SAM Gala is Short, Entertaining and Raises Money in a Hurry

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SAM Board : Standing, form left: Sakina Ali, Seema Kachru, Poonam Talsiani, (Founder) Shiban Ganju, (MC) Preity Bhagia, Tina Pariani, Hema Prasad. Sitting, from row: Veena Kaul, Natesan Murthy, Priti Singh and Sangeeta Pasrija. Missing in the pic is Rupa Aiyer.



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By Jawahar Malhotra

SUGAR LAND: The Save A Mother charity’s Houston chapter took a major leap forward from its humble origins in a banquet hall on Wilcrest in 2009 to the Crystal Ballroom on Gessner to the glittery, upscale but compact Gala that took place this past weekend on Sunday, May 3 at the Sweetwater Country Club. According to organizers, all 260 seats at the Gala were sold out, and filled up with some late arrivals.

It was a step in the right direction for the charity which skipped a fundraiser last year and chapter president Veena Kaul was delighted by the turnout and the show of support. She started the chapter to help the cause that her brother, Dr. Shiban Ganju, a gastroenterologist from Peoria, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, had undertaken.

“When we visited a village in India a year ago, the women were in bad conditions but were determined not to let their daughters go through the same experience,” said Kaul as she explained the purpose of Save a Mother. She introduced her Board of Directors and a short video followed showing the way the SAM program works, with women teaching other women in their village. SAM has reached 1,600 villages so far out of the estimated 617,000 villages in India.

It is a worthy observation to mention, as the Gala and charity season gets rolling along, that, of the past three such events which have taken place over the past two weekends (Pratham, Club 24, SAM), all three have been organized, delivered and presided by Indian women, with an occasional man in the picture. Nat Krishnamurthy is the sole male on the SAM Houston Board, although the founder Dr. Shiban Ganju is a male

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Keka Kar with her group Rag-Rang performing at gala

The event was labeled the “Black & White Gala Honoring Mothers” and true to its name, the portrait pictures taken before the start were all printed in black and white and delivered to people walking out by a hard working Bijay Dixit of Unique Photo Images. Darshak and Mona Thakkar of Krishna Sounds managed the sound system and DJ Prank (Pranav Kothari) pumped up the volume on dance music.

The table designations were all based on old Bollywood black and white movies like Barsaat, Kohinoor and Devdas and the Board members were ditto in B&W saris and suits. Rupa Iyer gave a crash course in the statistics behind SAM’s program and its growth and impact in India, using a powerpoint presentation. Ganju lauded Houston’s support as the largest donor among SAM’s national chapters. He explained that 50 percent of SAM’s donations now come from India, with support from the Deshpande Foundation and others and was proud of the minimal overhead expenses that the organization had.

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Dr. Rupa Aiyer updating SAM’s activities in her presentation.

But what the Gala apart from the many others were two key features which set the guests abuzz. Emcee Preity Bhagia introduced the entertainers for the evening: Keka Kar who is well known for her fantastic range and high octave delivery and the Raag Rang Music Group which includes singers Poulomi Basu Thakar, Susmita Basu and Payel Mitra. Backup musicians were Keka’s son (who flew in from Colorado) Abhijit Kar on keyboards, Amir Parvez; a musician who has worked with Bollywood stars on rhythm; and three budding musicians from Taylor High School – Tommy Seol on percussion, James McDonald on lead guitar and Matthew Bantha on bass guitar. They performed a medley of Bollywood Hindi songs in two segments to much appreciation.

The other feature was a quick pledge drive, or more aptly, a speed pledge challenge, which was spearheaded by Priti Singh. She challenged the crowd to raise $15,000 in 15 minutes, and since there’s nothing like a challenge to rev people up, they responded by raising $27,000 instead! The delighted organizers were thrilled that, all told, the no-frills, entertaining and go-for-the-heart gala raised $66,000 for Save A Mother.