ISCA: Two decades on

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The community’s oldest and largest seniors group celebrates its twentieth anniversary

On an April day in the year 1995, fifteen Indian visionaries held an informal meeting to consider young Parag Mody’s proposal to start a social club, so seniors such as his parents in a new country with time at their hands, may interact with those of their kind, etc. Apposite pamphlets were dispersed on the streets and in the markets to anyone perceived Indian.

Soon, a subcommittee was formed, and ‘Indian Seniors Forum’ was born. The first meeting, attended by only twenty, was held in the Community Hall in Fitzroy during a period when the Melbourne community numbered a few hundreds. Parag Mody was elected Secretary, and Dr Prem Phakey as founding President. Shashi Gajree, and later Krishna Arora, also served as presidents. The Constitution registered in November 1997, the venue was moved to Chapel Street, and in 1999 to the current venue, the Mt. Waverley Youth Centre.

In 2015, the Forum, now the non-religious, non-political, and non-profit Indian Seniors Citizens Association, celebrated its twentieth anniversary with pomp and show at Clayton Hall. Three hundred animated members milled around, amidst sub-committee chairman Eugene Gnanaiah’s thoughtful decorations, MC Jasbir Bedi commenced the evening by welcoming Anna Burke MP, Allan Griffin MP, Marcia Thompson MP, Inga Peulich MLC, Hong Lim MP, Michael Gidley MP, Cr Robert Davies, Advisor to the Premier Jasvinder Siddhu, and VMC Commissioner for the Community Srini Srinivasan, who graced the occasion with their presence.

The Australian national anthem was sung, and then the Indian. Then a video of Prime Minister Abbott’s motivating speech was played, in which he expressed his pleasure for being a part of ISCA celebrations, and applauded us for keeping our culture alive.

“We share an ocean,” the Prime Minister stated, “We share a language, we share a heritage and we share a history.”

When a young man, Mr Abbott stated, he travelled through India, and has read Gandhi’s autobiography. “For a bowl of water, give a goodly meal,” he quoted the Mahatma. “For a kindly greeting, bow thou down with zeal, but the truly noble know all men as one, and return with gladness good for evil done.”

The entertainment segment methodically adjusted between speeches, dinner was served. When the catering staff fumbled to uncork “Buddha”, a classic red wine of 1995 vintage served on the VIP table, Inga Peulich punned that Lord Buddha did not want them to drink! The bottles were finally uncorked with forks. Slides of ISCA’s humble beginnings complied by Secretary Dinesh Sood filled the hall with nostalgia, as entrée of samosa, paneer pakora, and tandoori tikka were served, red and white wines and soft drinks were already on tables.

President Phakey thanked ISCA sponsors, especially the City of Monash, “without which we will disappear”. He thanked the Victorian Multicultural Commission, the Department of Health, Ravi Goel for printing works, Ramon Dawar for everything for the office, XP Consulting, The Imperial College of Australia, Dr Vivek Phakey, and the caterers Tandoori Junction. A souvenir presenting a snapshot of ISCA’s 20 years was distributed.

“The time has come when the younger generation must stand up and carry on the work we initiated,” Phakey stated.

Having moved to Australia from East Africa, he quoted President Jomo Kenyatta, “Let us pull together, and do it!”

Mayor Paul Klisaris of Monash, Hong Lim, Eugene Gnanaiah and Dr Dinesh Sood also spoke enlightening words. Optimist Michael Gidley wished to see us here in another twenty years.

Marsha Thomson, Minister for Information and Technology, praised the ‘humble nature of Indians like you’, and thanked us for ‘enriching the Australian environment with vibrant dances such as Bhangra, and for sharing your values with the rest of us.’

“Let us clap to ourselves,” she declared, and the hall responded spiritedly.

Young dancers rocked the stage and performed Bollywood, classical and Bhangra dance numbers.

When inviting Anna Burke to the podium, Jasbir introduced her as ‘part of ISCA furniture’, and Anna, pleasant as she is, retorted that while she did not regard herself so, she was always happy to be among friends at ISCA!

In recognition of services to ISCA, Anna presented awards to President Phakey AM, Shashi Gajree, Krishna Arora OAM, Sandy San, Bhim Sud, Dr Kaushal Srivastava and Dr Dinesh Sood.

Parag Mody, Dwarka Das Puri, Yaduvir Singh, Dr Suresh Sharma, and Sushma Gupta were not present to receive their awards.

With just a handful of members in 1995, ISCA now boasts 430 paid members, and via the motto of ‘Friendship and Mutual Help’, aspires to provide community care for Indian seniors.

Sardar Bharpur Singh, a hundred years in October, shared the secret of longevity with the rest of us: “Always keep on right side of the law”.

In good health and forever smiling, he quoted Mirza Ghalib’s undying kalaam:Unke dekhe se jo aa jaati hai munh per raunaq, woh samajhte hain ki beemaar ka haal achcha hai!”

The ISCA Working Committee joined hands in the cutting of three large cakes, later served as dessert.

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