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Americans experience ‘Sensational India’, courtesy DESAI FAMILY

Nrityagram Dance Ensemble performs at the festival.

First annual festival at the Peabody Essex Museum showcases the sights, sounds and tastes of Indian culture through cooking, film, music, dance and art events. Desai Family Foundation will make it possible for next seven years.

In April, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts was transformed into mini India. Aroma of Indian cuisine, the color and vitality of Indian classical and folk dance and the musical sounds of veena and tabla enlivened the atmosphere at the first “Sensational India!” festival. All thanks to the Desai Family Foundation (DFF) that has partnered with the museum to host this exciting and unique festival for the next seven years.

The festival, which drew 2500 people from all walks of life, showcased the sights, sounds and tastes of Indian culture to Americans living in New England area of the US./p> The attendees got to hear traditional Indian tales, learn their fortune from a parrot, make rangolis, learn Warli painting, amidst a flurry of activities going around. Another highlight of the festival was a talk by award-winning actress and best-selling cookbook author Madhur Jaffrey who spoke about her latest book, Climbing the Mango Trees: A Memoir of a Childhood in India.

“We want to take the Americans interested in knowing India to a higher level of understanding through dynamic presentations. We are good at technology, engineering, entrepreneurship, so we need to prove the same at cultural level too,” says Samir Desai, the president of DFF.

PEM will also host a new art exhibit, Revisions, for the coming year. The exhibition will explore how some of India’s leading artists draw inspiration from themes found in traditional Indian art. This unique exhibition pairs some of the finest works from PEM’s world-renowned contemporary Indian art collection along side rare traditional Indian art from the Harvard Art museum.

/p>This is not the first time that the DFF has strived to build a bridge between Americans and India. Last year they sponsored ‘Gateway Bombay’ exhibition at the same venue with a similar concept apart from undertaking private initiatives for public welfare, focusing on improving the quality of life of the needy in India and the US since its inception a decade back. Community service is a part of family tradition for the Desais. Technology entrepreneur and a leading Indian American community and industry leader, Samir Desai hails from Surat, India though he did his engineering from the M S University of Baroda. He lost his father at 19 and was brought up in a village called Untdi in Valsad by his grandparents. “My grandparents were always into public service though at a local level. After my father’s death I needed a lot of help and many came forward. When we receive help from unexpected sources we are obliged to return the favour,” said Desai.

Hence from helping out the elderly in his hometown in Gujarat to being actively involved with various socio-cultural organizations in the US after he moved here in 1968, Desai has been at the helm all along. So when he asked his daughters – Moha and Megha on a family trip to Machhu Picchu, Peru what did they plan for their future, it didn’t surprise him that they too wanted to head for community development. “We started DFF in a small way but their interest has been growing. They are participating happily and it has sort of become a part of them now,” he says.

While the elder daughter, Moha Patel, an MBA from Yale School of Management provides management consulting services to healthcare entities, younger Megha Desai is a BA Economics graduate from the Columbia University and an Integrated Marketing Consultant based in New York City.

The family supports scholarship funds in colleges, donates to various art and culture organizations, for instance the Boston Conservatory, the DeCordova Museum,

Performance by New England School of Carnatic Music

Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC) – Brandeis University (Indian Art & Culture), Community Impact at Columbia University, ASHOKA – Innovators for the Public, Akshayapatra, Sri Yoganand Saraswati Education & Medical Relief Trust, Talangpur, India, among others. It also takes part in community outreach program of various organizations such as GURJAR, American India Foundation, Indian Medical Association of New England, India Association of Greater Boston (IAGB), Patidar Samaj of New England, Twin Tower Fund etc.

Samir Desai and Nilima Desai

India and the US – both are on their radar of outreach. “If India is our motherland, the US is our karmabhoomi. Everywhere there is some level of need,” says Desai, adding, “We have about 2.8 million Indians here and if everybody thinks about contributing a fraction of their assets - money,

Art making activities Attendees busy in an art workshop

time, skill, other resources – for one day – 8 million days of money and help can flow in. We can really become a very rich force not just in entrepreneurship but other areas as well,” he says.