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VALLEY ROUNDUP | Woodland Hills

India Independence Party a 1st in Valley

August 20, 2000|ROBERTO J. MANZANO

Indian music played and women wearing long traditional dresses and scarves walked the grounds of Pierce College on Saturday, where a festival celebrating India's Independence Day was held in the San Fernando Valley for the first time.

The Valley's growing Indian population persuaded organizers to hold the 20th annual Festival of India here, said Inder Singh, chairman of the festival committee. The event had been held in Artesia.

Over the last two decades the Indian population has quadrupled in the Valley, now home to 50,000 people of Indian origin, Singh said.

Because India is composed of many distinct cultures and religions, and of people who speak various languages, celebrating Independence is a way to bring Indians together, said Singh, a Tarzana resident.

"It brings the entire community under one flag," he said. "It's a great occasion to demonstrate that the Indian community is here to stay."

"The U.S. is a diverse country and this is a perfect example of how diverse India itself is," added Samir Gandhi, 38, of Northridge. "We're very proud of our history and the way we got independence without violence."

Following a struggle of more than 70 years, India achieved its independence from the British on Aug. 15, 1947.

Festival-goers visited booths selling framed posters of Indian art, clothes and CDs. Filling the air was the aroma of such traditional dishes as saag paneer (creamed spinach with onions and cheese), naan bread and samosas stuffed with potatoes and peas.

The main events were a health seminar, followed by live music and dancers in traditional costumes.

For Ritu Mahindru, a 19-year-old Valencia woman, the festival was an important way to socialize with fellow Indians.

"You smell the food and you see your native clothing and you feel like you're not alone," said Mahindru, who wore a traditional salwar kameez, a long tunic and pants combination, for the event.

But not only Indians were enjoying the festival, which was expected to draw about 15,000 people.

"I was always interested in [Indian] culture because we're in the same neighborhood," said Nasrin Khalili, a 45-year-old Woodland Hills woman, who is Persian. "I love their dress, jewelry, food and dance."

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