ICC’s 50th Celebration of the 74th Republic Day Resounds in New Venue

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: This year, if you drove, by force of habit on auto-pilot, to the India Culture Center’s Republic Day celebration figuring it was at the Stafford Civic Centre on Cash Road, you would have been wrong and very much confused. The organizers probably did not leave any posted signs there to re-direct you.

Where? To the two-year old Gujrati Samaj Houston – or GSH – Event Center on West Bellfort and the Beltway 8. For a dozen years the ICC has held both the Republic Day and Indian Independence Day events at Stafford, so the change of venue came as a surprise to many.

But the huge GSH with plenty of free parking, a cavernous auditorium, long stage, built in sound system and enclosed foyers for 25 vendor booths was a big enough draw for the organizers to make the leap. An estimated 1,500 people attended the event held on Sunday, January 29 from 1 to 7 pm and many came hungry, judging from the food booths by Mirch Masala and Kumar restaurant which were swamped.

So, to start off with the first big festival of the year, the ICC unveiled its 50th celebration of the Indian Republic Day, billed as “Jai Jawan, Jai Kissan”, featuring a line-up of nine local dance troupes competing for three prizes, other performances, speeches and a pulsating set of songs by the headliner singer Harjeet Mehndi, who flew in especially from San Francisco.

This year’s festival was chaired by Dr. Falguni Gandhi, assisted by co-chair Sanjay Singh and ICC President Malla Mekala. As in the past few festivals, the cultural portion of the event was organized by Jasmeeta Singh, whose trademark eye to detail was evident in the arrangements. She was assisted by ICC Directors Dr Hina Azam and Sangeeta Dargan. Stage decorations were by Décor One; the sound system by Darshak Thackar of Krishna Sounds.

Among the invited guests were Indian Consul General Aseem Mahajan; Ft Bend County Judge K.P. George and Ft Bend Commissioner Andy Meyers all of whom spoke briefly and expressed their best wishes for the occasion and admiration of the ICC’s selfless work in bringing these Indian National events to Houston.

Troupes from nine dance schools competed in the competitor, which was judged by Bangar Reddy, Puja Agarwal and Rutvi Chauhan. First prize was won by Nritya Kalpana, choreographed by Kalpana Bora, and they were presented with a large trophy by CG Mahajan, along with a $1,000 check.  Second prize was won by Studio Mudra School of Dance with a check for $700 and the third prize was won by SPARC Superstar with a check of $500. All the performances were chaired and Emceed by Jasmeeta Singh.

The main attraction and the program finale was a concert showcased by Harjeet Mehndi (brother of Indian pop singer Dalher Mehndi) who flew in from California with his team and performed an outstanding show full of beautiful songs with his booming voice with great power and control.

Harjeet started with patriotic songs and continued with many popular songs in Hindi, Punjabi and Gujarati, including ghazals and qawwalis. The mesmerizing songs brought people to the front of the stage to dance alongnon-stop, including Garba and Bhangra, for over two hours.

With Harjeet was a Dholak player, a Dholki player and local keyboardist Shrikant Pabrekar whose wife, Shilpa also joined in the singing, as well well-known local singer Uma Mantravadi, who knows Harjeet personally and had persuaded him to come to perform at the event.

For ICC’s upcoming events please go to icchoustontx.org and to register for booths and sponsorship for the August Independence Day celebration; or to participate in India Culture Center’s 50th Anniversary Gala to be held on June 24..