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Gandhi Remembered on His 134th Birth Anniversary

November 2003
Gandhi Remembered on His 134th Birth Anniversary

The rousing call "build bridges, and not fences" rang out loud and clear at the 134th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi, held on a sunny morning at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta. The focus of this year's theme was tolerance, based on the nonviolent philosophy of Gandhi and King. This inspiring and memorable event was graced by the presence of the Chief Guest of Honor, Ashok Sajjanhar, Minister (Political), Embassy of India, Washington, D.C.; and other dignitaries who included Kenneth Cutshaw, Hon. Consul for India in the U.S., and Frank Catroppa, Superintendent of the MLK Jr. National Historic Site.

After Leela Kaul extended a warm welcome to all, Minister Sajjanhar lighted the diyas (lamps) near the resplendent, garlanded bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi, and made floral offerings. The newly arrived diplomat's career includes his crucial role in establishing a Chair on Mahatma Gandhi at the International Institute of Philosophy under the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow, where he served at the Embassy of India from 1982 to 1985. Vocalist Krishna Kali, winner of many musical awards and director of the Music School in Atlanta, provided the musical accompaniment to a rendition of Gandhi's favorite bhajan ?Raghupati Raghava' by Arush Lal, her eight-year-old student. Krishna Kali, in her mellifluous voice, then sang Meerabhai's song ?pag ghunghroo bandh'.

The formal program was conducted at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where once Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached as its pastor. Giriraj Rao, executive director of the Gandhi Foundation, recounted how Mrs. Correta King, in 1983, ushered in the awareness of Gandhi in Georgia by dedicating a room in the King Center. The Gandhi Foundation was established in 1997, and the statue was installed the following year. There was loud applause when he expressed his happiness over the 20th birthday celebrations of the MLK Jr. National Historic Site. Vinita Thaper, former Miss India Georgia was the vivacious mistress of ceremonies. She read excerpts from Mrs. King's letter in which she apologized for her inability to attend, and conveyed her heartfelt greetings and support. "The theme?speaks with compelling relevance to the urgent need for nonviolent conflict reconciliation and healing in our strife-torn world?Let us pledge to reaffirm and strengthen the bonds of unity that bring us together in honoring these two giants of nonviolent liberation," said Mrs. King in the letter.���

Frank Catroppa remarked that many movies, video games, theaters, and the media glorify violence, leading many to believe that violence is the answer to life's problems. Gandhi and King have proved otherwise, as he pointed out, and that's why it's important to celebrate their birth anniversaries. Saying that he enjoyed participating in the celebration, Greg Pridgeon ? Chief of Staff for the Mayor in Atlanta ? described it as a "love fest." He conveyed the greetings and good wishes of Mayor Shirley Franklin, and praised the Indian-American community for its tremendous role in the development and progress of Atlanta ? a city of dreams, a city of possibilities, and a city of diversity and tolerance.

Kenneth Cutshaw highlighted the important events in the life of Gandhi. In conclusion, he noted: "Tolerance for the life of others is an essential component for achieving harmony and peace within us." Minister Sajjanhar pointed out that both leaders were captivating and convincing speakers, and great writers. It was Gandhi, he said, who provided invaluable inspiration to Dr. King and other world leaders. The prestigious ?Gandhi Humanitarian Award' was bestowed upon Dr. Sujata Reddy (of TAMA) for her many services to the community. Two senior citizens, Shri Jai Krishna Sharma and Shri Nanubhai Barot, were honored with the ?Gandhi Recognition Award' for their participation in the Freedom Movement in India. The awardees received thunderous applause at the end of the ceremony. Smt. Rashmi Gupta sang ?Vaishnav Janato', one of Gandhi's favorite bhajans, and Mrs. Helen Lissimore led the audience in the singing of ?We Shall Overcome', the well-known anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. All the attendees received bouquets and books on Gandhi.

- Mahadev Desai

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