IMAGH’s Eid Milan Program Reflects the Secular Face of India

The IMAGH Board, guests and speakers on the stage after the event. Photos: Mustansir Mandviwala

The IMAGH Board, guests and speakers on the stage after the event. Photos: Mustansir Mandviwala

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: “I thought I had been to all the banquet facilities in Houston, but this is a new one on me,” quipped Mayor Annise Parker as she stepped on stage in the Chateau Crystale on Gessner and Westheimer. “This has been the fourth South Asian function I have gone to in the past four days,” she continued as her audience of 400 celebrating Eid clapped in amusement and appreciation.

Parker came for a short while, in between the many events that fill up her days now that her re-election campaign is in full swing. She had arrived while the Indian Muslims Association of Greater Houston President Latafath Hussain was in mid-sentence of his welcome remarks to the guests and he quickly summed it up to go on with the two-hour long program before the evening prayers and dinner.

Charles Foster, a partner in the FosterQuan legal firm specializing in immigration issues and a patron donor of the event, spoke with admiration about the IMAGH, especially the Club 65 program for Seniors. He acknowledged that the South Asian community was growing and that the melting pot of diversity that was Houston was how the rest of the country would look like in a few more decades. Foster explained his involvement in the Asia Society and the Inter Faith Ministries of Greater Houston and its Meals on Wheels program serving elders. “IM has a new facility in Midtown and there is a funding drive among the Muslim community right now to name the main conference room,” he explained.

Emcee Dr. Zishan Samiuddin with the IMAGH Board and Col. Raj Bhalla who received a Community Service Award.

Emcee Dr. Zishan Samiuddin with the IMAGH Board and Col. Raj Bhalla who received a Community Service Award.

Foster spoke of his Scottish roots and those of his wife who is from Shanghai and jumped into the issue of immigration reform which he is deeply involved in. “We need to fix the system,” he said, “it is too lengthy and complex if you are applying for immigration based on employment.” He urged everyone to speak with their Congressmen to express their views on this, before introducing Mayor Parker.

Parker recalled how she had grown up on a farm in Spring Branch not far from the Ballroom and has seen the city change dramatically and rise from being the 30th largest in the US to the fourth and from a mainly Anglo population to the most diverse city in the country. “Different cultures coexisting make magic happen,” she exclaimed, “and when it works together it truly is magic.” She said Houston attracted the best and brightest from around the world and they were all working for a bright future.

The magic of the evening was in the mix of the guests and the size of the function, which is a testament to the tremendous outreach efforts of the IMAGH to not just hold larger events like the Fourth Annual Eid Milan program that they were holding that evening, but also show how the organization had come of age and desires to be a player in community affairs in the Bayou City.

In the last four years, a talented team of like-minded Directors like Latafath Hussain, Karim Maknojia, Dr. Moyeen Haque, Rafi Ansar, Dr. Maqbool Haq, Dr. Syed Jaffri, Dr. Zafar Taqvi, Fakhuddin Sabir and Irfana Hussain and many others have decided to integrate the IMAGH within the fabric of the Indian community. The results have been obvious as more non-Muslims become involved, as was evident at the Eid Milan program. There were many members of the current and past Boards of the India Culture Center, including President P.V. Patel; the Indo American Political Action Committee, including President Sujeeth Draksharam and his family and Roy Abraham; and from the Hindus of Greater Houston, including Subhash Gupta and Vijay Pallod. As Consul General Parvathaneni Harish said in the gist of his speech, the guests reflected the secular face of India.

From left: IMAGH President Latafath Hussain, Indian Consul General Harish, Attorney Charles Foster and IMAGH Chairman Abezir Tayebji

From left: IMAGH President Latafath Hussain, Indian Consul General Harish, Attorney Charles Foster and IMAGH Chairman Abezir Tayebji

Just like Mayor Parker, Harish was also on a roll, having attended four functions in four days and spoken eloquently at each event about the Indian experience and as it blends into the immigrant’s lives. The arc of his thoughts over the past ten days of events melded well into the crux of his astute observations on secularism that evening as he spoke.

“India is not a Muslim nation,” he began, “it has the greatest diversity of religions on the planet. After it became a sovereign state, inclusion prevailed over exclusion and it became a secular nation, but not of the European brand which hails a separation of State and Religion. Gandhi realized that everyone is very religious in India, so the State is equidistant from all religions. People can wear what religion means to them at all places and practice with full freedom”. He added that the makers of India’s Constitution wanted to protect the various identities of the country and purposely kept the circle of inclusion wide to ensure that it is a model for the rest of the world.

Apart from all the speeches, Texas State Representative Gene Wu presented a proclamation from the State on Eid Milan Day and Sam Merchant presented one on behalf of US Congressman Al Green. Sarah Taqvi, daughter of one of the emcees, Dr. Zafar Taqvi (the other emcee was Dr. Zishan Samiuddin) and a journalism major at UT-Austin gave a PowerPoint presentation of Why We Celebrate Eid?. Two songs brought emotions high for the night: the first in the strong, resonant voice of Safiuddin Syed who is sight impaired and memorizes all his lines, about Devotion to the Prophet and the other in the high-intoned voice of Uma Mantravadi whose day job as an attorney hasn’t kept her from her passion in singing and music for the past 25 years.

The showpiece of the IMAGH has been the newly formed Club 65 program and Fakhruddin Sabir gave a description of its activities since it began in April. Two of its oldest members Tayeb Shipchandler and my mother, Shakuntla Malhotra, who is the first honorary life member, gave their testimonials on fostering togetherness – which tugged at the heart strings of all –  of Club 65’s need and viability. Dr. Moyeen Haque gave a spirited description of IMAGH’s other initiative, the Young Adults Project. A Community Service Award was presented to Aziz Jamaluddin by Col. Raj Bhalla and Latafath Hussain.

After a buffet dinner which was catered by Tempura restaurant, the rising Austin-based group of qawwals Riyaaz Dawwali came on the side stage and performed from their repertoire of songs that has made them such demand performers all across the nation, as well as from their first CD, Kashti, which was released at an Asia Society, Houston event earlier this year in June.