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No matter where we are in New York, we are also Indians
August 22, 2006
Since the inception of the parade in the 1980s -- when there were less than 800,000 Indians in the US -- the annual event has grown in large proportions. There have been occasional hiccups and even ugly incidents. In the early 1990s a fight broke out at the parade, and one person was shot.
But to my knowledge, the New York parade has never experienced an unpleasant incident such as the one from a couple of weeks ago, where Bipasha Basu was reportedly mistreated by a couple of New Jersey parade organizers.
A few years ago Shah Rukh Khan -- the announced grand marshal of the New York parade, failed to show up, much to the disappointment of his many followers in the city.
Khan did appear at a post-parade dinner hosted by the organizers for the sponsors and their families. But only a few privileged people belonging to the parade's inner circle got to see the star. And then one year, Jackie Shroff -- who was also supposed to lead the parade, was a no-show. But none of this tends to deter the hardy desi New Yorkers.
For a city with one of the largest concentration of Indian Americans, New York has a busy desi social calendar -- from dance parties, to Bollywood stars and musical events, book readings, panel discussions and even occasional political protests.
But more that any other desi event in the city (even topping the annual Diwali mela held at South Street Seaport), the India Day parade tends to bring out Indians of all ages, class, and immigration history background. It is one event that breaks all barriers and divisions of our immigrant lives in New York City.
On a Sunday afternoon, in a few blocks in downtown Manhattan, we can see investment bankers, dressed in shorts, expensive shirts and designer sun glasses, men in kurtas, women in elaborate silk saris, and the young teenagers from pockets of Queens, in baggy pants, extra-large size T-shirts, spiked hair, large tattoos, and facial hair that give them more of a Latino look.
Some movie stars do add to the attraction. Amitabh Bachchan and Manisha Koirala were the chief guests at the parade in 1997, marking India's 50th anniversary. But this year's grand marshal was Amisha Patel -- a Bollywood star, hardly a top draw in the US (other than perhaps among the Gujarati community).
In any case the organizers kept her away from the public. And so very few people actually got to see the Tufts University-educated star or even listen to her words of wisdom.
A lot of people come to the parade, inspired by some sort of patriotism. There was enough display of India's national flag at the parade. In the middle of the food court area, right next to the Madison Avenue park, a group of 20-something Indian-Americans, were seen waving flags, dancing and shouting pro-India slogans. People wore t-shirts with saffron, white and green colors and some even came with their faces painted -- inspired by the images they have seen at cricket matches.
And some wore the official uniform of the Indian cricket team -- blue T-shirts with the Indian flag painted as a brush stroke.
And one television company came up with a clever marketing idea. They gave away plastic bracelets with the tricolors -- inspired by the Livestrong wristband launched by the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
The tricolor bracelets were one of the hottest freebie items at this year's parade. The company ran out of the bracelets, long before the event was over.
The food is always a huge draw. No matter how hot and muggy it may be, the India Day parade is a great place to pick up a sampling of Indian cuisines -- street foods like Paav Bhaji, Bhel Puri, Chana Batura, Dhokla, Dosas, Tandoori meat preparations, and sweets -- Jalebis and Barfis, topped with that ideal summer desert, kulfi, on a stick.
One enterprising restaurant even carried bottles of Limca and Fanta -- two soft drinks that always take me back to my childhood days in Delhi. Nostalgia bottled with sugar, artificial lime and orange flavors, and sold for a mere two dollars.
But most people turned up just to enjoy an afternoon, to celebrate India, to make a statement that we are all Indians, and to be seen and to meet other fellow desis.
Our daily lives in New York can be quite stressful and demanding. We are busy -- at work, picking up children from schools or their baseball and soccer games, running to grocery stores, cooking meals, catching up with our spouses, friends, other loved ones and acquaintances. Life in America can become mundane.
The India Day parade gives us a chance to take a pause, reminisce a little about where we all came from and to recognize the fact that no matter where we are in our state of life in New York City, we are also Indians.