IFA organizes Freedom Mela
The Cumming Fairgrounds were awash in white, orange, and green banners on August 19 as Indian Friends of Atlanta (IFA) kicked off its 9th Freedom Mela.
[Left] The IFA Freedom Mela saw crowds thronging the venue.
After performances by groups such as the Atlanta Singers and Dazzling Divas had roused the crowd, the event officially commenced with the flag-raising ceremony. Dignitaries gathered around the poles and helped hoist the American and Indian flags as a group of young IFA volunteers performed the American and Indian national anthems.
Representatives from Boy Scout Troop #2000 then led the audience through the Pledge of Allegiance and cleared the way for one of the highlights of the mela: the parade. Traditional music from each Indian state rang out from the speakers while a red jeep bearing the Grand Marshal of the festival, Miss India 2013 Simran Ahuja, alongside children wearing regional attire led an army of families, friends, and attendees dressed in the traditional clothing of the Indian states they represented. Some states added their own unique flair to the parade, such as the representatives from Tamil Nadu who brought a statue of the poet Thiruvalluvar or the representatives from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana who marched together to present a united front. The state of Maharashtra stole the show as the North American Dhol Tasha & Lezim (NADTAL) group held the audience captive with its resounding rhythms and chants.
The IFA team came together to put on a successful show.
As the parade and the opening ceremony came to a close, the attention turned once again to the group of dignitaries, which included Georgia State Representatives Carter Barret (R) and Todd Jones (R); Forsyth County Commissioner and Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Alfred John; Forsyth County Sheriff, Ron Freeman; Cumming Chief of Police, P.J. Girvan; President of the Asian Pacific American Council of Georgia, Sudhir Agarwal; Vice Chair of Georgia’s Equal Opportunity Commission, Ritesh Desai; former Consul, Dharam Vir Singh; and ITServe Alliance Chapter President, Nayan Joshi.
The common theme across the dignitaries’ messages included well wishes for the Independence Day celebrations as well as an appreciation for the diversity captured by the event. “Thank you for all that you do to add to Forsyth County to make us better than we were before,” said Sheriff Freeman. “You live in the safest county in all of metro Atlanta and that’s because we work together. Our cultural differences make us unique; our similarities lead us to paths of friendship and they also keep our community safe.”
Speaking to Khabar, Representative Todd Jones said, “First and foremost, [I hope the community takes away] an appreciation for diversity. I think that as a tech entrepreneur myself, I’m sitting around the table every day and there is a diversity of opinion, a diversity of cultures, a diversity of nationalities and backgrounds, and better solutions come from that diversity. Secondly, when we come together, we start realizing we have a heck of a lot more in common than we do if don’t come together and don’t communicate.” Representative Jones also appreciated the Freedom Mela’s message of bringing India and America together. “These are two of the largest democracies in the world and I think that all boats rise with the rising tide,” he said. “When these communities, these cultures, this population comes together, we understand how important freedom is and what freedom means. We have seen what tyranny has done across the world and to be able to celebrate freedom is a very big deal.”
As the dignitaries stepped away to join the audience, playback singer Shilpi Paul kicked the celebration into high gear with her rousing renditions of many Hindi hits including “London Thumakda.” Overall, the 2023 Freedom Mela featured over 30 dance performances by children from local dance academies, three musical performances by local singers and music academies, and a martial arts demonstration. Though the performances carried the audience from afternoon well into the night, there was never a dull moment as the performances presented a variety of songs from patriotic tunes to Carnatic renditions of American pop songs to traditional Carnatic ballads, showcased every style of dance from Kuchipudi to hip-hop, and pulled together performers of all ages. Of course, the emcees Shrivani Kanchibhatla, Vikas Rattan, Ayshwarya Sridharan, and Bhrushira Vyas deserve just as much credit for keeping the mood upbeat with their jokes and infectious enthusiasm.
The event also featured booths offering everything from clothes and jewelry to insurance policies and the opportunity to connect with nonprofits or political groups. Outside the arena, food trucks like Spicy Desi and Stop Eat Repeat as well as food stalls from local Indian restaurants like Pista House, Firefly Grill and Bar, Bombay Lounge, and Just Chai ensured that no one left hungry. One of the sponsors, Billy Howell Ford Lincoln, even held a small car show outside the performance venue to showcase the Ford Bronco, the Ford F-150 Lightning, and Mustang Mach-E, and offered $1,000 off the price of any electric, hybrid, and ICE vehicles in their inventory to new and current members of IFA. But the biggest crowd-pleaser was Raghav, a Canadian hit singer, who brought the night to a close with his power-packed set of songs, which included his hit “Desperado.”
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