Tuesday, April 08, 1997

Rhythm of diversity

Rhythm of diversity
The Chicago Maroon
By Pamela Appea

Crushed rose petals welcomed students, faculty, parents, and community residents as they flooded into Mandel Hall for the tenth annual South Asian Students Association (SASA) cultural program this past Saturday evening, April 5th. The three-and-a-half hour event drew approximately one thousand people.

“SASA keeps on outdoing themselves each year,” said Sina Soneji, A.B. ’96 and a current MBA/MPH student at the University of Illinois.

“This is the first time that I’ve sat on this end [as an audience member] and the acts in the show look amazing,” said Soneji, who performed in previous SASA cultural shows during her undergraduate years.

“This is one of the best student productions that I’ve seen. The skits were funny. The music [both vocal and instrumental] was great; everyone is really talented,” said Joseph Ravenell, a first-year U of C medical student.

The cultural show included over 150 student in a variety of mediums. Students participated in roles that involved everything from lighting to playing in the pit orchestra to acting in “Devon Love Story,” a comic skit. A post-show was also sponsored by SASA.

The total cost incurred for the SASA cultural show was $16,500. According to third-year student and SASA Vice President Vasant Narasimhan, a combination of corporate and business funds, Student Government financing and ticket sales made the show possible.

Tickets for the SASA cultural show, which included a pre-show dinner, were fifteen dollars for non-students and ten dollars for students. Many felt that the cultural show was well worth their while and money.

“The show is most definitely a group effort,” said Sakina Shikari, show director and entertainment chair.

According to Shikari, a SASA show committee is organized at the end of Autumn Quarter to make decisions about the program and dinner.

“Of course juggling over twenty acts, a combination of dance, vocals, instrumentals, and acting that spans through a millennium of talent—from the days of the Mahabaratha [an ancient Hindu epic] to modern day “Bollywood” films [movies made in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, which are famous for their love stories]—has its stressful moments,” Shikari said, “but over the years SASA has developed a system of department chairs which makes the entire process run much more smoothly.”

By including an array of South Asian cultural acts in the show, the members of SASA hoped to represent the diversity of the Indian subcontinent.

“This year’s SASA show was fun, exhilarating, and educational for the crowd as well as the participants,” said Neil Gupta, president of SASA. Gupta sang Qawwali music in the show and also played the drunken uncle in “Devon Love Story.”

The event was emceed by Aparna Mani, a third-year student in the College and Torun Mathias, a second-year student in the college.

A song named “Chota Khayal” which is a Raga Bhairav, or a traditional melody in Hindustani classical music, started off the program. Sunit Singla, a third-year student in the College sang this song, and Shishir Maithel accompanied him on the tabla or India drums.

“The genre in which this [particular] raga is expressed is Khayal, which means ‘thought’ or ‘impression.’ Khayal texts are rooted in both Hindu and Muslim poetic traditions and usually address romantic or devotional themes,” said a SASA spokesperson.

Panch Bhutam, a classical Hindu dance, followed the raga. It was “meant to evoke the five essential elements of nature” water, wind, fire, sky and earth,” explained Mathias.

“O My Native land,” a piece of modern Urdu poetry, from the tradition of Northern India and Pakistan, was sung by Saira Malik, SASA secretary and a third-year student.

“This year, 1997, marks both the independence of India and Pakistan, and this makes this Urdu poetry especially relevant,” said Mani.

Another act later in the program consisted of traditional South Asian music which is known as Qawwali music, a traditional Sufi music. This kind of Sufi music originates from Northern India and Pakistan and follows the tradition of the renowned Warsi brothers, who, over the centuries, have kept the tradition of this sacred music alive.

“It was so intense, my eyes were closed and it was almost as if you forgot you were on-stage,” said second-year student Saurabh Tandon, who was one of three singers of “Dama Dam Mast Qalandar,” a popular Qawwali song sang in a folk Sindhi style.

Other dances in the cultural show included a two-part fashion segment, an enthusiastic piece “I a m a Disco Dancer” from the 1970s Bollywood film Disco Dancer, a colorful Guajarati Garba Ras dance and Bhangra, a Punjabi dance style traditionally performed to celebrate harvests and weddings.

“The [cultural show] reflected the diversity of South Asia,” said Professor Arar Malik of the School of Medicine at the University of Illinois. Malik added, “South Asia is not monolithic.”

South Asia includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. During the fashion show, many individuals showcased the traditional costumes from these different, diverse South Asian cultures.

The music in the comic skits, fashion shows, and the interludes of the pit orchestra showcased modern South Asian music, which often reflected a blend of Western influence. The Western influence was exhibited by an upbeat tempo, and the clothes were a little less traditional although still displaying South Asian characteristics, according to third-year student Gautham Nagabhushana.

“All in all, this night has been great. I feel strongly that SASA as an organization will grow and that the [cultural] show itself will continue to get better and better in the years to come,” said /Gupta.

SASA held a pre-show buffet style dinner at Ida Noyes from 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. The South Asian cuisine, catered by the Tiffin Room Restaurant on Devon Street included samosas, tandoori chicken, basmati rice and rogan josh.

Originally published April 8, 1997
Originally published April 8, 1997