BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
Photos by Arvind Shukla
Atlanta, GA, May 19, 2023: An exquisite hand painting of Radha Krishna and gopikas mirroring mythology in all its legendary glory weaved into six yards of a national symbol, the sari, rainbowed its way into the city. Every sari tells a story. This particular one, reflective of the popular state art of Odisha, Pattachitra Saree with Sambalpuri-Pasapali Cape adorned a woman representing her state. Tastefully paired with Odisha’s own silver filigree jewelry, Ranjita Palei didn’t just drape a sari, but a story. She didn’t just strike a pose for applause, but for purpose. And so did every woman who was part of the inaugural Sari Run/Walk event held in Atlanta.
Just as the ceremonial red ribbon ceremony concluded, the lush green pathways of Webb Bridge Park in Alpharetta, doused in vibrant colors, and accompanied by spunky Bollywood music, was a sight to behold as women draped in colorful designer saris walked the trails at the S2S Sari Run for Ma! event, organized by Saris to Suits ® on May 7, 2023.
Alpharetta Mayor Jim Gilvin headlined the Run along with guest speakers, Hetal Patel, Regional Services Administrator, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, and Harold D’Souza, a labor trafficking survivor. The event also featured a spectacular Sari Show showcasing Saris from various regions of India, conceptualized by Hetal Mehta, directed by Anima Das and an energetic Lezim dance, put together by Swetha Shetty, Henna art and cards made from previously owned saris, handmade by underprivileged women in India.
A first of its kind in the state of Georgia, the Sari Run/Walk created quite the buzz with an overwhelming response from the community. The lovely participants had all heads and eyes turning as they entered the park, flaunting their gorgeous apparel instantly drawing attention, exuding that good-old desi charm, amidst much camaraderie and laughter to quickly become the cynosure of the trails!
A week shy of Mother’s Day, the event was meant to honor mothers everywhere. “When I was young, my mother would wear saris to the grocery store. When we first got here, there were no Indians. And I would tell her to walk the other way. I didn’t want to be seen with her when everybody was staring. And my mother died at age 56. So, this is to honor my mom by wearing a sari on Mother’s Day and for cultural competency as well,” Patti Tripathi, Founder, Saris to Suits ® said about the inspiration for the event.
‘What a crowd, this is awesome,’ Mayor Gilvin began by applauding the turnout. “This is especially sentimental for me. I still have my mother. She’s 87 years old and she is a force of nature, still. And she taught me at an early age that women are the foundation of our society, “he added.
“One out of every four people in Alpharetta today was born outside of the United States of America. And that tells me a lot about the community we have built here, because it attracts people like yourselves from all over the world. And it wasn’t that you grew up here is that you wanted to live in a community like this. And so that’s what brings us all together – we’re all here for the same reason. We are for family, for economic growth, and a safe community together,” Mayor Gilvin said.
“I’m also very blessed to have a strong wife,” Mayor Gilvin said, adding that his wife who worked in technology, often speaks about the challenges women face in the workforce. The diversity of women isn’t always respected in the same way because she(his wife) finds that the men tend to respect women who act like men, and not appreciate the female perspective, he said. “And I’m very sensitive to that. But I know that our companies and our economy here in Alpharetta and the world could not thrive like we do, without all of you. And so to be able to help women advance their careers, as well as having a little fun out here and running is fantastic,” he said.
Founded in 2012 by Patti Tripathi—one of the first national news anchors of Indian origin and a global media professional, Saris to Suits ® is a charity that strives towards female empowerment, education and cultural competency. The focus of the organization is on building awareness and supporting key organizations in a concerted effort to break down the barriers that constrain the advancement of women and girls.
Born in India and bred in Indiana, Patti navigates between the worlds of Saris to Suits ®. he launched TriPath Media in 2006, traveled to Northern Africa on UN missions to train women political hopefuls amongst many other firsts. 2012 witnessed Saris to Suits ®come to fruition to make an incremental difference for women and girls so they can earn and achieve their fullest potential. After navigating the fallout from a traditional marriage, she has made an impact worldwide by using her voice to advocate for women and girls whose voices have systematically been silenced. She is one of the many women worldwide for whom Jyoti Singh or Nirbhaya’s rape and murder in 2012 was a tipping point to talk about women’s safety, security. empowerment and justice. That was the year Saris To Suits was founded.
Towards empowering women, Saris to Suits ® helps offset financial, legal, and lingual barriers to end gender-based violence, make available Saris to Suits ® Service, named Purple Lotus for victim assistance, provide fashion design and tailoring training to underprivileged families to get out of poverty with dignity, among others. Towards its goal of inspiring women, the organization mentors aspiring journalists who write digital narratives about trailblazers and cultural competency, published in its Omniscient Perspective section of the website, spread the word about inspirational women across the globe through digital media stories among others. The charity educates through training women with international fashion industry experts to tailor and design upcycled sari fabric, mentoring with writing skills, and raising awareness about circular economy and eco-friendly fashion practices with traveling sustainable boutique shows.
Aligning with its aim to serve by expanding Purple Lotus legal funds for survivors of gender-based violence and human trafficking, provide culturally tailored, comprehensive services, and conduct outreach and advocacy across communities to end gender violence, provide emotional/ mental health, language assistance, and legal services to help disadvantaged minority communities and partnering with mission aligned social enterprises for job creation amongst the underserviced, the Sari Run event featured talks from a mental health advocate and labor traffic survivor, along with upcycled products (Sari Cards) made by training disadvantaged women in India. Funds raised from the event will aid women through the Legal Fund.
“We have recently discovered that the number one cause of death between the ages of 10 and 14 is death by suicide,” Dr. Patel said. She highlighted the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline that provides 24/7, free and confidential crisis resources for everyone. On July 16, 2022, the federally mandated crisis number, 988, became available to all landline and cell phone users, providing a single three-digit number to access a network of over 200 local and state funded crisis centers. Dr. Patel also spoke about the Girls Summit initiative, that helps young girls understand the importance of mental health.
“I invite you to launch the Sari Run event in Cincinnati!” Labor trafficking survivor Harold D’Souza began.
Harold D’Souza, a survivor of labor trafficking and debt bondage in the United States of America shared his story of entanglement with a trafficker in pursuit of his American dream. Originally from India, D’Souza had Harold stepped down from a senior management position in hopes of a brighter future. Harold came to the U. S. following the advice and encouragement of a man who would become his trafficker. For over 18 months, Harold was exploited at the hands of the human trafficker, losing his freedom and struggling to keep his family safe.
“I failed on 4 ‘P’s –as a parent, provider, protector and a person but I flipped them into passion, purpose, power and prayer,” D’Souza said. Today, through his Eyes Open International, he hopes to lead the charge against modern-day slavery. “I am very passionate about Patti and her work. I’m meeting her for the first time today, but spiritually I respect her a lot. I always believe that we men must regard, respect, recognize and reward women,” he said.
The warm and sunny day turned brighter as lead Hetal Mehta walked the pathway draped in fuchsia pink followed by Bhrushira Vyas, Meghana Naik, Ranjita Palei, Nirlep Kaur, Anima Das, Ritambhara Mittal, Priya Kumar, Lakshmi Mandavilli, Heena Patel, Karishma Gulati, all bedecked in traditional regional attire accompanied by regional music and dance routines.
The excitement was palpable as the crowd cheered on and the enigmatic Lezim dance group, including Sweta Shetty, Neetu Singh Chauhan, Snehal Gandhi and Jyoti Polasa kicked up a storm with their rhythmic beats and synchronized choreography.
Board members Parul Jha, Veena Rao and Jyothsna Hegde along with Patti Tripathi led the efforts in organizing the event.
“It took months of preparation and reaching out to local groceries and chains for refreshments. “Everyone was so forthcoming!” Jha said.
Rao thanked the sponsors, donors, and supporters including Publix, InsuranceWala, Mr. Narender Reddy, Isha Foundation, Ganesh Temple of Atlanta, Heartfulness, Neelima Gaddamanagu of Nataraja Natyanjali, Aparna Basker, Bala and Madhavi Indurti, Radhika Chopra, Mita Sheth, and Anupa Thakurta of Deeksha School of Performing Arts.
“Jhansi Reddy traveled all the way from Albany, Georgia with her son to coordinate with the team of young enthusiastic volunteers,” she said.
She also thanked John’s Creek Council member Bob Erramilli and local services that came forward to support a good cause– Arvind Shukla for photography, Farhat’s Henna Art for the complimentary henna, the energetic Lezim performers who had put in hours of practice, and the beautifully choreographed sari show led by Hetal Mehta and Anima Das.
Representatives from Khabar Magazine, and TV Asia were present to show solidarity with the cause.
“NRI Pulse was happy to partner with Saris to Suits in organizing the run,” said Rao, who is the founding editor of the Atlanta-based publication. “Not only did we raise funds to benefit victims of sex trafficking and domestic abuse, we also played a part in popularizing the saree in mainstream America.”
Through the efforts of Chautan Denis, for those unable to attend in person, a nationwide virtual sari Run/walk was also made available.
The first mention of sari, meaning a ‘strip of cloth’ in Sanskrit, dates back to 3000 B.C, in the Rig Veda. The Sari has come a long way since then. Women draped in dazzling and diverse variations of the iconic sari to support, empower and inspire other women and to honor the one woman who is always special, her mother, was truly a run to remember. And to be part of a city and country that embraces diversity is truly a blessing. As Hegde put it, “Be it sari or a suit, our pursuits and dreams are only limited by our thoughts, and not our culture, clothing, or any barriers and this is proof of that.” So, let’s get set. Drape. Run!