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Benefactor behind Maximum India festival in US elated over success

March 28, 2011 13:30 IST

Ranvir Trehan is finally relaxed but still caught up in the euphoria over the Maximum India festival's massive success. For the last two years, the leading technology entrepreneur and philanthropist helped put together the festival at the Kennedy Center as both a major benefactor through his Trehan Foundation, established with wife Adarsh, and also as the indefatigable outreach point man for the extravaganza.

At the inaugural dinner March 1, David M Rubenstein, chairman, Kennedy Center, specially mentioned Trehan. Through his foundation, Trehan not only contributed over $ 250,000 toward the festival, but also bought two tables at $50,000 each at the black-tie inaugural dinner. More importantly, he noted, Trehan  was energetically involved in the outreach efforts to raise funds and publicise the festival in the community and the corporate sector, particularly the information technology sector including in Silicon Valley, California.

The Romesh and Kathleen Wadhwani Foundation led by Palo Alto-based IT entrepreneur Romesh Wadhwani and his wife also contributed over $ 250,000 for the festival. There were major contributions by the likes of PepsiCo, the Tata Group, and Tata Consultancy Services. But no one was as hands-on as Trehan, who has served on the Kennedy Center's International Committee for the Arts for nearly three years, in working with the Kennedy Center team led by Michael Kaiser, in bringing Maximum India together.

Trehan, who was at the Kennedy Center every day through the festival, said he felt "a tremendous sense of fulfillment and joy" over the endeavour's success. "When we first started work on this festival, as we did on the nuclear deal, I thought it's going to be a tough ride in pulling it all together. But as we prevailed on the nuclear deal, in this too, with the shows sold out weeks before the festival started and lines standing for hours to get a seat for the free shows, we hit the ball out of the park."

Over three years ago, Trehan, who came to the United States in 1964, was part of the 'A-team' of Indian-American entrepreneurs North Carolina entrepreneur Swadesh Chatterjee put together to lobby US lawmakers to approve the civilian nuclear deal with India.

What was also so gratifying about Maximum India, Trehan continued, was the massive presence of non-Indians besides the thousands of Indian Americans. "We were able to do India and the Indian American community proud."

Trehan said his involvement had begun with Kaiser's predecessor Steve Schwarzman, "who mentioned to me that such a festival was in the works and would I be involved. I said sure, and a few months later, when Kaiser took over, I got a letter from him, inviting me to take a leadership role in organising the festival."

Trehan said while he was involved with the selection of artists and performers, his major contribution was in terms of outreach. "Trying to convince Indian Americans to get involved in terms of fundraising so that we can also assist in getting world-class performers. I hosted several events at my home, and we joined in several that we did at the Kennedy Center. It was 90 percent in the Washington, DC, and metropolitan DC area and 10 percent outside, including Silicon Valley, New York and a few other places," he said.

The outreach was imperative, he said, "because besides making sure that there was enough funding that comes from Indian Americans and showing that we had a stake in the festival's success, we also had to get the word out to make sure there was enough interest in the performances to make the ticketed events viable."

"It's not easy to raise funds of the magnitude we needed, since it was a project that required a budget of at least $5 million. But several people came through with substantive amounts and in the end, between the Indian-American community and Indian-American business and the American business interested in India, we pulled through."

Like many Maximum India regulars, Trehan said, "The highlight for me too was The Manganiyar Seduction. But there was also Zakir Hussain at the opening and Zakir Hussain with the National Symphony Orchestra."

Hussain, who has collaborated with artists as diverse as Yo-Yo Ma, the late Beatle George Harrison, and Bela Fleck, played tabla with the NSO conducted by Christoph Eschenbach and with mezza-soprano Kelley O'Connor and Indian vocalists Shankar Mahadevan and Hariharan in the world premiere of Hussain's newest work, an NSO commission written in honor of Maximum India.

This composition by Hussain combined elements of Hindu ragas and talas, Sufi kalam and Christian church music, which Hussain described as a "concerto for four soloists."

Trehan said, "There were also tremendous performances of Naseeruddin Shah (and his Motley Theatre Group's Ismat Apa Ke Naam), and Shabana Azmi (Broken Images)… Frankly, they were all wonderful in different respects."

What was most thrilling for him, he said, was that "the American public at large got a slice of India. It put India in such a wonderful light."

Trehan hoped his involvement would spur other Indian-American entrepreneurs and philanthropists to get involved in mainstream endeavours across the country. "This is the only way we can prove to the American society at large that our community has arrived and is an integral part of the mainstream community even in the world of arts and culture," he said.

Trehan currently is vice chairman of Apptis Holdings, Inc, a professional services and technology deployment company with offices worldwide and revenues exceeding  $800M, which acquired SETA in 2004 for nearly half a billion dollars. Prior to that, Trehan was CEO of SETA Corporation, which serves as the platform for Apptis.

Trehan received his bachelors in electrical engineering from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, a masters in operations research from the University of Michigan, and a masters of business administration from the University of Dayton. He has also completed the PhD coursework at George Washington University. 

In terms of his philanthropic activities, he has been a board member of CARE since 2009 and was a board member of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in Virginia from 2004 to 2010.

In 2005, he donated $50,000 for his alma mater BITS and to date is the single biggest donor in the alumni history of the institute.

Crediting the University of Michigan as the springboard for his success, the Trehan Foundation in 2007 also donated $1 million to it to encourage current and future collaborations between the university and India.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC