Brett Lee makes it an Indian summer

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… at the Taj Foundation’s maiden fund-raiser, writes SHRADDHA ARJUN

The philanthropic dreams of four young members of our community took off in fantastic style as their maiden fund-raising event garnered a whopping $150,000 last month.

Bobby Singh, Elora Das, Junita Mushenko and Danny Bhandari formally launched the Taj Foundation in late February as a not-for-profit organisation to raise funds for charitable endeavours.

Their debut event, which raised funds for Aussie cricketer Brett Lee’s Mewsic Foundation in India and for the Steve Waugh Foundation in Australia , attracted bigwigs from the corporate world, politics and sport.

The guests were treated to the sounds and flavours of India on a glowing summer’s evening.

It was silk and sequins galore at the Sydney Convention Centre overlooking the glistening waterfront at Darling Harbour , at the special event titled An Indian Summer.  Rajputana furnishings, tabla beats and mehendi artists created a feel of India .

The guests included cricket legends Steve Waugh, Brett Lee and Glen McGrath, as well as Gina Rinehart, Sanjay Reddy, Jack Cowin, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell and former NSW Premier Kristina Keneally. Consul General of India Amit Dasgputa, recent Miss Earth from India Nicole Faria, Peter Cummings and Dan Christian were also present.

But without a doubt, it was the celebrity cricketers who were the main stars of the night.

Brett Lee came wearing his ‘musician’ hat and brought along his band White Shoe Theory. He played the guitar and sang with the lead vocalist a new song In My Shoes. (A foot tapping number, it was an instant hit with the audience). Recalling his first visit to India in 1994, he declared he was so moved by the country that he had decided to give something back. His charitable foundation Mewsic “aims to heal, educate and empower marginalised children in India through music therapy”. It provides children a creative learning environment where their self-confidence can be nurtured. Six Mewsic centres have so far been launched, three in Mumbai locations and one each in Lucknow , Surat and Hyderabad . Of course Brett also spoke about cricket (the following day was the scheduled India-Australia one dayer). “It’s an Indian summer tonight, but hopefully won’t be tomorrow night,” he quipped. ( India beat Australia convincingly the next day, although the win did nothing for the team’s campaign in the series). He spoke of his regard for Steve Waugh, who he described as “revered as a god in India ”, and his inspiration for charitable works.

He added, “I think the Taj Foundation will strengthen ties between South Asia and Australia , by forging relationships between second-generation South Asian-Australians and the homelands of their parents. That can only benefit each country culturally, economically and most importantly philanthropically”.

In his address, Steve Waugh spoke about meeting with Mother Theresa – the inspiration for his own philanthropic activities and for the creation of the Steve Waugh Foundation. He also spoke about what his charity does in Australia in their work for children with rare diseases. Cricket featured in his speech too: his anecdotes with his team-mates elicited much laughter, such as Brett Lee practicing a bowling technique (sans the ball of course!) at the Sistine Chapel on one of their trips there.

“Brett and I were part of some great sides on the field and it is fantastic to team up with him again to support the Taj Foundation,” Waugh concluded.

Both cricketers thanked Taj Foundation for the initiative and for bringing people together.

When one speaker mistakenly referred to Steve Waugh as Shane Warne, one couldn’t help but think, why is Shane not here, given his India connections…? Liz on his arm, in a glamorous sari, would have made headlines for sure!

Sri Lankan cricketer Kumar Sangakkara sent a video message wishing the Taj Foundation well in its endeavours.

Why were there no Indian cricketers present?

“The Indian cricket team were invited but unfortunately due to touring commitments were unable to attend,” Taj Foundation director Junita Mushenko revealed. No one from the Indian team sent a message either – was this another sampler of the general apathy they showed on the field? Who knows!

Taj Foundation Ambassador Dr Sam Prince presented an inspiring address as well. He spoke about his journey as student to becoming the owner of a chain of Mexican restaurants in Australia and graduating from medicine much earlier than most at 22. He spoke about the most ambitious goal of leading a team of individuals to eliminate scabies from Australia . This happens to be the first phase of his philanthropic efforts through a program called ‘One Disease At A Time’. He received a resounding applause by the audience who were moved by his speech.

Barry O’Farrell, Premier of NSW detailed his recent visit to India and stressed the need for fostering strong relationships with the Indian subcontinent. He congratulated Taj Foundation and spoke in praise of charitable organisations such as Steve Waugh Foundation and Mewsic which work for the betterment of children in Australia and the Indian subcontinent.

Guests pledged their support in a grand auction and in donations.

Indira Naidoo was MC for the night, and entertainment was provided by Justice Crew, Platinum Dhols, tabla artistes, Sirens Bollywood dance group and DJ Kish.

Speaking with Indian Link later, director Junita Mushenko revealed how the idea for the night originated. “The think tank evolved over the months, as black tie ball, charity and cricket took centre stage as key concepts. February 2012 was an opportunity that could not be missed as the Indian and Sri Lankan cricket teams toured Australia . Involving the star power of Brett Lee and Steve Waugh was a natural choice as they are so well regarded locally and abroad, not only for their sporting achievement but also for their philanthropic programs”.

Regarding future activities, Mushenko said, “The Taj Foundation hopes to increase its membership base with a view to providing community events which promote South Asian culture in all its richness and complexity. In addition, opportunities will be provided for professional networking, linking key enterprises and individuals to strengthen economic relations between Australia and South Asia ”.

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