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Serving India through laughter

August 2008
Serving India through laughter

Comedy and patriotism? SewaUSA International served up this unlikely mix to an appreciative audience at the Global Mall in Norcross on Sunday, June 29.

Titled “Hansi Ke Favvare” (Fountains of Laughter), the program featured standup acts by Om Prakash Aditya and Rajesh Chetan, two well-known poets from India specializing in the genres of political satire and comedy. SewaUSA International, a non-profit service organization dedicated to raising funds for development projects in India, was presenting the program for the fourth year successfully.

This year’s Hasya Kavi Sammelan or conference of humor-poets raised funds for a preventive healthcare initiative called Gram Arogya Rakshak, which focuses on training a local volunteer from a village as a medical representative or consultant for the entire village at a nominal cost of a dollar a day for a year.

The program, which was free for everyone to attend, attracted a 200-strong audience. Rajesh Chetan began the show with a poem paying tribute to NRIs and their contributions to America and to their country of origin. Thus instantly establishing a connection with the audience, he continued to invoke laughter with his saga of unwanted houseguests and satire on cricket and cell phones.

Om Prakash Aditya was up next, ready to power the laughter-train forward. His poetry, crafted from subjects such as a hapless school student’s struggle with subjects taught in class, a spiel for politicians’ suitability as residents of hell, or birds celebrating Valentine’s Day, clearly struck a chord with the audience. Cleverly interspersed amidst these sub-plots was an ode dedicated to people who seldom laugh at his jokes and his attempts to make them laugh!

Another highlight of the evening was a short Nukkad Natak or street play performed by SewaUSA volunteers, which showcased the process and benefits of the Gram Arogya Rakshak initiative. The play demonstrated why preventive healthcare initiatives are necessary, how the Arogya Rakshak can make services accessible to the people and also communicate the people’s feedback to the service providers.

The skit reinforced the point that providing basic medical care for a village costed only a dollar a day — a very manageable amount for Indians here in the United States to donate.

Rajesh Chetan returned to the stage after a bhelpuri-and-lassi break, with humorous poems carrying social messages. He drew the audience’s attention to India’s fixation with cricket at the expense of other sports, and chided the Indian media for obsessing with events like the Aishwarya Rai-Abhishek Bachchan wedding and neglecting real issues. He appealed to the audience to preserve the Hindi language by speaking Hindi at home with their children. The program took on a patriotic mood as he recited a poem showcasing the significance of the colors of the Indian flag.

The poetic journey reached a musical end as the audience clapped along while Om Prakash Aditya sang two kavitas. One was a parodic plea by Sonia Gandhi’s followers imploring her to save them and their party. The other was a hilarious prayer dedicated to green currency notes.

SewaUSA volunteer Gaurav Verma thanked the poets, sponsors and the audience.

Amitabh Sharma, an enthusiastic member of Indian society in metro Atlanta, made an appeal for donations. He pointed out that unlike many charitable organizations that incurred heavy overhead expenses, SewaUSA spent only 2 percent of the funds collected on administrative costs. The audience responded generously to Sharma’s appeal, donating enough to make the Arogya Rakshak program a reality for 16 villages in India.

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