“Discover India” brings Bollywood to CU


Photo Courtesy of IGSA

On November 13, 2016, the Indian Graduate Students Association at UIUC In Association with Annapoorna stores presented “Diwali on the Quad,” a celebration that marked the beginning of a new Hindu Year. The IGSA will present a free cultural exploration of India at Foellinger Auditorium on March 5.

By Natasha Mosquera, Staff Writer

The Indian Graduate Students Association is putting together what is considered to be one of its biggest events of the semester – “Discover India.”

The free event will take place from 4:30-10:00 p.m. on March 5 at Foellinger Auditorium and is open to all who wish to attend.

“The Indian Graduate Students Association’s mission, or whatever you call it, is basically sharing the Indian culture with the Champaign-Urbana community, so the whole point of us not even considering to charge any amount for admission is that we didn’t want to have any restriction on the number of people attending,” said Sai Kalyan Evani, IGSA president.  

Evani said he came up with this idea back in October because IGSA wanted to create a platform to showcase the diverse Indian culture.

The diversity of Indian culture will be presented through three components: cultural exhibits, Indian dance, music and theater performances, as well as a Bollywood DJ night.

Because it’s the first time IGSA is organizing such a huge event, Evani said it’s been a huge challenge given the expenses incurred to reserve the space, have sound and hire staff.

“I would say the team did a great job in accumulating finances for the event. It was a struggle, but we were able to manage financially, so this is an experience I’ll never forget because it was a struggle to get everything done,” Evani said.

One thing Evani said he is looking forward to the most is the “Rangoli” – an art form in which colorful patterns are created on the floor using materials such as colored rice, sand or flower petals – they will have in the foreground of the Foellinger Auditorium.

He also said he is personally excited for the event because he has never been to an event that covered these many aspects of one culture.

“It’s doing a lot of things in the span of five hours, and I would totally consider my time worth if I am going there and witnessing a lot of things in a short duration,” Evani said.

After three months of approaching several organizations on campus for support, he also said he is very thankful for the sponsors that are helping make “Discover India” possible.

One of the many sponsors is the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies.

Angela Williams, the assistant director of CSAMES, said as a center, they want to continue fostering knowledge and understanding about India and the culture itself.

“The connection with India at this university goes back decades. There have been institutional connections, scholars from India coming over here, and ours going to India as well. So as an organization, we see this as again, sort of furthering the connection with this next generation of students who may be going back to India and being alum, Illinois alum, or maybe staying in the U.S. or doing both,” she said.  

Williams also said one of the reasons she agreed to support the event was because she thinks it’s great to see student initiatives.

“As students, you all have busy schedules, and then to get together and to work on something collectively, I think takes a lot of work, so yeah, I’m interested in that mainly,” she said.

Coming from a minority background herself, Williams said she is really passionate and interested in promoting cultures of the world in general.

“I just appreciate seeing cultures celebrated for what they are, and coming from student’s perspectives, people from the region, young people, often have really important things to say about what they feel their backgrounds represent because they’re talking about the history and the future,” Williams said.

Evelyn Cai, PHD student in LAS, said she wants to lead different lives within her own life, but she cannot do it herself.

“I have to meet new people and talk to them and learn about their lives, so that’s really very good to me. That’s why I was a journalist in China,” Cai said. “I really enjoy meeting new people and talking about their stories.”

She said because she is only here for a year, she tries her best to know about diverse cultures.

“I know there are many Indian students here, and I really want to know more about the Indian culture, and since I’m from China, and we’re all from Asia, I really want to know more about people living around me,” Cai said.

Ever since she participated in a discussion with other exchange students at the beginning of the school year, she said she had made up her mind to know more about international students and about other cultures.

“I just feel in a new world, because previously I was just in China and I’m just in my world. I just play and work with similar people, but now I have the opportunity to work with different people and the world is much bigger to me, so I’m really very excited,” Cai said.

Cai also said attending events like “Discover India” is not only a great way for individuals to know and understand more about distinct backgrounds, but also to make some international friends.

“That is also very valuable to us, especially to some exchange students because we only have one year here, so every event is very precious to us and it is a very good memory to us,” she said.

To make this night all the more enjoyable, Illini Awaaz – a fusion a cappella team that combines the traditional music of India with the beats of the West– will take the stage.

Alishba Rehman, sophomore in Engineering and the business manager of Awaaz, said the group has worked with IGSA before and they were really excited when they were asked to perform at “Discover India.”

“This is the first time they’ve done an event on this scale, which is really exciting but obviously stressful, so when the president reached out to us and asked us to perform we obviously jumped at the chance because this seems like a great opportunity to connect the campus with Indian culture in a really educational and interesting way,” Rehman said.

She also said the group has been rehearsing a lot and adding more formations and simple choreography to their performance from last semester to make it more engaging for the audience.

“We’re just excited to work so hard to make sure that we have the best possible show for them because we want their event to be successful and we want their mission to be successful as well. That’s kind of the group mentality right now,” said Rehman.

“Discover India” will not only expose non-Indians to the Indian culture, but it will also further enhance an Indian’s knowledge of their own culture.

“No, I mean it’s true, that it’s not necessarily that we have to go to the event, but we want to attend the event because this is something which where we belong,” said Akash Narayan, graduate student in Engineering and member of IGSA. “It’s a good opportunity for us also to get to know a lot about our culture and share our views and different opinions with others.”

Narayan also said this is an event in which there will be no friendships because everyone will feel like they are a part of a family.

“Personally for me, it’s a feeling of home away from home because every Indian loves the tradition of India,” he said. “Such events usually make us close to our country; make us close to our people who are staying over here. We get to know a lot of people; we get to know a lot of Indians who are staying campus whom we don’t usually meet.”

Narayan said the event will expose people of different races to what Bollywood and Bollywood dance is all about.

“I love dancing. I mean especially on Bollywood tunes, I would say it’s something which really gives me happiness because the music – the dance – it’s really fun,” he said. “It gives you a huge amount of positive energy and the crowd – when you see people around you dancing and enjoying it – it gives you a lot of positive vibes.”

Narayan said people can wear whatever they want, but they should be sure to dress comfortably because there’s going to be a lot of dancing.

“I would really suggest, and really hope that people come in huge numbers, bring their friends as well because no one is going to get bored. That is for sure,” he said.

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