Monday, April 20, 2009

A Maitri to remember!!

“Aankhon mein sapne liye,
Ghar se hum chal toh diye…”

Shaan crooned in my ears. My MP3 enabled phone showed there were at least ten more Shaan songs to come and I smiled. Tea and songs go together better than Vodka and Sprite.

A roommate suddenly crashed into my room,

“Maitri’s coming up in a month. Dude, you have to be in it.”
“What am I going to do in it?” I knew what he had in mind.
“Err, mimicry!!”
“Yeah, right!”, I mumbled and continued in silence.
I entered the University next day on what should have been like any other day. Doing nothing but looking at the girls, eating, attending a lecture; or not attending anything at all and coming home later in the evening. But as that awaited evening approached I found myself amidst a group of fired up enthusiasts, all my age talking animatedly about “I am in a dance”, “Main dance aur fashion show”, “Ok, folks, gather around…”. Stuff that made little or no sense to me. And then,
“What are you here for?”
“Mimicry? That’s difficult to adjust in the show”, said a girl, who introduced herself as Shilpa later.
For no reason at all, I was disappointed. I should have been happy. Chalo, I'm free
But a girl sitting on the sofa opposite me, looked and said, “Why don’t you audition for compering?”
Uh oh!

I couldn’t stand on stage for more than 10 minutes, throat would, for sure, go dry not to mention a lingering feeling of 3rd degree interrogation. My heart races beyond time and everything blanks out. Urghghgh

“Ok.... I am Saumitra, and you are?”
“Mayuri”. (Nods at both ends)

Audition time: The President of GISO, Graduate Indian Students Org., for the uninitiated, introduced himself, with a small pep-talk about how good he wanted the show to be, and I was blank all the while. After an audition that had me and two others and a half hour later, I was told that I would be contacted. seemed to be bigger than I thought.


After almost a month of not practicing at all and hardly meeting the co-host twice, who had a major role to play later, I was confident that we could pull this off.

April 3rd, 12:00 PM…

Roshiny, the co-host, calls me,

“Saumitra, there’s a prob

I suddenly felt like a bolder hit me, straight at my heart. Even before I could hear her next words I concluded that I was going to be alone on stage, facing the crowd, thinking what do I say, looking puzzled, shivering, and may being pulled away by someone from backstage.

“My advisor is not letting me go, I am going to be horribly late” (Urghghgh Advisors!!)

I let the biggest sigh ever. It was bad, but at least I wouldn't be alone. So what if we were the least practiced of all, I was confident before and I was at least breathing now.

The stage was ready; it looked grand; just like the last time I had stepped on one. Nine years had gone by in ultra-zipped mode. I looked at Roshiny, thought she looked perfect for the occasion. ‘What if I goof-up?’, ’what if I blank out?’, ‘what if….’

The prayer was sung, the speech delivered, and the hosts were called upon.

Moment of truth!! Roshiny looked at me, “All the best”, “Same to you.”


Five minutes later I was back in the wings, banging my head. I had goofed up. Blanked out and all the other ‘what ifs’Okay, I am not doing it again, I told myself; and five minutes later I was almost in sweat and shivering from the second goof-up, and all the spoonerisms.

Roshiny gave me a small pep-talk and all I heard was, “what the heck was that? What are you doing?” although that was not what she was saying.

We went up again, after a near perfect performance by Dhun. I remembered all my lines, and Roshiny took care of the rest. Making fun, involving the crowd, making them laugh, making them clap, basking in those claps… all the perks of being on stage.

Backstage was a totally different story.
“Vishal, I want the next group ready.”
“They are”
“Great, I need them in the wings in one minute”
“Arey, don’t worry about that, concentrate on your compering”
“Saumitra, look at me, concentrate on our job. Don’t look at what’s going on”
‘I can’t, we cannot put fillers for everything’
“yeah, yeah”, I muttered
“So, the next part, we will use this filler…”
‘Everything’s so blurry…’

How in the world was I hearing Puddle of Mudd out of nowhere? But it was what it was – blurry.
The crowd in one section was getting unruly by the minute. Backstage, everyone was starting to get worried, some were getting fired up. Something had to be done. ‘You cannot do that’, I heard someone say. Many were visibly irked by that particular pocket of audience.

“I am going to tell them to be quiet” – Roshiny
“No, please don’t do anything rash” – me


It was my turn to go back stage for the skit. Thankfully, after all the well covered goof-up and near perfect impromptu stuff, with people laughing we left the stage and I was back on… in the half naked Ravana out-fit, I played in the skit.


Singing by Dhwani, another round of fashion show, ‘The Dark side of moon’, and all were waiting for the next event. At least everyone back stage and everyone who knew what was coming up.

Sand-animation was announced. It took a while for the set-up. I let Roshiny go to see it. I had had my share of choking in the noon. Vishal asked me to put in a filler as the set-up was taking a while. But something in me stopped from going up. I did not want the mood to change. It was somber after the exploring the ‘dark-side’, it was about to go up to an emotional high now.

Lights… stage… silence… music… Gandhi… the charismatic Bapu enthralled the audience in sand-form on a white screen. The story-telling was perfect. Many must’ve chocked on one image after other. I saw the show from behind the screen, and the effect was same. With tears in my eyes, nostalgia in mind. The crew went up for what seemed to be an endless round of applause. Omkar later told me that he was very emotional while receiving that applause. They deserved every single bit of it. No more words spoken, everyone rushed towards food in pure desi shtyle. A perfect end to a perfect event. Smiles, congratulatory remarks, hugs, flying kisses, more hugs, hand-shakes, smiles, some more hugs, and food.

It is difficult to put all that went by in words, but Maitri will remain.

‘Mitti ki khusbu aaye, palkon pe aansu laaye,
Palkon pe reh jayega, yaadon ka jahaan’

~Saumitra Vaidya

Sunday, April 19, 2009

For Real?

It wasn't supposed to turn out this way, however we half hoped for it. Going in, none of us had predicted the impact it would have on each of us. Cliched, but true. We couldn't deny it, we couldn't verbalize it. The night before, we were struggling, in every sense of the word. Dances weren't set, ticket sales were frighteningly low, every possible quarrel was surfacing, I for one was ready to give up. It wasn't like me, but that was it. I couldn't take it anymore.

I went back home thinking about all the work that we had put in for Maitri 2009 to be a success- the publicity and sponsorships Mayuri and Ravi worked for, Saravanan going through what every President goes through handling an organization, Manny trying to keep up with us with our extravagant demands regarding videos and website updates, Karthik and I still in a conundrum on dances, Prashanth trying to figure out why half of us were screaming at each other, Shilpa going out of her mind handling all the events and then Vishal, poor Vishal handling all of us- who was handling him remains an unanswered question. Chaotic right? How we pulled it off, will remain in the enigmatic books of unknown history.

There was no pressure(all pun intended). Srinath's team had pulled off one the best Maitri's in GISO's history, we had to top it. We had to cut down performances cause there were so many of them emerging, it was hard to do that. It was our reputation on the line. Friday evening was do or die, for me-do and die .

And then it happened, everything fell in its place. A three hour event, all with its glitches, hidden carefully and professionally. New records surfacing, every participant in everything. We couldn't suppress too much talent, yours truly guilty of this as well. Dances were an instant hit, the UH band pulled off their spirits, fashion show living up to last year's side effect, Ram-Leela- hmm I am sure we can keep that off the list given the impact it had on us, phenomenal to say the least and then Sand Animation. That one event we were counting on to make our Maitri better than the rest, our savior from all possible criticism, our messiah. There was not one glitch when it took place- nostalgia filled up the air like never before. Omkar and his team pulled off something none of us had even dared to predict.

The aftermath of Maitri, like generations before had faced, still is the same. An oft heard phrase around the UH campus amongst the Indian crowd - "Let's go practice". Kranti teased me the following weekend, asking me if I had gotten out of the Maitri fever. The answer is a little too obvious. Its one of those things that leaves something on you- be it missing deadlines, be it not caring about homework, be it time management skills (that we dutifully forget later on), be it anything- it keeps us talking of the good times.

To all who helped us make Maitri 09 a success, a sincere Thank You from the Editor. I shall now stop writing since my labmates are wondering what I am doing and let you off the misery this write up has brought about.

~Shreyasee Das

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Circle of Life

Last evening was a trip down nostalgia lane. About twenty years ago, I said goodbye to my own college campus in India and since then never had the opportunity to attend any college function. However, the Circle of Life is such it leads you back sometimes to moments that you have long forgotten. Now that my oldest daughter is a teenager who dances to Indian classical and Bollywood songs, we are revisiting some of those situations that we once experienced, this time around as amused parents.

So it was an interesting evening yesterday, as we attended a cultural function at the University of Houston, organized by the UH graduate Indian students’ organization. The function was held at the beautiful Cullen performance hall, CPH as students call it. As yet, this has been one of the nicest venues that my daughter has performed at. The CPH auditorium was impressive and I was surprised at the large number of Indian college students at the University of Houston. My husband noted that comparatively very few Indians had been students when he had gone to graduate school at the University of Florida.

Being among this Indian college crowd, here in Houston, for a short while, was an energizing experience. It was almost like we were back in India and only the presence of the American security personnel around reminded us otherwise. I could not help reminiscing about my own college days and functions. Everything seemed familiar, the expressions on the young college students faces, their enthusiasm, their energy and vitality, their accent, their silly jokes, the Bollywood songs and tunes that occasionally the audience would chime in with. Life changes and yet it remains the same in so many ways.

The audience seemed like any other college crowd in India, in fact not even that different from the college crowd I knew years ago. With a typical Desi college crowd, which behaved quite well overall, there was the usual howling, whistling, noisy expressions of approval or disapproval depending on what was happening on stage. It takes a bit of courage, I think, to host a college function, so I thought the two young comperes for the evening, Saumitra and Roshiny, did a nice job of keeping things together in a light-hearted manner.

The programs presented by the UH college students were quite entertaining. There was the usual mix of singers and dancers and even a funny version of a Ram-Leela. We liked the ‘hum dum suniyo re’ dance. The audience seemed to enjoy the semi-classical dance that the six girls including my daughter performed, on behalf of Pratham @ UH – a non-profit organization. The audience was quiet during their performance, clapping to the beat when the Taal song played and cheering the youngest performers of the evening, in a nice way; none of the hooting or whistling for our young teens, fortunately.

My daughter was rather intimidated at first, walking into a college campus for the first time in her life. She and her friends stuck together, feeling rather uncomfortable about being stared at, all dressed up as they were in their dance finery. But they enjoyed the evening and in typical American style did a little hooting on their own when they really liked something on stage, while I laughed sitting behind them. When they got a little too loud, I had to step in and ask them to tone it down a bit but it was with a smile on my face. (By the way, it took me a couple of years in this country to realize that this is one difference between Indian and American culture; that Indians hoot as a sign of disapproval whereas American children seem to hoot as a sign of approval or enjoyment.)

So to all you young college students, enjoy those few college years and make them really memorable. Well, hopefully without being foolish or ending up with any destructive life-time bad habits. (Sorry, that’s the mom in me.) And talking of the Circle of Life reminds me of the Elton John song in the Lion King movie, from where this phrase came and stayed in my mind.

The lyrics of the song are to some extent, quite representative of life, I feel, and they read;

From the day we arrive on the planet

And blinking, step into the sun

There's more to see than can ever be seen

More to do than can ever be done

There's far too much to take in here

More to find than can ever be found

But the sun rolling high

Through the sapphire sky

Keeps great and small on the endless round

It's the Circle of Life

And it moves us all

Through despair and hope

Through faith and love

Till we find our place

On the path unwinding

In the Circle

The Circle of Life”

~Mrs. Ansu Abraham

Un Humilde Comienzo, Un Magnífico Acabado!!

He called them on stage and some 500 odd joined their hands to honor the efforts of these good fellas! It was the final moment on 3rd April, 2009 when The President-GISO, delivered the vote of thanks, closing Maitri 2009 formally.

The evening was packed with total entertainment. Performances brought back retro-memories, portrayed the finesse of the modern, and flaunted the grace-gait of the otherwise academic human. While melodious rhythms spanned the auditorium, the elegance of kids had the audience in awe! As the people thought about dinner they were served food-for-thought by the organizers. The event unfolded gradually and all were glued to their chairs. The chief guest decided to put his phone on hold and wait an hour beyond his commitment. The Khators, opined that, this was no less than any other professional event on the block. Simply put, if you missed this… you’ve missed something. Un impresionante evento..!!

Why am I all praise for this… am I biased? I am not… what I saw, I am writing! (Don’t crib about the grammar.. get the idea… don’t go guessing my grades in school… !). Yeah, some say that a lot of improvements are needed. Some dances were not upto the mark, some songs were out of tune, the lights were on during animation, fashion show lost sync at one instance, they could have got a better script for the skit, the MC’s were not confident blah blah blah……. Ok… give em a break!!! These are a bunch of students who have sacrificed a lot, put a lot at stake and yes, don’t forget the ever demanding professors with their home-works and exams. By the way, these fellas are few thousand miles away from their comfort zones and with minimum resources, with little or no knowledge where to find those! In such hostile conditions and at such low cost, they provide a total fun filled, for-family, entertainment package with dinner… dare we criticize?

To put up an apparently flawless event of three hours it takes atleast couple of months of planning, tremendous practices (improvisations…!) and debates. The entire process revolves around eliminating and weeding out the deficiencies. It is a grueling task since there are few dozen people involved. The complexity lies not in the gigantic proportions of the task, but the nature of the task itself. There are multi-thronged issues like, multiple -participation due to over enthusiasm, different time commitments of individuals at different times, availability of participants, place and props and funds for those. The list just goes on. It’s the committee that has to deal with it and without letting it percolate to the participants who work religiously towards the goal.

To add to all this potpourri of issues is the fact that the organization is voluntary by nature and no one “has” to do anything. It’s the passion to do what needs to be done or the passion to excel that fuels the volunteers. Amazing things happen when this passion is at its peak. The mind stretches beyond its limits to find simple solutions to almost any problem. Some classics were seen this time too. Sand animation needed sand. Galveston grounds offered plenty and plenty was brought. No one gave a thought that it would be damp then. On the first day of practice, the sand didn’t move an inch, leave alone drawing a sketch. The VP- Finance decides to use a microwave at around 1 am somewhere in the school. On the day of the event, while two over-head-projectors were required, only one was available! Some bright mind thought of using a flexible lamp and the day was saved. A well trained couple decides to walk off the ramp for reasons best known to them. Hours of practice helps the other couples to follow them as if it were a part of the fashion show! It’s just amazing to see people being innovative and doing things impromptu.

What seems to be an awesome event to the audience is slightly less than what the performers are actually capable of putting up. If ever their best is to be seen, it is the practice before the event day. All is at stake, there is no audience pressure but the pressure of a performance is enough to bring out the best without messing around. All these efforts, stress, sacrifice and endurance culminate in an eventful evening like that of Maitri 2009 on the 3rd of April, 2009. Every year, for those who have been around long enough to see a change, there is something new, something better and it’s a sight to enjoy! A lot more can be written but its 2 am and I need to let the eyes drop down else it will be yet another lecture lost ‘morrow!

~Vikram Shete

A Content President

“You reap what you sow”… a phrase which is apt for Maitri 2009. The participants and the organizing committee put in a lot of hard work and were dedicated to make Maitri 2009 a huge success. Kudos to their efforts, for Maitri this year saw a record turnout of 517 people from all over Houston.

Amidst much pomp and grandeur the night was made special by several dance acts. A riot of colorful dresses with an excellent theme for the fashion show plus the vigorous dance movements to Rahman’s tunes got the crowd excited. The band from UH cast a spell on the audience with their melodious songs while the hilarious skit on “Ram Leela” by apna drama troupe 'Berozgaar Mandali’ got the audience in splits. Adding to the variety was the final event ‘ Sand Animation’ which probably(at least according to me ) was hosted for the First time in Houston. This was the cherry on of the cake, for the participants got four standing ovations during their 15- minute presentation.

Cheers to the entire team for pulling off one of the biggest and successful events of the year –Maitri 2009 and that too with ishtyle :)

Maitri 2009- a red letter day in the lives of the GISO committee 2008-2009 , an event full of memories which probably would accompany us till the very end.

~ Saravanan Srinivasan, President

Maitri- A Biased View

What a night it was!!! Aug 3rd “Friday night” - Maitri 2009 – Ah!! What started off as just another day involving the drudgery of my every day grad life, proved to be something quite different. Well, if you are still clueless about what I am referring to, then you need to flip through GISO’s calendar – I am talking about the performance at the aptly titled annual Indian graduate students’ fest – Maitri. The event turned out to be overwhelming, mesmerizing, fantabolous, marvelous, fascinating, enthralling, spellbinding, riveting, absorbing, engrossing, and most of all - invigorating. Hold on! Did you just say that the words mentioned above all mean the same? Hmmm – on second thoughts, may be you are right – however, when you need to describe the profound impact of a mere 3 hour show on your mind, you need the support of these words!

The show started at 5: 30 pm as per schedule. The invitees were treated to an art display at the hall entrance near the ticket counter. Arnika, Shantanu, Gauri and Trupti had put up their art creations and managed to draw the attention of a few who had a keen eye for art. I don’t intend to provide an all encompassing account of the whole fest here and I may skip mentioning a few events and the names of the participants involved. I missed a first few shows myself and wouldn’t be able to do justice to them by writing about them here. That’s the reason I have titled it a biased view – as these are solely my views J

Of the shows I missed was GISO president Sarvananan’s Welcome speech. Well I don’t regret having missed it much since I get to hear a lot from him on a frequent basis anyways :D ( jokes apart , it’s probably his high energy, non – stop Hindi oratory skills with liberal doses of a heavy south Indian accent that made him the GISO President in the first place.) Next came the invocation prayer and the songs, followed by the much awaited dance shows. Dance is said to be ‘art in motion’ and the performers proved it. The efforts that they had put in were evident in the splendid choreography, smooth synchronization and the neat performance for the ‘Desi-Girl’ song. Quoting from ‘The economist’ - “When Chiranjeevi entered the stage (during a political rally) the crowd threatened to boil and burst”. When, Kartik entered the stage to perform the mega-star Chiranjeevi’s song, the crowd response was no different. His performance could only be matched by his co-performer Shreyasee’s village belle act – complete with the appropriate histrionics and facial expression. Amidst deafening noise, Kartik danced to the tune of another popular Telugu song. The crowds went hysterical when he performed the “The veena step” during the Jalsa performance. The smoke screen effect for the dance brought in a new dimension to the performance. NGO Pratham had sponsored a dance show of its own – titled the ‘Kathak Swing’. This was followed by Shantanu and his group slicing the air with their slick dance moves. The rubber-like body twists and gravity defying ‘balancing on the toe’ acts were also impressive. The crowd was electrified. Hmmm, now did I forget something? Ah yes! There was of course the nostalgic 1960s dance song and the evergreen “Dhagala lagli kala” dance performce by “Sita” and group. Having lived in Pune myself, I couldn’t help lift a leg or two for this quintessential Marathi song while I was backstage. Now what was I doing backstage? Well, I was eagerly waiting for Sita to finish “his” dance show, rush backstage, wrap around a sari at the speed of rolling a chappati and get ready for our next show – a short skit titled “Ram-leela”

.“Ram-leela” proved to be quite a disaster – well almost. Sita’s ‘collar mike’ had slid down her sari and had managed to find its way to the ground. Ram’s arrow was supposed to strike Ravan at the 4th attempt but it pierced the center of ravan’s heart at the very 1st attempt. The ‘Berozgar’ drama company manager (myself) was so engrossed in enacting his dialogues that he barely noticed that he held his mike a meter away from his body – the clamorous crowd didn’t hear a word of what he said. In all the mayhem - Hanuman never got to know when his tail got detached. Hanuman’s weapon - Gadha, stubbornly refused to give-in to the physical force of the mighty Ravan and did not break as preplanned. The play’s director – Sarvanan , who sat in the front row with the chief guest , struggled to hide the surprised look on his face when the very same actors whom he had directed a few days ago, mouthed dialogues he had never heard before. But was anyone complaining? Not the crowd at least. When Ravan did his famous intimidating laughing act, the crowd played along with him and laughed too – this time even louder. When Ram entered the stage, the din of the crowd soared. Hmmm, there were a few jeers too such as a clearly audible loud and sarcastic “Wow!! What ye comedy” and “yeek-celle-ant” –as in ‘excellent’.

There was even an irrelevant but infamous kadigesta ninnu shout in Telugu– roughly translating to “I will teach you a lesson” that YSR had uttered to Chandra Babu. However, the fact remains, that no-one stood up, turned around , showed their backs to the stage or started clapping in the opposite direction - to demean the participants as it routinely happens in a few unfortunate fests that I have attended. The fact remains that a majority of the crowd lapped it up and had a hearty laugh.

The fashion show by Arnika was a bit of a show stopper. There was the ethnic round with the girls resplendent in their ethnic dress and the guys strutting their traditional wear. It was hard to not notice that two non – Indian couples also took part in the show, beaming in their sarees and kurthas. The tattoos - be it a well drawn swastika symbol on the arm or a complete back covering design on one of the male participants – all were in line with the dark theme of the fashion show. A few things that I still remember from the fashion show: Bhushan’s hat, Shantanu’s semi painted face and his robot like act, Atul strumming his guitar in the middle of the stage, the ‘Kaante’ Hindi movie act where a string of actors walk to the front of the stage at once – only this time, it was the ladies doing the act -all these added to the captivating experience. And who could forget that it was not the facial paint but the trade-mark gait and “slurp-slurp” act of Gangadhar that infused life into the villainous character of the infamous Joker. The lead girl couldn’t stop flaunting her cardboard wings –even after the show got over! My only regret is that Tejas should have been allowed to unmasked and reveal himself towards the end of the show, which he didn’t.

But it was the sand animation that stole everyone’s hearts. This was proven by the fact that it received four – I repeat – four standing ovations. A surge of patriotism rippled through the crowd when the Indian map was drawn impromptu, in sand. Be it the cute little toy train with "only Europeans" written on it or the more abstract figurine drawing of the Mahatma Gandhi himself – lean, clad in inexpensive dhoti and clutching a walking stick in one hand - the drawings brought new life to the story that Omkar narrated in a soothing voice. He ended the story by thanking GISO and calling it the ‘kalpataru’ – or the coconut tree symbolizing the ‘eternal giver’. Everything ended with a sumptuous dinner from Balaji Bhavan.

So did the whole three hour even unfold without any hick-ups? A day before the event only about 250 tickets had been sold. Minutes before the start of the fashion show, two participants realized that they had either lost or forgotten their costume at home. And , comparisons with the previous event – Maitri 2008 were inevitable. Whatever happened to post-event much awaited free for all dance party? It was held during Parichay. Last year too, it had been held all the way upto 11 pm in the night. I for one, distinctly remember that a few guys had pounced on poor Sarvanana (who was not yet the GISO President then ) during the post event jam session and had given him “birthday bumps”- even though it was not his birthday :D . Sarvananan had pushed me accidentally in the process, and I ended up completely drenched in the University Center’s underground fountain water!! We missed that fun this time. On a more serious note, a lot of guys did wait impatiently to show off-their amateur dance moves on the dance floor during the post-event jam session. It was only later that I became cognizant of the fact that committee had actually tried have one. The space for dance-floor, however, was not available at the University Center – as was the case last year. (The cougar den had been occupied for another event on the same night and this could have been the probable reason). In spite of all these difficulties, the fact remains that a record setting 514 tickets were sold as against the mere 400 plus sold the previous Maitri. This clearly indicates the new level of playing field that Maitri has forayed into!

As Mr Khator said, the chemistry between the lead comperes was commendable. A prize was given to the Anubhav cup winners – Team Ike team and also to the runners – up team. Navneeth, Prasahanth (Majithia) and Rahul were the extra helping hands at the ticket counter.

Hmmm - Aug 3rd “Friday night” - Maitri 2009 … Once again I recoil back in my cozy seat and say - What a night it was!!!

~Sandeep Bellure

Wednesday, April 1, 2009