ARTESIA, Calif. — More than 5,000 Indian Americans powered through sweltering heat and filled the grounds of Artesia Park Aug. 15 to partake in the annual celebration of India’s Independence Day, which featured a Bollywood star, dozens of vendors, cultural performances, and appearances by civic leaders.
Rep. Ed Royce joined Bollywood actress Raveena Tandon, state Sen. Tony Mendoza, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, state Assembly candidate Harry Sidhu and Artesia City Council members Ali Sajjad Taj and Victor Manalo in celebrating India’s 69th Independence Day organized jointly by the Federation of Indian American Association and United Federation of Indo-Americans of California.
In their speeches at the celebrations, Mendoza and Royce commended FIA and UFICA for jointly organizing the Mela. Both leaders stated the unified approach to celebrating India’s independence from the British in 1947 was symbolic of the country’s growing presence on the world stage and its strong relationship with the United States.
Royce, who is a founding member of the House of Representatives’ India Caucus, told India-West, “I think the United States and India are working very closely together, and we’re trying to move forward on trade and investment strategies.”
The Southern California congressman added he hoped Prime Minister Narendra Modi could move legislation through Parliament to streamline the movement of goods through India in order to strengthen the country’s economy.
Mendoza, who has regularly attended Independence Day events in Artesia since his days as a city council member, complimented the contributions of the Indian American community.
“When Aug. 15 rolls around, it’s a special day for me,” Mendoza told India-West shortly before presenting official commendations to Raveena Tandon, FIA president Ramesh Mahajan and UFICA president Alka Patel. “[The Indian American community] is very vibrant in our state and our country. They have so much history and do so much for our state. To have two organizations that have always been at odds but working together today in unity, that’s very positive.”
The actress, who arrived at Artesia Park at about 9 p.m., led the flag hoisting and lamp lighting ceremonies; she later greeted the audience and urged the Indian American youth to never forget their culture and history.
Although the crowds thoroughly enjoyed the Mela-like atmosphere of the Independence Day celebration — believed to be the first time FIA and UFICA joined hands to put on the event — the festivities were marred slightly by allegations exchanged between Raveena Tandon and the event organizers.
Tandon Rants on Twitter
A perusal of Tandon’s Twitter page (@TandonRaveena) shows the actress making several comments critical of the Independence Day celebration.
“The car reached me late. If I had reached venue sooner, could’ve seen all the kids performances, coz of deadline (which I wasn’t aware),” Tandon said in one tweet.
Reached in India by India-West, Tandon explained that she had minimal conversation with the event organizers and had not arrived in Los Angeles until Aug. 14. Her husband initially purchased the plane ticket, she said, adding that she was reimbursed for her travel costs.
She declined to comment on whether or not she received an appearance fee, which India-West was told by anonymous sources within the FIA and UFICA, ranged in the amount of $20,000-$25,000.
The actress added that she was sick during the previous Aug. 14 dinner and Aug. 15 appearance at Artesia Park but made every effort to make herself available for photos and fan interactions.
She was seen sneezing and coughing on stage and was also coughing while speaking on the phone with this reporter and had a raspy voice.
Tandon added that her arrival at Artesia Park had been delayed, because her transportation from the hotel had not arrived on time.
“I have no enmity toward anyone; sometimes misunderstandings happen,” Tandon told India-West, adding there were a lot of people involved with the planning process and not everyone properly communicated with each other.
“A few performances couldn’t happen... Am sorry for those kids… Am sure they would’ve rocked! Wish I knew their names, personally would thank,” she said in another tweet.
She also took exception with former UFICA president Niraj Agnihotri in a tweet.
“In LA after two glorious days, of spending the Independence Day celebrations- sadly a bad ending. All was going well. Till got on stage,” Tandon tweeted. “Some chap called Neeraj Agnihotri started misbehaving, and padding comments, sadly all security was down Nd couldn’t get to him first.”
Tandon, whose tweets received media attention in India, continued her point of contention that anyone could travel with her from the hotel where she stayed to Artesia Park.
“Was 1 of the organisers n was upset dat his kids didn’t get to travel in my car with me to the event, which security n protocol didn’t allow,” Tandon tweeted. “Started making nasty remarks till I had to yell out to the others to get some other guys up. And that’s when they took him away! I did give him a piece of my mind too. That’s no way to talk to anyone- when [I] didn’t even know what he was upset about.”
Tandon, according to Agnihotri, was referring to two children, ages 7 and 9, who wanted to ride along with the actress during her limousine ride to Artesia Park.
Agnihotri told India-West that Tandon was to make a pair of two-hour appearances: first at a pre-Mela dinner on Aug. 14 and then at the Independence Day event itself on Aug. 15.
According to Agnihotri, Tandon was tardy to the Aug. 14 dinner and appeared for only 45 minutes. He added that the actress was supposed to arrive at the Mela the following day, Aug. 15, by 8 p.m., but she did not appear until after 9 p.m. that evening; the organizers had to leave the Artesia Park venue at 10 p.m. Tandon, however, told India-West that while she was aware of her time commitments, no one provided her with specific schedule details.
One of the organizers, T.J. Barring, who facilitated the Bollywood actress’s visit to the celebrations, told India-West she was delayed in arriving at the Amaya restaurant Aug. 14, because the limo sent to pick her up had itself been delayed waiting for the UFICA president to get ready.
The following day, although the organizers had asked her to reach Artesia Park by 8 p.m., the limo that arrived at 6:30 p.m. to pick her up had a few other passengers in the car, which was noticed by Tandon’s manager, which was conveyed to the actress. Tandon, according to Barring, reportedly told her manager that she was feeling sick and wanted to travel alone to give her a chance to get some rest during the journey; she also did not want the other passengers to get sick from her sneezing and coughing. The detour to drop off the other passengers caused a delay of nearly 30-40 minutes.
Furthermore, the limo driver was apparently misdirected to Clarkdale Ave., whereas the open entrance to the venue was on Elaine Ave., causing another 15-minute delay, said Barring, resulting in her arrival one hour later than scheduled.
At the Mela this year, much of India’s culture and history was on display before and after the formal program, which featured a selection of Indian songs and dances presented by local children, teens and adults.
Among the various performances — over a period of three hours — were kathak, bhangra and modern dances, as well as popular tunes and ghazals belted out by local singers.
Surrounding the main stage were many vendors’ booths, including McDonalds, Toyota, Akshaya Patra, Bombay Haute, New York Life, Sahara, Chennai Tiffins, South Asian Networks, Paradise Biryani Pointe and Fashion House of India, among others.
There was also a large play area for children and a community health fair organized by the Indian Pharmacist Association of California. The health fair offered a handful of basic medical screening for free, such as blood pressure and glucose monitoring.
The Mela was co-sponsored by the City of Artesia. Organizers for the event included Ramesh Mahajan, Alka Patel, Ashok Patnaik, A.J. Dudhekar, Malik Banda, Harish Dhruv, Rashmi Shah, Ravji Patel, Mahesh Goel, Kamini Khare, Ajoy Dube, Manorama Sharma, Vinita Vineet, Charu Miglani, Niraj Agniholtri, Ishwar Deedwania, Manu Patel, Vinod Vineet, Vinod Dudhekar, Rajesh Cheliani, Roshan Khanpur, Lal Thakarar, Nitin Shah, Sukrit Mukherjee, R.S. Gadasali and Sudip Gorakshakar, among others.