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As observers of the trends in Sydney’s Indian community, here’s our very own annual report
Year of the Woman
One clear trend stands out from the events in our community this year.
In terms of achievement and impact, our women are leading the way.
Early in March, Prof. Minoti Apte won the NSW Woman of the Year honour for her work as a leading researcher in the field of pancreatic cancers.
Later in the year, Prof. Veena Sahajwala, Dr Ranjana Srivastava and Prof. Nalini Joshi were named in the AFR-Westpac 100 Women of Influence list. They won acclaim for their work in material sciences, medicine and patient advocacy, and applied mathematics respectively.
It’s great to see these Indian-origin women make headway in their particular disciplines in admirable ways, in a landscape where large proportions of students, particularly girls, are shying away from the sciences. Veena Sahajwala has taken up the cause so strongly that she has gone on to become the poster-girl in this country for more women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Similarly, Ranjana Srivastava has been able to make her gentle voice heard loud and clear on many issues in her field of oncology, as well as on issues such as gender and ethnicity-based harassment in the medical profession. Her turns in the media (as a guest on innumerable shows including, most famously, ABC TV’s News Breakfast and Q and A, and in her own regular column in The Guardian newspaper and monthly shows on ABC TV and Radio National), as well as her appearances at writers’ festivals and in lists of award-winning authors, will no doubt see her serve as a wonderful role model for younger women.
Most recently, Nalini Joshi has been named a finalist in Daily Life’s Women of the Year awards for her work as co-chair of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) program, encouraging research institutes and universities to remove barriers that disadvantage women in STEM.
Joining this band of power-girls this year was another scientist Dr Meera Agar of the UNSW, who will head Australia’s first medical cannabis trial for terminally ill adults.
Ladies, you’re our heroes, koti koti pranam! (That, by the way, is Sanskrit for #Respect.)
Kudos also to Pallavi Sinha, who sought out for herself a role in mainstream media with guest columns in the Sydney Morning Herald, guest hosting on ABC Radio’s Evenings, and as a panellist on Q and A and other forums.
Wonderful to note young women of substance living life on their own terms.
The very same thought was brought home distinctly when Indian Link ran a group discussion on the life choices of our community’s young women. Our random sample perfectly represented a generation of intelligent, articulate, capable women, who are working their way through their bicultural allegiances appreciably. Quite obviously immersed in the Indian culture of their parents, they are also forging their own identities out of the bounds of their family and community, by means of their chosen professions as well as their passions and commitments to causes outside of work.
The NSW state elections are always fun events to observe from a distance. The politicos reach out to the community by trying to be as desi as they can get with their attire and greetings. This time around, it is interesting to observe the sherwanis, saris and salwar kameez suits continue to be brought out – why, the curly-toed jooti made an appearance only weeks ago (nice touch, Federal Senator Sam Dastyari!).
Daniel Mookhey became the first Indian-origin member of the NSW Parliament, and made the news for taking his vows on the Gita. In doing so, he beat the handful of other wannabe politicians from the community who are hoping to make it to Macquarie Street one day. But unlike them, Daniel seems to be keeping a low profile of late.
The year started off well, with the Indian cricket team in town on New Year’s Day. They looked like they were ready to defend their World Cup title, even after a particularly lacklustre Test series just prior. The attraction for the crowds was the brand new captain Virat Kohli, who was showing off his brand new relationship with the glamorous Anushka Sharma. (The pair were finally ‘out’, after those very public kisses blown by him from the middle of the test pitch in her direction.) The good-looking couple were gracious enough not to disappoint the fans who accosted them on a regular basis, happily posing for selfies. (And what could top this for the fans, except maybe a close encounter with Tendulkar, but more about that later).
The Cricket World Cup meanwhile, turned out to be memorable – unlike the India Australia Test series. The highlight for the Indians and Pakistanis around the world was the India vs Pakistan match, for which the entire South Asian population of the country travelled to Adelaide. Except at one bad-ass venue in Sydney, there was much camaraderie between the fans of the traditional rivals. One placard proudly proclaimed, ‘Politicians divided us, cricket unites us’. And no, unlike last year, the Indian Link office did not receive abusive phone calls for putting Pak and Indian fans together on the cover!
As well in January, tennis star Sania Mirza took her first ever Sydney title, and did that prove to be a good omen for her. She went on to win a career-best ten titles this year.
Leander Paes also won the Australian Open doubles title (he added two more, Wimbledon and US Open, to make a grand total of 17 Grand Slams, the highest by an Indian).
Badminton’s Saina Nehwal did not have as good a year, losing early as she tried to defend her 2014 title in the Star Australian Badminton Open.
Oh, and before we forget, Sachin Tendulkar. Yes, he was unforgettable. In a first for the Indian community, he made time to interact closely with a small bunch of admirers, at a leading Sydney restaurant.
In an open interview with Indian Link’s Pawan Luthra at the event, Sachin spoke eloquently and with great detail, giving listeners a glimpse into his moods and feelings, putting paid to the assumption that he is a deeply private man.
The mela scene
Following the trend of the past few years, this year too, our large-scale annual fairs were nothing much to write home about, except for Hindu Council of Australia’s Deepavali Mela.
UIA’s India Australia Friendship Fair and BVB’s Holi Mela desperately need a relook and a new approach if they want to continue attracting the crowds. The smaller scale fairs at the smaller venues seem to be doing ok at the moment, but our heart goes out to the politicians who are invited to multiple events of the same nature, on successive weekends.
The Hindu Council managed yet again to pull off the Martin Place event in the lead up to the big mela. Its Harbour Bridge Diwali, a first for this year, turned out to be just as iconic as the Opera House Diwali lights.
A dedicated team, a strong structure, and a clear vision of purpose seems to make all the difference. Case in point: the UIA’s debacle at the welcome event planned for the new High Commissioner Navdeep Suri, at which Mrs Suri took to the microphone to express her displeasure.
Meanwhile, the Hindu Council must also note that its success owes just as much to its secular nature, as it draws its cadres from across linguistic and regional divides. Any shift from this stance may well set off a decrease in impact.
Parramasala was rather a damp squib this year, as it suffered an identity crisis of sorts. Was it a South Asian festival or a wide ranging multicultural festival? It seems to have lost its identity along the way and it seems the program organisers have limited ideas in the art or cultural space. No high-end act made it to the stage, and the hastily put together program made it look like a poor man’s Deepavali Mela. Sadly, financial woes look set to wreak havoc, and with Multicultural NSW as well as Destination NSW possibly no longer interested, the death knell may well have sounded for this annual event.
Meanwhile, the dandiya scene gets bigger and bigger, with better coordination and A-list artists flying in from India. A must-do if you have never been.
High profile visitors
Continuing to make it the Year of the Woman, some very inspirational women came calling from the diaspora this year. Ela Gandhi came for UNSW’s annual Gandhi Oration. Handicapped mountaineer Arunima Sinha was coolness personified, and entrepreneur Kiran Majumdar Shaw gave many pointers for running a successful business at a community meet during her brief trip.
Hindi poet and activist Kumar Vishwas; music therapist Swami Ganapathy Sadanandaji, who set a world record for conducting the largest music therapy lesson in the world;
Shubha Mudgal in Melbourne; several creative masters made time to come down under. And who could forget the Bollywood stars – Vidya Balan, Anil Kapoor, daughter Sonam, and Imran Khan all graced our shores for IFFM!
The Sydney Writers Festival brought us the suave Dr Atul Gawande and the cerebral Amit Chaudhuri, among others from the subcontinent like Mohsin Hamid.
The Sydney Film Festival gave us some gems like The Crow’s Egg, Meet the Patels, Tigers and Court.
Worli art continues to bring to life our tribal traditions, and the amazing parallels with Indigenous Australian art.
Jitish Kallat’s wondrous Public Notice 2 enthralled visitors to the AGNSW and brought us closer to the world of Gandhi.
Leading Indian artist Paresh Maity came to town, taking us on a journey of colour and chaos.
Ajay Sharma, India’s leading miniaturist, returned to teach his particular form of Rajasthani art to interested artists.
In music, Swaralaya gave us a glorious weekend of Carnatic gems from India and closer home, in what has become an annual feature.
The film UnIndian caused so much buzz in the media prior to its release that it seemed like it would be bigger than Ben Hur. Days after though, our social media feeds went comparatively quiet. The box office collections in Australia struggled to get to $200,000 in earnings, in the light of a reported spend of $6 million ($1 million of which went towards publicity alone); this tells its own story. Top marks for marketing, though!
Veteran filmmaker Paul Cox’s Forces of Destiny, on the other hand, could have done with some similar PR. A beautiful story on organ transplant, and yes, another cross cultural Aussie-Indian love twist here. Mixed-race relationships are really not so ‘un-Indian’ anymore, especially in our urban centres.
2015 will go down as a special year for many in the community who won acclaim for their work.
Hindi language crusader Mala Mehta won the Indian government’s Pravasi Bharatiya Samman.
Prof. Nihal Agar and Prof. Brij Lal received Australia’s AM honours. Dr Ashim Kumar Majumdar, Dr Shiva Prakash, Albert da Cruz and the late Hiro (Harry) Pamamull received the OAM honour.
Nine-year-old Anirudh took out the inaugural Channel Ten Great Australian Spelling Bee trophy, in what turned out to be a spellbinding series with many Indian kids featuring.
16-year-old Seyoon Ragavan won gold in the International Mathematics Olympiad.
Indian Link added to its own multicultural media awards tally by winning three more awards in NSW this year, and one in Victoria, bringing our total now to 17 awards.
… and Losers
The dramatic fall of travel company Value World Travel has been the talk of the community in recent days. Founders Neni and Gargi Tewary are AWOL even as many of their clients are wondering if they will get their money back for air tickets booked with them. Their larger-than-life persona remained shrouded in intrigue as they burst on to the scene a few years ago, and even today, it seems unlikely that the true nature of their operations – and of those close to them – will ever be fully known. As to how the airlines were able to cancel tickets of buyers bypassing the wholesalers and retailers certainly warrants closer scrutiny.
Value World Travel was not the only enterprise in the news for the wrong reasons. Other shoddy businesses, especially in the vocational training sector, had a number of Indian Australians at the helm. Unique Business College, with its CEO Amarjit Khela, was in the mainstream media with allegations of its corrupt practices.
Thumbs down to…
Bollywood-style entertainment at our community functions, especially performed by amateurs and/or by children; the eardrum-breaking sound levels at our events; Karl Stefanovic’s 7-11 gaffe, followed by an equally uncool apology; the unresolved shooting case at Billu’s Restaurant; Prabha Arun Kumar’s killer who remains at large, leaving her family searching for answers.
Thumbs up to…
ANZAC Sikhs whose relentless work has finally made it common knowledge that Indian soldiers played an integral part in the ANZAC campaign in World War 1; community medicos AIMGA who are regrouping beautifully and doing some wonderful work for worthy social causes; the Pink Sari Project that is encouraging migrant women to screen themselves regularly for breast cancer; AASHA, a new venture that looks at mental health issues in community seniors; the ‘yogafication’ of Sydney on International Yoga Day; and an increasing number of those of the LGBTQI persuasion who are coming out to their families and to the community.