BY MAHADEV DESAI
Photos by Suresh K.Volam
Atlanta, GA, October 11, 2018: The Gandhi Foundation USA (GFUSA), in collaboration with the Consulate General of India, Atlanta, celebrated 149th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, honoring his legacy as well as the endearing memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and former Prime Minister of India, Lal Bahadur Shastri at the Gandhi Statue at the M L K Jr. National Park, in Atlanta, USA on October 2.
The gathering also recognized the historic and unique U N Proclamation of October 2 as the International Day of Non-Violence. The momentous celebration followed by cake cutting and luncheon was attended by a diverse cross-section of communities in Georgia, leading community activists and representatives of Georgia organizations, and graced by the presence of Indian Consul General Dr. Swati Kulkarni, India Consulate officers/staff, Chairman of Fulton County Board of Commissioners Robb Pitts and numerous other dignitaries from the District 2, which is the home of the Statue, King Center and the officials of the National Park Service.
Homage and Lunch at the Statue:
The event started with paying floral tributes by the distinguished guests and leaders of Georgia’s legislators, administrators and the community leaders, GFUSA officials and also by the winners of a recently organized beauty pageant in Atlanta to the resplendent and majestic statue of Mahatma Gandhi adorning the entrance of the National Park.
Chairman of GFUSA, Subash Razdan, was invited by fellow Executive Director Antony Thaliath to preside at the devotional service at the Gandhi Statue. Thaliath invoked the nostalgic memories and inspiration of the co-founder and former executive director Giriraj Rao.
Razdan reminisced the nostalgic memories of the installation, and unveiling of the Gandhi Statue by Ambassador Andrew Young, 20 years ago on a cold blistering January morning with over a thousand in attendance. Razdan thanked the Indian Embassy, India Council for Cultural Relations and various community organizations as well as National Park Service, for making the installation of the Gandhi Statue in Atlanta possible, which serves as a beacon for non-violence and peace for a million tourists who visit the statue annually.
Razdan introduced Robb Pitts as a great friend of the Indian diaspora and a frequent visitor toIndia. Chairman Pitts emphasized the influence Gandhi had on Dr. King and thus the virtual hand guiding the civil rights movement ofUSA. Pitts also welcomed Dr. Swati Kulkarni as India’s new Consul General in Atlanta and wished her a successful tenure.
Dr. Kulkarni responded with her keynote remarks appreciating the good work done by the Indo-American community and phenomenal support by partners King Center and the officials of National Park Service.
Dr. Kulkarni, (after a rousing introduction by Hon. Greg Pridgeon, former Councilman and Chief of Staff of City of Atlanta), recalled from her previous diplomatic assignments the extent of relevance of and reverence for Mahatma Gandhi.
“Mahatma Gandhi, who propagated non-violence technique, and whom we affectionately call ‘Bapu’ was an icon, not only of India but the world,” she said. “He is a symbol of peace and non-violence, religious tolerance, khadi, charkha, vegetarian diet, and religious pluralism . Above all, he is a symbol of hope, courage and dignity for all.”
She said, Gandhi’s 150th Birth anniversary is being celebrated to propagate his teachings, his legacy, his philosophy. “South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela used to say, India gave us Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi but in return we gave Mahatma to the world,” she said, and elaborated on the non-cooperation movement, the Salt Satyagraha’ and the ‘Quit India’ movement.
“Gandhi fought against social evils like smoking, alcoholism, etc. Such men never die. They live in their accomplishments. We need to follow their examples, reflect upon their teachings. Many world leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, etc. were influenced by his techniques of non-violence. We have to rededicate ourselves to his teachings and philosophy,” she added.
After a brief introduction by John Naugle of GFUSA, the next speaker Atlanta City Councilman Hon. Amir R. Farokhi remarked, “Atlantais a city of peace and social justice because of Mahatma Gandhi and his influence on Dr. King. Indeed, it is remarkable that a boy from a small port town in Gujarat, who simply liked to twist the ears of dogs as a child, went on to influence the world toward peace and equity, even today 150 years after his birth.Atlantaand Gandhi are forever linked.”
S. M. Khan, former Press Secretary to the President APJ Abdul Kalam and former Director General – Doordarshan TV of India, referenced some interesting anecdotes on Gandhi from his book on President Kalam “ The People’s President” and presented the same to CG Dr. Kulkarni.
Dr. Hilda Tomkins, senior director of King Center underscored the joint relationship between the Indian-American community and the King Center, recounting Martin Luther King’s and Coretta Scott King’s abiding reverence for Gandhi and his philosophy and the invaluable role of Mrs. Coretta Scott King in promoting Gandhi’s awareness by establishing the Gandhi Room in the Freedom Hall of the King Center in 1987. The spirit of Gandhi has been a constant presence in their hearts and home – (Portrait of Mahatma Gandhi hung in their dining room). Tomkins read out a message of greetings from Dr. Bernice A. King, CEO of the King Center. Hon. Pitts and Dr. Tomkins then presented a special certificate of outstanding partnership, service and volunteerism signed by Dr. Bernice King, CEO King Center to Vice Consul Bikash Kumar of the Consulate General of India, Atlanta.
Rina Gupta, Publics Relations Director of 27th Investments brought in a message of support for such noble missions and congratulated the organizers and the Consulate General of India for the wonderful gesture of an impressive joint venture.
Judy Forte, Superintendent of National Park Service expressed her greetings, underscoring the importance of the special linking of the King Center and the Gandhi Foundation with the common message espoused by Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. King, exemplified by the presence of the Gandhi Statue in the Park.
Razdan then acknowledged the various congratulatory messages of celebrations received for the 150th Birth Anniversary of Gandhiji, including from Padma Bhushan Sociologist Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak (India), Gandhian Tarun Surti (Tennessee,USA) and Gandhian Dr. Sriram Sonty (Chicago,USA) who is also leading a drive to get a Mahatma Gandhi Stamp approved inUSA.
GFUSA treasurer, Mohsin Bharmal, thanked the dedicated help and support of the speakers, sponsor 27th investments, guests, and all present urging them to continue attending future events organized by the GFUSA.
Atlanta’s well known singers Praful Desai, his wife Mukti Desai, and Dr. Rajul Gokarn along with Chitra Venkat of the Consulate led the gathering in rendering two of Gandhi’s favorite Bhajans, ‘Vaishnavo Jana To’ and ‘Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram’. Hon. Greg Pridgeon, Vice Chair of GFUSA led the audience in singing the reverberating Civil Rights Anthem ‘We shall overcome”.
“Following the musical interlude of bhajans, Consul General Dr. Kulkarni was joined by the distinguished guests and two of theAtlantacommunity members Sunil Savili and Rita Roy Dannenberg (also born on October 2) to the cake cutting ceremony for Gandhi’s Birthday! After the ceremonial cutting of Gandhi’s birthday cake, the congregation was served delectable snacks catered by Sanjeev Ade of Deliyo Inc.
Tributes and patriotic cultural program/Dinner at the Indian Consulate:
Consul General Dr. Swati Kulkarni welcomed the gathering of over 200 at the Consulate in Sandy Springs, recognized the presence of and greetings from the distinguished guests Hon. Robb Pitts, Hon Pedro Marin, Mr. S.M. Khan, members of the Gandhi Foundation and all present. She urged the audience to honor Gandhi Ji’s life by personal transformation and striving to promote global non-violence, peace, equality and justice.
Representative Mr.Pedro Marin expressed his joy in attending the Gandhi Birth Anniversary celebrations and read the proclamation by the GA Governor declaring October 2 as the Mahatma Gandhi Day in the State ofGeorgia.
Hindi scholar Dr. Mridul Kirti ,expressing her tribute in Hindi said that Mahatma Gandhi was a Maha Atma because he practiced what he preached. His message was none other than his life itself. He was a steadfast seeker of Truth, a fearless leader and uncompromising practitioner of Ahimsa.
Razdan who appreciated the partnership of the India Consulate, thanked Consul General Dr. Swati Kulkarni for the historic opening of the doors of the Consulate for the joint celebrations of Gandhi Birth Anniversary with the Gandhi Foundation.
India and its Consulates have traditionally encouraged diverse young generation to learn about Gandhi and his philosophy. The ensuing brief cultural program, emceed by Vice Consul Bikash Kumar, was a testimony of the endeavor.
The segment included scintillating dance performances set to India-themed Bollywood songs by Hetal Mehta and Anima Das. There was also a soulful violin performance by Pranav Swaroop and an equally mesmerizing short flute presentation by Sai Kishore.
Little tots infused patriotic fervor with their performances. Anya Rathi won the hearts of all with her animated dance to Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Ekla chalo re’ while Dheeraj Lunawat and Tavisha Lunawat and Prameeti Vohra recited a lyrical poem ‘Mahatma ka Bharat’. Atlantadesigner Kavita Bathija showcased the upcoming Khadi themed textile show. The participants in the elegant show included Akansha Kumar, Swapna Retineni, Raji Venkat, Nidhi Vajpayee, Anima Das, Bhrushira Vyas, Hetal Mehta and Gunjan Patel. The cultural segment ended with the national anthem ‘Jana Gana Mana’ played by Prameeti Vohra on her viola.
Certificates were presented for outstanding service, volunteerism, promotion of Indian arts and culture to young and old with the highlight being “Feeding the Hungry” volunteers of the last 20 years by GFUSA associates led by Leela Kaul, Ruth Gupta and their dedicated team.
The Indian American community left the Consulate convinced the torch of Gandhi (and King) continues to be the lighthouse for humanity, and all awaiting a yearlong 150th birthday ceremonies ending Oct 2, 2019.