ARTESIA, Calif. – On the eve of India’s long-awaited independence from British rule, on Aug. 14, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, addressed the Constituent Assembly of India in New Delhi: “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.”
Seventy-two years later, on Aug. 10, 2019, Artesia Park, located in the city of Artesia, Southern California’s Indian American cultural hub, was engulfed by the celebratory sounds and aromas of India. Indian music boomed from the stage, while the aroma of tandoori spices from the food stalls filled the air, as people mingled through the colorful bazaars and informative stalls in the park. The Federation of Indian Americans and the United Federation of Indo-Americans of California, in collaboration with the city of Artesia, hosted India’s 73rd India Independence Day celebration of India’s freedom.
The festival at Artesia Park drew a large crowd of young and old, reflecting India’s diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic population, as they celebrated India’s vast culture and diversity.
A dazzling variety cultural program was organized by Ishwar Deedwania, Charu Shivkumar, and Anila Bhasin, with Rachna Srivastava as the MC. Music and dance performances took place against the backdrop of a large canvas of orange, white and green, resembling the Indian flag.
Rajeshwari Kulkarni’s opening song, “Vande Mataram,” was followed by entertainment from, among others, Supratip Bhattacharya, the 2017 winner of the “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa” show in Bangla; and Suraj Shrestha, a Nepalese actor who performed a traditional Nepalese folk dance. He reminded the audience of the wonderful economic and religious connection between the two countries.
Child actor Vyom Mathrani, along with many other children, regaled the audience with a mix of Bollywood and classical dance performances. Songs with patriotic themes, such as “Slumdog Millionaire’s” famous hit, “Jai Ho,” brought enthusiastic applause from the attendees.
In a fitting tribute to the Indian American community’s hospitable adopted home, Heena Noor sang the “Star Spangled Banner,” which was followed by India’s national anthem, “Jana Gana Mana.”
In between performances, the respective presidents of FIA, Ishwar Deedwania, and UFICA, Rangesh Gadasalli, profusely thanked the city of Artesia, as well as La Palma city councilman Nitesh Patel, Ali Taj, and Artesia Mayor Tony Lima, who acknowledged the value of his city’s partnership with the Indian American community.
Other organizations represented at the festival included SAHARA, Peace Not Pieces, Platinum West Funding, Indians in Nutrition and Dietetics, State Bank of India, Daawat, New York Life, Globimax, SKCON, GIVE, and South Asian Network.
One of the most popular stalls was US-Icare’s health camp, organized by Niranjan Bhatt, Lal Thakarar and Dr. Nitin Shah. Throughout the event, speakers reminded attendees to take advantage of free testing for sugar, blood pressure, diabetes and other ailments. Doctors Prakesh Deedwania, Ajeet Singhvi, Nathan Wong, dietician Geeta Sikand, and Sangeeta Shrivastava offered their services at the health stall.
Other stalls sold colorful South Asian clothes and Indian jewelry. Pista House served non-vegetarian Hyderabadi dishes such as biryani, haleem and kabobs, while Murugan provided South Indian vegetarian food. Elsewhere in the park, children lined up as they eagerly awaited their turn to have a blast on the inflatable slides.
The festival provided an opportunity for Indians to put their own spin on the independence celebrations in Southern California. Sanjiv Seshagiri, originally from Bangalore but now a resident of La Palma, said the entertainment, food, Bollywood songs, and the throngs of people in Indian clothes, gave his two-year-old son a taste of being in India.
The purpose of the event, according to the organizers, was to bring unity and solidarity, and to improve the relationship of the Indian American community with their adopted land so that both democracies can work in harmony for world peace. The festival appeared to affirm the spirit of Nehru’s words seven decades earlier when he reminded Indians that peace, freedom, and prosperity are indivisible “in this one world that can no longer be split into indivisible fragments.”