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Celebrating India's Independence

Gujarati residents plan remembrance in classical theme.

August 25, 2000|ROSEMARY CLANDOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

To celebrate the anniversary of Indian independence from British rule, expatriates from the state of Gujarat in India will present an evening of Indian dance and music Saturday at Cal State Northridge.

Members of the San Fernando Valley Gujarati Assn. and their families will perform dramatic and comedy sketches, classical songs similar to opera, popular dance and Bharata Natyam, a type of classical dance that dates back to 4000 BC.

The local chapter of the Gujarati association was founded 20 years ago and is affiliated with a worldwide network that has been in operation for at least 50 years. Dhiren Patel, president of the local group that boasts 105 member families, estimates that 500 Indians live in the Valley.

"Our kids are going to grow and live here, so I want to make sure that our kids are adapted to the lifestyle, but make sure they don't forget about the Gujarati culture," Patel said.

Ancient Indian dance is based on Hindu themes, but often incorporates social issues, humor and the struggles and joys of life.

"Classical dance portrays everything from the untouchables to the imaginations of famous Indian poets," said Varuna Tejwani, who choreographed and wrote the story line for one of the dances that will be performed Saturday.

"We use a lot of eye, finger and hand movements," she said. "You can tell a whole story with your eyes and neck movements."

At other times, dancers use their entire bodies to express emotions.

"It takes a lot of dedication to show the rippling of waters, lightning, wildfire and the calm of the river," Tejwani said. "In Western dance, there is a lot of partial nudity. In jazz dance, you can wear a skirt that is knee-high, but in typical classical dance, the dancers have to be fully covered."

Abhi Parikh, 18, a freshman at UC Irvine, has a minor acting role in a comedy spoken in Gujarati. He said he had many high school friends who were not Indians.

"But my relationships with my Indian friends are a lot closer because I can relate to them with my culture," he said. "All of my friends are from this [Gujarati] group. It was one of the best things my parents could have done for me."

Jitendra Mehta, one of the founders of the Valley group, was only 6 years old on Aug. 15, 1947, when India achieved independence.

"I remember very little except that there were celebrations," said Mehta, a 59-year-old structural engineer. "It was joyous."

Under the Indian Independence Act of 1947, India and Pakistan were designated as independent dominions and were established along religious lines. Shortly after, Mehta said, he remembers there was rioting in Punjab among Muslims and Hindus who crossed the newly established borders of India and Pakistan.

And soon after, a famous Gujarati pacifist, Mohandas Gandhi, went on a fast to restore peace. Proud of their nonviolent leader, members of the Gujarati association said their objective is to celebrate an independent India and increase cultural understanding in the Valley.

BE THERE

Indian dance and music, Saturday, 6 p.m., Performing Arts Center, Cal State Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. Admission $5. (818) 368-1356.

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