Songs from Long Ago Add Color to a Diwali with Friends in the New World

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Photos: Bijay Dixit

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: Fall is indeed a busy time for Indo-Americans with Dusserah, Navratri and Diwali added to a crowded calendar, and Halloween becoming a much celebrated mischievous party event. The Holiday Season for Indo-Americans kicked into higher gear off last week with a rush of parties in preparation for Diwali which will be celebrated on Wednesday, November 11 and for three weekends in a row people will be rushing from one gathering to the other. Soon thereafter, Thanksgiving tidings will keep the Holiday Spirit going all the way to Christmas and New Year’s.

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It was that Holiday spirit that drew together the Board of Directors and Trustees of the India Culture Center and India House to jointly host a Diwali party for their core group of supporters, volunteers and their families this past Sunday evening, November 1 at India House. The lobby was colorfully decorated with drapery and an intricate rangoli by Sangita Bhutada as guests were greeted with a gift bag and mithai (sweets) and had their portrait pictures taken in one corner by Bijay Dixit (of Unique Photo Images), helped cheerfully by his daughter Vidha.

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Vipin Kumar

But the party also represented a small gathering of about 150 friends and family who have banded together over many years to institutionalize the Indian cultural experience in a city that they have come to call home, far away from the native homes that nurtured their identities.

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Manish Rungta

Inside the large banquet hall, the tables and chairs were covered with equally colorful fabrics matching the stage backdrop, as envisioned by Sara Duggal. The vegetarian appetizer buffet and dinner later served at the tables was catered by Madras Pavilion, with both Alpa and Mahesh Shah guiding the service.

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Charlie Patel

Vipin Kumar, the General Manager for India House for the past two years who is ubiquitous at many events held there, heralded the joint event by the ICC-IH as “doh dil, ek jaan” (two hearts, one life) in recognition of the strong connections and often common leadership between the two organizations. He presented a short clip of slides outlining the various activities that are held at India House, many at low cost or free, to benefit the public at large and the geographical community where IH is located. These include a Health Clinic run by Indian doctors; an after school program called Urban Youth; yoga classes, free legal services; Hindi and Indian culture classes; Tae Kwan Do classes; Kidney Smart classes; Bollywood and Classical Dance classes; a Harris Health Clinic and Tapped Ball Cricket matches on weekends.

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Swapan Dhairyawan

India House President Manish Rungta briefly welcomed the guests, followed by ICC President Charlie Patel, who mentioned the Mahatma Gandhi monument on Hillcroft as a proud achievement for the group and expressed his trust in his Board and Trustees over the past three years. ICC Chief Trustee Swapan Dhairyawan introduced the entertainers for the evening – the singing husband-wife team of Stayajit and Keka Kar, accompanied by Atif Ali on the keyboards and Darshak Thakkar on the electronic drums – to deliver a medley of songs.

For the next 75 minutes, the group took everyone through an evening “loaded with nostalgia,” as Keka put it. They started with “Chandan sa badan, chanchal sa chaman” and several other songs from the ‘60s through the ‘90s, then blending them into a medley of hits that had everyone clapping along and eve singing or mouthing the songs. A few gingerly did a few moves on the dance floor in front of the stage and close to the end, it filled up with dancers and a few who couldn’t resist grabbing the mic to croon along. Darshak Thakkar was wildly jumping and dancing as he pounded on the drums and Atif Ali picked up the melodies quickly and tried his voice at a couple of songs.

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The final piece were games, with Vipin Kumar asking for a scavenger hunt of items and giving prizes to three people.  A game of “lavzon ka khel antakshari” (last letter play on words) in which randomly selected people were asked to sing a song based on a word posed by Swapan Dhairyawan as he walked up and down between tables. The twelve people who played, including the oldest person in the room, Shakuntla Malhotra, were wildly applauded for their response and received prizes.