Sampling the tastes, colors and sounds of India

August 21, 1994|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,Sun Staff Writer

Ram and Veena Rao wanted their 2-year-old son, Sunny, to experience a little of India, so they traveled yesterday to (P downtown Baltimore.

The Carroll County couple brought their boy to sample the foods and meet fellow Indians at the India Day festival in Hopkins Plaza.

"It just gives people, especially kids who were not born in India, a connection to where their families have come from," said Mr. Rao, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

Now living in Hampstead, Mr. and Mrs. Rao were born in India.

"For us, it's a chance to see other Indians and to socialize," Mrs. Rao said.

Young women and girls in bright, flowing attire performed traditional dances at the 16th annual celebration.

At booths bordering the plaza, 26 vendors were selling Indian food, books, music, crafts, clothing and other items.

For Brian Bhandari, 19, of Parkville and his friends, the festival was a rare chance for them to focus on their heritage.

"Now you get in touch with your roots, with where you came from," Mr. Bhandari said.

The festival "is about bringing people together to project what India is about, to show the family values, colors and tastes of India," said Vinod Verma, president of India Forum Inc., the sponsoring local umbrella organization.

About 10,000 people of Indian descent live in the Baltimore area, Mr. Verma said.

The festival yesterday was a late celebration of the 47th anniversary of India's independence from Great Britain, the anniversary of which was Aug. 15. It also marked what would have been the 50th birthday of assassinated Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

"In India we observe the day as a communal harmony day," said Devendra Singh, who represented the Indian Embassy at the festival.

Cultural groups with members from some of India's more than two-dozen states operated many of the food booths as fund-raisers.

The Baltimore-based Prantik Bengali Association offered up homemade Bengali specialties, like cham-cham, a sweet pastry-like confection of milk and sugar; panipuri, puffed balls with potatoes, chickpeas and a spicy gravy; and lassi, a cool yogurt shake.

Adding to the Indian flavor at the festival were the dances and music.

Rachna Kumar, 11, of Vienna, Va., said she has been performing traditional dances at the festival since she was 4. Yesterday, she wore a green ghagra-choli (blouse and ankle-length skirt with drawstring waist), gold jewelry and hair ornaments when she performed a dance from the Indian state of Rajasthan.

"It's [about] women coming together at the evening and talking about gossip and teasing each other," explained Rachna, who ** performed what is normally a group dance alone on the festival stage.

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