BY MAHADEV DESAI
PHOTOS BY BHARAT KOTECHA
Atlanta, GA: Noted playback singer Sanjeevani Bhelande who has the distinct accomplishment as the first ever winner of Zee TV’s Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge in 1995, was back in Atlanta to help Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of America’s (SE Region) Annual Fundraiser 2013 for Ekal Vidyalaya schools to help eradicate illiteracy, educate and empower rural and tribal India. The fabulous sold-out concert themed ‘Swar Sanjeevani’ was hosted by Ekal Vidyalaya Atlanta at Impact Banquet Hall, Global Mall, Norcross, Georgia on Saturday, March 16, 2013. The Concert, attended by over 400 people was graced by several dignitaries of the Atlanta community and presided by Hon. Rajinder Singh, Deputy Consul, Consulate General of India in Atlanta, Dr. Abhishek Gaur, President, Georgia Association of Physicians of Indian Heritage (GAPI) and Mr. Puneet Seth, Managing Partner and Marketing Director, New York Life Insurance Company’s Atlanta office.
To give it a Holi flair, attendees were served a welcome drink, a delectable “Thandai”, by World Hindu Council of America (VHPA) volunteers, followed by a delicious dinner and dessert catered by Ashiana Restaurant. Ekal Atlanta Chapter President, Shiv Aggarwal welcomed all, and invited Hon. Rajinder Singh to address the gathering, who, in his brief remarks, lauded the role of EVF on behalf of the CGI, Atlanta. The Deputy Consul described Ekal as “a charitable Trust that initiates, supports and runs one-teacher schools. With participation of numerous non-profit Trusts and Organizations, this program has now become one of the prominent education movement to help eradicate illiteracy from rural and tribal India by 2015. Today, Ekal Vidyalaya is a movement of over 46,000 one-teacher schools, numerous voluntary workers, and field organizations. With this tremendous human force, Ekal movement strives to create a network of literacy centers that will educate and empower children in rural and tribal areas. The donors, supporters and workers of Ekal Vidyalaya are motivated by a commitment to educate our illiterate brothers and sisters. Their unflinching dedication to serve their motherland is truly admirable.”
GAPI President, Dr. Abhishek Gaur said: “I would like to address you in Hindi because children who attend Bal Vihar are present here in the audience. My family and I have a long association with Ekal Vidyalaya which since its inception has set up thousands of schools in rural and tribal areas. It is commendable that each Ekal school runs on one-dollar-a-day basis.” He introduced GAPI’s next President-Elect, Dr. Piyush Patel and donated $500.00 on behalf of GAPI.
Puneet Seth noted Ekal’s work as very inspiring. His words were “New York Life’s slogan is “Keep Good going” and that is exactly what Ekal is doing. How can you all do this? Ekal is a unique organization. “Vidya-daan” – the gift of education is the greatest gift one can give. By committing just $365 a year, you can help with a needy child’s education and eventually his or her quality of life. I applaud Shiv Aggarwal for his community service and for organizing tonight’s fund-raiser and urge you all to take this opportunity to sponsor a school/schools generously.”
The Concert was emceed with grace and verve by Rachna Gupta. A short video on two large screens showed the strides Ekal has made in rural/tribal education, health, empowerment, and integrated village- upliftment work. The dream of Swami Vivekananda, “If the poor child cannot come to education, education must go to him”, is being turned into reality by almost 47,000 Ekal schools currently running in all the states in India.
Ekal, a grassroots movement has grown by leaps and bounds and Sanjeevani is using her talent to help raise funds for a humanitarian and compassionate cause during their extensive 2013 US tour from February to July. During Sanjeevani’s concert in one city in Florida, 400 schools were sponsored in one night! Introducing her, Rachna said that Sanjeevani is not only a playback singer, but also a music director, poet and author. Vidhu Vinod Chopra gave Sanjeevani her first playback song in film Kareeb. Her sweet-sensual, gentle voice helped her win the best female playback singer award for a song from this film. She has performed over a thousand live concerts worldwide. The latest feather in her cap is her book and album “Meera and Me” where she has ‘songslated’ 32 poems of Meerabai into English and has recorded a unique fusion album by the same name. Sanjeevani’s dream to perform a musical on Meerabai on Broadway got a rousing applause from the audience.
Other members of Sanjeevani’s troupe were talented Singer, Chirag Panchal, Zee TV’s seven times Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenger winner who being blessed with a mellifluous voice, sang the toughest taans effortlessly. Mohit Shastry who accompanied on the flute and keyboard is the most sought after flautist in Mumbai concerts. Widely traveled Mohit was in the United States last year with singer Sonu Nigam.
Amit Mehta, a rhythm-storm player, played the table with flamboyance, control and panache and has played with veterans like Asha Bhonsleji. Rupesh Rane on percussions and octopad got the audience tapping their feet to his scintillating ghunghroos, khanjiri and duff. He has traveled worldwide with singer Shaan. Excellent sound system and management was provided by Salim Panjwani of “Sur Sangeet of Atlanta”.
Gorgeous, soft-spoken and modest Sanjeevani established immediate rapport with the audience. She thanked Ekal for giving her another opportunity to spread “Gyan Kee Roshni” and to remove the darkness of illiteracy from India and exhorted the attendees to support Ekal in its drive for school sponsorships. She began with an apt title song Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram, which elicited huge applause. “For good health do exercise, yoga, eat vegan, but do not forget ‘mohabbat’(love)” she quipped and sang Noor Jehan’s ‘Jawan hai mohabbat’ from Anmol Ghadi. She lauded members of her troupe – ‘these four are equal to forty’ she said. Chirag sang immortal classic song by late Mohammad Rafi, ‘Tu Ganga kee mauj’(Baiju Bawra). Sanjeevani showcased her singing prowess with nuanced emotions by singing ‘Barsaat mein humse mile’(Barsaat) and refrains from all the other songs from this timeless movie. From their huge repertoire of both old and latest popular songs, she and Chirag enthralled the audience with solos and duets. Some songs with sounds of horse carriage, trains etc. were rendered even more beautiful because of the artistic wizardry of the accompanists Mohit, Amit and Rupesh. ‘Tareef karun kya uski’ (Kashmir ki kali)’, ‘Mere sapno ki Rani (Aradhana), etc. had the audience spellbound. Sanjeevani then sang her own ‘chori chori jab nazrein mili’ (Kareeb) that catapulted her to fame.
She spoke about her deep love and reverence for Meerabai. “I would like all the girls in this world to sing Meerabai’s songs.” She sang ‘Mere to Girdhar Gopal’ with Hindi and “songslated” English lyrics. ‘Meerabai and Me’ book with 32 poems and miniature paintings, and her CD with 11 tracks expressing Meerabai’s maganbhav, prembhav and anandbhav have been released by Mahesh Bhatt and Vidhu Vinod Chopra.
“After Meera, Radha can’t be far behind”, quipped Sanjeevani and with Chirag she sang the hot chartbuster ‘Radha’ (Student of the year) and followed it with another hot one, ‘Ooh la la’ (Dirty Picture). Soon, some members of the audience were dancing on the floor! The audience relished it all and clapped enthusiastically after each song. Singer Chirag showed his singing artistry and the musicians their dexterity on musical instruments in the vintage song ‘Madhuban mein Radhika’ (Kohinoor).
Sanjeevani requested Purnima Mathur, of Atlanta’s “Saragam” group of music enthusiasts to participate in the chorus. To give the troupe a chance to enjoy a hot cup of tea, Purnima Mathur, at Shiv Aggarwal’s impromptu request, sang ‘Nainon mein badra chhaye’, a Bheem Palasi raag based semi-classical song from the film ‘Mera Saaya’. Her a capella rendition did not need any music, live or karaoke, to receive a thunderous applause from the audience!
Music transcends boundaries of language. Sanjeevani sang Gujarati hits ‘Patan thi patoda’ (Son Kansari), ‘Tari Vanki re paghladi’ and even a marathi song at audience request. Obviously lot of requests were pouring in for more songs. Sanjeevani accommodated the requests during the Juke Box hour where sponsors graciously donated Ekal schools to hear songs of their choice.
During the concert, Rachna periodically announced the names of Ekal School sponsors. People found their own way to contribute to the event. Georgie Bhalla, through Mustafa Ajmeri, offered $10 to Ekal for every ticket sold that night for the ‘Divine Journey’ event on Saturday March 23 at Global Mall.
Ekal also felicitated Smt. Kusum Khurana, President of World Hindu Council of America (Atlanta Chapter), who was bestowed with Hind Rattan Award 2013 by the NRI Welfare Society of India in New Delhi on January 25, 2013. Kusum Khurana received the Award in recognition of her dedication and service to the Indian community. She was very impressed with Ekal’s functioning during her visit to two Ekal schools and based on her personal experience she affirmed the need to sponsor more Ekal schools.
Ajay Upadhyay presented an informative and educative slide show, which showed Ekal’s efforts to tackle India’s illiteracy problem. He described the set-up, method and curriculum followed in the Ekal schools. In thirteen years, Ekal has grown from 5,000 schools nationwide to now almost 47,000. With Sanjeevani’s Concert Atlantans increased that count by about 100 schools!
Sh. Chander Aggarwal, Southeast Region President of Ekal presented Certificates of Appreciation to Geet-Rung School of Dance and Music. In February 2013 the school had organized a music recital to benefit Ekal and were able to sponsor 3 Ekal schools from the net proceeds. Directors Pankaj Bhargava and Divya Srivastava hoped to raise more funds and be able to sponsor many more Ekal schools in the coming years. Groups across Atlanta have chosen Ekal as their charity of choice to donate whatever they collect during their own events and Ekal showed its appreciation for the offering received from Atlanta Chowki Group, Atlanta Hindu Society and Swadhyaya Family of Atlanta.
Ekal is a people’s movement and without public and community support it is just not possible to make far-reaching changes that are required. Shiv Aggarwal of Global Mall who is also the President of Ekal of Ekal Atlanta, worked tirelessly behind the scene for making the event a success yet was most effusive in his thanks to Hon. Rajinder Singh, Dr. Abhishek Gaur, Dr. Piyush Patel, Mr. Puneet Seth, Ashiana Restaurant, Sushma Patel of Fifth Season (complimentary stage setup and décor), Mani Krupa (beautiful statue of Goddess Saraswati), Salim Panjwani, Nikita Patel of Plaster Zone for looking after the children at her Arts & Crafts Studio while the parents enjoyed the Concert, media sponsors, VHPA and SEWA volunteers who tirelessly manned the online sponsorships, the ever-green Mustafa Ajmeri, Doc McAlpine, all Ekal sponsors, donors, volunteers and music-lovers who turned the musical evening into a magical evening!
BY MAHADEV DESAI