SNC’s Vaisakhi Mela is a Taste of Punjab in the Plains of Texas

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: When you entered the gates to the 20-acre Sikh National Center site on the West Sam Houston Beltway you couldn’t help but get a throwback to the streets of Karol Bagh in New Delhi. Cars parked on both side of the driveways forced one-way traffic; so if you came in one direction the other car would have to backup to let you pass.

The state of the parking made it apparent that by mid-afternoon after services at the local gurdwaras, the Vaisakhi Khed Mela was a success. The mild pleasant weather helped people enjoy the mela even more/

The huge khed mela that has been held each of the past six years in the central open area in conjunction with Vaisakhi which falls in the same time slot. Back in 2013, it started as an event for young kids to play games, but now the organizers, led by coordinator Hitpaul Singh Sandhar, have turned it into a community-wide celebration. As a reflection of that, almost 40 percent of the mela goers were non-Sikhs, only stressing how popular it has become.

“We realize that this is the only such large festival on this side of town,” said Sandhar this past Sunday, April 28. With an even larger budget this year donated just for the mela, Sandhar and his team have seen how the event can grow.
This year, the mela was certainly more fun due to tented pavilions all around the maidan (central lawn) to view the sports and allow people to linger in the open under shade and the basketball pavilion was used by young kids to shoot hoops and competitive matches.

All the food booths were moved to the emergency road on the western edge and everything was free including hot jalebis made on the spot, channa bature, kadhi chawal, nimboo-pani, gol-gappe under tents in the lineup. Pizza, popular with all the kids, was ferried from the main oven in the temporary gurdwara to another stall. Some business services booths lines up against another corner.

In the adjacent unfinished dirt lot, a small choo-choo train made lazy eights in the sun with its three bogeys of passengers. In the last space left with some pine trees, a children’s play area was crowded with young kids at the inflatable moonwalks and castles, a petting zoo and a cotton-candy booth.

An estimated 3,000 people came to the mela under bright, blue skies and crisp weather to the completely free event. There was a steady stream of teams – some from as far away as Dallas and Mexico – of young men competing for the top prizes in the volleyball tournament. And there were more fun games for the younger children, like the tug-of-war; 50 meter race, 3-legged race, sack race, spoon race, shot putt, musical chairs and basketball. With mic in hand, Narinder Nagra took his job as the sports announcer with great fun, prompting teams into action.