Saturday 19 August, 2017
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Indians of Atlanta

#IndiansOfAtlanta is our attempt at building an archive of local Indian-American stories, one story at a time. Help us popularize this feature by sharing this page on social media with the hashtag #IndiansOfAtlanta.

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If you’d like to be featured in Indians of Atlanta, write us at editor @ nripulse.com (remove the spaces) with ‘Indians of Atlanta’ in the subject line.

We created The Sid Foundation to raise awareness for lung transplant research: Ananya Vahal

“My brother Sid Vahal received a double lung transplant when he was 26 years old. At 29, he passed away due to complications. Sid was a big, strong guy who never got sick. Soon after his 26th birthday, his health began declining and both of his lungs collapsed. Sid fought for his life as he kept getting rejected by hospitals for a lung transplant. He was too acute of a case. They didn’t think he would survive the transplant. Then, Dr. Hoopes, a surgeon, flew down to Atlanta from the University of Kentucky hospital to see him. Despite Sid’s weakened state, Dr. Hoopes accepted him. Soon, Sid was put on a medical flight to Lexington and admitted into the University of Kentucky hospital. It took months for Sid to recover but eventually he was back home and learning how to live life with borrowed lungs.

Unfortunately, after 2.5 years, Sid’s body began rejecting his new lungs and he was hospitalized again. This time, because of his weakened immune system, Sid caught infections in the hospital and his body went into septic shock. He went into a coma and never returned. On May 18, 2014, Sid passed away.

Sid’s family and friends will forever remember his bravery as he fought a battle against his own lungs. Sid was a fighter and he inspired everyone with his courage.

The reason Sid’s lungs gave out in the first place is still a mystery. Due to his unusual circumstances, the treatments that Sid received in order to survive were cutting edge treatments practiced by some of the greatest doctors in the world. Although Sid’s life was cut short, the amount of knowledge that doctors gained from his case will continue to help other patients like him in future.

On May 18, 2015, my parents and I decided to start The Sid Foundation. We created this nonprofit to raise funds and awareness for lung transplant research and to keep Sid’s memory alive. Sid was a fun, loveable guy with a big personality. He was also an artist who loved comic books. Inspired by Sid’s passion, I wrote the story of Lung Girl and with the help of an artist turned it into a comic.

Lung Girl is a fun and educational comic about lung issues and all of the proceeds from the comic go to The Sid Foundation. The first comic came out in March 2016. The second comic is in production right now. I partnered with artist Loso Perez from Prime Vice Studios for this comic coming out fall 2017!

Go to www.thesidfoundation.org for more information.” – Ananya Vahal

 Ananya Vahal is a writer. The purpose of her writing is to represent the Indian-American community and tell our unique stories through essays, social media, and comics. 

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I am a mother trying to help other mothers: Prina Patel

“My son always made it known how much he loved me. He said he couldn’t imagine life without me. But it turned out the other way around.  It’s hard to put into words how devastating his illness was for me. He spiraled downwards fast and was taken from us too soon. He never left the ICU and once he was intubated, he never spoke again. I didn’t get to hear his side of the story- how he felt, what he wanted. This was so hard on me but I cannot imagine how hard it was on him. I told him I loved him everyday.

Premil was focused; he had lots of dreams. He had recently started working at Deloitte after graduating from UGA, with the hopes of pursuing an MBA. When the doctor told us of a tumor near his heart, and that he would get worse before he got better, he was momentarily scared. But within a few minutes, he regained his strength. He started talking about his work and career.  Even the day I took him to hospital, all he was thinking about was his work. He said he didn’t want to take the whole day off and he would go back after the check up.

My son was, is, and will always be my life. He taught me so much about finding strength when faced with challenges. He is my motivation to participate in this fundraiser. I know he would have wanted to do everything to prevent another person from enduring pain and suffering. I am a mother trying to help other mothers.

My goal is to raise awareness about cancer, especially AML and germ cell tumors. Cancer diagnoses can be very tough. It took 3 weeks to figure out what my son had, and even when we knew, there was almost nothing that could be done for him. Cancer is beyond devastating and affects all ages. I want to help prevent another person from suffering and prematurely passing away because we don’t yet have a cure for this horrible illness. Everyone wins when cancer loses.

I have learned from my son to live each day as if it were your last because that’s how he lived his life. Some days are pretty hard, but my family and his friends are helping me. Premil made our family bond even stronger.  For all his cousins and his fraternity brothers, I became “Prina Mom”. He gave me all these kids, because he knew I couldn’t live without him.” – Prina Patel

Premil Patel was 22 years old when he lost his battle against acute megakaryoblastic leukemia and germ cell tumor in November 2016. His mother Prina Patel is driven by his memory to participate in a fundraising campaign for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Man or Woman of the Year. She is part of team #oneinaPREMILlion and is working to raise as much as possible in a 10-week period. Every dollar raised counts as one vote and the candidate who gets the most votes/raises the most money is named the Man or Woman of the Year. With the funds raised, she hopes to support a grant for research in honor of Premil.

Please Support Prina’s cause here:
http://www.mwoy.org/pages/ga/atlanta17/ppatel

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I will not stop and I will not tire: Sandhya Bhagat

“In 1997, a little after I moved to the USA, I met the mother of a Tamilian friend. I could not communicate with her, except for greeting her with folded hands, because she did not speak any Hindi or English, and I did not speak any Tamil. That incident made me realize the importance of having a common language to communicate, and ignited in me the drive to promote Hindi through theater.

In 2006, I presented a small skit at a function for the Senior Citizens Group in Atlanta which was well received. This led me to think of having a theater group of our own.

Theater is powerful medium of self expression and life is a game of ups and downs (Dhoop & Chaoon). In the 10 years since the inception of the group, we have been able to create our own identity in our community. We have reached a stage, where, for the audition of the Bollywood movie Simran, 90 % of our members were present.

I am my own inspiration. I write most of my plays/skits on subjects like social problems, communal harmony, immigration, entertainment etc, each with a powerful message.

It is very challenging doing theater. It is driven by passion, and without any earnings. There are times when I wonder why I am doing this!  When we have a show, for four months, this is all I do, day in and day out. Coordination can be very tiring and affect your daily routine drastically. After each show, I think this is the last one. But after a few months, I start all over again with new vigor.

Finance has always been the biggest hurdle in doing our shows. Even with a nominal ticket price of $10, not many people attend. This hurts me a lot. South Asians contribute generously to religious establishments and are always ready to pay top dollars to view performances by Bollywood artists. These people should support people like us who present healthy entertainment for everyone. We keep a donation box during the show, but it mostly remains empty. We spend our own money to do our shows.

But I will not stop and I will not tire. I am a very stubborn person. We started from ground zero. With continuous hard work, we have come this far. The lines from Rabindranath Tagore’s poem keep echoing in my ears. “If no one answers your call, then walk alone, walk alone my friend”. – Sandhya Bhagat

Sandhya Bhagat is the founder of Dhoop Chaaon theater group, Natkhat Rangshala, a Hindi theater school for children and Hindi-Urdu Sanjhe Bol, a platform for poets of the two languages. She is also a co-founder of Dhoop-Chaaon, a Hindi short film production company which has produced two films so far- “Natkhat Rangeelay” and “Ye Aurtein bhee kya bla hain”. Bhagat is supported in her endeavors by her husband Anil Bhagat and two sons, Gandharv and Kartikay.

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If you don’t evolve, you don’t grow: Pramod Sajja

“I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur since the age of 14. And, there couldn’t be a better place than America to fulfill my entrepreneurial dreams. This country offers opportunities to grow as a professional and as an entrepreneur, and I had the opportunity to make the best use of them.

I came to US in the year 1998 on an H-1B visa. The obvious choice was to get into a software job, but my long term vision was to become an entrepreneur. With help from my brother Murali Sajja, I started to pursue my vision from the time I landed in Atlanta, and the outcome is Paramount Software Solutions, Inc.

I am not sure how everyone defines success, but for me, success is adding value to anything you do in life – personal or professional. When you add value to both areas of life, success comes naturally.

The other key to success is to constantly evolve, based on the changes around you – if you don’t evolve, you don’t grow. My mantra to building a strong business is to create a brand first. Profit is the by product.

In my 20 years at Paramount, I have seen various ups and downs in the industry and the economy. The tough times helped me learn to evolve. There are other challenges, like making choices – which is always tough for anyone- but when you learn to prioritize, making choices becomes easier. With the current changing times of businesses globally, I am sure we will face a lot of challenges again. But also, there will be opportunities to learn.

My confidence and the ability to face challenges are derived from my mother who successfully managed work and home life while battling a life threatening disease. I don’t think anyone on the face of this earth could have done what my mother did for all her kids.

I wake up every morning with the same zeal and enthusiasm that I had during the early days of Paramount. I ensure that the Paramount family comes to work happy and leaves happy. Employee relations play a vital role in the growth of any company. Employee satisfaction is at the core of Paramount’s philosophy.

What you have achieved in life is not yours alone. Like they say, it takes an entire village to raise a responsible and good citizen. Similarly, the entire community – be it the social community or the business community- plays a huge role in an entrepreneur’s success, and I wholly believe in giving back. So whether it is Vibha, SEWA, chambers of commerce, or the technical community – supporting them all is my way of giving back to the community.” – Pramod Sajja

Pramod Sajja started Paramount Software in 1998, at the young age of 26, when most professionals only start thinking of a career. His understanding of the industry was a driving factor to start this venture single-handedly. Paramount today has 200 employees. 

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Growing up in Nairobi was like growing up in India: Mahadev Desai

“My father, some time after he got married, left with his new bride for Dar-es-Salaam,Tanzania in 1929, to teach in a secondary school. I was born there.

 As a child, I was not conscious about identifying either as Indian or Tanzanian. I had not been to India then, so there was no question of missing it. When I was 9, my parents moved to Nairobi,Kenya, which was then part of East Africa and a British colony.

Growing up in Nairobi was just like growing up in India. My neighbors were all Indians, so we played gilli-danda, hu-tu-tu, marbles, rode bicycles, climbed trees, swam in ponds, stole fruits and flowers from neighbor’s gardens and engaged in all kinds of pranks.

Colonial rule in Kenya was very much like that in India. It was a three-tier society. Europeans at the top, Asians in the middle and blacks at the bottom of the rung. Housing, education, employment, etc. were segregated along racial lines. Indians initially helped build the railways and later, as they were not allowed to own land, virtually monopolized the retail trade, by setting  up ‘dukas’-small shops even in the remotest  interiors. The lower-caste Indians worked as masons, carpenters, tailors, car-mechanics, etc. The literate ones found jobs in civil service, teaching and other professions.

Indians didn’t have a voice in politics, but before independence, they advised and supported Africans in their struggle for independence from colonial powers. However, Indians were often accused of looking down upon Africans. One black politician called it ‘cocktail integration’ because Indians interacted only at parties! On the whole, however Indians have contributed immensely in the development of Kenya. They are also known for their philanthropy.

The Indian community then comprised of Gujaratis, Sikhs, Ismailis, Bohras, etc. For a majority of Indians, cinema, sports (mainly cricket and hockey) and picnics were the most popular pastimes. Festivals like Holi, Diwali, and Krishna Janmashtami were celebrated with full fanfare. Trips to the coast at Mombasa and Zanzibar and safaris to watch the wildlife were also enjoyable. Cricket teams were along community lines. The Patels, Sikhs, Muslims, Shahs, Goans etc had their own teams, as did the Europeans. Inter-club matches and knock-out matches aroused lot of passion among players as well as spectators! I was an avid cricketer, which probably helped me integrate well when I went to college in Bombay. I represented my college in inter-college matches!

 I graduated from Sydenham College in Bombay  (Mumbai). It took 12 days to travel from Mombasa to Bombay in a steamer, and I remember making those trips several times as a student.

 I returned to Nairobi, got married, did a few jobs with an attorney’s office, an accountant’s firm, with the IRS, at an advertising company, etc. Life in Kenya was tough in the beginning as we had no car, telephone or domestic help. Slowly things got better. After independence in 1963,Kenya was short of teachers. I always wanted to teach, so I took the plunge. I went to London for a post-graduate degree in teaching commercial subjects, returned to Nairobi and taught Business subjects at Kenya Polytechnic, to Asian and African boys and girls. Teaching and journalism are the most fulfilling and rewarding parts of my career.

 After Uganda’s President Idi Amin expelled the Asian minority from Uganda, my wife and I decided to leave with our teenage daughter for London. The mood was panic and disappointment. Indians contributed a lot in developing Africa. There were some crooks who exploited the Africans but that was no reason to punish the whole community. Amin was a crazy military dictator so he was ruthless not only with Asians but even Africans. I was very sad not only because I was leaving Kenya, but also because I was leaving my aged parents and family. I had to struggle to find a job in London. My wife who was a housewife in Nairobi, also began working. My daughter had problems adjusting to studies in a British school. But she graduated from her secondary school, went to the US and earned her nursing qualifications.

I love Africa and its people. I will always miss Kenya and its scenic beauty, its tropical weather and its hospitable people!” – Mahadev Desai

Mahadev Desai is a prolific freelance journalist. His reports on community events, literary reviews, short stories, humor pieces, profiles of prominent community members, movie and play reviews have been appearing for over 20 years in India Abroad Newspaper; India-Today Magazine, Khabar Magazine, India Tribune Newspaper, NRI Pulse Newspaper Atlanta Dunia and other community publications.

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It is our responsibility to support each other during bad times: Meenakshi Chugh

I still wonder what childhood is like, because I did not have one. I lost my mom at age 12, when I became a mother to my three younger siblings who were only 9, 8 and 4 years old then. My dad, a civil engineer by profession, was posted in Bihar, while we children lived in Faridabad. We were left alone in a big house, and it was scary. I was responsible for cooking, cleaning, and the laundry. There were no dishwashers or washer dryers in those days. I used to do my homework after first helping my brothers and sister with theirs. I was often tired, and fell asleep at school. My dad implored relatives to come stay with us, but no one turned up to help.

This went on for a few years until dad was transferred back to Faridabad. Then we weren’t alone anymore, but that did not reduce the work load. Along with studies, my sister and I still cooked and cleaned. My teenage years seem to have slipped past me. I think my hardships and my struggles have molded my outlook towards life, as also my father’s love and care.

When I heard of my friend Preeti’s stage 3 cancer diagnosis, my only thought was that it can happen to anyone. Life surprises us in good and bad ways. I think it is our responsibility to support each other during bad times.

I am a mother of 2 little kids, and have a full time job. Sometimes, I felt helpless because I wasn’t able to do as much as I wanted to. So, I started a Facebook support group for Preeti. I contacted all my Facebook friends and requested them to bring more people to help. We went to temples and gurdwaras to gather more support. We organized a big get together at my neighborhood club house where I introduced Preeti to everyone and familiarized them with her situation.

Help began to pour in. We created an online calendar where people picked slots to bring food, and for her rides to the hospital. It made me realize there are so many good people around us.

Honestly, I don’t think I have done anything award worthy. It is a big honor that Raksha recognized my work with the Ramesh and Vijaya Bakshi Community Change Award. It motivates me to keep going.

Meenakshi Chugh is a pharmacist by profession. She has lived in Atlanta since 2004 where she met her husband. She is mother to a 10-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son. She is now learning Kathak, a secret passion that she had to quit when her mother passed away. She is the recipient of the 2016 Ramesh and Vijaya Bakshi Community Change Award from Raksha Inc.

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I went on a 6-month solo adventure through India: Uma Lakshman

“Some of us are born with an innate desire to travel far lands and to immerse ourselves in new experiences. I think I was born with the wanderlust bug. During middle school in Mumbai, I loved Geography. I endlessly dreamed of living in the grasslands, the tundras, and amongst the Eskimos in igloos. As a high achiever in high school and college however, I focused on academics, majoring in physics, and continued my journey to the United States for my Master’s degree.

Then came family and raising a wonderful daughter. After my daughter started college at Emory, I decided it was the perfect time to embark on a 6-month solo gypsy adventure. The book, “States of India”, that I read in my 7th standard, beckoned me to go and first experience the country I called home. The tundras would have to wait a bit more. Despite fears of traveling alone, I left for my adventure.

I commenced the trip in the middle of the Ganesh Chathurthi festival in Mumbai. Then followed Onam in Kerala, a trek up the Dzongri Peak in the Himalayan range, monasteries in Gangtok, Sikkim, tea estates and a toy train ride in Darjeeling, Durga Puja and involvement with the Calcutta Rescue Clinic in Kolkata, the history of ISKCON in Mayapur (a very clean town), Diwali, Bhai Dhuj, Danteras  in Jaipur,  a camel ride at dawn at the annual camel fair at Pushkar, Rajasthan, Guru Nanak Jayanthi in Gurgaon, an aborted trip to Delhi. The trip also included catching up with schoolmates at a reunion,  some IT training in Bangalore, mingling with the Todas, a tribal community in Ooty, watching elephants being fed vitamins in an elephant camp in Mudumalai and a visit to my birthplace Ulundurpet, Chennai.

The highlight of my trip was the Dzongri peak at 4200 meters. At the peak, it felt like being close to the gods. You come back shedding weight and skin and gaining clarity. (Check my fb page umaIndiaYatra for photos). I will go back to travel through parts of India I could not make it last time.

She is free in her wildness, she is a wanderess, a drop of free water. She knows nothing of borders and cares nothing for rules or customs. ‘Time’ for her isn’t something to fight against. Her life flows clean, with passion, like fresh water.” ― Roman Payne
- Uma Lakshman

Uma Lakshman moved to Atlanta from San Diego two years ago and feels very much at home here. She has a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s in computer science from Marquette University. Her solo back-packing trip through India culminated in the launch of BigBanglesTheory.com, which combines bangle theory with string theory to bring beautifully crafted handmade bangles.

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 I did not wish to live my life burdened with regret: Dr Uma Majmudar

“I earned my Ph.D. at age 60. Each of us has something we yearn for intensely.  A postgraduate degree was a burning passion of my heart, an irrepressible inner urge of my soul.  After earning a Master’s degree in English from India, I came with my family in 1968 to America, the land of golden opportunity.  My career-dream was temporarily put on hold because of two major milestones of my life: motherhood, and migration.  However, the flame of learning within my heart continued to burn gently and steadily.

My late erudite father raised me to value words, ideas, literature, and philosophy.  Going to a library for me was akin to going to a temple.  Hunting for books, reading for the sake of study, writing, and teaching ran deep in my veins. A dream in itself, though, is not enough.  Preparing the soil, weeding, watering, and fertilizing are crucially important chores for the promise of a fruitful harvest.  In my case, I increased my educational repertoire by taking journalism classes at Georgia State University and launching the quarterly Voice of India publication. Ultimately, at age 50, I succeeded in gaining admission to Emory University’s doctorate program.

Yes, it was rather late, but I did not wish to live my life burdened with the regret of not even attempting to fulfill my dream.  Just as Shakespeare said, “the course of true love never runs smooth,” the process for my Ph.D. was arduous, challenging and even outright frustrating.  After working on my dissertation for nine hard years, I faced an unexpected health emergency, as did two of my three advisors. As I struggled with breast cancer while simultaneously struggling with my doctorate research, I was on the verge of giving up. My faith and determination ultimately paid off when, on one glorious day, I donned my cap, gown, and hood and received my Ph.D. in front of cheering family, friends and well-wishers.

You will have your own dream–cherish it, nourish it, pursue it and never ever let it die!  Remember, as long as you have the four “P”s of passion, preparation, perseverance, and patience, you will reach the peak!” – Dr. Uma Majmudar

Dr. Uma Majmudar moved to Atlanta with her family in 1971, where she founded and edited Voice of India, a quarterly publication for the India American Cultural Association (IACA).  She earned her Ph.D. in 1996 from Emory University with a dissertation on “Mahatma Gandhi’s Trajectory in Truth and Fowler’s Theory of Stages of Faith.”  She authored a book, ‘Gandhi’s Pilgrimage of Faith: From Darkness to Light’, which was published by the State University of New York Press (SUNY, 2005). Dr. Majmudar taught as an Adjunct Lecturer in the Religion Department of Emory University and was a full-time lecturer in the Religion and Philosophy Department at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, where she will teach again in spring 2017. In 2006, Dr. Majmudar was inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Collegium of Scholars of Morehouse College in Atlanta. Her articles have appeared in various American and Indian-American publications.

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If other women could compete in a body building competition in their 40s, so could I: Aarti Patel

“During my second pregnancy, I gained a lot of weight and was having trouble losing it. I didn’t have much knowledge about exercise and fitness and started researching. I came across a weight loss program that involved weight training and cardiovascular exercises along with eating several small nutritious meals a day. I followed the intense program working out at home – 3 days of weight training and 3 days of cardio with good nutrition. I also learned to modify my favorite Indian foods and prepare healthy dishes. In 3 to 4 months, I saw my physical transformation take place. I dropped several dress sizes and in the process developed an appreciation of the true benefits of weight training along with eating healthy. I was hooked!

After that, exercise and fitness became a daily part of my life and I hired a trainer to help me further achieve my fitness goals. At that time I also went to see a body building and figure fitness competition and decided that I wanted to compete. My thinking was that if other women can compete in their 40s, so can I! Training for the competition was very challenging and included six days of weight training with my personal trainer along with many cardio sessions a week. My diet was extremely strict for four months prior to the competition. I had to eat at set times and 6 meals a day which included lots of protein and vegetables and with limited carbohydrates. There were no cheat meals! Even though I placed third in the competition I was very proud of my accomplishment- from being an overweight mother of two to being fit and competing at the age of 40!”- Aarti Patel

Aarti Patel is the owner of Aarti Fitness, a personal training studio in Chamblee, GA.She is certified by the American Council on Exercise as a Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor and Health Coach. At the age of 40, she became the first Indian woman to compete in a national body building and figure fitness competition. She is also the Fitness Columnist for Khabar Magazine. 

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We were able to help one unfortunate lady stand on her feet: Ramesh and Vijaya Bakshi

“One summer day in 1994, when I was the President of Kannada Koota, I was shocked to hear from a friend that there was an Indian woman sleeping next to a dumpster in a strip shopping center.

The next day, my wife Vijayalakshmi and I went to the strip mall and spoke to a store owner who confirmed that he had seen an Indian lady sleeping next to the dumpster and he was concerned for her safety. A few minutes later, luckily, we saw her walking towards the dumpster. I rushed to talk to her, but she would not talk to me. Seeing her uneasiness, Vijayalakshmi started a conversation with her.

The lady told us her story. She was a physician from India, but had not completed her medical requirements to practice in the US. She had two small children. Her husband had divorced her and taken custody of their children and their house. She had no place to go and no family or friends she could turn to, so she ended up sleeping on the streets. She had gone to a women’s shelter, where most of her belongings were stolen, so she returned to the streets again. She had pawned some of her jewelry to survive. Both, my wife and I were in a state of shock and disbelief that this could be happening here to a member of our own community. We promised to get back to her in a couple of days.

As soon as we returned home, we started calling our friends, various associations and even the temple to see if they had any resources to support and house this unfortunate lady. There were none. One of our friends offered to put her up in his motel until we could find a solution. Vijayalakshmi coordinated with her friends to cook food and take it to her on a daily basis. In the meantime, our friends raised enough funds to buy her a one way ticket to India so she could go live with her parents.

Years passed. Then one day in 1998, around 2 am, I received a call from a police precinct in Atlanta informing me that a lady wished to speak to me. To our surprise, it was the same lady whom we had helped a few years back. She had returned to Atlanta after her parents had passed away and she wanted to be close to her children. Through the help of some friends, I was able to place her in a motel for a few days.  Unfortunately, our community did not have any resources to help a person who was in this type of need. I had heard of Raksha, the Georgia based non-profit that supports victims of domestic violence, and reached out to them. To my great relief, they were willing to help. Raksha found a shelter for the lady to stay in and arranged for a social worker to assist her in getting back on her feet.

A few years later Vijayalakshmi met the lady in a grocery store. She looked healthy and seemed to have her confidence back and was able to support herself. Thanks to the efforts of Raksha and our friends, we were able to help one unfortunate lady stand on her feet and gain independence.

This experience that made me commit to raising funds for Raksha. I started the “Ek Shaam Raksha Ke Naam” annual fund raising event for the non-profit. I chaired or co-chaired the event for 10 years and raised over $250K for Raksha to help victims of domestic violence. During this time, Raksha was kind enough to honor Vijayalakshmi and me by starting “The Ramesh and Vijaya Bakshi Community Change Award”.” – Ramesh Bakshi

Ramesh Bakshi came to this country in 1965 in the pursuit of higher studies. He did his Masters in Industrial Engineering, then went on to get an MBA. In 1968, he went back to India to marry his childhood sweetheart, Vijayalakshmi Sarvepalli. The couple moved to Atlanta in 1977 with their two young children.

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Animals have the right to live free of violence: Sarita Raturi

“My life revolves around animal rights. There are many who help humans, but very few who understand animals and their needs. I have always been a compassionate person and jumped into action whenever anyone needed help, but growing up in Bombay (Mumbai) there wasn’t much exposure to animals. It was only after I adopted Kiwi, my first dog from our local shelter, that I realized how vulnerable and innocent animals are. I became an animal lover, then an animal activist and a vegan.

Humans and other animals have many similarities, despite our differences in appearance, forms of communication and ways of living. As feeling beings, we are united by our desires to seek pleasure and enjoyment, and to avoid pain and suffering. Animals have the same birthrights we claim for ourselves—the right to live our lives free of subjugation and institutionalized violence, where the random and special joys of being alive can be experienced.

Within a year of adopting Kiwi, I started going to local protests and soon found myself involved in organizing and leading them. Seven years ago, I saw a TV program on dairy cows on ABC. The atrocities on cows and calves were beyond imagination and I turned vegan overnight. Until we have the courage to recognize cruelty for what it is, whether its victim is human or animal, we cannot expect things to be much better in this world. By every act that glorifies or even tolerates such moronic delight in killing, we set back the progress of humanity.

It is tough to do what I do but the rights of others to live free of oppression and violence from humans is more important to me than my own comfort zone. I will keep fighting for those who can’t and will make sure I get to see some positive changes in the lives of non-human animals in my lifetime.” – Sarita Raturi

Sarita Raturi is an animal rights activist. She is on the board of Georgia Animal Rights & Protection (GARP) and In Defense of Animals (IDA,India). Both are 501C non-profit charities. IDA,India is a part of IDA,USA and their mission is to protect the rights, welfare and habitats of animals. Sarita is also a business woman, wife and mother.

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Living for others rather than myself is not a choice for me: Partha Chakraborty

“Growing up in a traditional Indian family can be confining. Dating, going out to parties, and other “normal” American things were not really a part of my childhood. So when it came time to choose a college, I had one criteria: it had to be as far away from home as possible.

I chose Seton Hall University, a private Catholic university in New Jersey. It was probably the worst decision I have ever made. A $33,000 a year tuition was just too much for a middle class family to pay. I intentionally put myself in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation, as I didn’t know anyone in New Jersey and also struggled with food, being vegetarian. I learned a lot about myself that year, but again that price tag was unsustainable for a middle class family.

The following year, an opportunity came up to study in Belgium at 1/6th of the cost and I simply could not pass it up. It was there that I met my wife, Rangadevi, a Dutch woman who coincidentally was born in India. Europe showed me things I had never experienced before. People were financially savvy, physically fit and generally lived a healthy lifestyle. Bikes and trains were the preferred method of transportation, and the government highly encouraged them. Their transportation was very efficient; I could go from Brussels to Paris or Amsterdam in only a few hours via train. Wind turbines and solar panels were implemented everywhere. Workers got a month of paid vacation, homelessness wasn’t a huge problem, and crime is not a major concern. Generally, the people there are happy.

My dad was a hard worker but I never saw him spend money on himself. He paid his bills and took care of our needs but anything left over he would send to his family in India, as many immigrants can relate, and to help the poor. He organizes an annual Ratha Yatra Festival, where he feeds thousands of people every year. He helps poor people start businesses to improve their situation. And because he himself never had a daughter, he would financially help poor families with their daughter’s weddings.

Sometimes it would be frustrating, it felt like he spent more time and money on other people than us. So one day I asked him why. His answer was simple.

“We came from very little, and even then my father (my grandfather) spent his life helping the needy. Now we live in America, have a comfortable life, but I can’t forget where I came from. I can’t forget the people that struggle for basic needs. Its in my blood to help people.”

And that’s when I realized that helping people, living for others rather than myself is not a choice for me. It is in my blood. And that is why I’m running for Georgia House of Representatives.” – Partha Chakraborty

Partha Chakraborty is a 22-year-old Independent Candidate for Georgia House of Representatives from District 78. He is an entrepreneur and volunteers around the community. He organizes an annual kids camp in the summer, helping Indian kids get in touch with their roots. You can follow his campaign via his Facebook page: Partha Chakraborty for Ga House or his website: ChakrabortyforGaHouse.com.

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The difference between impossible and possible is determination: Karan Jani

“I grew up in a small city, Baroda, where a profession as ‘scientist’ was unheard of and would be largely laughed at. The primary and secondary school I went to had no science laboratories or library, and at most times, no real science teacher. I flunked the first time I gave a physics test and my first science lab report was trashed because I couldn’t write proper tenses in English. I was not given entry in a premier research institute of India for summer research camp, citing I was just a mediocre high-school student. Until the age of 19, I had never seen the universe through a telescope.

Earlier this month, in a closed room meeting in Washington DC for the historic India-US partnership in the  ‪#‎LIGOIndia project, when the Honorable Prime Minster Narendra Modi asked us scientists how Einstein came up with idea of #GravitationalWaves a 100 years ago, I gave the answer, in front of the NSF Director and all his officials, in my mother language, Gujarati. That is my ‘Garvi Gujarat’, and dedication to my roots and its legacy. Ten years in the States and not a single day goes by that I do not think about returning and spreading science education in India.

Believe deep down, that the difference between impossible and possible is determination. And who better role model on that, than the Prime Minister himself.” – Karan Jani

Karan Jani is a research scholar in astrophysics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and is part of the LIGO team behind the discovery of gravitational-waves and black-holes. He holds the Senator Nunn Fellowship in National Security and International Affairs, and currently serves as the Vice-President in the Georgia Tech Student Government. He has previously held research positions at the Albert Einstein Institute, Stephen Hawking’s Perimeter Institute and Penn State University.   

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Even as I set up my own life here, I never forgot the neglected kids of my home district: Janardhan Pannela

“I come from a small village in the Adilabad district of Telangana. My parents were farmers. It has always been my dream to serve. As a child, I wanted to become a doctor; a dream that remained unfulfilled because I could not secure an MBBS seat. While scanning a newspaper one day, soon after graduation, I chanced upon a diploma program offered by the National Institute for Mentally Handicapped (NIMH) in Secunderabad. It was a program that gave me new direction in life.

My first job was as a mandal resource person for the district primary education program near my home town. My responsibility was to enroll children with special needs into public schools. As the only mandal resource person for the entire district- a cluster of about 20 villages, I walked or took a bus from village to village, educating parents and teachers. I saw social stigma and apathy in every village. It was deeply disturbing to see mentally challenged children treated as a burden on society. They were completely neglected at schools. The school administrators ignored my suggestions. I felt sidelined and disrespected.

I was only 23 when I registered Shantiniketan with dreams of opening a rehabilitation center for the neglected children of the mandal. At this point, however, a mentor from NIMH advised me to focus on higher studies or to get a job. Running a non-profit is not easy, she said. I had the right emotions, but no finances. I took her advice and completed my M.Phil in rehabilitation psychology.

I had no dreams of ever coming to the US, but destiny had other plans. In 2004, I got an opportunity to work for the Gwinnett County School System as a special educator. But even as I set up my own life here; getting married and raising two boys, I never forgot my dreams for the vulnerable kids of my home district. In time, I found two parents who wanted to get involved in Shantiniketan. My father-in-law was very supportive. In 2011, my wife went back with our two kids to help start the center.

My dream was realized when the rehabilitation center opened in 2011 in a rented building with 11 children. For the first three years of Shantiniketan’s existence, the center was run almost entirely on the $500-$600 I set aside from my special educator’s salary. Not a single penny came from the central government. A small amount came from a state government body, but the hassles of getting that amount outweighed the benefits because of flagrant corruption.

In 2013, the center blossomed with a successful fundraiser in Atlanta which helped start a vocational center to train the children in real life skills. In 2015, we registered Shantiniketan as a non-profit in the US, and, with the help of my dear Atlanta friends, held another successful fundraiser to build a permanent rehabilitation center. It is my goal to enroll 200 more children into the center, and to provide more effective services that will provide them a future. That is my life’s ambition.” – Janardhan Pannela

Janardhan Pannela is currently an education program specialist for the Cobb County School System. He has a Masters Degree in Psychology and M. Phil. in Rehabilitation Psychology in addition to a Bachelors Degree in Special Education and a Diploma in Vocational Training & Employment for the Mental Retardation from NIMH (National Institute of Mentally Handicapped)Hyderabad,India. More about Shantiniketan here: http://shantiniketanadb.org

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The doctors gave me six months to live: Dr. H.N. Ramaswamy

“As I stand at the threshold of my eight decades of life and look back to turn the pages of my life story, I feel elated and thankful for all the blessings showered upon me by the Almighty.

My trials and tribulations started at age 7, but I was blessed to come to the United States, get a good education, and I was living a very happy life.  But in 2010, one wretched day, I had the shock of my life. A sudden onset of acute stomach ache was diagnosed as stage 4 cancer. For the first time in my life I stayed in a hospital. I had nodules removed from my lung .I had to go through a series of tests and scans. It was pancreatic cancer, the doctors said, and without mixing words, they told me that I had six months to live!  I am very un-emotional when it comes to bad news. So, I was stoic. But my wife and children were devastated.

I ended up in a hospital with an infection for several days.  During chemotherapy, the surroundings, the smell of the drugs, and the condition of some patients was depressing.   I had accepted the call of fate and never dwelt on my future. I went back to India and said my good byes to my family.

But then, by God’s grace, miracles started happening.  Prayers came from all walks of life. Six months passed and the doctors said, strangely, the tumors were shrinking. Every six months I went through MRIs and CT scans. The doctors said this kind of recovery happens in 1% of patients.  Now, I am cancer free. I am ever grateful to my family and friends who were there for me during those trying times.

This experience in my life reminds me of a great poem by a great Kannada poet Dr. Kuvempu which says, in essence: “Let God define the inner meanings of life, why waste time in debating. In the path of life, let things roll. Let us walk the path of life together.”

I had the honor and privilege of starting Nrupathunga Kannada Koota in 1973, when there was no association in Atlanta to put people of common interest together.  For over 40 years, it has united all Kannadigas and has provided a platform for all, particularly, children, to learn and exhibit their talents.

While I was still under treatment, it was a great privilege and pleasure to be a convener for the 7th AKKA national conference; a three day event .I would not have taken on this endeavor if I did not have the support from our fellow Atlanta Kannadigas in this area. Even today, the 7th AKKA conference has become a gold standard in the nation. It is a crowning moment in the colorful pages of NKK’s history.” Dr.H. N. Ramaswamy

Dr. H. N. Ramaswamy came to the USA as a student in 1963 and worked as a chemist for over 45 years before retiring in 2008. He lives in Smyrna with his wife Indira. He has two children and four grandchildren. His community initiatives include starting a high school in 1961,  which has grown into a junior college today. He has also built a toilet, a library building, a family temple and a choultry for community use in his village. The India Association at Tulane,New Orleans and the Kannada Association in Charlotte, North Carolina are his initiatives.  He also volunteers at The Hindu Temple of Atlanta, Riverdale.

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Our culture has a lot to offer to the world: Shiv Aggarwal

“During a family trip to Toronto,Canada, several years ago, I stopped at the front desk of our hotel to ask for directions to Gerrard Street, the Indian enclave. A woman standing nearby said, “Oh, that dirty street?”

The label rankled me. Sure, we come from a country that is thousands of years old. But we are not dirty. Ours is one of the most well to-do communities in North America. Our doctors and high-tech people are the best in the region. Our markets and shopping enclaves ought to reflect our success story, not be called ‘dirty’.

This incident gave birth, in my mind, to the idea of developing an indoor mall that would not only provide a clean, enjoyable shopping experience, but would promote India’s rich cultural heritage in the region.

When I acquired Global Mall, it was a rundown 222,000 sq. ft. two-story health and fitness mall, which we renovated and refurbished. As with any business, there was risk of failure, but my passion for this dream project superseded my fears. My family shared my enthusiasm. My daughters, who were in their teens, and my son, who was only 11, pitched in, helping with the renovation- even cleaning windows.

The mall opened in 2001 with only three tenants. Two of those businesses, Maya Creations and Legacy Jewels belonged to my family. Today, of course, the mall has a footfall of 6000-8000 people per week, and a full range of businesses, including a busy food court and temples. We are a hub for the international communities of Georgia.

Our culture has lot to offer to the world, and hence we celebrate every festival with great joy. Our signature fall event, the annual Global Mela is attended by several thousand people every year. Our upcoming Maha Shivaratri and Holi celebrations are events to look forward to.

The mall has evolved over the past 15 years, and I, with it. Today, I am a humbler, calmer and more contemplative person. I practice yoga and meditation, and enjoy reading the works of spiritual and philosophical masters. I believe that business acumen, social activism and philanthropy- they all go hand in hand.” – Shiv Aggarwal

Shiv Aggarwal is the founder and owner of Global Mall, North America’s first indoor South Asian Mall. Aggarwal is also the president of the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation. Under Aggarwal’s chairmanship of the Board of Directors for the Gwinnett Village C.I.D. (Community Improvement District) for the past several years, projects aimed at improving the quality of life of the Gwinnett County residents by better infrastructure, police protection, and beautification by landscaping and streetscaping of the county have been successfully implemented. Aggarwal and his wife Anushi have two daughters, Aarti and Vandana, and a son, Vishal.

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I am my son’s hero: Firefighter Hemanth Singh

“As a child, I was fascinated with firefighters. As an adult, I developed a passion for serving the community. Today, I am lucky to have both professions. I am a firefighter for the City of Alpharetta Fire Department and a CASA court appointed special advocate for neglected and abused kids.

I was a software engineer by profession. During my free time, I volunteered at Meals by Grace, collecting household items and packing food for the homeless in Forsyth County. A few years ago, a Sheriff friend of mine introduced me to the fire department, where I started to volunteer as support staff. It was only a matter of time before I got fully trained and became a firefighter myself.

It is a great feeling to be able to protect life and belongings. We stay awake at night on call. Of course, not every call is an emergency- it could be a false alarm- but many are. We are trained to put on our suits in two minutes. Every week, we have a training session to keep ourselves physically fit. Every six months, we have a fire drill, where we are sent inside a burning building; we feel the heat as we put out the fire.

Earlier this month, there was a real emergency that has stayed on my mind. A 1969 home on Highway 9 was burning and there were 7 people, including a baby, inside. Our team managed to pull everybody out to safety, but it was sad that we couldn’t save the home, which went down before our eyes. Incidents like these could haunt us, but the department provides counseling sessions to deal with depression, and to keep us from getting emotionally overwhelmed.

My other job as a court appointed special advocate for kids involves working as a guardian for neglected and abused kids who have been moved by DEFAX and the legal system to new foster homes. I visit the kids at their new foster homes every other week and report their progress to the judge.

My wife is very supportive of my work. Recently, my 9-year-old son had to write about his hero, for an essay competition at school. While other kids wrote about leaders and superheroes, my son wrote about his dad. The essay won first place! When your son thinks of you as his hero, that makes everything worth it!” – Hemanth Singh

Chennai born Hemanth Singh has lived in Alpharetta for the past 12 years. He continues to volunteer time for Meals by Grace and appeals to the community to donate used clothes, household items or canned food for the homeless. There are over 120 homeless families in Forsyth County alone.

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It was touching to know that so many people cared for me: Preeti Singh

“I grew up in a middle class family in India, and came to the US in 2000 to do my Master’s in Computer Science. Marriage, job, kids followed in short order. And then in 2014, my life changed drastically. Going to the doctor to check for chest pains, I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Weeks of shock, disbelief, grief and then acceptance followed. My treatment consisted of brutal chemotherapy, mastectomy and then radiation. In between were episodes of the chemo not working; the oncologist sending me to Duke Cancer Center for a second opinion since the drugs were not working; the doctors fearing that my cancer had spread to my bones and so on.

My life was unraveling faster than I could make sense of it. Along with all this, I was also hiding a big secret. And this secret was about to break free. The image of a happy family that I had been trying to maintain in front of family and friends was actually just a big sham.

I decided to file for divorce in the middle of my treatment. Coming from a traditional Indian family, it was a big decision for me, but my family supported me completely, and gave me the emotional strength and courage I needed to break free.

I reached out to Raksha – a non profit organization based in Atlanta for help during my ordeal and they helped me so much with valuable advise and therapy. They even came to the court hearings to provide me with emotional support. I was diagnosed with PTSD because of the trauma I had undergone and it was only because of the free therapy I got from Raksha that I have been able to come so far on the path of healing.

Meanwhile, one of my friends was so upset on my behalf when she heard me crying on the phone that she started a support group for me after my surgery. More than 270 people joined and I finally had help with doctors’ visits, driving me for the daily radiation treatment, home cooked food delivered to my door step etc. It was so touching to know that so many people cared for me. I had friends and strangers praying for me at their temples, churches, gurdwaras and mosques. It helped balance the misery in my life.

Another year later, the cost of ongoing reconstructive surgeries, legal bills, mortgage, household expenses took their toll. All my savings were gone. I was deeply in debt and facing a financial crisis. I had to constantly borrow money every month to pay for bills. Once again, my friends, family and the community came to my aid. Based on a friend’s suggestion, I set up a fundraising page, and support started pouring in.

It has been an incredible journey so far. Having faced death, and having survived, I feel stronger than ever. In fact, I am so very grateful for my challenges, because, without them I would not have known my own strengths.

I consider my ordeal a blessing since it has helped me change my perspective on life, cut out the clutter of thoughts and brought to the surface all that is really important to me- relationships and my relationship with the divine.

I’m no longer afraid. Not of dying, not of being alone, not of anything.” – Preeti Singh

Preeti Singh has an MBA from IISWBM, India and an M.S. in Computer Science from Georgia State University. She is currently working for Ernst & Young as IT Project Manager. Here’s the link to her fundraising page: https://www.youcaring.com/preeti-singh-477234.

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I’m not just a mother and wife, but an individual: Rajika Agarwal

“I have been asked time and time again by my friends who are married with kids, how am I able to leave my husband and 4-year-old son to travel for my own pleasure. My answer, at least in my head, is always, “Why can’t you?”.

Four years ago, when I had my son, I never imagined I would be brave or trusting enough to ever leave him in someone else’s care. After all, moms know best, right?

The first time I left my son, he was 6-months-old. I cried all the way to the airport and half the flight worrying about how would he survive without me! I did not feel a sense of relief till I reached my destination and had my husband put him in front of FaceTime. However, after my brief one-sided conversation with my 6-month-old I realized how happy he had looked getting to spend all this uninterrupted time with his father. Both of them looked so content, and I could clearly see they were enjoying each other’s company.

This epiphany was a turning point for me. I realized that it was healthy for me to get a little time to myself and just as important for my son and my husband to build relationships outside of the one they had with me. Since then, I have traveled by myself to New York to visit friends/family, to Napa Valley for a romantic getaway with my husband, leaving my son with his grandmother, and to India by myself for two weeks to attend my grandmother’s 90th birthday. All these little independent trips have made me realize that it’s okay for me to do things on my own and for myself. I’m not just a mother and wife, but an individual in my own right and I shouldn’t feel guilty for it.” – Rajika Agarwal

Rajika Agarwal was born in India and moved to the US when she was 10. An alumna of Georgia State University from where she did her undergraduate and master’s, Rajika now lives in Las Vegas with her husband and son.

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It was always a struggle to be taken seriously as an artist: Shilpa Narayan

“It’s never been easy. I was a girl who was terrified of receiving negative feedback…and here I was being rejected and insulted weekly/daily/hourly. I was told I wasn’t mainstream enough, that I was too mainstream, that my look was too different, that I wasn’t different enough, that no one would invest in an Asian woman in the music industry…that no one would take my music seriously. I was told that I was wasting my money and should look to get married and give up on this pipe dream. I was rejected by labels, venues and various publications, as well as being booed off stages for not singing Hindi music. It was always and still is a struggle to be taken seriously as an artist, to find my identity, and to have people give my music a chance. That’s all I really wanted. Just a chance. To have all of the hours I’ve spent writing, recording and practicing my songs – be worth just a listen from someone who doesn’t know me or my story.

A lot of my song lyrics are about that hope for a shot and the plan to do whatever it takes to get there. When I first started writing “Renegade” with my co-writer Jordan (another Georgia Tech grad!) – the struggle of acceptance within the music industry was always in the back of my mind. But so was the slight chance of making it and having my voice heard. Those elements combined to create the lyrics of my single “Renegade“. I had always taken the path that was obvious and paved in front of me. I went to college, did some internships, and planned to work in Business. I genuinely thought for some time, that I would meet a guy in college – get married, have kids, move from Atlanta to some suburb and live happily ever. But I also always had this weird feeling, that there was something else within myself that I hadn’t yet discovered. The minute I played my first guitar as a Junior in college, I felt this completeness and knew this was what I was supposed to at least try. I haven’t looked back since. I know there’s a long road ahead and a lot more possible rejection and booing. But I also know there is nothing else I would rather try and possibly fail at than this.” – Shilpa Narayan

Along with her upbeat pop, soul infused ballads and stripped down acoustic medleys, the Atlanta, GA native released her first album Stand Alone (2012), with the self-titled single “Stand Alone” and “Change Your Mind,” as well as her second album Through Haze (2015) including “Renegade” and “Pinch Me.” Shilpa has opened for Waka Flocka, Wale, Culture Shock and has performed at the Apollo, Times Square Diwali (150,000 people), NY Fashion Week, Desi Fest Canada as well as various clubs around the world. She’s been featured by The Voice’s Carson Daly, MTV, VH1, Vibe Magazine’s Artist to Watch, Yahoo! Music, BBC Radio, AOL Music, Okay Player, Artist Direct, RyanSeacrest.comThisis50.com, Urban Asian, Channel One News, and many more. She has over 1 million hits on her YouTube channel and associated videos to date.

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I didn’t want to be held back with 3-minute songs: Preeti Uttam

“I was three years old when my grandfather, Bridpal Singh Giany, took me under his musical wing. At four years of age, I sang for RaamLaxman in ‘Tumhare Bina’. When Pancham Uncle (R.D. Burman) heard me sing for the first time, he exclaimed to my father, Uttam Singh, (who was a musician for him at that time) that “a star is born”. I was only five years old when Pancham Uncle gave me the opportunity to sing “Lakdi ki kaathi, kathi pe ghoda” (Masoom). By the time I was 15, I had recorded in 18 languages. At 17, I sang for Illayaraja.

I was at Mithibhai College, juggling a student’s life with my career as a playback singer. But, I didn’t want to be held back with 3-minute songs. So, I trained intensively in semi-classical music- first with Sultan Khan Saab, the noted Hindustani vocalist and sarangi player, and later with Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty in Kolkata. When I was 25, Naushad Saab came into my life as my guru, and I had the good fortune to train under him for five wonderful years.

Professionally, it was a great time with ‘Gadar’ and ‘Pinjar’, both musical hits. But I am grateful to my father and my teachers who encouraged me to go beyond the 3-minute song and get well-grounded in music. Because of them, I am a teacher today.

My father always said: “Sing for the love of singing. Leave the rest to God, for he will show you the way.” It was never my plan to be a teacher. I never pushed my daughter Aarohi to sing. But when she was five, she told me: “Mom, I want to sing like you”. I began to train her. By the time she was six, she was an even better singer than I was at ten years of age. That gave me the confidence to train other kids.

I’ve done my best to recreate here in Atlanta, the musical atmosphere that I grew up in. I do an hour of riyaz everyday. If I don’t, I am not a performer. I’ve seen success and fame. Today, nothing gives me as much pleasure as the musical accomplishments of my students.” – Preeti Uttam

Preeti Uttam is a playback singer in Bollywood, and is the daughter of music director Uttam Singh. She was one of the child singers in the very popular “Lakdi ki kath,i kathi pe ghoda” (“Masoom”, 1983). She went on to sing several Hindi film songs including the critically acclaimed “Charkha Chalati Maa” (“Pinjar”, 2003). After her first album “Preeti”, she worked on the album “Aathwan Sur – The Other Side of Naushad” (1998) in which she sang songs composed by the legendary music director Naushad along with singer, Hariharan. She later collaborated with her father on the album “Sur” (2002). Preeti now trains Atlanta kids in semi-classical music.

Link to Facebook Post

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I fell in love with the people, country and culture: Robert Arnett

A file photo of Robert Arnett in Vrindavan.

“My interest in India first surfaced in the late 1960s. While on a business trip to Detroit, I met a young man at an exhibition of Far Eastern art. Our conversation turned to Indian philosophy, about which I had very little knowledge. The exchange intrigued me, and as I would realize later, I was at a crossroad on my life’s journey. My new acquaintance suggested that I read Autography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. He then invited me to accompany him to a yoga service the following Sunday. My first meditation experience and reading Autography of a Yogi totally transformed my life with the realization that within each of us is the divine potential that can be attained in this life.

After having studied Raja Yoga and practiced meditation for almost 20 years, in December 1988, destiny set my path towards India. Without itinerary or expectation, I began the first of many journeys. I immediately fell in love with the people, country and culture, and felt as though I had come home.

Seeing how Americans understood so little about India (and still don’t!), particularly her culture and religions, I decided to write a book on India and richly illustrate it with photographs. But no one would publish it! I received over a hundred rejection letters. Not having a job, the bank would not loan me the six-figure amount to self-publish the book. However, my beloved mother did. In retrospect, borrowing that much money was not a smart thing to have done, but when speaking in schools and encouraging students to live their dreams, I can tell them, “If your heart is pure, God makes up for your stupidity!”

After much hard work, the rest is history. The highly revised and greatly expanded, larger formatted art-book quality 6th edition India Unveiled: Spirit, Tradition, People is being acclaimed the best book of its type on India. It is my hope that the Indian-American community will share this beautiful portrayal of their motherland with their children, friends, and mainstream so that they will love India too.” – Robert Arnett

Robert Arnett is the author and photographer of the internationally acclaimed book India Unveiled: Spirit, Tradition, People that has won 3 national book awards. He is also the author of Finders Keepers?, a children’s book set in India, illustrated by Smita Turakhia, that has won 5 national book awards.

A native of Columbus, Georgia, Arnett has a Master’s Degree in History from Indiana University. Undergraduate studies were at Tulane University, University of Georgia, and the London School of Economics in England. While serving 19 months in Turkey as one of the youngest Commanding Officers in the Signal Corps, he taught History of Western Civilization for the University of Maryland, European Division.

Mr. Arnett has been interviewed on National Public Radio, Voice of America, South African Broadcasting Corporation, and has made various television appearances.

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I’ve always wanted to give back: Pvt. Anitha Guruswami

“I used to listen to the Clark Howard Show and (through Howard), I learned about the Georgia State Defense Force and how we can serve in our free time without giving up our day job. The commitment is one weekend a month for 11 months and one annual training session. As an immigrant, I have always been very thankful for all that this country has offered me and my family. I’ve always wanted to give back. Also, the 9/11 attacks played a vital role in motivating me to join the force. The initial MEPS and IET trainings are not easy, but if one is motivated, one can do it.

When people see me serving in uniform, they ask why there is no compensation. We pay for our uniform, and for the gas to drive to the drills and missions. At times, we are provided free meals during missions, but being a pure vegetarian I hardly find anything I can consume. So I pack my own lunch. If it is an overnight mission or training, I pack my dinner too. The satisfaction when a mission is accomplished is my reward. After I completed my Initial Entrance Training (IET) and graduated as PVT. (Private) Guruswami, we were provided with a DOD ID. I get to serve in the front line during big events, and that could be called a privilege.

During a recent mission at the Georgia Air Show where the Blue Angels (the United States Navy’s flight demonstration squadron) were flying, I was posted to do traffic control. My task was to keep the public away from the Blue Angels. One of the spectators, a little girl of 7 or 8, requested a picture with me instead of getting in front of the planes. When her mom asked her why, she said, “I want to be like her when I grow up. I want to wear a uniform and guard planes.” The little girl made my day!” – Pvt. Anitha Guruswami, Georgia State Defense Force F, HQ G6

Pvt. Anitha Guruswami was born into a very conservative family in Chennai, India. Apart from serving in the Georgia State Defense Force, Pvt. Guruswami works as a senior analyst at Macy’s Systems & Technology in Johns Creek. She is married, and has a 20-year-old daughter who is a junior at UGA. 

Link to Facebook post

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I had to choose between making money and doing what I love: Parthiv Parekh

“Impacting a readership of 90,000. Having a role, however large or small, in shaping the Indian community of the region. And doing what I love doing. These are the highlights of my role as editor of Khabar magazine.

However, in 2002, I was at a major crossroad. I had to choose between making money and doing what I love. I was 7 years into my profession of real estate sales as an agent for Century 21, doing this on the side while building Khabar with my partners. At this 5 to 7 year mark, the career in real estate sales usually starts paying off, and yes, even doing it part-time, the outlook was beginning to look rosy.

But there were simply not enough hours in the day to do both careers. I had to choose between the two. While the income potential was attractive in real estate, I knew my passion lay with Khabar. Fortunately, I found the wisdom and resolve to give up on a well-paying career to pursue what I love. I was looking towards building a family and realizing the great (Indian) American dream of big homes, fancy cars, and private schooling for kids; so the decision was certainly not easy, but I have not regretted it one bit.

The payoff is when readers frequently marvel at how we are able to provide this level of quality: award-winning content, some of the diaspora’s best writers, memorable interviews of high-profile Indians, 140+ pages of full color, book-bound magazine, and all that for free. The secret, of course, lies in our singular, uncompromising commitment to quality content. I see Khabar, first and foremost, as a resource to make a positive impact on the Indian community here.

My days currently are split between editorial and business building duties. Earlier, the latter was handled by Rajesh Jyotishi, without whom Khabar could not have gotten off the ground. It was his connections and know-how, along with help from his father Chittranjan Jyotishi, that gave rise to Khabar in 1992. After years of getting us to where we are, Rajesh decided to leave Khabar in 2012. My brother Mehul Parekh and I remain of the original founders.

I know for sure the best is yet to come! From a mobile app to new sections and columns there is so much that is planned for 2016 and further!” – Parthiv N. Parekh

Parthiv N. Parekh serves as editor-in-chief of Khabar, a magazine serving Indian-American readers. The largest of its kind in the Southeastern United States, Khabar has been cited in the “Best of Atlanta” annual issue of Atlanta magazine.  Besides editing and writing for Khabar, he frequently writes on mainstream topics of socio-political relevance. His guest op-eds have been published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Huffington Post.

Link to Facebook post

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I entered the Miss Lakeside pageant on a dare and was its first non-white winner: Nalini Koch

“It was 1976, the year of the Bicentennial. The Lakeside High School gym was overflowing with almost 2000 people in the bleachers and in chairs on the floor. They were all waiting to see who would be crowned Miss Lakeside 1976.

Rewind about ten years, when an Indian family moved to Atlanta, Georgia from Eugene, Oregon. A father pursuing a professorship in nuclear physics at Georgia Tech then Emory University, a mother excited about the prospects of building a new life and a wide-eyed daughter, born in India, but always curious and ready for what life had to offer.

The atmosphere in the South, in the 60s and 70s, was challenging for a non-white family but not unbearable. We lived in an all white neighborhood and the schools I attended only had a handful of minority students. There were, of course, situations where we were judged in some way or another because of the color of our skin or how we worshipped, but, for the most part, Southerners were curious about our culture and gracious in their approach. My parents, who were very social people, were quick to make friends with people from all walks of life and nationalities, which made assimilation a lot easier for me.

I entered the Miss Lakeside pageant on a dare and, out of 19 other contestants, was the first non-white winner in its history. My dad told me recently that the victory, for him, meant our family was going to be ok in this new life. And that meant everything to me.” – Nalini Koch

Nalini Koch was born in Hyderabad,India in 1959. Her family emigrated to the United States when she was 2 years old. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism with a Minor in German. She is currently a manager at a national insurance company. Nalini is the older daughter of late Dr P.V Rao, who is widely regarded as one of the principle architects of the Atlanta Indian community, and Lakshmi Rao, who continues to live in the Lakeside High school district.

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One has to be at the ground level to reach the top: Lalit Dhingra

“I think, apart from hard work and luck, one has to be at the ground level to reach the top. I firmly believe that if the people working in the organization grow, the organization grows. I have always taken care to see that my people grow on the job.

The environment we have created in NIIT Technologies in the US is one of exceptionally strong, open communication in which listening to understand is key. I never spend more than two hours sitting in my office. Instead, I go and converse with our employees in their offices and cubicles to get to know them and understand the pressures and challenges – personal or professional – they may be facing. Some of them like to share and some don’t, but in the end, it has created an environment of transparency and a strong team has emerged over a period of time.

We have a very diverse team– locals from Atlanta and Augusta, and a team from India, who have come to work in the US. There is lot of learning from each other’s culture and that’s the key. We celebrate Halloween, Diwali and Christmas with the same spirit. I was amazed to see the initiative taken by a local American in the office to organize a large Diwali party for 200+ people inAtlanta. This gives me confidence in the team that is willing to gel well. Once you have such a team, the business growth results for the company could be amazing and that’s what we are experiencing for the last few years.

Leading from the ground level means to support each and every individual in the organization to succeed. It’s not about governing or managing people and their tasks. It’s about encouraging people to get the right results. I am lucky to have a great team working in Atlanta and other parts of the US. I admire their commitment and hard work and I treat them as family members and hope that the culture continues.

It’s their time to lead the company to a much brighter future.” – Lalit Dhingra

Lalit Dhingra is the President of NIIT Technologies, US, and is regarded as a catalyst in the growth of the company in the North American market. He has been quoted by leading publications like Fortune, Wall Street Journal,Silicon Valley and CIO Magazine for his business outlook and ability to comment on executable strategies and transformational models in the technology services outsourcing Industry. An alumnus of the IIT Delhi and Michigan School of Business, Lalit has been frequently asked to speak at Ivy League schools to mentor students and working executives.

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My HLN series intends to capture millennial cooks: Henna Bakshi

Photo courtesy: Caitlin Tabilog

“I’m a New Delhi girl at heart, living in Atlanta while I pursue my journalism career at CNN. I have always been passionate about food. I grew up in a typical Indian household, brewing hot chai for the mornings, and my mother making fresh rotis for dinner, every day. Our home always smelled of spices.

I wanted to translate this comfort and passion for food into my work life. And this is how my digital cooking series on HLN came about. I’ve been at CNN for about a year, and in that time, I pitched a video series to HLN involving me cooking global food on a budget. The pitch and pilot got green-lit by HLN, giving me production clearance for a season.

The series intends to capture millennial cooks and encourage them to explore international flavors that would not break the bank to make. Each episode focuses on a particular country, and a dish inspired by that country’s flavors. For example, I make New Delhi inspired sweet potato burgers for one of the episodes, a Mediterranean flatbread at a goat farm for another.

My Indian upbringing most definitely plays a role in my series. My mother and I exchange recipes constantly. She’s always inspired me to experiment with bold, beautiful flavors. Even though she is a vegetarian, she raised her kids to eat meat, cooking a storm of chicken and seafood dishes without ever having tasted them!

I combined my Indian background with my Caucasian husband, Andy, who has German and Irish roots. My in-laws live in Germany, making my global compass for food and culture even bigger.

My family has also moved around a lot. The only thing that stayed consistent during all the moving was the food, and the language of food we exchanged with the locals. I wanted to let people know that global cooking is fun; we should indulge in it fearlessly.” – Henna Bakshi

Henna Bakshi is a journalist and culinary enthusiast. She speaks 5 languages: English, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, and some French. She created her first cooking show at University of North Florida called, “The Skillet.” After graduation, she got accepted at her dream company, CNN, where she also created a food series for HLN called, “Around the World in $40.” Henna lives with her husband, Andy, who is an amazing cinematographer and video editor, and also happens to be her muse. You can find “Around the World in $40” on hlntv.com and on Henna’s website, hennabakshi.com

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My job was to figure out how to make a subject that everyone hates beautiful: Anand Varma

Looking for newly discovered species in the caves of Sequoia National Park, California. Photo by Jean Krejca.

“I had a lot of opportunities to explore nature as a kid thanks to all the woods around my childhood home and my parents’ enthusiasm for camping.  This interest was only further reinforced by my friends and teachers at Arbor Montessori School, which I attended from pre-K to 8th grade.  By the time I entered high school, I was set on becoming a biologist so that I could spend my life exploring nature.

In college, I got an opportunity to work for a photographer by chance and I pursued it because I thought it would be a fun summer job.  However, it turned out the project was for National Geographic and I soon realized that working as a natural history photographer allowed me to do everything I dreamed of as a kid.  As a result, I left the academic path and after graduating with a bachelors in biology, I decided to pursue a full time career in photography.

I had to work as an assistant for about four years before I got a grant to work on my own project.  It took another two years after that to land my first story assignment from National Geographic.  This project, on mind-controlling parasites, was the most challenging thing I have done in my career.  My job was to figure out how to make a subject that everyone hates beautiful.

My goal moving forward is to figure out how to make complex or under-appreciated science stories more accessible to a wide audience.” – Anand Varma

National Geographic photographer Anand Varma‘s photos tell the story behind the science on everything from primate behavior and hummingbird biomechanics to amphibian disease and forest ecology.  He started photographing natural history subjects while studying biology at the University of California,Berkeley. He spent several years assisting other photographers before receiving a National Geographic Young Explorer grant to document the wetlands of Patagonia.  Varma has since become a regular contributor to National Geographic. His feature stories include “Mindsuckers” about mind-controlling parasites and “Quest for a Superbee” about the science behind honeybee declines.  

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I’ve never ended a run sad, disappointed or stressed: Rohini Jella

“I’ve run 56 marathons in 50 states. It took me 9 years. I run, because it takes me where I want to go in my thoughts; it sets my mind free from everyday work, and gives me a new breath of energy.  I’ve never ended a run sad, disappointed or stressed. What’s not to love about running when you can clear the junk box of your “mind” mail?

I will not lie. Running a marathon is not easy. It is grueling, and tests your mind and body. There are times when at every step, I’ve had to reinforce the belief in me and push myself to see the finish line; just to hear my kids’ voice filled with pride for their dad!

I joined the running group in Peachtree Corners through a friend.  Not knowing the running tradition, or groups, I went and unknowingly put myself in the fast pace group. Oh boy! What a discovery it was about my fitness spectrum and my endurance!  Not to mention, I did feel that one 4 mile run in every part of my body for next few days!  After this run, I took the challenge to complete it pain free and keep pace with the group, and my quest and goal grew after every run. And here I am today, as a 50 stater!

I train with my wonderful running group friends at Peachtree Corners.  We push each other, test our toughness and they are always with me when I need them for my very last kick to the finish line.  We were adventurous in doing a 36 hour, 208 mile relay in Blue Ridge Mountains, endured several back to back marathons (run 52.4 miles in two states over a weekend), often times trained at 3 AM in the morning to ensure our families are not disrupted.  It is a great feeling to run with such determined friends.

My best training partners are my kids Satya and Nitya Jella.  I often do short training runs with them, and my love of running grows more every day with every step I take with them.  We share our day, resolve issues, discuss everything, from what’s happening in their lives to world politics, and come home with one extra layer of bond between us!  Who would not want to run for this?” – Rohini Jella

Rohini Jella is a resident of Peachtree Corners Circle in Norcross, Georgia.  His running partner in life is Prashanthi. They have two wonderful teens, Satya Jella and Nitya Jella. 

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I’ve kept my feet on the ground: Miss India USA Pranathy Gangaraju

“Winning the Miss India USA title was the beginning of a truly adventurous journey for me. During this journey, I am glad I didn’t lose myself and kept my feet on the ground. That, I think, is crucial for every winner.

I’ve had great opportunities- from being on the covers of well-known magazines to meeting the Consul General of India and the Mayor of Johns Creek. I am grateful for the many special moments and the chance to meet so many wonderful people!

Something I’ve learned along the way- be yourself, work at reaching your potential and walk past harsh experiences. And have faith in your talents, always!

Miss India USA (2014-15) Pranathy Sharma Gangaraju is a graduate of Northview High School in Johns Creek. Pranathy is currently pursuing acting at the Lee Strasberg School of Fine Arts inHollywood,California, and is honing her skills to soon be part of the movie world and “bring light to Indian films” as an actress.   

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I got equal billing with the likes of star columnist, Molly Ivins: Chandrika Narayan

“I’ve wanted to be a journalist as long as I can remember, but I was discouraged from this profession both in India and even after I moved to the United States in the mid-80s. Shortly after I arrived in Atlanta, I went knocking at the doors of CNN and landed an unpaid internship. (CNN was then known as ‘Chicken Noodle Network’). The minute I walked into the cavernous newsroom on Techwood Drive, I knew that this would be my future.  I loved the buzz, the excitement, and the energy of the news network still in its infancy.

Unfortunately, just months after I started, my husband was transferred to Raleigh, North Carolina. I began a degree in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Almost simultaneously, I started working part-time as a general assignment reporter for The (Raleigh) News and Observer. I was the first Indian journalist they hired, and they could barely pronounce my name. “We will just have to call you ‘bubba’,” the editor said. I wrote about crime, politics and everything else that came my way.  It was scary to walk down the streets of Raleigh at night – remember this was before the days of cell phones. I held a walkie-talkie tightly in my hand as I visited police stations to get updates. There was no GPS either, and I remember getting completely lost driving down a dark two-lane highway to cover the story of an escaped pet python. I startled a group of senior citizens meeting at a church when I walked into the building to get directions – it was the only place with lights on! When I eventually stumbled upon the farmhouse – I was more afraid of the barking dogs than the giant snake – which had wrapped itself around a tree at this point.  I was young, naïve and a bit brave – I remember the time I volunteered to report on a Ku Klux Klan march downtown because the other reporter in the newsroom who was black didn’t want to do the story!

I got my big break after interning with the Dallas Morning News. I was hired as a Business reporter and columnist at the Dallas Times Herald. I was their first Indian columnist, and among the first, if not the first Indian columnist at a major U.S. metropolitan newspaper. I got equal billing with the likes of star columnist Molly Ivins! I felt like Mary Tyler Moore – every time I entered my downtown office I felt like tossing my hat into the air and singing – ‘You’re going to make it after all’!” – Chandrika Narayan

Life came a full circle for Chandrika Narayan when she joined CNN International in 2000, after three years as an anchor for an Indian television station in New Delhi. After 11 years at the news network, where she was producer/writer and briefly anchored a show called “World Report”, Chandrika Narayan took a year off to go back to school.  She obtained another Master’s degree from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in 2012. She is now back at CNN, freelancing at several departments. 

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I am in good health because I keep my brain active: Alamelu Srinivasan

Photo courtesy: Alamelu’s granddaughter Aparna Sharma.

“I turned 102 on August 4. My blood pressure is normal. I have no diabetes. I still walk with a walker. I am in good health because I keep my brain active. I do math and crossword puzzles every single day. I speak four languages- Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit and English- and make it a point to write in those languages everyday so I don’t lose them. I ask visitors to our home if they have any special prayers, and write the prayers 108 times in their name.

I was born in 1913 in Rangoon, Burma, the 9th child of my parents. My father was a chartered accountant. I was interested in litigation at a young age and my father wanted me to be a lawyer. But my brothers felt I was too outspoken and abrupt to be in law. So I got a BA and MA in English literature, then a B.Ed. I ended up becoming an educator. I was married off to this charming would-be doctor in Rangoon when I was just 13, but my father made sure I stayed on with them until I completed my post-graduation. Only then was I allowed to start a family. I was 22 when my first daughter was born.

During World War II, I got on a ship with my kids and two suitcases, leaving behind all we had. Being a doctor, my husband was required by law to stay and take care of the wounded. For 3 months, I did not know his whereabouts. Later, I heard that he had walked the forests of Assam with his sister’s family who had missed the last ship to Calcutta. When we started a new life in Kanchipuram, it was not easy. The culture shock was enormous. Eventually, however, I got into government service and became the principal of a school. My husband’s medical practice slowly picked up. My interest in law served me well when I was made honorary magistrate in the 1950s.” – Alamelu Srinivasan

Alamelu Srinivasan moved to the US in 1976. She lives with her daughter Paddy Sharma in Clayton County.  

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I was a first-generation Indian-American, but the opportunities I had made me feel privileged: A. N. Sengupta

A. N. Sengupta in the foreground of the Peachtree Summit Building, one of his Atlanta projects.

“Imagine Atlanta without the freeways and I-285, a city of only half a million people. One could drive on the narrow Peachtree Road safely even with faulty brakes. I was a first-generation Indian-American and yet the opportunities and experiences I had made me feel privileged. I studied architecture and urban design at Harvard University and M.I.T. with full scholarships and more, taught at several noted universities, including Georgia Tech, worked with the then top architectural firm Toombs, Amisano & Wells (TAW), and later had my own architectural office and a high-class international boutique at Peachtree Center. I designed some 100 major projects between my years at TAW and Sengupta, Gruber & Associates. The Atlanta projects include Peachtree Summit,CNN Building, Westlake MARTA Station,Standard Federal Headquarters Building and master plans of Atlanta University and Spelman College.  In those pre-e-mail-password-Facebook-LinkedIn-cellphone days, I could and did reach out to Jimmy Carter, Andrew Young and Coretta Scott King with one phone call supported by my name only.  Nowadays even my bank of 15 years makes me show my ID.

I was overwhelmed by the generosity of people here. I spent my very first night in the United States on the same guest bed on which had slept my hero, the great architect Frank Lloyd Wright. While on the faculty of Tulane University, I was routinely hosted by one Hollibaugh family. In Cambridge, Mass.I shared an apartment with the building’s owner, who treated me like his son and included me in all his family functions.  But years rolled by.  After around 25 years here, I felt intensely homesick.  I had long since had my own family.  We moved to Chennai, India where I wore several hats, including visiting professor at Anna University and I had my own architectural and planning practice. I designed some ten buildings for the campus and scores of major projects all over the country. These included The Geological Survey of India’s southern HQ in Bangalore, an 850-acre university campus in Pondicherry, an entire capital of a northeastern state, the first metro stations in Madras and Calcutta, Indian Institute of Management Kolkata and ISKCON’s Mayapur temple and town.

Because of family ties and now having grandchildren on these shores, I returned to Atlanta after 14 years in India.  Now I try my best to share with the young generation what I have learned from the two cultures and put forth some of my thoughts in two books: “Stranger in Shangri-La” and “The Road to a Livable World”, both published through Amazon as e-books and paperbacks.” – A. N. Sengupta

A. N. Sengupta, better known as “Shen,” arrived on these shores on ocean liners, trains and buses in 1958 and was one of the first to come from India to Atlanta.  He came to the U.S.A. as part of the Technical Cooperation Mission , whereby educators were exchanged. Born in Barisal and raised in Sirajganj in Bengal, he has seen the world, residing in the Himalayas, in the desert cities of Saudi Arabia, on the banks of the mighty Brahmaputra , in the mega-city of New York. This together with his firsthand knowledge of  people from all corners of  India and the rest of the world makes him a truly global citizen.

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I thank God for giving me the courage to help: Nimesh Patel

“I was walking down the coast with four friends during Ganesh Visarjan at Tybee Island (I was DJing the ceremony). I saw men, women and children, who were not part of our Sai Parivar group. I thought they were having fun in the water, but then we heard screams and cries for help. We couldn’t stand there and do nothing. We swam across to help. I pulled two people up to safety. Then I saw another man, 5 ft away from me. I had little energy left, but I dived in again and reached the man. He grabbed at my shorts. I lost hope of coming out alive. Luckily, I saw a life boat coming towards us, and I managed to keep him afloat until then. We were both out safe! I was glad to be alive. I thank God for giving me the courage to help. My friend Darshil Patel also managed to save a 12-year-old. ” – Nimesh Hasmukh Patel (Lucky)

Nimesh Hasmukh Patel, who also goes by the name Lucky, is a sophomore at Middle Georgia State University, Macon. He is also a dance choreographer and DJ in his spare time.

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It was a once in a lifetime experience: Ismail Charania

“It was the most memorable day of my life. I spent 45 minutes in the chair that Prime Minister Modi would later occupy. As one of the official interpreters of Modi’s Facebook town hall meeting with Mark Zuckerberg, it was my job to test the mike system before the session began. I arrived at the venue at 7 am, and, as I tested the mike, I dished out famous dialogues from the movie Sholay. The audience clapped. The Indian TV channels, about 8 to 10 of them, then grabbed me for interviews!

During the session, I was asked to sit in the front row. I was told to approach Modi and Zuckerberg, in case the mike system failed (to translate the conversation). I teared up when Modi talked about his mother. It was an emotional moment was everybody.

How did it happen? I was in a court in San Francisco all of Friday afternoon. At the airport, on my way back to Atlanta, I checked for missed calls, and saw 5 of them from an unfamiliar number. The call was from a reputed global translations company and they wanted me to be an interpreter at Modi’s town hall meeting! “Are you crazy? Is this a scam? I asked the person at the other end. He assured me it wasn’t a scam, and requested me not to take the flight back home. They put me up in a hotel, gave me a rent-a-car, and that was the beginning of a once in a lifetime experience.” –  Ismail Charania

Ismail Charania is an Atlanta based simultaneous, consecutive & phone interpreter in Gujarati-Hindi-Urdu for the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, USCIS, Executive Office for Immigration Review and the Social Security Administration. He is the official interpreter in the federal Sureshbhai Patel assault case.

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I am living proof that dreams are possible: Dr Nazeera Dawood

“When I was six years old, I promised my mother I would become a doctor and serve the poor. My promise was a distant dream for my mother. I had to break through the obstacle of my orthodox family tradition of educating women only till the 5th grade. “You need not become a doctor to cut onions in the kitchen”, was the response I received from my community members. I went on a hunger strike for a week, lying flat on my tummy in my grandparents’ hall. Finally, on the seventh day, seeing me dehydrated, my parents and grandparents agreed to continue my education.

I believe in my vision to make a difference, question the status quo, connect the dots and pave the way for our future generation. I used to be a timid girl, but my journey has made me stronger. I am running for office because I want to serve and do the right thing. I don’t mind being different as long as I can get the message about unity, love and peace across. I am living proof that dreams are possible.” – Dr Nazeera Dawood

Dr. Nazeera Dawood is running for Johns Creek City Council Post 5. She is currently the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations at the Fulton County Board of Commissioners, Chairman’s Office. She received her Medical Doctor degree from Bangalore University in India and a Master’s degree in public health from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She was recognized as the 2010-2011 ‘We are Emory, 100 Community Builders’.  Under her leadership as the health promotion division director at Fulton, the collaborative partnerships have grown to over 400 businesses, organization and individuals through the six coalitions and secured $9,000,000 project funding for a period of three years.  Oct 1, 2014 was proclaimed as ‘Dr.Nazeera Dawood Appreciation Day’ sponsored by Fulton Board of Commissioners. She is a Johns Creek resident and a recent graduate of Leadership Johns Creek and Johns Creek Community Police Academy. She is the President Elect for South Asian Public Health Association and an Associate President of her Rotary Club.
https://www.facebook.com/NazeeraForJohnsCreek

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Giving through my creativity is what I’m here for: Malika Ghosh Garrett

OWN Ambassador Malika Ghosh Garrett with Oprah.

“Life has thrown fierce challenges my way. When the world as I knew it fell apart, my life did a 180. A quieter, reflective world substituted the noise, success and fast pace of my earlier life. With reflection came awareness, and a clear focus of what’s really important. Oprah has been more than a friend. She is my teacher, and I am grateful for her many lessons- to forgive and forget; that “Life didn’t happen to me but for me”; that we are all human. I have experienced the fierce love of all that is God who manifested as my friends and supporters. His power resides in my heart. It lifts and carries me everyday. I pray differently grateful to have survived, learned, forgiven and moved on.

The artist in me has a clearer vision and is focused on giving back, knowing that the path of giving via my creativity is what I am here to do on this earth, whether it’s through a painting to raise money for charity or by helping others in some way. The world speaks to us all to validate our gifts. The gifts are there for a reason. I have stopped asking why they are my talents; instead I ask what I can do with them to make the world a better place. My advice to others- when you don’t know what you have to give, know that YOU are the most valuable thing you have to offer. You are enough.” – Malika Ghosh Garrett

 OWN Ambassador Malika Ghosh Garrett has collections of her work in India, Singapore, USA, UK and China. She recently collaborated with Deepka Chopra on a fundraiser for Akshaya Patra, where her painting captured the hearts of many and a $50,000 donation from more than one bidder. She currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two beautiful children. Malika attended Wesleyan College in Macon, GA where she earned her BFA in Visual Arts. Her website www.malikagarrett.com has more information.

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Indie Indian cookbook authors are cultural ambassadors: Nandita Godbole

“My mother is my teacher, not a culinary school. I always enjoyed cooking and have worn many hats before becoming an indie Indian cookbook author. Acceptance and respect in this field from peers is the most difficult as the mindset is: “Indie work – not worth it”; “Anyone can do that”; “I know it all!” or “Is it free?”

Has there even been only one color, opinion, spice, recipe or taste? We learn the same alphabet, to read and write; yet we dream, imagine and feel outside those walls. We enjoy books, movies, music and art to appreciate anothers’ interpretation of life. Why not indie Indian cookbooks? Why wait for darkness before discovering new light? Indie (Indian) cookbook authors are fearless cultural ambassadors creating fertile environments where innovative concepts flourish. When we support them, we enrich our present life and ‘nourish’ future generations. Everyone dreams, only hard work makes them real.” – Nandita Godbole

Nandita Godbole ( MSc., M. Landscape Arch., Cookbook Author, Entrepreneur), is an emerging indie author based in Roswell, GA. She launched Curry Cravings™ in 2005 to showcase the dynamic Indian culture and cuisine. Through both her written and culinary endeavors, Nandita remains an enthusiastic advocate for the Indian culture, bridging gaps between its perception and ‘consumption.’ Visit her blog at www.currycravingskitchen.com to learn more about her current and upcoming cookbooks and novella. She will be showcasing her maiden cookbook ‘A Dozen Ways To Celebrate’ at this year’s Indo-American Arts Council’s Literary festival in NYC in October, 2015.

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There may come a day when we view eating of animals as no different than cannibalism or as unethical as slavery: Dr K. M. Venkat Narayan

“Many of the big thinkers of history (Plato, Pythagoras, Ben Franklin, Mark Twain, Bernard Shaw, Thomas Edison, and Gandhi) were moved to stop killing animals for food. I grew up a vegetarian, but started eating meat (as it was rebellious to do so) in medical school; ate everything (from beef to pork, chicken to turkey, fish to lobster, deer to dog, even camel and frog) for many years. But when I visited a beef farm as part of my Duke of Edinburgh Commonwealth Fellowship leadership program in 1992, I was moved by the systematic and cold brutality, and soon reverted to becoming a vegetarian again. Not only do I feel ethical, but my health indices have kept close to perfect, and all my parameters (BP, glucose, lipids, weight) are at the lower end of normal. I am fit and  energetic, sleep soundly, and take no medications. In humanity’s journey, there may come a day when we view eating of animals as no different than cannibalism or as unethical as slavery.” – Dr K. M. Venkat Narayan

K. M. Venkat Narayan is a Ruth and O.C. Hubert professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health and a professor of medicine at Emory School of Medicine. Notably, Dr. Narayan is a physician-scientist specializing in the epidemiology and prevention of diabetes, obesity and vascular diseases. He is regarded as a national and international leader in chronic diseases.

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Don’t be afraid to take the “road less traveled”: Dr Prachi Mehta

“After a 16-year, fulfilling career at the CDC office in Atlanta, the transition to a global health position in Kenya seemed like a natural progression to a calling from over 2 decades ago to work in global health.  When faced with the proverbial fork in life, I decided to follow my inner voice, let go of the familiar and take the “road less traveled” by accepting a position in a part of the world I had never been to before-Nairobi,Kenya.

Having spent my early childhood years both in India and the US, the stark difference in the public health infrastructure between the developed and developing world always struck me. At the age of 19, I stumbled upon an article that described the impactful work being done by donor organizations, ministries of health and grass roots organizations in the African region to curtail HIV/AIDS, malaria and other infectious diseases.  Up until that point, I knew nothing about the disciples of epidemiology, surveillance or public health sciences but the article was powerful and created a vision for what I wanted to do “when I grew up”. So when the time came, I decided to shift gears from my undergrad in engineering, follow my inner voice and pursue graduate work in public health. The decision to pursue graduate studies in a field that was relatively “unknown” at the time, with less than certain job prospects, was a risk I was willing to take to pursue my passion and in hindsight, turned out to be a very wise move.

A valuable lesson I have learned along the way is that in life, great growth and great change both require great risk. However sometimes the greatest risk is doing nothing and allowing yourself to stay “stuck”.  Letting go gives you more freedom than holding on.” – Dr Prachi Mehta

Dr Prachi Mehta moved to Nairobi in September 2015 after living and working at CDC’s Atlanta Office for over 16 years. She is a Public Health Scientist (Informatics) at the CDC,Kenyaoffice where she provides technical expertise and management oversight for the development of public health information systems and solutions to build health systems capacity and infrastructure in the African region.

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Troy Davis gave me hope that one person can make a difference: Gautam Narula

Gautam Narula during a visit to Troy Davis’s grave in Savannah.

“I spent the second half of my teenage years trying to save Troy Davis from an unjust execution. During those years, he opened my eyes to many issues I never thought about– the horrifying conditions behind bars, the tragic backgrounds of inmates behind bars, the moral and legal problems with the death penalty, and the many, many flaws in the justice system.

His execution was devastating. It was hard not feel like it was a personal failure, like Troy would still be alive today if I had just worked harder to save him. But even amid that tragedy and my own disillusionment, Troy gave me hope: hope that one person can make a difference, just as he made a difference in my life. That’s why I keep fighting, four years later.” – Gautam Narula

Gautam Narula, 22, is a writer and software developer. He is the author of Remain Free, a memoir about his friendship with Troy Davis, a Georgia death row inmate executed in 2011 despite serious evidence of innocence. All proceeds from the book will be donated to the Innocence Project, a non-profit that works to exonerate wrongfully convicted individuals through DNA testing.

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When people greet me, it makes my day: Mustafa Ajmeri

“I love people. My day never really begins until I spend time networking- meeting people I know, and making new friends. When people greet me, it makes my day!
On an average, I get 12 calls a day from people seeking information, guidance and publicity for their events. I cannot say “no” to anybody. And people return the favor with their love.
I suppose it is the love of people that makes me equally at ease at a mosque, temple, gurdwara or church.” – Mustafa Ajmeri

Known fondly as the Indian Mayor of Atlanta, Mustafa Ajmeri is an event promoter, and has to his credit several successful Bollywood and Gujarati shows/ plays. He is also PR for the Law Offices of Chandler Sharma and India Tribune newspaper. Mustafa is married to Kheru and has a son Arif, and two daughters Farzana and Shehnaz.

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I made a pledge to protect the rest of the students: Japjee Singh

“It seemed (then) like my world had turned upside down. Since then, I have ventured beyond the limitations that restricted me from breaking the ice, to bring attention to the topic of bullying. It was hard, always. Never is it easy to fight against the norm, but, with the support of my community members, it was bound to occur.

I made a pledge to get policy passed to protect the rest of the students. I was successful in getting two settlements passed between the Dekalb County Schools and the Department of Justice. It goes further to protect 100,000+ students. Looking ahead, I plan to shape policy for the State of Georgia and the federal government.” – Japjee Singh

Japjee Singh was a victim of bullying in elementary and middle school. At Peachtree Middle School, the bullying escalated into physical violence, and Japjee had to endure assaults that resulted in a broken nose and a swollen jaw that required two surgeries. In one assault, a student cut Japjee’s hair, in violation of his faith. He was called “Aladdin” because he wore a turban, and asked “to go back to his country”. The Counsel for the Sikh Coalition supported Japjee’s family take steps that that eventually led to a landmark settlement between the Department of Justice, U.S. Attorney’s Office and the DeKalb County School District in May 2013. Now a high school junior, Japjee is a committed anti-bullying activist.

Read about the landmark settlement here: http://www.nripulse.com/dekalb-county-school-district-to-resolve-complaints-of-bullying-of-sikh-middle-school-student/

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I collect books for migrant farm worker children: Sanjeev Anand

“I have collected and donated 3,000 books to migrant farm worker children in Georgia in less than 9 months. I want to collect 7,000 more books for these kids.  My goal is to help with their early childhood education. I was greatly disturbed when I learnt that children as young as 5 would work in the fields and not get a normal education, in order to earn less than $1,000 per year to support their families.

Being a voracious reader myself, who understands the joy of possessing the most precious gifts- books; I began collecting books for children ages 0-10. All the books I collect are donated to Telamon Corporation, an organization that runs a Head Start program for migrant farm worker children across four centers in Georgia. This has helped provide literacy packs for the children and their families.  If you would like to support my cause, please email urag57@gmail.com.” – Sanjeev Anand

Sanjeev is 11 years old and is a 6th grader at Kittredge Magnet School,Dekalb County. He is an avid chess player and has a black belt in Taekwondo.  He loves Pokemon and Lego.

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I create flutes on a 3D printer: Ram Mallappa

“I create flutes on a 3D printer. When I started learning to play the flute in 2002, I had a hard time finding well-tuned bamboo flutes.  Four years went by without a good flute.  I started researching how to make bamboo flutes.  It was hard to find the right kind and size of bamboo, so I started making flutes using PVC and aluminum pipes.  That worked well for some pitches.

In 2013, my teacher asked me to prepare for my graduation concert.  I needed a set of flutes for which I could not find the right pipes. I contacted PVC pipe manufacturers for making custom sized pipes.  They wanted me to buy a minimum of one truck load!  That was not practical.  So, I decided on 3D printing.  Most consumer 3D printers can only print small objects.  So, I had to build a custom printer that can print the large dimensions I needed.  The hardest part was understanding the flute acoustics and solving problems with tuning higher octave notes and drawing 3D models.” – Ram Mallappa

Ram Mallappa recently had his flute arangetram. His classical Indian 3D printed flutes will be presented by his guru Sri Raman Kalyan at the upcoming World Flute Seminar. By profession, Ram is a software engineer, and works for the New York Stock Exchange’s Atlanta office.  Ram lives in the Atlanta area with his wife, two daughters and their pet dog.

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I get inspired by socially relevant causes: Bala Indurti

“I get inspired by socially relevant causes, and any support I can provide as an individual or as part of a team gives me great pleasure.  I like to help meritorious children who are financially deprived get a proper education, and hence, I have initiated and successfully carried out scholarship programs in India and the USA. It also gives me great pleasure to serve the elderly, which has motivated me to organize successful health fairs.

The NATA Convention in 2014, which was attended by over 10000 people, was the most challenging event I have coordinated. The TAMA Silver Jubilee celebrations in 2006, attended by 2000 people, also stands out in my mind.” – Bala Indurti

Bala comes from a large family, and is the last of five brothers. He has a degree in Engineering from JNTU Hyderabad and an MS from the University of Texas. His non-profit journey started with TAMA (Telugu Association of Metro Atlanta) as secretary in 2004. He became president of TAMA in 2006. He was also president of APNA Foundation in 2010/11 and the BOD and convener of the national organization NATA in 2013/14. He lives in Atlanta with his wife Madhavi and beautiful daughter Rithika.

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I continue to deal with the prejudices of the community: Darshan P. Kaur

“Despite being born into a conservative family, my parents raised me to be fearless and completely independent. Unfortunately, Indian society does not take well to a bold and outspoken woman, especially one who has a mind of her own. I have lived alone in Atlanta for 18 years. Even here, I continue to deal with the prejudices of the community – men, and women even more so – because I choose to be single and not depend on anyone for my needs or to “protect my honor”. I was ostracized by the community for a long time. I lost count of the parties I wasn’t invited to because society presumed my unmarried status was a blemish on my character. I am constantly judged and my intentions are misunderstood no matter how pure they may be simply because I deviate from tradition. I ignore all the negativity and refuse to let it distract me from my personal goals. I leave the community with one thought- getting married is not an achievement and being single is not a stigma.” – Darshan P. Kaur

Darshan P. Kaur is a Certified Outsourcing Professional and works as a Sr. Director of Global Sourcing at a leading financial institution. Her real passion is theatre and she has performed in several plays in Atlanta including two in a lead role. She also loves to sing, dance, write, travel and volunteer. Darshan is the current Vice President of the Executive Committee of IACA (India American Cultural Association).

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Imagination is the beginning of creation: Vijaykumar Gandapodi

“It all started when I was in school. I found myself in love with art. As a child, I used to draw and paint, and have my creations displayed at local exhibitions in Chennai. As I grew older, I focused on my future, letting go of my passion towards art. After my son Abhishek started showing interest in drawings, I started to find time to continue my passion.

Being able to draw and sketch pulls me into a different mindset. When I sit down to start a new piece, I feel relaxed and buoyant. So far, I’ve created close to 100 pencil sketches and 10,000 sq-ft of painted artwork. My first opportunity to create painted masterpieces was given to me by IACA (Indian Cultural Association of Atlanta) in 2010. For this event, I had created the “Wonders of India”, which were 8ft x 8ft paintings. Creating bigger pieces made me think about how I could take my paintings and masterpieces to another level. In 2012, the American Telugu Association (ATA) convention gave me the opportunity to create a 3D painted masterpiece, The Warangal Fort (a 1000ft painting). My recent artwork includes The Chidambaram temple, created as the backdrop for my daughter’s arangetram.  I still follow my heart with my passion towards art.” – Vijaykumar Gandapodi

Vijaykumar Gandapodi is a software executive, artist, chess coach and an actor. Vijay is currently pursuing his doctorate in Business Administration at Georgia State University.

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I like to dance stress off: Yami Joshi

Yami Joshi during her TED talk. Photo credit: Mark Tixion

“I got myself into a complicated relationship with stress! I am working full time at UPS, and I am also enrolled in a Master’s Program (Industrial/Organizational Psychology) at UGA. Trying to balance work, school, and somewhat of a social life has been a challenge. Yes, I have dated stress, and I portrayed this in my talk when I began the performance with a “solo” dance of me demonstrating it. To destress, I like to dance it off. I have been dancing ever since I remember. It is my biggest passion and I want to learn all the different dance forms there are. I am trained in Bharatanatyam and performed my Arangetram in 2010. I usually de-stress by performing at different charity events for my dance teacher’s (Uma Pulendran) school Natya Dhaara. I also enjoy performing with my college buddies- we are all part of a Bharatanatyam dance troupe, Pulse. I also like to choreograph in my free time, and use that energy to get rid of stress.” – Yami Joshi

Yami Joshi is an organizational development specialist at UPS, where she develops and implements organizational strategies to improve the employee experience. Meanwhile, she is pursuing a master’s degree in organizational/industrial psychology at the University of Georgia. Outside of her work and studies, she is a certified Bharatanatyam dancer. Using her dancing skills, Joshi recently had the opportunity to give a TED talk (hosted by UPS) on how dance helps her alleviate stress. 

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My viewpoints are more open because of my bi-cultural experience: Dr Hima Bindu Lingam

“Growing up as a first generation Indian-American had its challenges. It was a balancing act to maintain the traditions of Indian culture that we practiced at home and to learn from the customs of American society. However, the rewards have been great. My horizons are more broad and viewpoints more open because of my bi-cultural experience and my exposure to many different cultures within the United States. When I left home for med college, I started a second journey-one that truly allowed me to embrace being a first generation Indian-American.” – Dr Hima Bindu Lingam

Dr. Hima Bindu Lingam is a medical oncologist and hematologist who works in both patient care and clinical research at Kaiser Permanente Townpark in Kennesaw. Born inVijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, and raised in LaGrange, Georgia, Bindu’s international exposure and love for travel has made her an Indian-American with a world view. She also enjoys running and recently completed a 5K for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

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Confidence, inner peace & happiness all go hand in hand: Anita Gupta

“I believe that confidence, inner peace and happiness all go hand in hand. If you are an ethical, truthful person and live your life with no guilt, no negativity can affect you. The positive energy then reflects in your personality, in your confidence, in your attitude and ultimately, in your physique and looks.

I didn’t have to work at being a happy, content and confident person. That is just who I am. I may have imbibed this from my beautiful mother who has seen many highs and lows in her life, without ever complaining about anything or anybody. She is a woman of amazing grace and spirituality who has always focused on the good in every situation.

I believe forgiveness and contentment are the biggest assets a person can have. Forgive, forget and move on- that has been my mantra for inner peace and happiness. And while the success stories of others can and should be a great source of inspiration and motivation, it should never be a cause for jealousy or self doubt. In fact, it’s a matter of great pride to me when people around me achieve greater heights.

And while you go about your life, never let that crazy child inside you die, no matter what age you are!” – Anita Gupta

Anita Gupta is a full-time Realtor by profession. She counts singing and gardening among her many passions. A former model and actor, she directed the Miss India Georgia pageants for several years in the 90s, and again in 2008. 

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Kismet had much to do in placing me in a carpool line: Reetika Khanna Nijhawan

“Kismet had much to do in placing me in a carpool line outside an elementary school in Buckhead, instead of being chauffeured around in a Mercedes in Bandra. As I waited impatiently, day after day, in the baking sun and copious rain, unable to read a book for more than a few minutes, disenchanted by the dialogue on social media on my iPhone, too embarrassed to savor a siesta, I was irked by my inability to enjoy the forty minutes of calm. Away from the call of quotidian chores, I figured it was as good a time as any to try my hand at writing fiction, something I had wanted to do for a while “when I have the time.” And those forty minutes went by in a flash. I looked forward to writing while waiting for the entire year, at the end of which, I had my first draft.” – Reetika Khanna Nijhawan

 Reetika Khanna Nijhawan worked as a flight attendant with Lufthansa before settling down to write for ELLE and ELLE Décor in Mumbai. She later moved to Atlanta, where her work has been published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Khabar magazine. Kismetwali and Other Stories is her first work of fiction.
 Reetika will appear on the Decatur Book Festival Emerging Writers Stage on Saturday at 2 p.m.

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Because I am making a difference: Alankar Tayal

“Everyone needs a cause to support. Mine, for the last two years, has been to raise money to find a cure for diabetes. While my own family has a history of diabetes, I also have a friend whose son has Type 1 diabetes. Two years ago, this friend asked me to ride and raise funds for JDRF – an organization looking for a cure for diabetes. I agreed, because 80% of the funds raised go directly to research and the amazing people involved with JDRF’s Ride program.

I like a challenge. Last year, I completed my first 100-mile JDRF ride on a relatively flat route and raised over $4500. When the team chose hilly Tahoe this year, it seemed to be one challenge too soon, but the Georgia JDRF team has an amazing coach who has guided us every step of the way. I started my training about six months ago. I typically train 6 days a week – three days I ride between 70 to 100 miles, and the other three days,  I do strength training. To be honest, there have been times in the past two months- like when I was climbing the hills of Roswell with the temperature in the upper 90s- when I’ve asked myself,  Why am I doing this! And the answer that has kept me going each time is – Because I am making a difference! – Alankar Tayal

Alankar Tayal grew up in three different continents, but has called the Greater Atlanta area his home for the past 25 years. He lives with his wife and two great kids in Roswell. By profession, Alankar is a thought leader who has been evangelizing a user-centric approach for all things in the online space. 

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I carry with me their smiles: Shobha Swamy

“Visiting the AIM for Seva children every year and spending time with them has made me more loving and compassionate. To watch their talents, to hear about their dreams and aspirations, to see their eagerness to learn, gives me so much joy. I carry with me their smiles, their excitement to excel, to shine, to become a contributing member for their families, their communities, their villages, and their country -India. My challenges seem small compared to the obstacles they have overcome just to have access to the same opportunities that we have been privileged to have. I am committed to contribute my small share for the AIM for Seva children of rural and tribal India.” – Shobha Swamy

Having worked for over 25 years in the automotive electronics industry in engineering, Shobha Swamy is now focused on community related activities in the US as well as in India. She also assists in her husband’s company.

Sundara Kandam – a Benefit Program for AIM for Seva will be held on Sept 4 at Ferst Center for the Arts, Georgia Tech. Educate a child, support the arts.

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Think different and be fair!: Shaveta Jain

Shaveta Jain conducting the pledge drive for American India Foundation. Photo by Venkat Kuttua Photography.

“Extreme obsession over fair skin is deeply rooted in our system, which explains the popularity of fairness products for both men and women! Not only does this bother me, but it questions one’s intellect. We all know, many dusky beauties have ruled Bollywood cinema and have enchanted their fans with their talent. Let’s think out of the box and appreciate a person and his/her personality beyond his/her skin color and appearance. Think different and be fair!

To me, real beauty is hidden deep inside you. It is the goodness in you that radiates positive energy; inspiring and motivating those around you to be truly beautiful. Outward attractiveness can get you the attention you desire for a while, but it’s your actions, your qualities and your inner being that represents your true beauty in the long run.” – Shaveta Jain

 Shaveta Jain, Brand Ambassador – Mrs. India International USA, is a former Mrs. India International. She is a pageant coach, an IT professional, and a social activist. She is a Mathematics graduate from Delhi University, an IIT Delhi alumni, a NBHM research candidate from IIT Bombay/Powai and a Computer Science graduate fromUSA. She is a mother of two and is married to Anuj, an IITD alumni and GSU graduate.

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If it is to be, it is up to me: Rajesh Jyotishi

If it is to be, it is up to me! I believe that if you really want to do or be something, you have to work hard to make it happen for yourself. Your attitude and efforts are always in your control and it is up to you to make your life happen in a way that suits you.

I have been a resident of Atlanta since 1974 and in the insurance and financial services industry for about 25 years. When I joined the industry in 1992, there were no Indian publications in Atlanta and a very limited way to promote your business to the local Indian community. So we launched Khabar in 1992 as a way of helping us promote our businesses as well as other local businesses to the community.

I have been a rock musician and published my own CD of songs in 2014 of (“RJ”) just for fun and am currently writing a book (“Retirement & Estate Planning for the Indian Americans”) which is due out in 2016 to commemorate my 25 years in the financial services industry. I consider myself blessed and try to leave each day to the fullest making the most of the time and talents god has given to me and encourage you to do the same!” – Rajesh Jyotishi

Rajesh is an insurance agent, financial planner, singer songwriter and was one of the founding partners of Khabar magazine. He hosts the Moneywise section of Khabar and lives in Johns Creek with his wife Pari and their two sons, Shalin and Shreyas. 

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I didn’t want a cushy, traditional desk job that simply just paid well: Archith Seshadri

“At the CNN International news desk, my role is to manage a certain continent of the world (and gather details on important stories because news can break at any moment of the day. That means working with local affiliates to gather video footage, coordinating with field crews to provide live reports or stories for the newscasts, navigating social media to gather images, and networking with sources for new editorial content. All of these are then funneled to our show producers and digital team so that you can get breaking news on air, on line and on your phone.

My passion for TV news started when I was in Australia, after watching “Australia’s Most Wanted.” I graduated with my masters in Industrial Engineering from Georgia Tech, spent six years consulting for Accenture. But I realized I didn’t want a cushy, traditional desk job that simply just paid well.  My transition to broadcast journalism was gradual – I started attending professional journalism conferences, and networked with people in the industry while holding down my job. While in college, I wrote for the campus paper (The Technique), freelanced for Khabar Magazine and interned at CNN. My first TV news experience was in Macon,GA at 13wmaz where I was a reporter/producer. I would travel down there and work weekends, and stay in the newsroom to get experience — this is where I learned how to shoot, write, edit, report and produce. I spent nearly the next 4 years as an anchor/reporter inAugusta,Gaat WJBF (ABC). I launched the station’s weekend morning newscast, traveled to South Carolina to train with marines and field anchored from the Masters. After nearly 4 years there, I moved to the Fox affiliate in Charlotte, NC where I traveled to Washington DC to cover National Police Week and toAtlantaand filed extensive reports on the Ebola outbreak.” – Archith Seshadri

Archith Seshadri is a journalist at CNN International . Outside of TV news, he is passionate about music and runs a music school called “Studio! Music Academy.” He is also working on his own music album and emcees several cultural events in the community as well as acting projects.

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My shows are a catalyst of change: Syam Yellamraju 

“My mother used to make me perform in a weekly program since I was 5. Slowly, my stage fear vanished and theater became a part of my life. To date, I have done around 200 shows, ranging from simple programs to full length, professional plays. It takes 6-9 months to put a play together and it lasts less than 2 hours on the stage! The orchestrated team effort of the backstage crew and onstage artists results in a symphony that takes the audience to a different world. As a producer/director, watching that from the audience is a uniquely exhilarating experience.

The immediate and direct feedback on our work is thrilling. Over the long term, another payback is its critical social impact. Our effort is paid for when we see the impact of the show on a child. An example, after the show ‘Tyagaraja’ was presented a few years ago, there was a boom in enrollments to learn classical music. I don’t see these shows as a cause, but as a catalyst to make people think.” – Syam Yellamraju

Syam Yellamraju is a well-known resident of the arts and culture world. He has produced/directed many programs for non-profit organizations globally. For livelihood, Syam works as an executive in the IT industry. 

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What Raksha has given me over the years is priceless: Aparna Bhattacharyya

Aparna Bharracharyya (R) at the South Asians Leading Together Summit.

“Twenty years ago, I started volunteering for this non-profit that was just starting. My father handed me a flyer he picked up at Taj Groceries and I had thought I could bring something to support my community by bringing my experience working in the courts as an advocate. 20 years later, I am still here working for Raksha. What I have gotten from Raksha over the years is priceless. It has given me a path to my own healing, a space where I can be both my South Asian and activist self, a place where many of my passions and identities come together, many good friends who share similar goals, an appreciation/love for my community and a path to healing, empowerment and justice for our community. I am grateful for the journey that began 20 years ago. As hard as it may be on some days, I am grateful for the many gifts I have gotten from Raksha.” – Aparna Bhattacharyya

Aparna Bhattacharyya is the Executive Director of Raksha, a non-profit that promotes a stronger and healthier South Asian community through confidential support services, education, and advocacy. Raksha’s annual fundraiser, Ek Shaam Raksha Ke Naam will feature The Indo Pak Coalition, a South Asian inspired jazz band, at the Rialto Center for the Arts on October 3.

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 The apathy towards the homeless really disturbed us: Nitish Sood

Nitish Sood (R) with WTFC Atlanta chapter president, Rohan Raina.

“Last year, my brother Aditya and I had to accompany our parents to the shopping mall. Instead of going into the store, we chose to hang out. We noticed a homeless lady wrapped in a threadbare shawl tending all her belongings in a broken Target cart sitting near the main entrance. It was a cold winter day. 

Nobody likes to confront human suffering. In the first 30 minutes, we saw such a wide range of emotions. Some people wrinkled their faces in disgust with no effort to hide their revulsion as they walked past. A child walking with her mom got interested and wanted to stop and look. The mother tugged her impatiently simultaneously admonishing the child to ‘keep away’ from ‘such people’. We saw a man pull out some coins from his pocket and throw them in the woman’s direction. One coin landed near her and another rolled towards the roadside drain.

To our surprise, the most common reaction was inattention, obliviousness and disregard! Most shoppers just did not notice the distressed lady and her soft pleas for help, as they distractedly scurried fast towards their cars clutching their numerous shopping bags to escape the cold. This apathy toward the homeless people really disturbed us.

For a second, close your eyes. Imagine trying to function without food in your stomach or a place to sleep at night. Imagine being afraid to go home because the last time you went, you were kicked and beaten down by your dad- and you don’t think you can take that anymore. Misunderstood, frightened and alone, at-risk youth often make poor decisions that can lead to devastating consequences for themselves, and society. Drugs, alcohol, gang involvement and sexual exploitation are too often, more easily accessible than social support. Experiencing homelessness leads to a downward spiral into health issues, emotional or behavioral problems, trauma and desperation, developmental delays, and calamitous risk for physical abuse, sexual exploitation, and death. The unfortunate part is that this outcome can be prevented in so many cases by simple acts of kindness and assistance from the general community -– and that is the goal of Working Together for Change!

Nitish & Aditya Sood of Alpharetta High School started the nonprofit “Working Together For Change aimed at ending homelessness. Initially started with a small group of friends collecting stuff in old backpacks lying at home, the popularity of the program spread in a very short time and now has students from about 10 schools, 5 colleges and many partner organizations such as United Way. The nonprofit is 501c3 certified making donations tax deductible and allows students to gain volunteer hours through a variety of programs. The approach is effective, evidenced not only by the hundreds of homeless served but also by the chapters started in Macon,Atlanta, and Cupertino.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/workingtogetherforchange
Twitter: @wtfc_org

 

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A girl with a book can change the world: Ms. V

“Education is the most powerful weapon and a girl with a book can change the world.”

Seven-year-old Ms V skipped a grade to start 3rd grade this week (August 2015).

She is an award winning actress and the host of international political satire shows on FBTV.

Check out her work here:

The Little Jihadist

Paper Planes

Open Door

FBTV

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I’ll Wait A Few More Days To Make My Choice: Narender Reddy

“I met with Republican Presidential candidate, Governor Scott Walker. I said to him, “I’m yet to make a decision between you and Governor Jeb Bush”. He made his case, but I’ll wait…

After analyzing the crowded field of 17 candidates for the Republican Primary, I narrowed my choice to Gov. Jeb Bush and Gov. Scott Walker. Gov. Bush did a fantastic job of creating jobs and cutting taxes as Governor of Florida. Gov. Walker stood up to the Unions in a Blue state like Wisconsin and worked on creating an environment for creating new jobs, and was successful in handling challenges to the state budget. I’m looking for a candidate who can not only win the Republican Primary but also the general election. I’ll wait a few more days and make my choice.”

Narender Reddy is a realtor by profession and a Republican and community activist by passion. He was appointed by Governor Nathan Deal to the board of Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA).  He is also a former president of the Hindu Temple of Atlanta, Riverdale.

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GV Rao: The wildlife enthusiast

My love for animals and wildlife began during my student days. I am a veterinary graduate and as a part of our curriculum, I happened to visit the Hyderabad Zoo, where I had theopportunity to see the lions at the Lion safari. The visit instantly sparked an interest in wildlife. To learn more, I began watching movies like Out Of Africa” and The Gods Must be Crazy. Later, I began thinking about making a trip to Africa.  I like traveling, adventures, and learning about other cultures. I have been to Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Botswana and visited about a dozen wildlife parks. My next dream trip is to Namibia.

I am also an avid watcher of the National Geographic and Travel Channel for programs like The Great Migration of Masai Mara in Kenya  and for shows like Africa’s Deadliest, Surviving the Serengeti, Blood Rivals: Lions vs Buffaloes”  etc..

To indulge in my passion for wild life, I began exploring the enchanting world of photography, especially wildlife photography. Wild life is not restricted to just animals. Nature reveals so many secrets and teaches so many fascinating things. It gives me immense pleasure to just watch the animals and birds and their natural  behavior in the wild.

This photo was taken  in Zimbabwe. These are orphaned lions. They’ve grown up in the natural environment, but they are used to human presence. There is a fee of $150 if you wish to be photographed with these animals. The funds are used for conservation. Despite the fact that these animals tolerate human presence, you still have to sign a waiver form. While you pose for a photograph with the lion, a forest-guard stands nearby with a gun to protect you in the case of an emergency

GV Rao is a software professional. He lives in Alpharetta with his wife Sunitha and two beautiful daughters, Neha and Nayana.

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 Madhav Durbha: The multi-faceted do-gooder

“Last September, I had the great fortune of being a stem cell donor for a young adult with leukemia. Then, I was told that the recipient is overseas and overseas transplant centers’ policies vary and I may never know of the status or the identity of the recipient. Hence I had no expectations going in. All I could do was what was in my control, which was to donate my stem cells. Beyond that, as much as I wished for the health and recovery of the recipient, I did not get emotionally attached to the outcome. Recently, The National Marrow Donor Program reached out to inform me that the recipient has recovered very well and is now getting back to leading a normal life. A true testament to the power of life saving advances in medicine!

Would I donate a second time?  Beyond any doubt! It is an honor and privilege to be in a position to save someone’s life. Why would I miss the opportunity? I put myself in the shoes of the patient in need. The decision then is very obvious.”

The multi-faceted Madhav Durbha is constantly setting new goals and challenges for himself. His recently co-authored the book “Supply Chain for Dummies” and ran his first half-marathon. A software executive by profession, he is associated with several non-profits and supports numerous causes. He lives in Suwanee, GA with his wife Dr. Aparna and two beautiful children.

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Rafiq Batcha: The actor with the three-in-one cassata talent

 

“Born in Mumbai, I was already infected with the Bollywood Bug. As a kid, I watched copious amounts of Hindi films and intellectual offerings like “Naye Naghme Vol XII” on grainy VHS tapes. I worshiped Amitabh, wanted to beat up Amrish Puri, dance like Govinda, and sing like Rafi (my Dad named me after Mohammed Rafi, so I felt the pressure). Throughout school and college, I danced and acted on stage. The singing on the other hand just developed through years of training in the “Bathroom Gharana”.  So my 3-in-1 cassata talent is really just a messy falooda.

Typically, my mind is like an over-caffeinated butterfly, flying from one thought to the next, non-stop. But when I’m performing and really lost in it – in the zone , my mind chatter stops, there is only the now. It’s like being high on life itself. It’s addictive, primal and transcendental (and other big words).”

Rafiq Batcha is a chai latte actor, a spicy mix of Bollywood and Hollywood. Think Raj Kudrapalli from Big Bang Theory, but taller. He has several film, TV and theater and commercial credits under his belt. In the US, he was last seen in ‘Halt and Catch Fire’ on AMC, and in theaters in India in Atlanta’s first Hindi movie, ‘Mumbhai Connection’. Currently he is represented by Houghton Talent and pursues acting, training and producing in Atlanta. More info about him can be found at http://rafiqbatcha.com

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 Prashant Kollipara: Living his dream behind the lens

 

“My love affair with cameras began when I was only 14 because of my close association with the movie industry (my uncle is a movie director). I remember watching the Olympics on TV and being fascinated with all that went into a mammoth production like that. I wanted to get there one day! The passion developed even more after I moved to Atlanta and joined the media division of PricewaterhouseCoopers. Today, Bytegraph Events, the company I founded 11 years ago, has three divisions (social, corporate and  conventions) and caters to an audience of ½ a million every year. I am living my dream.

What is the number one quality in a photographer? A good photographer makes people happy. He can elevate a sad person’s mood; make a difference in somebody’s day. He learns to deal with all kinds of people.”

Prashant Kollipara’s Bytegraph Events has offices in Atlanta, Dallas and San Francisco; two more are slated to open soon in Chicago and Washington DC.

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Anju Gattani: The characters of her novels find her

 

“I was first published at the age of 7 inHong Kong’s leading youth newspaper, the ‘South China Morning Post’. I had submitted a drawing of a panda, and three weeks later I saw my name in print beside the panda! A quiet and shy girl, I felt as if I’d been heard. The desire to see my name in print again encouraged me to submit more drawings, poems, and enter writing competitions. When I came 2nd in an Easter competition that’s when the writing bug bit, and there’s been no turning back, since.

I write from 10 am, take a lunch-break from my characters, and then write until 5:30 or 6pm. ‘Write’ can mean anything, from revisions, edits, re-drafts of the manuscript, to freelance assignments. I’m also a wife and mom to 2 boys – high-school and university sophomores, and still juggle the work-life balance.

When it comes to ‘writer’s block’ I’d say I’ve been lucky so far. The characters in my novels find me, and then I have to work backwards to figure out their story and who they are… like a detective. Writing is grueling work, but it’s in the blood, and my way of connecting to the world!”

Fiction author and freelance journalist Anju Gattani lives in Alpharetta, GA. Her debut novel, ‘Duty and Desire’, the first in her ‘Winds of Fire’ series, is available in hardcopy and ebook on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple. Anju is currently at work on her second book and hopes her novels will one day bridge cultures and break barriers. You can find her at www.anjugattani.com

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Shiva Turlapati: The Prabhu Deva of Atlanta

Dance is divine. I have been dancing for 25 years and it has given me everything I could ever ask for. I owe this all to my Guru Sri G. Srinivas who mentored me for 12 years. Chiranjeevi and Prabhu Deva are my biggest inspirations in this field.

Teaching kids and adults to dance gives me immense satisfaction.

Prior to opening his popular dance school Shiv’s Institute of Dance in Atlanta, Shiva Turlapati was a dancer and choreographer in Tollywood (the Telugu movie industry). He got his first break as a choreographer in the movie ‘Jai’ directed and produced by Teja.

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Anjali Chhabria: The Girl with the TV Camera

 

“The fun part of my job is that I get to meet different kinds of people all the time. Also, I get to know what’s happening around town.

I have interviewed a lot of people in the five years that I have been with TV Asia, but two interviews really stand out in my mind- Javed Akhtar and Salman Rushdie. Besides giving intellectual, in-depth answers to my questions, they were both also very witty.

 My dream interviews would have to be with Amitabh Bachchan and Aamir Khan. I admire them both for their body of work and for who they are. Among women, I would say Priyanka Chopra and Sushmita Sen. Priyanka, because she is so versatile, and has proved herself without connections in the industry. Sushmita, because she is a strong, confident, independent woman who is raising a child as a single mom in a traditional society.”

Anjali Chhabria is an Atlanta based freelance anchor and editor for TV Asia.

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Nate Natesan: The Man behind the Clean Temple Campaign

Last year, Swacch Devalaya International (SDI), the campaign I launched in 2006, went viral locally with the support of community members, organizations and media like NRI Pulse and TV Asia. The awareness has gone up considerably since then. Many people credit SDI for providing the inspiration. There is hope for Swacch Devalaya as can be seen at temples.

However, the campaign is still at infancy stage, brittle and limited to Atlanta. Some temples have ignored the initiative of SDI to discuss the 5 s in their temples.

Devotees should follow the rules mentioned in our scriptures as to cleanliness as well as the niyama prescribed in yoga, now celebrated with pomp during the International Day of Yoga. The temples should provide infrastructure, lay down rules, display signs and enforce it.

I hope our message will reach spiritual leaders world-wide, the leadership in India and the Swacch Bharat team.

Nate Natesan is a business management specialist, innovator, student of Vedanta, tennis instructor and author of insights into tennis and messages from the Upanishad.

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