BY MAHADEV DESAI
Atlanta, GA: Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA’s “Shaam-E-Sangeet” program was held at theI mpact Center of the Global Mall, Norcross, Georgia, on Sunday December 7, 2014. The program which showcased Atlanta’s well known, altruistic and popular Geet-Rung School of Dance and Music’s talented artists’ delightful presentation of old classics, ghazals, new upbeat numbers and a vibrant grand finale was well attended by the music-lovers of Atlanta who vied with each other to donate a record number of schools in one night!
Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation (EVF) is a non-profit organization which opens, supports and runs non-formal, one-teacher schools (vidyalayas) for the disadvantaged and neglected tribal and rural children ofIndia. By providing free basic education, healthcare, vocational training and social empowerment Ekal is bringing about far-reaching changes in ruralIndia. Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of India is the largest grassroots non-government education movement and has grown into a People’s movement with chapters in Australia, Canada, Dubai, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States (42 chapters).
It was a perfect Sunday evening. After a delicious dinner, the audience was abuzz with excited anticipation of the song and dance feast that was to follow. And they were not disappointed. The talented singers mesmerized them with sweet melodies of renowned singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh, Rahat Fateh Ali and Pankaj Udhaas. Rachna Gupta, gracefully and enthusiastically emceed the program. Divya Srivastava, Dance Director of Geet-Rung School of Dance and Music, lit the ceremonial lamp and commenced the evening’s program with a scintillating invocatory Om Namah Shivayah dance.
Geet-Rung had woven together myriad colors into the show: karaoke, singing with live instruments, riveting dances and vintage song medleys. On the stage, beautifully decorated by 5th Season,Atlanta’s proficient vocal artists, Pankaj Bhargava, Vandana Upadhyaya, Mahesh Patel, Indrani Danave and Muhi, were accompanied by skilled Tabla player, Dr. Nitin Mayur. At this event, Geet Bhargava (son of Pankaj and Divya) marked his delightfully impressive debut on the keyboard to his father’s seasoned harmonium playing.
Vandana opened with Rangeela Re and set the tone for Dil Dhoondhta Hai Phir Wahi, Ai Meri Zohra Zabeen, Ye Zindagi Useeki Hai all of which elicited a rousing applause. Mahesh sang Mukesh’s songs like Suhaana Safar, Kisi Ki Muskurahaton Pe Ho Nisaar, Kaee Baar Yun Bhi Dekha and Dil Ki Nazar Se with panache. Indrani Danave had chosen lilting numbers like Raat Akeli Hai, Piyu Bole, Sawaar Loon and Aao Huzur Tum Ko and soon had the audience humming to her melodious voice. Pankaj Bhargava was in his element, and the audience heard him singing, for the first time, Meri Pyari Bindu from Padosan film and two ghazals, Zindagi Ki Raaho Main and Nikalo Na Benakaab while playing the harmonium! The ghazals, sung with hypnotic cadence, transported the listeners into a meditative state. The entertainer of the night was Muhi who connected with the audience by stepping down from the stage into the aisles, singing classic Rahat Fateh Ali Khan numbers like Jiya Dhadak Dhadak, Main Tenu Samjhava, Laagi Tum Se Mann Ki Lagan and Arijit Singh’s Hum Tere Bin Ab Reh Nahi Sakte in his distinctive voice.
Divya and her well-trained dance students, Ananya Munjal, Akshita Sharma, Rachna Sahasrabuddhe and Anushka Pal presented captivating dances with gulaal and diyas. The final medley which brought the audience to the dance floor had ever-green favorites like Ude Jab Jab Zulfein Teri, Mach Gaya Shor, Jai Jai Shiv Shankar and ended with a garba to the fast beats of Nagade Sung Dhol Baaje! The evening ended with the audience dancing with abandon, very appropriately, to Kehte Hain Humko Pyaar Se Indiawaale!
Ekal’s slide show, presented by Rachna Gupta, highlighted the one-teacher school model which exists in all the Indian states, from Kashmir to Kerala, on an annual donation of only $365 providing basic education to nearly 20-30 students during the week and empowering the village adults through its saptahik paathshaala, or Sunday classes. Ekal currently runs 54,366 schools benefitting 1.52 million students, with an almost equal boy-girl ratio.
Audience members were vying with each other to donate schools. When one sponsor donated 5 schools and challenged someone to match it, it was matched immediately and then almost instantly another sponsor doubled it to 10 schools! Such was the energy in the room that soon thereafter several sponsors came in with 1 – 3 schools. Sadhana Windlass, a local artist, had donated her oil painting to Ekal as a token of appreciation to the legacy of free education started by her great grandfather. As she wished it was raffled to someone who understood Ekal’s message and sponsored a school at the event. Ekal encourages local artists to showcase and donate their talent much like the talented Monika Mittal had done in 2012 with several paintings made especially for Ekal and gifted to school sponsors at the end of the program.
With the 100 schools sponsored at this hugely entertaining night, Ekal, with its focused and dedicated officers and volunteers is slowing but surely inching towards its goal of 100,000 vidyalayas. Shiv Aggarwal, Atlanta Chapter President and Chander Aggarwal, Regional President gratefully thanked all the sponsors, donors, volunteers and supporters for lending a helping hand to Ekal. Shiv said they were not merely sponsoring a school but were actually engaged in nation-building because their support was going to bring all-round development in far flung villages inIndia. Rotary Club of Lake Spivey was recognized as a long-time supporter which has a “matching program” much like the program that some of the largerUScorporations have. Other clubs and organizations were also urged to join hands with Ekal to make it a much stronger movement.
All sponsors get a tax-deductible receipt and can track the progress of their school or donate at www.ekal.org. All in all, it was a well-organized, exuberant and much appreciated program in the festive month of December for a very worthy cause!