40 Years On, ICC Looks Back with Pride with Musical Extravaganza, I-Day Program

ICC President P. V. Patel (left). The ICC parade float (center) was followed by the parade walkers representing the ICC.Photos : Jawahar Malhotra.

ICC President P. V. Patel (left). The ICC parade float (center) was followed by the parade walkers representing the ICC.Photos : Jawahar Malhotra.

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By Jawahar Malhotra

STAFFORD: Even as many of the Presidents from all the previous years stood onstage to accept recognition for their work, it was a wonder that forty years had passed by since the India Culture Center came to take a hold of events near and dear to the community’s heart. Four of them had passed away – Dr. Harb S. Hayre, Dr. K. L. Sindwani, Dr. Paul Mehta and Keshu Patel – but as the current President, P. V. Patel said from the podium, “individually we don’t count”.


Forty years earlier, this was a small community of perhaps 5,000 – mostly students, some engineers and doctors – trying to get started in their careers. Once a month, they would hold movie nights at the Agnes Arnold Hall Auditorium of the University of Houston: someone would run the projector (invariably the film would get cut midway through) and 200 people would show up for a chance to meet, exchange gossip and buy the $1 a piece samosas that someone would make at home to help pay for the movie’s rental and shipping costs to and from New York.

To the Indian mind, banding together seemed the way to go as the ICC was born, and then stayed on for years in a converted, one-story wood frame house on Cypress Street across from the Vivekananda Society’s similar structure that the Sindwanis owned. “It was the community center for all”, added Patel, and was the standard bearer for all the major Indian events.

As the community grew, many groups splintered away and with varying degrees of success and attendance, the ICC held onto its signature events, the Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations. When Indian dignitaries came to visit – like Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao and President Kalam – the ICC was the go-to organization to organize and deliver community meetings.

That’s the path that the ICC has taken as it has evolved over the past 15 years, becoming the umbrella organization for all the other groups, bringing them together, “especially during calamities, like the recent death of four fire fighters’, recounted Patel. “The ICC has always been in the forefront of helping victims of disasters and tragedies. We all got together and delivered a check for $57,000 to Mayor Annise Parker to help the bereaved families.”

Mustering the forty or so organizations to work together, while not interfering in their goals can be frustratingly hard work, admitted Patel but as the community continues to grow in numbers, businesses and affiliations, it is clear to them all that they must have a single coherent voice.

Patel spoke about his own journey in carrying for a sick wife who died seven years ago, alone raising two songs who have graduated with good careers, and thanking the many people who helped him. “When you do public work, God pays you back ten times over,” he said, ending with a paraphrase from the Lebanese-born poet and philosopher Khalil Gibran best known for his 1923 book The Prophet, “A life without inspiration is no good, inspiration without knowledge is useless, knowledge without hard work has no value, hard work without love is worthless.”

Patel didn’t want to stand any further between the half-filled auditorium at the Stafford Civic Centre on Cash Road and the performer they waited on for the evening, Jatin Pandit who had come with his troupe of 30 singers, musicians and staff to perform at ICC’s musical night extravaganza celebrating its 40th anniversary. Earlier in the evening of Friday, August 23, the crowd of about 600 had been treated to a buffet dinner catered by Ashiana restaurant in the large meeting hall next door  and then had sauntered over to see the live program, emceed by ICC Board member Jasmeeta Singh, herself a talented choreographer and dancer.

Just after the musicians took their seats and struck up the chords, the young singers Reya, Nauzad and Khushi started to warm up the crowd with a medley of songs from now and yesteryear, with Reya, dressed in purple opening with a stylistically modern version of the bhajan Ragupati Ragav Raja Ram. Khushi, dressed in yellow joined in with a tribute to Lata Mangeshkar, Aaja Reh, Pardesi, sounding a great deal like the legend herself.

Nauzad, dressed in a white coat and dark pants strode onstage and cracked a joke about the exchange rate of the Indian rupee, which almost matches the number of years of independence. “At the 50th anniversary, it was down to 50!” he quipped. He then dove into Dil Hai Hindistani. All three were animated, energetic and lively in their deliveries, getting the audience to clap along. Then, Nauzad sang a number with Khushi from Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, a Jatin-Lalit musical (“the movie has played for 900 weeks in a local Bombay theatre”, he revealed), Tujhe Dekha Toh Yeh Jana Sanam.

“And now let me introduce to you the Monarch of Melody,” exclaimed Nauzad as Jatin Pandit strode onstage, looking suave in a gold-sequined black shirt and black pants. The other half of the Jatin-Lalit composing brothers duo who split up working together in 2006, he revealed little tit-bits of gossip from the Bollywood music scene which drew the audience’s rapt attention. He reminisced about one of his idols, the late Mohammed Rafi and how Rafi would often discreetly leave behind huge sums of money while visiting composers on the pretense of having tea, “because he knew that they didn’t make the kind of money singers did.”

Jatin slid into several Rafi songs, starting with Aase Toh Na Dekho, noting that the old songs still had an audience overseas but couldn’t do so in India. “I have been coming to Houston since 1983”, he remarked, “and it is just a nicer, cleaner version of India! You get all the desi food, lots of mandirs … and a lot of love from you all.” He explained how Majnu Sultanpuri used to write songs to tunes and broke off into Diwana Mujse Nahin. After singing the Rafi Hai Duniya Usi Ki, he talked about Kishore Kumar, Yash Chopra and sang Zara Sa Jhoom Loon Main in a duet with Khushi before taking a break.

The backup singers then turned to dance music, with Khushi singing an Arabic, belly-dance inspired song from the movie Guru, using her voice to its whole range, with long guttural notes and swaying, moving to the drumbeat. This was probably the best number she performed. Then along with Nauzad and Reya, they sang Hare Rama, Hare Krishna. The concert continued on till close to midnight and the performers all stayed in the city for the weekend, Jatin leaving on Monday.

Two days later, on Sunday, August 26, the same venue hosted the 67th Independence Day celebration with the usual parade around the parking lot just before a brief rain shower, speeches from local dignitaries and politicians, community awards and 36 service and food booths. The morning session till about 2 pm didn’t draw in many people, with the organizers, volunteers and vendors outnumbering the crowd. But the afternoon saw the largest attendance, perhaps about 1,000 people, as the entertainment show featuring many local kids, artists and performers came onstage to participate in the cultural shows, ending by 7 pm.