Indian community

Hindu Festival of Colors Lights Up Fairgrounds Saturday

Dan Craft

The Pantagraph

If a rainbow suddenly turned to powder and poured down in Technicolor torrents over the McLean County fairgrounds this Saturday, you'd get something close to the second annual Festival of Colors.

The event, a local version of Holi, the ancient Hindu religious festival, is brought to us in living color ... literally.

"For the first event last year, we had a little over 250 pounds of colored powder," notes event co-organizer Vinod Nambiar. 

It was completely gone before the event was scheduled to end ... "up in the air, on the floor, everywhere."

Color, you see, is the whole point of Holi, a spring-based festival celebrated mostly India and Nepal in February or March.

As part of the celebratory rituals, colored powders are flung every which way ... dabbed over faces, smeared on clothes, tossed into the air, thrown underfoot and generally left permeating every pore and molecule.

The Twin Cities' version of Holi debuted in late March of last year inside Bloomington's Interstate Center.

It was the brainchild of fellow State Farm Insurance employees Nambiar and Leyons Philip, both members of B-N's Indian fusion band, Exit 167 (named after the I-55 exit ramp into town where the men found their fellowship and music).

Hoping to spread the music of Exit 167 outside their built-in audience of B-N's Indian-Asian community, the men decided to branch out into event management.

Their first endeavor was last year's initial Festival of Colors, a many-hued success for all concerned.

"Holi is basically a celebration of friendship, unity and togetherness ... a festival of love," says Nambiar. "In recent years, they've started spreading out of India and into Europe and the United States."

Nambiar and Philip put their heads together. "Let's try to do this here in a big way the first time."

Hence their choice of the Interstate Center, where they figure around 500 or 600 people would turn out to toss colored powder and enjoy some food and music on the side. 

To their surprise, double that number turned out. "People were ecstatic ... they loved it. And the kids had a ball," recalls Nambiar.

Best of all, he says, the crowd mix wasn't exclusively Asian-Indian, with an estimated 35 to 40 percent of the attendees hailing from outside that community.

For the second fest, the organizers decided to move the event into April and outdoors, the McLean County fairgrounds.

A large, 5,500-square-foot tent will provide protection of the weather doesn't cooperate.

About that colored powder, which is central to the festival's hourly "Throwing of Color" rituals: "It is 99.97 percent cornstarch-based," notes Nambiar, meaning it won't stain or wreak other fabric havoc.

The powder comes in five colors representing love, forgiveness and other matters of the heart and soul: red, neon green, yellow, orange and blue.

During the throws, the power will be tossed into the air and allowed to permeate the atmosphere as well as cover the floor, says Nambiar.

In addition, everyone entering the festival gate will be marked with a dab of color on the forehead or skin area of your choosing (not mandatory).

Thereafter, you're on your own.

"There are some do's and don'ts," Nambiar adds. "We discourage people from bringing in any outside colors. That's to assure that we know everything is 100 percent safe and organic."

In addition, "We do tell people not to dress in their best." Though the colors won't stain, the substance will cling to clothes and shoes.

"So we try to tell people to make sure you shake really well before you get into your car to leave," he says. "And then take a warm shower when you get home."

Stop Hate Together Event Counters Recent Violence

A NIOTBN “Stop Hate Together” rally is planned for Thursday, March 9, 6:30 p.m., at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Hansen Center, 300 Beecher Street, Bloomington.

March 9 would have been Srinivas Kuchibhotla’s 33rd Birthday; Kuchibhotla was the young Indian engineer shot in Olathe, Kansas on February 22.  On Friday, March 3, a Sikh American was shot and wounded in his driveway in Kent, Washington.  Meanwhile, threats against Jewish centers and the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis have also raised concerns.

“As a South Asian community, we are tense and apprehensive,” said Illinois State University professor Archana Shekara, immediate past-president of the McLean County India Association.  “We appreciate Not In Our Town and the community coming together to affirm our positive presence in McLean County and to uphold our rights within this country.” 

Shekara estimates there are over 5,000 South Asians in Bloomington-Normal.

 Various faith leaders, immigrants from diverse backgrounds and area high school students will speak during the event.

 The event is free and open to the public

Tenth Festival of India September 17 on ISU Quad

McLean County India Association cordially invites everyone to the 10th Festival of India, Saturday, September 17 from noon to 6 p.m. on the Illinois State University Quad.

The annual event is an opportunity to showcase and share Indian culture and tradition with the community. It gives visitors the chance to learn about the history of India, and what makes the country unique.

Admission to the festival is free and open to the entire community.

The festival will present Indian States Parade, Children and Adult Cultural Program, Bollywood Band, Workshops on Yoga, Meditation, Pranayama, and BollyX (Bollywood Dance Fitness). The day will also offer Henna and Face painting, Crafts and Jewelry, Indian sports for children, Balloon art and a Bounce house.

A variety of North and South Indian, and street food will be offered.

The Festival of India was awarded a Mirza Arts and Culture Grant from Illinois Prairie Community Foundation in 2016 and Harmon Arts Grant Award from Town of Normal in 2012! MCIA thanks both organizations for their generosity.

Sponsors include MCIA, Illinois State University’s Office of the President, College of Fine Arts, and Indian Student Association.

Blackness: A Beauty Screens Sunday at Normal Library

The anti-racist short film, Blackness: A Beauty, premieres at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at the Normal Public Library.

Inspired by #BlackLivesMatter, this short film follows the story of a local Indian-American Bloomington teenager as he goes to Africa to explore the power of black culture but instead is confronted by his own emotional insecurities about growing up brown in America, as well as his own inner racist qualities.

This comedic, yet thoughtful short film explores the ago-old spiritual question of "who am I?" in our modern day, racially divided world. Racist qualities live in our society, but have they been transferred to us?

Snack on hot double chocolate brownies and watch the short film followed by a workshop and group conversation on confronting racism.

Man Who Knew Infinity Studies Knowledge, Colonialism

The Man Who Knew Infinity, an autobiographical film about an Indian mathematician that explores early 20th Century colonialism, opens June 3, 5, 8, and 10 at the Normal Theater.

The 2015 film, based on the 1991 book of the same name by Robert Kanigel, stars Dev Patel as the real-life Srinivasa Ramanujan, a mathematician who after growing up poor in Madras, India, earns admittance to Cambridge University during World War I, where he becomes a pioneer in mathematical theories with the guidance of his professor, G. H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons).

The PG-13 film is part of the Beyond Normal Films Series promoting foreign, American independent, and documentary films with the Normal Theater and the Bloomington-Normal community.


The Bookshelf: Sociopolitics, Sex, and Religion

In tough social, political, and interpersonal times, where do you go? How about the library?

The Normal Public Library's latest nonfiction acquisitions offer in-depth perspectives on the religious conflicts that continue to reverberate in the post-9/11 world, the racial dynamics that spark heated debate and dialogue in our cities, and the gender politics that influence individual rights and opportunities.

Here's a sampling:

Not In God's Name: In this powerful and timely book, one of the most admired and authoritative religious leaders of our time tackles the phenomenon of religious extremism and violence committed in the name of God. If religion is perceived as being part of the problem, Rabbi Sacks argues, then it must also form part of the solution. When religion becomes a zero-sum conceit—that is, my religion is the only right path to God, therefore your religion is by definition wrong—and individuals are motivated by what Rabbi Sacks calls “altruistic evil,” violence between peoples of different beliefs appears to be the only natural outcome. But through an exploration of the roots of violence and its relationship to religion, and employing groundbreaking biblical analysis and interpretation, Rabbi Sacks shows that religiously inspired violence has as its source misreadings of biblical texts at the heart of all three Abrahamic faiths -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Why Be Jewish?: Completed in December 2013, just weeks before he passed away, WHY BE JEWISH? expresses Edgar Bronfman's awe, respect, and deep love for his faith and heritage. Bronfman walks readers through the major tenets and ideas in Jewish life, fleshing out their meaning and offering proof texts from the Jewish tradition gleaned over his many years of study with some of the greatest teachers in the Jewish world. Bronfman shares In WHY BE JEWISH? insights gleaned from his own personal journey and makes a compelling case for the meaning and transcendence of a secular Judaism that is still steeped in deep moral values, authentic Jewish texts, and a focus on deed over creed or dogma.

We Too Sing America: Many of us can recall the targeting of South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh people in the wake of 9/11. We may be less aware, however, of the ongoing racism directed against these groups in the past decade and a half. In We Too Sing America, nationally renowned activist Deepa Iyer catalogs recent racial flashpoints, from the 2012 massacre at the Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, to the violent opposition to the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and to the Park 51 Community Center in Lower Manhattan. Author Iyer asks whether hate crimes should be considered domestic terrorism and explores the role of the state in perpetuating racism through detentions, national registration programs, police profiling, and constant surveillance.

The Long Emancipation: Perhaps no event in American history arouses more impassioned debate than the abolition of slavery. Answers to basic questions about who ended slavery, how, and why remain fiercely contested more than a century and a half after the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment. In The Long Emancipation, Ira Berlin draws upon decades of study to offer a framework for understanding slavery’s demise in the United States. Freedom was not achieved in a moment, and emancipation was not an occasion but a near-century-long process—a shifting but persistent struggle that involved thousands of men and women. Berlin teases out the distinct characteristics of emancipation, weaving them into a larger narrative of the meaning of American freedom. The most important factor was the will to survive and the enduring resistance of enslaved black people themselves. In striving for emancipation, they were also the first to raise the crucial question of their future status. If they were no longer slaves, what would they be?

The Black Presidency: A provocative and lively deep dive into the meaning of America's first black presidency, from “one of the most graceful and lucid intellectuals writing on race and politics today” (Vanity Fair). Michael Eric Dyson explores the powerful, surprising way the politics of race have shaped Barack Obama’s identity and groundbreaking presidency. How has President Obama dealt publicly with race—as the national traumas of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott have played out during his tenure? What can we learn from Obama's major race speeches about his approach to racial conflict and the black criticism it provokes? Dyson explores whether Obama’s use of his own biracialism as a radiant symbol has been driven by the president’s desire to avoid a painful moral reckoning on race. And he sheds light on identity issues within the black power structure, telling the fascinating story of how Obama has spurned traditional black power brokers, significantly reducing their leverage. 

Negroland: At once incendiary and icy, mischievous and provocative, celebratory and elegiac — here is a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, and American culture through the prism of author Margo Jefferson’s rarefied upbringing and education among a black elite concerned with distancing itself from whites and the black generality while tirelessly measuring itself against both. Born in upper-crust black Chicago—her father was for years head of pediatrics at Provident, at the time the nation’s oldest black hospital; her mother was a socialite—Margo Jefferson has spent most of her life among (call them what you will) the colored aristocracy, the colored elite, the blue-vein society. Since the nineteenth century they have stood apart, these inhabitants of Negroland, “a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty.” Reckoning with the strictures and demands of Negroland at crucial historical moments—the civil rights movement, the dawn of feminism, the fallacy of postracial America—Jefferson brilliantly charts the twists and turns of a life informed by psychological and moral contradictions. Aware as it is of heart-wrenching despair and depression, this book is a triumphant paean to the grace of perseverance.

Show Me A Hero: Not in my backyard -- that's the refrain commonly invoked by property owners who oppose unwanted development. Such words assume a special ferocity when the development in question is public housing. Lisa Belkin penetrates the prejudices, myths, and heated emotions stirred by the most recent trend in public housing as she re-creates a landmark case in riveting detail, showing how a proposal to build scattered-site public housing in middle-class neighborhoods nearly destroyed an entire city and forever changed the lives of many of its citizens.

Trans Portraits: A fascinating collective memoir of the lives and experiences of 34 transgender people, in their own voices.

The Gay Revolution: The sweeping story of the modern struggle for gay, lesbian, and trans rights—from the 1950s to the present—based on amazing interviews with politicians, military figures, legal activists, and members of the entire LGBT community who face these challenges every day. The fight for gay, lesbian, and trans civil rights—the years of outrageous injustice, the early battles, the heart-breaking defeats, and the victories beyond the dreams of the gay rights pioneers—is the most important civil rights issue of the present day. Based on rigorous research and more than 150 interviews, The Gay Revolution tells this unfinished story not through dry facts but through dramatic accounts of passionate struggles, with all the sweep, depth, and intricacies only award-winning activist, scholar, and novelist like Lillian Faderman can evoke. The Gay Revolution begins in the 1950s, when law classified gays and lesbians as criminals, the psychiatric profession saw them as mentally ill, the churches saw them as sinners, and society victimized them with irrational hatred. Against this dark backdrop, a few brave people began to fight back, paving the way for the revolutionary changes of the 1960s and beyond. Faderman discusses the protests in the 1960s; the counter reaction of the 1970s and early eighties; the decimated but united community during the AIDS epidemic; and the current hurdles for the right to marriage equality.

The Only Woman in the Room: In 2005, when Lawrence Summers, then president of Harvard, asked why so few women, even today, achieve tenured positions in the hard sciences, Eileen Pollack set out to find the answer. A successful fiction writer, Pollack had grown up in the 1960s and ’70s dreaming of a career as a theoretical astrophysicist. Denied the chance to take advanced courses in science and math, she nonetheless made her way to Yale. There, despite finding herself far behind the men in her classes, she went on to graduate summa cum laude, with honors, as one of the university’s first two women to earn a bachelor of science degree in physics. And yet, isolated, lacking in confidence, starved for encouragement, she abandoned her ambition to become a physicist. Years later, spurred by the suggestion that innate differences in scientific and mathematical aptitude might account for the dearth of tenured female faculty at Summer’s institution, Pollack thought back on her own experiences and wondered what, if anything, had changed in the intervening decades. Based on six years interviewing her former teachers and classmates, as well as dozens of other women who had dropped out before completing their degrees in science or found their careers less rewarding than they had hoped, The Only Woman in the Room is a bracingly honest, no-holds-barred examination of the social, interpersonal, and institutional barriers confronting women—and minorities—in the STEM fields.

Everyday Sexism: The Everyday Sexism Project was founded by writer and activist Laura Bates in April 2012. It began life as a website where people could share their experiences of daily, normalized sexism, from street harassment to workplace discrimination to sexual assault and rape. The Project became a viral sensation, attracting international press attention from The New York Times to French Glamour, Grazia South Africa, to the Times of India and support from celebrities such as Rose McGowan, Amanda Palmer, Mara Wilson, Ashley Judd, James Corden, Simon Pegg, and many others. The project has now collected over 100,000 testimonies from people around the world and launched new branches in 25 countries worldwide. The project has been credited with helping to spark a new wave of feminism.



2016 Asia Film Festival Offers Quartet of Acclaimed Works

The 2016 AsiaConnect Film Festival kicks off April 14 with four nights of acclaimed international hits examining life and struggles in Korea, India, Japan, and China.

Here are this year's offerings:

April 14, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Treeless Mountain

Jin (Hee Yeon Kim) and her younger sister, Bin (Song Hee Kim), are left by their mother (Soo Ah Lee) with Big Aunt (Mi Hyang Kim). The girls' mother is trying to hunt down their father. She gives them a piggy bank, telling her daughters that when it is full of coins she will return. Big Aunt is an alcoholic who neglects to look after the children. By selling roasted grasshoppers, the two girls manage to take care of themselves over the summer, waiting all the while for their mother's return. Unrated / 89 min. In Korean with English subtitles.

April 15, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM


A young Delhi woman from a traditional family goes on a solo honeymoon when her wedding is canceled in this Bollywood coming of age hit. Unrated / 146 min.

April 16, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM


Soon after buying an expensive cello, Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) learns that his orchestra is disbanding. Daigo and his wife move back to his hometown in northern Japan, where he answers an ad for what he thinks is a travel agency but is, in actuality, a mortuary. As he learns and carries out the rituals used in preparing the dead for their final rest, Daigo finds his true calling in life. PG-13 / 131 min. In Japanese with English subtitles.

April 17, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM

Coming Home

A former political prisoner (Chen Daoming) tries to help his wife (Gong Li) regain her memory and rediscover their love for each other. PG-13 / 109 min. In Mandarin with English subtitles.

For details, visit

Illinois State University AsiaConnect is an association of faculty and staff members who work together in the interest of the Asian community. Its purpose is to:

  • Promote the various cultures of the Asian community to Illinois State and the Bloomington/Normal community
  • Represent the interests, needs, and concerns of Asian faculty, staff, and students
  • Promote communication and support among the Asian community
  • Develop cooperative relationships in the academic community and with student organizations
  • Assist the University with the recruitment and retention of Asian faculty, staff, and students


New Exhibit Studies Origins of McLean County Residents

 McLean County Museum of History is preparing to unveil the first of five new exhibit galleries, ushering in a new era for how we connect visitors and students in particular, to local history

Challenges, Choices, & Change, a core part of the museum’s ongoing $3 million campaign is scheduled to open on the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Monday, January 18.

Visitors will be able to explore new inter-actives , local artifacts and imagery, digital technology featuring hands-on learning activities that will answer the questions: Who are the people who have made McLean County their home? Where did they come from and how did they travel to get here? What were their experiences like when they arrived?

From the arrival of native people to the immigration of Asian Indians and Latinos in the late 20th century, the new exhibit looks at the experiences of individuals and families from all over the world who came to make McLean County their home.

The gran opening will begin with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10: 30 a.m., followed by a special presentation on the project. Refreshments will be served after the program.

The new gallery is the culmination of the work of Dr. Gina Hunter, Illinois State University associate professor of Anthropology and Sociology, Museum curator, Susan Hartzold, and staff.

Archana: Festival of Lights Illuminates Life, Relationships

Archana Shekara

Oil lamps used in Deepavali celebrations are lit in earthenware pots. People do use candles but oil lamps are usually preferred.

Oil lamps used in Deepavali celebrations are lit in earthenware pots. People do use candles but oil lamps are usually preferred.

Deepavali or Diwali is the Hindu festival celebrating the return of Lord Rama to his capital city Ayodhya. People welcomed the king's return by decorating their homes with Rangoli (intricate patterns on the floor) and rows of lights. Deepavali means a row of light or series of light..

Deepavali falls on October or November depending on the Lunar calendar. A few Hindus celebrate the festival as their new year. The lightening of the lamp during the new moon day symbolizes the removal of darkness and ignorance from our lives and welcoming light and prosperity. The hymn or shloka is chanted along with shanthi (peace) mantra:

Aum asato ma sadgamaya

Tamasoma jyothir gamaya

Mrtyomamrtam gamaya

Aum Shanthi Shanthi Shanthi hi

Lead us from the unreal to real

Lead us from darkness to light

Lead us from death to immortality

Aum peace, peace, peace!

The festival is celebrated for five or three days. In north India it is celebrated for five days. The first day is Dhantheras where Goddess Lakshmi, consort of Lord Vishnu is worshiped for good health, love and prosperity. The second day is celebrated as Naraka chathurdasi. Lord Krishna (avatar of Lord Vishnu) liberated 16,000 women who were kidnapped by king Narakasura. People celebrate the day to mark liberation of soul reaching the divine. The third day is New moon and is Deepavali. It celebrates the return of Lord Rama (avatar of Lord Vishnu), his consort Seeta and his brother Lakshmana along with his greatest devotee Hanuman to Ayodhya the capital city of Khosala. On this day, Goddess DhanaLakshmi is worshipped for wealth and prosperity. The fourth day is Bali Padyami which commemorates the return of king Bali to Earth. King Bali was sent to the underworld or Pataala Loka by Lord Vamana (avatar of Lord Vishnu) to rule the underworld. King Bali was a great devotee and a generous donor who donated the entire Earth, Sky (ether) and finally himself (surrendering oneself) to the Lord. The last day is Bhai Dooj which celebrates the bonding between brothers and sisters.

During Deepavali, friends and families get together to celebrate the festival. The festival is celebrated in the evening with lightning of lamps and fireworks. Traditional Indian vegetarian dishes and sweets are exchanged as people celebrate the festival collectively.

Women's Wellness Seminar Examines Indian Practices

Dr. Ashlesha Raut will share and discuss women's everyday health and well being through practice of our ancient medicine Ayurveda during the Women's Health and Wellness Seminar, from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Hindu Temple Of Bloomington And Normal, 1815 Tullamore Ave, Bloomington.

The event is open to all, please bring your friends to learn how we can integrate yoga, meditation, good diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle through Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old system of natural healing that has its origins in the Vedic culture of India, Ayurveda has been enjoying a major resurgence in both its native land and throughout the world.

In the United States, the practice of Ayurveda is not licensed or regulated by any state. Practitioners of Ayurveda can be licensed in other healthcare fields such as massage therapy or midwifery, and a few states have approved schools teaching Ayurveda.

The seminar is co-sponsored by the McLean County India Association.

Culture on The Quad, Communities Commingled

The Illinois State University quad came alive Sunday with dance, color, and camaraderie both among Bloomington-Normal’s diverse but united Indian “communities” and between the cities’ Indian and non-Indian neighbors.

This year’s fifth annual Festival of India buoyed McLean County India Association (MCIA) President-Elect Archana Shekara, an ISU assistant professor of graphic design. But for Shekara, whose academic and personal worlds cross many cultures, the fun and fellowship are prelude to what she hopes to be an expanded outreach to and understanding with the community.

The first festivals were held at first the McLean County Museum of History and then Miller Park, “but since I teach here, I thought it would be so nice if we could do it here,” Shekara related.

“It’s a great collaboration between this university and the Indian community, the McLean County India Association,” she said. “People learn from each other – we’re having fun at this festival, but they’re also learning.”

The festival officially kicked off with the traditional Deep Prajavalan ceremony (see top photo at right) – the lighting of a lamp fashioned from flowers by Bloomington’s Krishna Flowers and Gardening -- led by 2015 MCIA President Uma Kallakuri, Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner, ISU’s College of Fine Arts Dean Jean M.K. Miller and Provost Janet Krejci, and Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal leader and Hindu Temple of Bloomington-Normal board member Mandava Rao.

In addition to onstage music and dance from throughout the subcontinent, the event featured Indian fashions, crafts and decorations, and spiritual, health information, and educational booths, as well as face-painting, a “bounce house,” and balloon animals. Representatives of the Twin Cities’ Hindu temple were joined by  members of Bloomington’s International Society for Krishna Consciousness – a local Hare Krishna group.

The festival also showcased Indian art including rangoli -- patterns created on the ground or floor traditionally using materials such as rice flour and often placed at the doorway of a temple or home, “welcoming people and warding off evil,” said Shekara, an ISU College of Fine Arts Service Award recipient.

Visitors feasted on a hefty “lunch thali” combination plate featuring either paneer masala and or vegetable biryani (a rice dish) or samosas (savory pastries) – according to Shekara, all vegetarian to bridge the various dietary/cultural traditions of India’s diverse regions. The festival drew Indian-Americans, temporary Indian workers, and others from at least 14 Indian states – an impressive feat of coordination a myriad of customs, preferences, and attitudes designed to “celebrate our diversity and our unity.”

“The first thing that we tell people is that ‘we are Indians -- leave those cultural differences aside,’” Shekara stressed. “We all come together and celebrate India as a country, and celebrate the similarities. We all speak different languages -- Uma and I speak a different language at home. Uma speaks a language called Telugu, and I speak Kannada. And we speak English -- that’s what unites us. It’s a ‘foreign’ language; it’s not even Indian.”

But the Festival of India also is an invitation to the non-Indian community. “More and more” Twin Citians from other cultures have dropped by for a new experience or to meet their neighbors or coworkers, reported Shekara, who canvassed “every organization I could think of” to promote the festival.

A long-time MCIA volunteer who originally “was just having fun doing it,” eventually recognized “all these little gaps that are there in the community.” The Hindu temple provides a focal point and “an identity” for the cities’ disparate Indian communities, but events like the festival provide a way both to “connect those dots” and to reach out to the community in which Bloomington-Normal Indians live, work, eat, and shop, but from which some may feel disconnected.

Shekara and the MCIA are working to connect the microcosmic Indian community with the community at large. She recently attended Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal’s annual strategy planning meeting, and has provided cultural training and certification for local day centers “trying to understand their customers who leave their children.”

“The festival is bringing a lot of non-Indians onto the quad and trying to help everyone understand a little bit of Indian culture,” Shekara said. “But more needs to be done.

“When I teach my students about cultural identity, my students tell me I’m the first Indian that they’ve interacted with, let alone teach. And then I teach European graphic design – Swiss graphic design – and I teach it with an accent. I kept thinking about all this, and I thought, ‘Maybe as a president-elect or as a president next year, I need to do something more than the festival.

“I invited (NIOT:B/N’s) Mike Matejka to come and talk to my class. If I’m a minority and I start talking, they’re going to think, ‘Oh, she’s just complaining.’ But when you bring in a Caucasion who starts talking about diversity issues, that’s when people just start listening – it’s different. Just a person’s color completely changes everybody’s attitude and mentality.

Archana Shekara signing prints. (Photo by ISU College of Fine Arts)

Archana Shekara signing prints. (Photo by ISU College of Fine Arts)

“So then I thought I needed to start going and meeting people in the community. That’s when we start having conversations. These conversations bring us together, and then that’s when we realize we are not the ‘other’ – we are all the same. We are just all so caught up in how we look that we forgot, and then we are self-conscious. But we are the same – we have the same heart, we have the same thinking. But there’s a little bit of a gap in the community – we see that especially in the workplace.”

Festival of India: Tradition Through Dance

Below, the Indian Classical Dance troupe, directed by Guru Uma Kallakuri, performs during Sunday's Festival of India on the Illinois State University quad. The annual festival brings together cultural, spiritual, artistic, fashion, and culinary traditions from across the various Indian states. The event is co-sponsored by the McLean County India Association and designed both to unite Indians and Indian-Americans throughout the Bloomington-Normal area and to introduce Indian cultures to Twin Citians.

More highlights from the festival, along with reflections from major festival coordinator, ISU graphic arts instructor, and McLean County India Association President-Elect Archana Shekara tomorrow here at Twin Cities Stories.

Festival of India Sunday on ISU Quad

Block out part of your Sunday afternoon for a taste of another culture at the 5th annual Festival of India, from noon to 6 pm. tomorrow on the Illinois State University quad.

The festival, presented by McLean County India Association and Illinois State University, will feature workshops on yoga meditation, and Pranayama (breath control) and a Rangoli folk art display. Other highlights will include a picture studio with Indian clothing, displays and a parade focusing on the various states represented by Bloomington-Normal's diverse Indian/Indian-American community, henna and face painting, Indian youth sports, balloon art, a bounce house, a culture program, and a Bollywood band influenced by India's major film industry.

Here are some samples of last year's festival, from the McLean County India Association.

Festival of India Offers Taste of Country's Diverse Culture

One of the Twin Cities' key communities will offer a sample of and insights into its culture during the 5th annual Festival of India, from noon to 6 pm. Sunday, Sept. 13, on the Illinois State University quad.

The festival, presented by McLean County India Association and Illinois State University, will feature workshops on yoga meditation, and Pranayama (breath control) and a Rangoli folk art display. Other highlights will include a picture studio with Indian clothing, displays and a parade focusing on the various states represented by Bloomington-Normal's diverse Indian/Indian-American community, henna and face painting, Indian youth sports, balloon art, a bounce house, a culture program, and a Bollywood band influenced by India's major film industry.

ISU Professor of Graphic Design Archana Shekara, who has helped plan the festival, was on hand for Saturday's Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal strategic planning meeting. "I met some wonderful people shared and listened to great stories — a morning of reflection!" she said.

Shekara noted “each state in India has its own language and culture" -- the McLean County India Association attempts to bridge those regional  differences within the community -- and, with others at Saturday's gathering at Illinois Wesleyan University, stressed the importance of members of the community at large sharing Indian culture with those within the West Asian community.

IWU Prof To Share Green Chem Expertise in India

Illinois Wesleyan University’s Ram Mohan will lecture and provide expertise on green chemistry at Pondicherry University in India as a Fulbright Specialist.

Internationally recognized for his contributions to green chemistry, Mohan is the Wendell and Loretta Hess Professor of Chemistry at Illinois Wesleyan. Mohan’s research, widely published in international chemistry journals, focuses on developing environmentally friendly organic methods guided by green principles. Pondicherry University has been awarded a Fulbright Specialist grant to host Mohan for three weeks later this year.

During his time at Pondicherry, Mohan will deliver a series of lectures on green chemistry to graduate students, help provide expertise in developing green and environmentally friendly laboratory experiments for undergraduate and master’s-level labs, and train Ph.D. students in the practice of green chemistry in labs.

“The lectures will introduce students to fundamental concepts in green chemistry and then highlight the current state of art in the field,” said Mohan. He will present case studies and use real-world examples to highlight environmental problems and how they can be solved using green chemistry principles.

“These experiences will allow me to bring back more green chemistry concepts and ideas to IWU,” said Mohan. “We have been involved in greening our own organic chemistry laboratories over the years in addition to my own research.  Intellectual exchange with scholars at a Ph.D.-granting institution will surely benefit my own research program.”

The Pondicherry grant marks Mohan’s second trip to India on a Fulbright grant. Mohan received a Fulbright-Nehru award to deliver lectures on the principles of green chemistry at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research at Mohali, India, as well as several other Indian colleges and universities during the 2012-2013 academic year.

A 1985 graduate of Hansraj College in Delhi, India, Mohan earned a master’s degree in organic chemistry from the University of Delhi in 1987 and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), in 1992.  Following that he conducted postdoctoral research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

In 2011, the Illinois Heartland Section of the American Chemical Society named Mohan Chemist of the Year. He received the distinguished alumni award from his alma mater UMBC in 2002 and the Henry Dreyfus Teacher Scholar award in 2001. His research at IWU, which has involved more than 100 IWU students, has been funded by several grants from the National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society-Petroleum Research Fund.

The Fulbright Specialist program provides an opportunity to Indian universities and institutions of higher learning to collaborate with U.S. faculty and professionals. In addition to sharing their expertise, specialists can help develop linkages between their respective institutions. The Fulbright Specialist is sponsored by the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Department of State and the Council for International Exchange of Scholars. Envisioned by U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright and founded in 1946, the Fulbright program promotes a mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries. 

MCIA Sponsors 5K for Nepalese Relief, Model Village

McLean County India Association (MCIA) is sponsoring a 5K Run/Walk fundraiser for Nepal earthquake relief and Spandana Model Village Saturday, July 18 at Tipton Trails GE Shelter, 2410 GE Road, in Normal.

MCIA is partnering with Spandana Foundation, Bloomington’s Fleet Feet sports, and various local groups to help fund recovery following the recent massive earthquake in Nepal and to build a model village, Lakshmi Nagar, in India.

The walk/run is scheduled 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.  Registration is $25 per family (a maximum four persons per couple), $15 per individual adult, and $10 per youth up to 18 years of age. Register online at, or by calling Uma Kallakuri: 309-310-6527, Ajay Rolla: 309-826-0969, Arun Khurana: 309-287-4226, Shyam Lakshman: 415 -608-9731, Murali Sunkara: 309-706-2386, Srinivas Mikkilineni: 309-825-1159, Jagadeesh Gutha: 309-660-2391, Goverdhan Galpalli: 309-310-1050,Srinivas Shenoy: 309-287-4118, Pritam Kusiyait: 469-450-3348, or Fleet Feet Sports: 309-808-3220.

Attire for the event is a white T-shirt.

Post-event refreshments will be provided by Rangoli Restaurant at nominal prices, with part of those proceeds going to benefit Nepalese relief, as well.

Nepal was hit twice by a massive earthquake with a 7.8 magnitude, effecting 8 million people and devastating innumerable families, with an estimated death toll of 15,000 and $7 billion in destruction. The local Nepalese Association of Bloomington also is actively participating with 5K organizers to raise funds; funds to Nepal will be streamlined and sent through Sewa International Charity.

For more about the earthquake relief work in Nepal, visit

Spandana Foundation, a charity organization, adopted the village 'Lakshmi Nagar' in Medak District, Telangana State, India and is turning it into a model village by adopting various projects. With the help of villagers, the foundation plans to establish a water treatment plant, solar water pumps, water and recycling pits, public toilets, improved drainage, a tree plantation, options for generic medicine availability, new programs for skill development within the village’s existing school, a cemetery with proper facilities, village community/meditation hall and sports center, a hospital, a library, a veterinary hospital, and a new agricultural co-op. The project also includes improving Internet bandwidth for the village’s residents.

To find more about the project, please visit

Normal Theater to Host Asian Film Festival

In celebration of Asian-American Heritage Month, AsiaConnect will present the 2015 Asian Film Festival from Thursday, April 9, through Sunday, April 12, at the Normal Theater.

The cost of the event is free for students with an ID and $7 for general admission.

The festival will feature four theatrically acclaimed movies from China, South Korea, India and Japan including:

  • Shadow Magic (Ann Hu, 2000) [China], at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 9. The movie is a historical drama about the introduction of motion pictures to China during the beginning of the 20th century. It follows a young photographer who struggles to start a film industry in China despite the strong anti-Western sentiment of the time.
  • Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (Kim Ki-duk, 2003) [South Korea], at 7 p.m. Friday, April 10. This film is Buddhist, but it is also universal. “It takes place within and around a small house floating on a small raft on a small lake, and within that compass, it contains life, faith, growth, love, jealousy, hate, cruelty, mystery, redemption … and nature. Also a dog, a rooster, a cat, a bird, a snake, a turtle, a fish and a frog,” stated the late film critic Roger Ebert.
  • The Lunchbox (Ritesh Bartra, 2014) [India], at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 11. Set in contemporary Mumbai, this film tells the story of Ila, a middle-class housewife who tries to rejuvenate her marriage through cooking. She prepares a special lunchbox to be delivered to her neglectful husband at work, but it is mistakenly delivered to another office worker, Saajan. This begins a series of lunchbox notes between Saajan and Ila, which leads to an emotional journey of self-discovery. They each find an anchor to hold onto in a big city that so often crushes hopes and dreams.
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata, 2014) [Japan], at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 12. Based on a Japanese folktale, this animated fantasy drama tells the story of a young princess who must discover her past and confront her fate. Produced by Studio Ghibli, which created Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, this sweeping epic redefines the limits of animated storytelling. It also marks another triumph for director Isao Takahata, acclaimed for his war-themed animated film Grave of the Fireflies (1988). The Tale of Princess Kaguya was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 87th Academy Awards.

AsiaConnect is an affinity group established to promote Asian cultures and represent the interests, needs and concerns of Asian faculty, staff and students.

This event is made possible by the generous support of Beyond Normal Films Cinema Arts Project, Downs Automotive, Inc., McLean County India Association, Normal Theater, Office of the President, Dr. and Mrs. SJ Chang, Center for Mathematics, Science and Technology, Crossroads Project, Department of Politics and Government, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, MECCPAC, Dean of Students Diversity Initiative, Office of International Studies and Programs, and Office of the Provost.