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On Mission! On Target! India House Gala Celebrates a Busy Year

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India House held its annual Gala last Saturday, February 6 and Pandit Jasraj was the featured guest performer. From Left: Col. Vipin Kumar, Brij Agrawal, Durga Agrawal, Hari Agrawal, Bal Sareen, Pandit Jasraj, Dr. Virendra Mathur, Pandita Tripti Mukherjee, Pandit Suman Ghosh and his team.
Photos: Bijay Dixit

By Jawahar Malhotra

SUGAR LAND: As it was heaping platitudes on its achievements in the past year, India House could easily have added one more overlooked statistic: the first community fundraising Gala of the new year!  After adding in the amounts raised at the auction and raffle held at the Gala on Saturday, February 6 at the Sugar Land Marriott Hotel, India House netted a comfortable amount (still untallied) from the Gala, all slated to fund its Mission and its programs.

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And though the focus was on what India House did, the night was carried away by the amazing performance of the acclaimed classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj who was the headliner entertainer, accompanied by Houston’s own vocalist and musician Pandit Suman Ghosh, who also performed a long solo piece. Ghosh’s daughters Amiya and Apurva provided vocal accompaniment to both entertainers and Anuraag Shah, son of noted local table maestro Shanti Lal Shah, and himself showing growing prowess in his musical skills. Pandit Jasraj’s performance was spellbinding as he led into his usual ragas and bhajans of rising and falling vocal notes.

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Jasraj has been a frequent visitor to Houston, last coming here May 2015 for the Manch Pravesh of Amiya and Apurva (see IAN dated June 12, 2015), and had performed the night before at a private dinner in India House. Before performing, he took the mic and spoke briefly in Hindi of his trips to the Bayou City. “I have been visiting Houston since 1984, but only in 2002 started to feel that my home is here because of Suman Ghosh ji,” he said, adding, “his home is an ashram.” In further tribute to Ghosh he noted that just as Marathi actor Dinanath Mangeshkar became better known after his daughter Lata and noted poet Harivansh Rai Bachchan after his son Amitabh, “for me, I needed to have Suman Ghosh.”

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Keynote Speaker Dr. Renu Khator

Mesmerized by Jasraj’s performance, US Congressman Al Green asked for the audience of over 300 people to join together to sing Happy Birthday for him, as Jasraj had turned 86 the week before on January 28. Green offered a certificate of special recognition to India House and was followed by Daniel Espinoza, representing US Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee who offered similar salutations.

The event started with a social hour with generous appetizers by Bombay Brasserie (who also catered the sit down dinner, with dishes served at the tables) and couples and group pictures by Bijay Dixit, the official photographer of India House. The décor of the ballroom, including India House logo and graphics splashed on the sidewalls, was by Prashe Décor and the sound and stage lights was by Darshak and Mona Thacker of Krishna Sounds.

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The emcee for the evening, Pooja Lodhia, a news reporter for KTRK TV who guided the program through its steps. India House President Dr. Manish Rungta gave a brief outline of the events that are offered at the facility and the program that have been held there through the past year. Vipin Kumar, who has been the dynamo behind the splurge of activity at India House, joked about being elevated from General Manager to Executive Director, and drove deeper with a video showing the activities held throughout the year.

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Inside, off to one side of the stage, in a move that has been played out in three other events recently, rising local Indian artist, Gopaal Seyn slowly produced a colorful painting that was ultimately auctioned off for over $2,000. An auction for several items was held later and the raffle for a necklace donated by Karat 22 Jewelers was won by none other than Renu Khator, the Keynote speaker, who promptly turned around and donated it back for auction.

A special presentation was made by Dr. Stephen J. Spann, a Special Assistant to the President and Planning Dean for a possible medical school at the University of Houston. He is a dedicated physician and seasoned healthcare administrator with experience at Baylor College of Medicine, UTMB and Johns Hopkins and has been working with UH for the past few months. He applauded India House, which has a free medical clinic as well as a Harris Health Clinic, for their ability to provide primary health care. “When you don’t have access to healthcare, things are just difficult,” Spann remarked, and added that places with a higher primary care physician to population ratio usually have healthier populations.

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Renu Khator, the Chancellor of the University of Houston System and President of the flagship campus was the Keynote speaker, ‘reluctantly recruited,” she quipped, “because you can’t turn down Dr. Durga Agrawal”, an IH Trustee. Honored to be in his presence, she remembered when Pandit Jasraj taught a course at the University of South Florida when she was still there. Instead of focusing on UH, Khator dwelt on what it meant to be an Indian  American and how this identity evolves the longer the new immigrant stays in the US. She used her own experience from a 19 year-old to now, 42 years later, to illustrate the mental, cultural and professional changes that occur for new immigrants and stressed being engaged in your surroundings. “Being Indo American is an asset, not a liability,” she concluded, counselling, “do everything possible for India but expand your heart to include the US.”

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