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All in a Fair Day’s Work

Mihir Patel is the president of the Maryland based United Cultures, the organizers of India Mela.

Organizing a mult-city mela takes time and effort. My typical day begins at 7 in the morning. By 9 am, the phone starts to ring. Usually it is the sponsors- mainstream American companies like Western Union and DirectTV who have a stake in the India Mela. I update them weekly of our plans for the mela. It is usually 10 am by the time I get a bite to eat. Between 12 and 3 pm, I check my mails and write emails. I get plenty of mail from all over the place and respond to them in a timely manner. From 4 to 7 pm is family time, when I have dinner with my parents and help clean up a bit. After 7 pm, until 11 at night, I’m usually on the phone talking to each of our city coordinators, getting different segments ready, such as health fairs, the venue, the performers and the marketing. After 11 pm, we might have a one-hour inter-organizational meeting, reviewing and planning the next one week. We discuss the sponsors, security, vendors, performers, the venue and equipments, the marketing. We are constantly updating our ads and flyers with new sponsors and additional activities. Right now, it is mostly logistical work, until the mela actually arrives.

Prior to a mela, for 3-4 days, I barely sleep a wink. I usually get a hotel close to the venue, because if anything were to happen, I want to be the first one to know. Thankfully nothing has happened so far. Friday, we set up the venue itself. Saturday morning, we wake up at the crack of dawn. Usually the vendors are in soon thereafter. We serve them breakfast and give them 100% attention. The day is spent checking different stations, making sure everything is running smoothly. Usually the mela operates on its own, but we constantly keep tabs. I don’t know if it’s Murphy’s Law, but whatever can go wrong will go wrong! Even after midnight, when the doors are closed, it is not over for us…we take two hours cleaning the venue, when the cleaning staff put away the tables and chairs, and clean the floor etc.

The next day is like the first one. We get two hours of sleep in between if we are lucky. At around 7 pm Sunday, we begin a total breakdown of the event itself. Usually it is 2 am by the time we finish. , Monday we do our accounting. Tuesday we do a review of the event- talk to security, the vendors etc. 

We get one day to travel to the next city, and the whole process starts again. During spring time, we have back to back events. During fall it is kind of slow. Last year, we did two melas and this year we are doing five- two in March and April, and three in summer. We are doing seven to nine cities. No other organization has ever done that in its second year!

I was born in India and came to the US when I was two. I grew up in the Maryland-DC area. Growing up, it is was more of trying to get into mainstream American culture. We kept our identity but always wanted to blend in and not seem different. But Indian culture is something that you can’t take out. There is something special about it, which is one of the reasons the India Mela is so successful. We Indians are proud of our culture.

I was in the military for eight years where I was amazed at the lack of cultural awareness in this country. I was once at a boot camp and a person there didn’t even know what a Hindu was. He was a mid-west farmer type and wasn’t exposed to other cultures.

United Culture was born with the goal to raise awareness of other cultures. A multi-cultural, non-profit organization, we have a board of directors –20% Indian and the rest of different ethnicities. After September 11, A British festival was held in NY to promote British culture. That is when the idea of promoting different cultures took birth in my mind. The idea was researched, and transformed 10-15 times before it was decided to hold festivals and starting a scholarship. , But in order to get any footing or foundation, you need to do something to start off with. Being from the Indian community and having a strong background and community involvement in the Washington DC area, we decided to have our first festival there. The festival was a huge success with 12,000 people. From there, we just grew. Hopefully, by next year the festivals will be multi-cultural.

The India mela is a unique experience. We like to think of it as an American festival, with everything at one time at one point- music, health fair, cultural programs, vendors, food courts, dance, fashion show, kids activities and games etc. We also have special night time activities like bhangra and dandia raas. It is truly representative of our culture and heritage.

With a very diverse population, the people in the US need to live as one within their community, instead of building walls around their own nationalities. The only way to do this is to share with each other the beauty, the treasure, and the rich heritage that makes each of us unique. Only in learning about others, can we enrich our lives as well as our neighbor’s lives.

The India Mela will be held in the following cities this spring and summer.

March 26-27 2005: MD SoccerPlex, (Germantown MD)
April 2-3, 2005: North Atlanta Trade Center (Norcross, GA)
June 18-19, 2005: Raritan Expo Center (Edison, NJ)
June 2005: Dallas
June 2005: Chicago

-Mihir Patel
(As told to Veena Rao)