Monday, August 8, 2011

When in Chicago.....

The Opening Ceremony was kicked off with an audio visual that traced the rather touching journey of early Maharashtrian immigrants to America and Canada. These are some of the participants.



This is our dynamic, articulate and ambitious Senator Swati Dandekar from Iowa. In addition to all her impressive political credentials, Swati is a great cook - she gave me a fantastic recipe for the humble 'begun bhaaja' that is kind on the heart and low on calories.





This image is just to give you an idea of scale. Over 90 performers on stage and not a single missed step, bungled up cue or off-key singing for over two breathless hours!







I swear this should be on Broadway! I loved every dazzling minute of this professionally impeccable show put together by Ashok Hande ( the troupe is booked all year round and across the world)titled Marathi Baana. It is rich in colour and texture. Very lively... and ummmm.... deliciously parochial. I love it!



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This appeared in the Sunday Times yesterday...


When in Chicago, do as the Maharashtrians do…

The elaborately dressed, sherwani-clad gentleman on the huge stage inside the gigantic McCormick Place in Chicago politely requested the 4,000 delegates attending the bi-annual BMM (Brihan Maharashtra Mandal), to stand up for the ‘rashtriya sangeet’. Two demure young girls dressed in fairy clothes came on stage with hand held mikes and broke into the national anthem. Only, it was not ‘Jana Gana Mana’ they were singing, but the ‘Stars and Stripes’. Initially,I was slightly jolted. Wait a minute, this has to be a mistake, I said to myself. Why are they singing the wrong anthem? I stared in utter disbelief as several lovely ladies draped in exquisite Paithani sarees and wearing the unmistakable Maharashtrian ‘Nath’, stood on the dais like Michelle Obama, right hand over the heart, mouthing the words of the American National anthem ( which was followed by the Canadian one ). Finally, we came to ‘our’ anthem, the Indian one, and the same ladies promptly switched gears, covered their heads with the saree pallav, to resemble Pratibha Patil on Republic Day. Surrealistic? For sure. But this is a contemporary slice of America that is worth examining. After recovering from my initial culture shock, I thought about the impressive opening ceremony and the rather moving sequence in which three national anthems were sung. Appropriate and perfect.Here I was with 4,000 bona fide, card holding American - not Indian citizens … and how stupid of me to forget that.Their allegiance to the adopted country is complete and transparent. As it should be. Then came some more confusion - the strange accents – Shivaji Park meets New Jersey. Most of these highly successful , first generation immigrants had studied at Marathi medium schools ( very proud of that factoid, too). Their spoken English was more ‘Ingreji’ than anything else, while their adopted names (Steve, Debbie, Patty, Dave) reflected freshly-minted identities. The same ones needed at competitive workplaces which viewed these super smart professionals as hard working careerists out to make it in the country they now called their own. That they have made it big, was evident from the confidence and swagger displayed by them as they net worked, showed off and generally behaved like any other upwardly mobile Americans , undaunted by the debt crisis ( raging at the time) or even by the many contradictions in their current lives. I marveled at how easily they negotiated cultural differences without losing out on their core identity. Though, even after the first few rounds of introductions in shudh Marathi to meet ‘‘Aapla Mike from Mahim”, I was left feeling a little disoriented and incredulous.
The fact that such organisations in America are rapidly growing ( Bengali, Gujarati and Telegu representation is vast and impressive), shows a new assertiveness that is finding its voice as a political force to reckon with. One of the prominent delegates at the BMM, was a dynamic senator from Iowa, a sprightly lady called Swati Dandekar who wants you to know she means business . She stood out for more than one reason – she being the only woman dressed in a pant suit, just like Hillary Clinton. Plus, she was also the only person who preferred to make her speech in American- English, not Marathi. Smart move.As a rising star in the Democratic Party, Swati is well aware of her exalted position. She is in politics to represent her constituency, and not just Maharshtrians from back home. She wants you to know, she is an American first and everything else next. She is certainly on the right track as she focuses her attention on core local issues and prefers to steer clear of Marathi Manoos politics. When some of the organizers appealed to her to use her clout as senator in order to push for visas denied to some performing artists from Mumbai, she flatly refused. “I cannot compromise my ethical standards,” she stated even as frantic committee members wondered how to make up for the absence of a noted theatre company – ‘natak’ being the highlight of such conventions . Shreyas Talpade filled in sportingly and beautifully. Even so,perhaps to compensate for any shortfall in the cultural feast, the enthusiastic members of the Food Committee had roped in a local caterer to keep delegates in puran poli heaven. The other delicacies on offer included an outstanding array of traditional Maharashtrian cuisine - asli ‘pakwana’ painstakingly sourced by an enterprising Gujarati caterer and transported to the venue in refrigerated container trucks. The non-stop feasting began with breakfast specialities at 6 30 a.m. and ended with an eight course banquet at night. All of this, pulled off with clockwork precision, so as to catch the much looked forward to after-dinner entertainment which included a spectacular show by Ashok Hande, a former fruit merchant, who now heads an entertainment empire that showcases the best of Maharastrian folk traditions all over the world. Yes, there was a great deal of bonhomie, bonding and Marathi Pride on parade during those three amazing days, but none of it appeared phony. Not even the energetic dance performances presented by children who had yet to visit India, but somehow stayed connected to the matrubhumi through desi music and dance . These kids know their baseball, not cricket. They celebrate Thanksgiving and X’Mas along with Holi and Diwali. But there is no confusion in their minds as to where they belong. They belong to America. Period. America is unambiguously their homeland and they are very proud of it. They also know that if they work as hard as their parents, they will make it big here. Really, really big. Like a teenager jauntily told me in American-Marathi, “We will have a Maharashtrian President in the White House by 2050.” Now that’s what I call true American ambition. What fun. An ‘Aapla President’ in USA. I totally love the idea of puran polis being served to world leaders at State Banquets. Let’s raise a glass of the best ‘aamsolachi kadhi’ to that.








And that's the main man himself - Ashok Hande, whose witty sutradhar took swipes at everyone from Vilasrao Deshmukh to Suresh Kalmadi!












20 comments:

Pooja Rathore said...

we Indians will fit ourselves anywhere yet we dont forget our culture thats really nice ,when i saw the pictures i felt really good i liked the fact our people (no matter away from the homeland)still value their culture and where they come from ,their loyalty towards the place they live in and what they want and how to get it.they deserve a pat on their back for their confidence ,high ambitions,belief that they are worth it and can make it,nothing can stop them.

i liked your sari very beautiful.Great pictures colorful and have a feel good factor about them.

snehal said...

Today I live in a city to complete my education but still miss a lot my village where I was born and brought up. Whenever holidays come,I visit my villge. Just like that,People living in abroad too miss India and its culture.
It would have been a memorable social gathering in Chicago for all the guests,performers and organisers.

Ambika said...

I guess it's fair and makes sense for the American Indians Maharashrians to show their allegiance to the US. The first generation Mike from Mahim can at least identify his Indian/Marathi roots, but his kids can't and we shouldn't even expect them too.
It was a slap on our face when we made so much news of a scientist/physicist winning a Nobel, only to be told off that he doesn't need the unsolicited love and warmth.
So I guess it's time to meet the undisguised proud to be Amrikans with the undisguised proud to be Indians identity.

goodluck said...

America teaches you to mingle. I am glad that they can unshackle themselves from the evils of parochialism and become Indians and Americans in that order. Leaving India to narrowminded Indians of various linguistic dimensions, caste identities, river disputes, border politics.

obssesor said...

Nice pics..you look vibrant.

Uppal said...

Hi Shobhaa,I feel so proud of the sagacity of my countrymen, who blend themselves into the ethos of their adopted land while preserving their Indianess. The pictures show the gala spectacle you were so lucky to be part of. The Chicago convention bears testimony to the fact of our overseas brethern being true nationalists.Love them and respect them.

Natasha said...

As much as I admire our easy adaptability to any change and any new environment, I can never truly get my head around the whole deal of changing or rather Americanizing our names for work reason :-s..Is it just me or does anyone else see something 'off' about that?

AAD said...

@ Natasha, I agree with your point, I've never understood why people feel the need to change their names, I've lived in the USA a long time, and used my own name, yes sometimes I'd have to explain people how to say my name correctly, but that what about it, noone ever seemed bothered by my name, and America is a very diverse nation that, it can accomodate all differences, so this particular detail stumps me as to why people feel the need to change their name to local sounding names, but I guess to each their own in this matter, afterall, what's in a name?

Tsomo85 said...

Omg! Change my birth name that has the identity of my rich cultural roots just for sake to get away from white trash @ work place? Noway! I used white trash because there's 2 types of American; ones who's well educated/ travelled around the world & there's ones that has never seen the outside world (as if god has intensionally trapped them inside huge mountains); these people can be usually very mean & discriminative towards people coming from different culture yet they're full of shiit & can't even solve the simplest equation of algebra & end up flipping buggers with their funny kitchen hair net! Any decent & well educated Americans will never make funny of people who came from different nation, infect most of them are very much interest in learning different culture. Many people that I've met at work places really liked my name & some had even wrote it down just so they can use it for future naming purpose. No decent & well educated people should be treated differently & neither the victim should be chicken & change his or her name. He or she should rather concentrate more on reaching the goal of his duty & raise on the salary, taking pride in his qualification & to hell attitude with what everyone thinks of his name! Making the long name in short form works too, better of then compromissing the special identity. At our dentistry there's potluck day & the intension is just to get mingle with different food from different (home)! And yeah people who speaks different languages are consider first choice over any government job, so it's not that bad! Anybody can achieve as much as they want/ can without compromising anything. Shobhaa De love those pictures. Looks so traditional & fun! Your sareeeee looks nice too & I know how fun Marati people are & I've join in with their mochh masti as well, the coolest thing is they're so welcoming & not fake type! And yeah def they don't pretend as well. Sorry about pulling fun at white trash & hair net thing, actually me & my girls used to work part time @ this kitchen @ this senior suit in my neighborhood many moons ago & we met some mean gori aunties who don't even know some decent English terms & keep asking us kids if their any buildings in India; we used to always poke fun behind their a$$! Haha

Tsomo85 said...

Ops I mean there not their! Typo as always! Thanks for sharing these pix & stories, it's very encouraging & props to my neighboring town Iowa's senate!

Tsomo85 said...

I meant there is! Hehe any how, what these discriminative & ignorant firanges doesn't know is anywhere in LA,California & Hawaii, if you tell them people you're "Tibetan" they'll almost bow down on you; same respect almost goes with India & Indian as well! These ignorant gori Americans should learn one or two from their super Hollywood icons! After all, we came from land of only living man who got enlightened! And the great prophet says we'll change their future fortune, not them! So their future is on our hand & why would be fall for them @ first place any way? They're the ones that should be following us not the other way round! Ting!!!! Hear me? All those NRIs? Hehe

Tsomo85 said...

Ops: why would "we" not be! Parrrrrr

Tsomo85 said...

Omg! Now I start to sound like daughter of that new Rashi Kapoor's film!!! Better run from here!!!!

Divya Virmani said...

Mrs. De, loved your post! And I so enjoyed looking at all the pics...so colorful.
And yes, I agree with all the readers here, the name has become a huge concern for many Indians. Infact, I know many who have changed their name because it's almost impossible for gora's to pronounce it without actually butchuring it. However, I'm proud of my name and I would never recommend anyone else to change their name. I get praises at work most of the time because it's such a unique name for all gora's.

FYI: Royal Pains have a Indian character and her name is Divya in the show...flaunting it a bit! :P :P
http://divyavirmani.blogspot.com/

Christine said...

Shobhaa, thrilled to see your visuals and write up about my city (Chicago). Bummed that I missed a chance to have met you in person, since I am non Maharashtrain and wasn’t in the loop about this program… sigh, next time!
Regards the name change; I have not had to face the same, by virtue of being Catholic and being christened with an anglicized name. However, I completely emphasize with Indians in the West, who get tired of having to correct people each time, when their names are mispronounced. It just makes logistical sense to anglicize your name. I don’t think it portrays any betrayal to one’s roots; but, the simple fact that one needs to adapt to the culture. Same reason why Nigerian, Chinese, Tibetan students who immigrate to my home city Pune, do a name swap, because most Indians might find a “Chai Shin” , difficult to pronounce.
BTW, reliable reports say that the Oprah story is a myth.. however, it still gives me ( and most American Indians) a major kick, each time, we take visiting family to Navy Pier and proudly declare that “Oprah lives here”.. the awestruck looks and pic taking frenzy is always cute to watch :)

Tsomo85 said...

Christian lady! What the hell is Chai Shin? And name one Tibetan student from your home town Pune who change his name, I meant both his birth and changed new name or give me the witness, bring him to me and only then you can say on behalf of my Tibetan people. It's obvious that you are christian and therefor, your name would be something close to Mary, or Britney! And which is not even your root, but infect adopted washout roots of someone else. Don't compare Tibetan with Nigerian or Chinese! You might not even know the difference between people from north india and north east india. Tibetans in US barely even bother to change our name, since most Tibetan names are cool like "Tenzin, Tashi, Sonam" etc. So its not bloody too hard to pronounce. Forget about the ones in India, that wasn't even the option at all. Don't act too smart when you don't know shiit! Also, why would chinese people change their name? As far as the only chinese that I know from India, is CHANG from bollywood and even he did not bother to change his name, then why would anybody? Since there is barely any chinese in southern india apart from Kolkata! And Nigerian, I don't give a dham and as far as my knowledge, english is strangely suppose to be their national language and they are christian as well, so most their names are charles, emily, etc and pretty much same as your's, then why would they change their name? Just because they are not ghora doesn't mean they have unique none english name like us. Now this shows, you don't know shiit pretends as you go.

The truth is You must be jealous about the fact you do not have unique roots as us so you just try to make us not different from you which is ok but please don't lie to compete with us. Its ok not to have roots and have christian identity & name!

Tsomo85 said...

I guess you can speak on behalf of Tibetan people from pune from Chicago! That too fake statement, Hard to digest!

Ameya AB said...

Super!

jamesreegan said...

Shobhaa, thrilled to see your visuals and write up about my city (Chicago). Bummed that I missed a chance to have met you in person, since I am non Maharashtrain and wasn’t in the loop about this program… sigh, next time!

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