Colorful, Crowded, Boisterous, the Way an I-Day Festival Should Be!

By Jawahar Malhotra

STAFFORD: After a much subdued Republic Day program held last January in the cavernous GSH Center, the India Culture Center was once again back to its roots at the Stafford Civic Centre — where it has held its flagship events for at least the past dozen years – with the latest Indian Independence Day program, IFest 2023 on Sunday, August 20.

It was a case of back to the future with the ICC going back to a festival setup that has worked for its previous three events. The main event space had a thick crowd of spectators flowing through the tightly packed room, meandering through the 50 vendor booths on the fringes and settling in on the rows of seats for the stage shows that lasted
a full six hours. IFest started at 1 pm, but by 3 pm there was already standing room only even as friends and acquaintances ran into each other and exchanged pleasantries.

Free parking and free entry drew in the crowd to see multiple stage shows, featuring local performers, young and old, dancing, singing, and acting (in a “Founders and Makers of India” skit produced by the versatile actor and thespian Bud Patel). They had a chance to hear speeches and proclamations by local elected officials like Congressman Al Green; Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee; Ft Bend County Judge K.P. George; Ft Bend County Commissioner Andy Meyers; State Rep Ron Reynolds; Stafford Mayor Ken Mathew and Stafford Councilwoman Alice Chen, as well as candidates vying for political office like Ali Sheikhani, Mike Khan, Taral Patel and Pervez Agwan.

Attending the event was the new Indian Consul General D. C. Manjunath, who recently joined a month ago, taking over from Aseem Mahajan, who has returned to New Delhi. But they mostly came to see the Bollywood actor Sonu Sood – brought in by local concert promoter Rajinder Singh – who stayed over from the previous night when he was the guest of honor at the ICC’s 50th Anniversary Gala at the Sugar Land Marriott Towne Center. Sood is a beloved actor known as much for his philanthropic work for the downtrodden in India – and a few cases elsewhere
in the world – for which he has garnered much praise and recognition. A short video of his charitable work proceeded his short speech, after which he got busy in handing out certificates and awards.

Among the awards was one for Outstanding Community Service Award to the Indian Muslim Association of Greater Houston presented to organization President Tasnim Vadva. Jugal Malani, a major supporter of the ICC and many other organizations received an award for outstanding service.

The Bhalla Outstanding Student Scholarship (BOSS) $5,000 awards, given out every year at the event since 2021, were distributed for outstanding scholastic performance to Aayushu Gandhi. Naga Veeramallu received a $1,000 award, sponsored by ICC President Malla Mekala. Also, Mahika Dawar and Kareena Kamal each were presented
with $1,000 awards, sponsored by ICC Chief Trustee Pramod Bengani and Bella Bhavsar, Pallavi Dhairyawan and Deepty Patel, respectively.

Newcomers to the IFest this time were recruiting booths from the Navy, Marines, and Army with officers answering questions. Mekala noted that was in recognition of the surge in patriotism among South Asians as they integrate fully into American life.

Among the two dozen stage shows were groups from Sudha Indrani Parthasarthy; Bihu Assamese Dance Pratibha Joshi; Rashmi Shashi Studio; Kathak Nritya Kala Kendra; Storyteller School of Dance – Ekta Popat; Dr. Sunanda Nair Pushpanjali; Natya Upasana Dance Academy; Dhadak School of Performing Arts; Desi Beats- Manju Dubey;
Dhadak School of Performing Arts; Khushboo School of Dance; Nrityakalpna; Infused Dance of Perf Arts; Rathna Kumar; Lakshmi Haridas; Chintan Parikh- Garba; Guru Rachna Vyas and Kathak Nritya Kala Kendra.

ICC previous President Jasmeeta Singh, a veteran of many community-staged events and fashion shows, once again chaired this well-received IFest with her band of volunteers Azmina, Naeem, Archana Nigam, Raghvendra Sengar, Aarv, Danish Sanwarwala, Sidh and Sarah Ali.

ICC thanks its sponsors: Diamond: Infodat Inc.; Platinum: Raj Veepuri and Sumit Arigapudi and Gold: Ravi Varre; Ayub Karovalia; Bobby Singh and Jasmeeta Singh; Raj Chappidi; Vikram Sudireddy; Tasnim Vadva; Ali Sheikhani and Anita Reed — owner and founder of Realm Real Estate Professionals.