because of our knowledge of English language, our skills and our willingness to settle in any part of the US and our work ethic. But we must not be complacent. And we must remember one thing – we must learn to contribute monetarily or in kind to worthy causes in the U.S., India, and other parts of the planet. I am very proud to be an Indian; I am also extremely proud also to be an American. And I am even prouder of being an Indian-American!"

Kenneth Cutshaw, Hon. Consul for India in the U.S., a familiar figure at the FOI, said that he always enjoyed coming to the FOI. "Each year it is getting better and better," he noted. "I work closely with Harsha Agadi, who has proved himself a successful Indian-American. Very soon, we hope to be traveling to India to hopefully start a Church Chicken enterprise there. As Hon. Consul for India I am very proud to be a part of this community and hope that the State Government here will provide you all the facilities to you that will be beneficial to your growth in Atlanta and the U.S."

Dr. Josephine Tan, chair of Governor Sonny Perdue's Asian American Commission for a New Georgia, said that she was proud to be a sponsor of FOI. She conveyed greetings from the Governor's office and lauded the Indian community for its immense contribution in all fields of activity. "The Government is planning sometime in the near future to visit India to further augment its trade relationship with India" she said.

Tushar Sanghavi, Chand Akkineni, Ani Agnihotri, Paddy Sharma, Vir Nanda, and Surinder Bahl, each spoke briefly about IACA's history, its activities, and exhorted the audience to support its twin dream projects – India Center and Sanatan Mandir. The burgeoning Indian-American community in Georgia has created a strong need for a new, vibrant India Center which will offer facilities, activities and programs to preserve, promote and enrich Indian culture. Once the targeted fund of $500,000 is reached, construction on both projects will commence on 10 acres of land. And hopefully be completed within 2-3 years, they added. Likewise Dr. Yogesh Joshi and Raj Bansal briefed the audience about the Sanatan Mandir project. The new temple will easily accommodate about 500 people in its Prayer Hall. It will also have an Assembly Hall, classrooms, kitchen and dining facilities and plaza areas for outdoor ceremonies.

Kaushik Patel, V.P. and Rubi Lalani, Asst. V.P. United Central Bank, who had sponsored the Fashion Show, spoke briefly about the bank. Christine Phillip, an Indian designer educated at Emory, presented costumes that were designed in Indian silk.

Overall, between the competitions, cultural shows, fashion show, bhangra workout and the myriad booths, spectators had an entertaining time at the Festival of India. It was shorter in duration than the previous years. The quiz was sponsored by Festival of India Gold sponsor iCoachmath, and conducted by Ekta Jain and volunteers. The participants were divided into two categories:

Group A with Elementary and Middle Schools where 90 students took part. Group B with High Schools where 24 students participated. The half-hour quiz had 30 multiple choice questions relating to India's history, politics, arts, literature, geography, and epics which were projected on a huge screen.

~ Mahadev Desai

Entertainment galore at FOI 2006

It was a gala day at the Gwinnett Civic Center as IACA took over the premises for the Indian Independence Day celebrations on Saturday, August 19th. Visitors were treated to a slice of desi life with an array of cultural presentations and performances of dance and music, traditional and contemporary. The cultural committee coordinated and organized the program. Neeta Shenvi, a member of the organizing committee for the Festival of India, had these facts to share. The cultural program had a total of 275 participants aged 3 to 55, and 30 per cent of the participation was from children between ages 3 and 11.

The noon session began with a bang! Sarina Jain's Bhangra workout had the auditorium packed to the brim and witnessed ample participation from members of the audience. Everyone from 6 to 60 occupied the stage as they moved to Punjabi beats in unison and tried this unique workout. Sarina Jain is the founder and creator of Masala Bhangra Workout. She holds classes all over New York and San Francisco in leading gyms. Sarina is the resident "Fitness Guru" on BBC. After being inspired by Jane Fonda, Sarina decided to follow her dream and create the Bhangra workout, which is also available in DVD format. This was definitely a hit with all who tried it, most for the first time.

Performances by younger members of the Indian community followed. These included classical dances, film dances, folk dances, fusion items, classical instrumental music and patriotic songs. Grooving to famous Bollywood hits and swaying to classical music, there was an amazing display of talent at the festival. One of the judges for the dance competitions, Sunny Sachdeva, said, "The performers had amazing energy and they were able to fuse together classic Hindi film and contemporary Hindi pop very well."

The highlight of the post lunch performances was definitely the flute recital by talented young musician Aaditya Srivastava. The unassuming lad began with a very simple introduction and had the audience captivated with his melodiously rendered music. The resounding ovation Aaditya received is proof of the appreciation the community has toward such young talent.

Melanie, a Gwinnett county resident, was at the festival with her husband. "We never knew there was such a large Indian community here," she said. "The performances were just lovely and we stayed on and watched right through. For us, this is a very fascinating experience, all the color and the music."

Not only was the Festival of India a great way for the Indian community in Atlanta to meet and interact and celebrate a day that is special to all Indians, but the event was also an avenue for local talent to be displayed with something in store for individuals and families to look forward to and participate in.

~ Ruksana Hussain

Reema Parkar and Nimitt Sharma winners at "Antyakshari", FOI 2006

Every organization has their way of celebrating Independence Day. For the India American Culture Association, Antyakshari was the way at The 10th annual Festival of India. Singers from all skill levels made their way into the audience of a large banquet room at the Gwinnett Civic Center. A banner advertising the association hung behind the stage, which was flanked on either side by Indian and American flags.

"I got the idea it was something everyone was familiar with," said spotlight operator Terence Jenkins, observing from the back for a second year in a row. A large population of Indian Americans have played this fun musical game where each team sings a song that begins with the last syllable of the previous team's song. Although each participant knows a wealth of songs to choose from, it can become quite challenging to conjure the compositions under the pressure of a competition. This game has recently gained more popularity after the hit TV show "Antakshari" that successfully captivated audiences for more than a decade.

Swapna Kumthekar presented the questions on stage along with Vaibhav Saathe. Vaibhav and his wife consider the Antyakshari game a hobby, and are not the only ones in their family to do so. "Time Up!" yelled their son, seven-year-old Ritwik, into the microphone after every countdown.

Overall the rounds were informal. Audience members raised their hands to sing when a team failed at their turn. Three randomly chosen pairs took the floor at a time. Awara, Paagal and Deewana were the names of the teams. They then participated in rounds including "Twist the Tune" and guessing the song mimed on a projector screen that was set to the side. Anand Kale accompanied the singers on the keyboard, while Atul Dewal joined in on the dholak.

Saathe encouraged the teams, Awara, Paagal, and Deewana, to grab a second chance or an extra ten seconds whenever they needed it. At the end of each round, the scores were tallied and announced, with each losing team giving up their seats to another couple of volunteers from the audience.

At 6:10 p.m., Awara members Reema Parkar and Nimitt Sharma were finally declared the winners and the recipients of a trophy. For Sharma, a first timer at the festival, participation in Antyakshari was a result of spontaneity. Although after winning, he said that he would most likely return next year.

Antyakshari continues to attract local Indians every year after Independence Day. Judging by the crowd that streamed out afterwards, this is one method of celebration that is staying put.

~ Isha Ghodke

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