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 <<CityNews Main Send Flowers to India!

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GOPIO Atlanta Chapter Launched At Glitzy Banquet

Top: Consul General Arora (center) with the community award winners. 
Bottom: L to R: Dr. Paddy Sharma, Mustafa Ajmeri, Dr. Piyush Agrawal, Hon. Sanjiv Arora, Upendra Bhat and Bhairavi Nadgonde.
Photos by Dev Ghosh.


A diverse cross-section of Atlanta’s prominent Indian-American associations, professionals, academics and community activists attended the memorable inauguration of the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO)-Atlanta chapter with its first awards gala & banquet reception on Saturday, April 23 2011. Coincidentally, it was also the inauguration of the beautiful Season’s Event Center in Decatur, Georgia. The high profile event was graced by the presence of the chief guest, Consul General of India (Houston), Honorable Sanjiv Arora along with guests of honor, Vice President and (Global Organization of People of India) GOPIO’s national coordinator Dr. Piyush Agrawal; Gwinnett County chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners, Charlotte Nash and former member of House of Representatives, Mike Glanton.

In his brief but light-hearted keynote address Consul General Arora said, “For me it is a great pleasure and privilege to re-visit Atlanta and to join you all in celebrating the inauguration of GOPIO-Atlanta Chapter because GOPIO is a very active and substantive forum of 2.75 million Indian-Americans in the U.S.”

The Indian-American population in Georgia is also growing fast and in recognition of the importance of this region and the active entrepreneurial profile of the Indian-American community in Atlanta, the Government of India has taken a decision to set up a Consulate in Atlanta, so further steps are being taken expeditiously. At the same time pending the officialization of that decision and full functioning of the Consulate, the Houston Consulate will continue to be at your disposal: so I am afraid this visit is not a farewell visit.” 

He said that GOPIO is a very useful forum that deals with a wide range of issues of interest and concern to the Indian Diaspora. He said that the Houston Chapter, in principle, is a natural partner of all organizations that try to promote India’s interests and foster India-US bonds of friendship and cooperation. By that criteria GOPIO, is obviously and eminently qualified. Arora then informed the gathering about the increasing volume of work at his Consulate. He cited statistics to stress that in 2010 the consulate issued 58,000 visas, 15,000 passports, 7,006 PIO Cards, 10,000 OCI Cards, 30,000 Surrender Certificates and rendered about 7,200 miscellaneous services. 

The program began with emcee Rifka Mayani recognizing GOPIO Atlanta’s executive committee members: chairperson Dr. Paddy Sharma, president Bhairavi Nadgonde, vice president Upendra Bhatt and Secretary/Treasurer Mustafa Ajmeri.

Mayani introduced the President saying, “Bhairavi is a highly accomplished entrepreneur versed in a broad range of business including IT, outsourcing, consulting and international trade, with substantial experience in healthcare and IT education sectors. She has also been a panelist and speaker at various events in the US and recently served on the Board of US- India Chamber of Commerce to promote trade between U.S. and India.” 

Nadgonde gave a brief audio-visual presentation on the background of GOPIO, its vision, mission, goals and achievements. GOPIO is a global organization dedicated to community service and working with people locally to coordinate activities of common interest nationally and on a global scale. It has 25 chapters spread across 19 countries. 

She exhorted all the PIOs and all the GA organizations to become members of GOPIO-Atlanta, stressing the benefits of membership. “GOPIO Atlanta will have cultural, academic, philanthropic, human rights, media, health services, youth and women’s committees to serve the diverse interests of the Indian community. It will allow PIOs here to add their voice to the powerful international diaspora. We also welcome active service on any committee of choice,” she said.

Mayani introduced Dr. Paddy Sharma next: “Indefatigable Paddy is Atlanta’s well respected educationist, a generous donor and a community activist who supports and leads many organizations in the community. She recently won the GA Minority Business of the Year Award.” 

Dr. Sharma quipped that though GOPIO was founded in New York in 1989, it is understandable that it took 22 years to reach Atlanta. “The proposed opening of the Indian Consulate in Atlanta and the US State Department’s no objection to the establishment of the Indian Consulate is a testament to the importance of the Indian community in Atlanta,” she said. “The Atlanta Chapter is proud to recognize the many and varied contributions of the PIOs in Atlanta-the Freedom fighters to the entrepreneurs, to the educationists, to philanthropists, to journalists & more. These pioneers include the first person of Indian origin to become the president of a university in America to the first female Olympian. Just as we are proud of their achievements, we are also indebted to them for making the road ahead easier for us. So my big thanks to all the awardees tonight.”

Dr. Sharma introduced Dr. Agrawal as “that rare combination of a successful professional educationist, community activist and a philanthropist. He has served the U.N. as a UNESCO expert in the field of education.”

Dr. Agrawal administered the Oath of Office to the GOPIO -Atlanta Chapter’s President Bhairavi Nadgonde and as official testimony, pinned her with the Badge of Office. 

A hand crafted cake which depicted people in groups and layers topped with a 3D GOPIO logo with the globe, made by Julie Thomas of Artisan Cakes, was placed on a table near the podium. Consul General Arora, Dr. Agrawal, Charlotte Nash and GOPIO officials took part in a cake-cutting ceremony to mark the occasion.

GOPIO’s prestigious awards were conferred to 18 awardees for their commitment and active dedication to the cause of the community. Mayani gave a brief profile of each awardee as the Consul General, Dr. Agrawal and Nash presented him or her with a plaque. The awardees were: Community Awareness - Chittaranjanbhai Jyotishi; Community Development -Shiv Aggarwal; Community Service - Chander Aggarwal, Vijay Vemulapalli; Cultural Awareness - Varsha Patel; Education Development - Dr. Beheruz Nariman Sethna, Dr. Bikramjit Garcha; Gandhian Freedom Fighter - Mrs.Lilyben Desai, Mrs. Leena Kotak; Goodwill Ambassador - Subash Razdan, Dr. Narsi Narasimhan; Leading Entrepreneur of Atlanta - Mafatbhai Patel; Media and Journalism Service - Mahadev Desai, Ravi Ponangi; Outstanding Young Entrepreneur - Nimish Patel; Philanthropy and Health Service - Dr. P.Ravi Sarma; Service to India’s Freedom Movement - Dr.Bhagwan Singh Gyanee and Sportsperson of Atlanta - Ms. Mary D’Souza Sequeira.

Following the awards ceremony, Mirch Masala Indian Cuisine catered to the attendants. Before live entertainment, Mustafa Ajmeri thanked the distinguished guests, all the sponsors, Saaz aur Aawaaz Group, Yogesh and Kalpana Patel of Seasons Events Center, Patel Brothers, volunteers and the audience. 

Live entertainment—Saaz Aur Aawaaz—regaled the audience till midnight. Presented by Niche Entertainment, it had versatile lead singers- Dattaprasad Ranade & Saavani Ravindra, besides accompanists Kedar Gulvani on violin and Amod Kulkarni on tabla. The narration was scripted by Salim Arif and expressly narrated by Milind Oak. More than the delightful singing itself the intelligent commentary covered the entire history of Ghazal; its language origins, its poetic need and glamorization, its foray into Indian cinema and ultimately its global popularity on music CD’s and live TV shows, as seen today. Albeit Marathi singers, Dattaprasad & Saavani delivered Urdu Ghazals by Farida Khanum, Mehdi Hasan, Ghulam Ali, Pankaj Udhas, Qateel Shifai, Faiz and many more with ease and talent which arises out of years of training. Both have recorded their original performances and those CDs were available for sale. Shyam Brahmbhatt delivered acoustics for the entire evening. The highlight of the program came when Consul Arora was asked to present shayaree. Without hesitation he garnered the mic to state that it was his late father who had studied Urdu and understood it extremely well and inspired young Arora to revel in Ghazals. With modesty, Consul Arora proceeded to recite a few couplets by famous poets.

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