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Triple celebrations at Festival Of India: 75 years of India’s independence, 50th year of IACA, and 25 years of flagship event

BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Photos by ByteGraph and New York Life Photography

Atlanta, GA, September 3, 2021: A pandemic notwithstanding, energy, enthusiasm, and excitement embellished the halls of Gas South Convention center as the crowd of over 2000 attendees gathered to celebrate India’s 75th Independence Day, at the Festival of India (FOI) hosted by India American Cultural Association (IACA) on August 15, 2021. The celebrations were trifold with IACA stepping into its golden jubilee year and its flagship event, Festival of India (FOI), celebrating its silver jubilee year.

Another trifold jubilation to the tricolor flag came in the form three proclamations initiated by IACA with declarations of August 15, 2021, as India Day in the state of Georgia by Gov. Brian Kemp, in Gwinnett County by Chairwoman Hendrickson and in Cobb County by Commissions Chairwoman Lisa Cupid.

“A sense of purpose for 50 years, fulfillment for 25 years, and a clear path for new IACA 2.0, “is how I would summarize this event, stated Chand Akkineni, President, IACA, who conceptualized the concept of FOI back in 1997.

“I appreciate your leadership in building strong relations between India and the state of GA. We are proud of the contributions made by the Indian community in the fields technology, medicine, academics, politics, the judicial system, the arts  and more and that’s why I am honored to proclaim August 15th as India Day in the state of GA,” said Governor Kemp in his video message congratulating IACA, FOI and its leadership.

The guests of honor included Attorney General of Georgia Hon. Chris Carr, Hon. Consul General of India, Dr. Swati Kulkarni and Chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners from Cobb County Hon. Lisa N. Cupid and Chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners from Gwinnett County, and Hon. Nicole Hendrickson. Wing commanders from Indian Army, Ayub Khan, N.K. Johri Mrs. Kumar and Mrs. Madhu (wife of PARAM veer Chakra winner) enhanced the patriotic milieu of the occasion. Bollywood actress Pooja Batra added to the glamor quotient as the celebrity guest.

Recalling opening of Surya carpets with Gov. Nathan Deal in Bartow County, AG. Carr noted that while business was at the heart of what they did, the soul lay in the cultural aspects. “Georgia’s Indian community is so wonderful, vibrant…One of the things Georgia and India share is the film and entertainment industry that is vibrant and exciting. I will always strive to protect lives and livelihoods.”

“I can’t tell you how grateful I am to live and work in county that makes it a point to keep cultural traditions alive. In Gwinnett we honor our diverse communities and celebrate the vibrant cultures that connect all of us,” said Chairwoman Hendrickson.

Accompanied by the vivacious folk dance Lezim, by vibrantly clad men and women in traditional Maharashtrian attire, the crowd gathered outside to kick off the celebrations with Flag Walk that marshaled a huge group with representations from diverse community organizations of various states of India across Atlanta, with community leaders including Akkineni, Dr. Paddy Sharma, Vir Nanda, Ani Agnihotri, Vishwanath Ganti, Kaushal Tripathi, Ram Maddi, among others, carrying the 300 ft long Indian flag with Batra as Flag Marshall.

Speaking about Indian PM Narender Modi’s democratic festival, Azadi ki Amrut Mahotsav, Dr. Kulkarni said “Independence Day is an occasion when we reaffirm commitment to those great men and women, all our freedom fighters, who fought for and sacrificed so much for the freedom we enjoy today. It is also an occasion to look back and pause on various tenants of the constitution such justice, liberty equality and fraternity.”

“As a core committee member of the inaugural event in 1997 as well as 25th Festival of India, I am delighted that we (IACA) could cross this milestone. During the entire planning we were not sure how things would shape-up in terms of participation and attendance. Thanks to COVID-19 testing procedure and mask conditions; things turned-up better than expected. Hard work and enthusiasm of dozens of volunteers and over 250 performers really paid rich dividends. Some of the items were mesmerizing and fired the patriotic emotions in the audience. It was an honor to invite and welcome the dignitaries,” noted Ani Agnihotri, BOD, IACA

Celebrations of its milestones has begun early on, with various events planned throughout the year including international women’s day celebrations, author events, yoga and health seminars. All of them had been online, except for Rhythms of India. With the delta variant making a devastating impact, the lingering question of online verses in-person persisted throughout. But IACA President Chand Akkineni and his executive team, with the support of board members surged ahead with the decision to celebrate in-person. To ensure safety, IACA teamed up with IFA (Indian Friends of Atlanta) and Lab Elite to set a strict protocol for attendees, invited guests, and participants to have a rapid antigen test conducted and entry only with a negative test result. The community responded and the event featured well over 40 booths that showcases their products and services.

A special edition Souvenir featuring history of IACA, and FOI was released by Dr. Kulkarni accompanied by Souvenir Committee Chair, Bina Desai and editors Chand Akkineni and Jyothsna Hegde.

Brimming with activities, FOI 2021 featured a brand-new segment – Fireside Chat with accomplished Atlanta luminaries discussing creation of wealth and giving back to society. The chat was moderated by Padma Bhushan Dr. Jag Sheth, with Harsha Agadi, Subramonian Shankar, Dr. Jay Yadav and Mitesh Shah as panelists. 

“One of the most challenging task on hand was to put together a high-quality cultural program that reflected truly the diverse Indian diaspora! After meticulous planning and working closely with all the performing teams, we were able to stage 45 high-quality items in front of a live audience!  We had it all, from folk to modern, from Indian to Western, from the reputed to the newest kid on the block, we covered a lot of grounds! There was never a dull moment! This FOI will remain very special to me!” said Cultural Committee Chair Dr. Raktim Sen and Bhavini Subramani agrees. Both were part of the inaugural FOI. Onake Obavva by Nrupathunga Kannada Koota elevated the patriotic fervor, featuring an everyday woman who fought enemies with a wooden pestle. Atlanta Idol winner’s rendition of Ekadantaya was memorable. The new western segment featured Raji Venkat who mesmerized the audience with her operatic performance. Ash Chandler bedazzled the audience with his English and Spanish renditions.

“We honor students from Indian community in financial need and also their educational achievements,” said Dr. Paddy Sharma, Chair, India American Scholarship Fund. “We awarded 17 students this year,” noted Kris Gadde, Co-Chair, IASF

Shringar – Not just a fashion show, but a work of art, conceptualized and directed by Geetanjali Talukdar, along with the background score featured Lakme Fashion famed Designer Prieya Saluja and Costume Designer Malyaan by Maria Taimur with Sumana Goswami as Master Choreographer and Tina Mir as Main Coordinator. Portraying transcending fashion trends from the pre-historic era to the styles of today, Shringar concluded with Pooja Batra as showstopper.

“FOI this year was a great celebration and tribute to our Janma Bhoomi and Karma Bhoomi! Celebrating 75th India Independence Day, 25th FOI during the IACA Golden Jubilee year is my honor!” said Vishwanth Ganti, BOD, IACA.  

Shades of India featured an exquisite collection of art pieces by 19 local Indian American artists, skillfully curated by Malika Ghosh Garrett and Minnie Bhupathi.

The Yoga Seminar featured Sriram Iyer from Art of Living, Rajashree Kanitkar from Isha Yoga, Sathiya Soman from Sathiya Soman Yoga, and Yogesh Patil from Heartfulness.

Dr. Nalini Saligram, founder and CEO of Arogya World, spoke about India, Diabetes and COVID-19.  The Women’s panel moderated by Neeti Dewan examined how women can support each other with Prachi Gupta, Ayesha Khanna, and Lovely Dhillon as panelists.  The Author’s panel moderated by Ritu Bansal featured Anjali Enjeti, Murali Kamma and Dr. Suvrat Bhargave.

“The Festival of India was done in the true spirit of the celebration of 75th anniversary of Independence Day and the golden Jubilee of IACA. In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic there was a good attendance, and everybody enjoyed the high-quality performances, the fashion parade, the presentation of scholarships and the comments by the dignitaries,” said Vir Nanda, Chairman, IACA BOD.

Blood Donation drive by LifeSouth, donations for Atlanta Community Food Bank, Green Cell Atlanta and Bone Marrow drive by Be the Match were part of the Lend a Hand initiative. TAMA Chess, Drawing by ThemeWorks, and Public Speaking by Tyla kept the kids occupied.

An event of this magnitude and scale is a balancing act supported by many of its pillars, especially the volunteers. “Virtual volunteers made digital media, event coordination volunteers spent several hours on phone coordinating, pre-event setup volunteers helped hang banners, place sign boards and setup the volunteer’s booth and worked from 8 am to 7pm on the day of the event. Thanks much to all the Lead and Youth Volunteers that made this possible!” said Synthia Padala, volunteer lead.

“Looking back at 25 years of FOI journey, I see FOI as a platform for demographics and generations to come together and endless possibilities limited only by the imagination of the organizers,” reflected Kaushal Tripathi, BOD IACA. I couldn’t agree more.

Akkineni thanked all the sponsors, supporting organizations and volunteers who collectively contributed to the success of the event.

The IACA Executive committee includes Chand Akkineni –  President, Chaitanya Bhatt – Executive Vice President, Rani Singh – Vice President, Geeta Talukdar – Secretary and Dhananjay Gupta – Treasurer. The BOD includes Vir Nanda, Chairperson, BOD, Ani Agnihotri, Vice-Chaiperson, BOD, Bharat Desai, Bhavesh Patel, Bipin Changela, Chand Akkineni, Kartik Bhat, Kaushal Tripathi, Paddy Sharma, Rasik Patel, Tushar Sanghvi, Vishwanath Ganti and Yogesh Joshi. The Management Committee includes Ashok Avasthi, Ashutosh Tripathi, Baren Talukdar, Gulshan Sawney, Meher Lanka and Vikram ER Naaidu. FOI Core Committee 2021 included Chand Akkineni, Vir Nanda, Ani Agnihotri, Dr. Paddy Sharma, and Kaushal Tripathi.

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