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Nirav Mehta: Re-making FIA for the young Indians in US

He may have been a successful businessman, but Nirav Mehta’s biggest day of glory comes now when on August 15 he as President of the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA)—NY-NJCT will lead the 30th India Day Parade in New York, the world’s largest Indian Independence Day parade. During his term at the helm of the 40-year-old largest umbrella organization of the Indian community in the US, he is also aiming to give it a youthful image to interest and involve the next generation of Indian Americans who have grown up here.

Nirav Mehta with Spouse Rupal Patel and Daughter Rooni Mehta

Honorable Vayalar Ravi, Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs with Nirav Mehta and others.

Come August 15, and the young and energetic Nirav Mehta will proudly lead the India Day Parade in New York, that attracts over a hundred thousand people to walk down Madison Avenue in Manhattan and has grown into the world’s largest Indian Independence Day parade.

The annual mega event mainly defines its organizer, the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA)—NY-NJ-CT, the largest umbrella organization of the Indian community in the US.

As President of FIA for the current year, the parade has claimed most of the successful businessman Mehta’s time and energy for the last many months. No regrets, though. This year is special—it happens to mark the 40th anniversary of FIA and it is 30th India Day Parade. Mehta is of course not content with this distinction. The 42- year-old is working at a frantic pace to reshape the FIA to keep it relevant for the next generations. For example, getting people to attend the parade, he says, “While the older generation came for patriotic reasons, the appeal for the younger lot has to be different.”

Nirav with Shilpa Shetty at the parade
Nirav with Shilpa Shetty at the parade.

Talking about the new initiatives at the India Day Parade, which has youth icon and Bollywood star Preity Zinta as Grand Marshal, Mehta said, “We have got five designer floats crafted by award winning designers in India and shipped them here. These floats will showcase India. It is a test run this time, if successful, we will get many more such floats from India.” The new designer floats are in keeping with the theme of this year’s parade—‘Salute India – Celebrating the

spirit of India’. Mehta pointed out with pride that all the planned 60-odd booths and 40 floats have been sold out already.

Nirav speaking at parade last year
Nirav speaking at parade last year

Another proud moment, he said, is that for the first time, banners announcing the India Day Parade have been installed at street corners along the parade’s route on Madison Avenue in Manhattan. Mehta’s youthful team has also launched free iPad and iPhone applications. The iPhone quiz application, especially designed for the IDP, will see participation levels surge beyond geographic location. Those interested can look for FIA on the iTunes Store for a free download of the quiz application. News and updates about the parade will also be available with the apps. A special highlight will be the Empire State Building, which will be lit‐up in Indian tri‐colors on Aug 14‐15.Another new addition to the annual parade under Nirav’s presidentship of FIA is Children’s Parade Dress Competition, where the participants will wear ethnic clothes. “Though we decided on introducing this feature only four weeks ago, about 10 groups are expected to participate,” Mehta said.

Nirav at FIA parade curtain raiser at Indian consulate in NY.

‘We are very excited about how our culture will be exhibited through the themed float designs,

children costume parade competition, and the parade’s great pageantry of Indian arts, crafts, music and cuisine,’ said Nirav Mehta.

He also expected a large participation from the Caribbeans at the parade because the first woman Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad-Bissessar, of Indian origin, is billed to be the Guest of Honor at the parade this year.

Early this year, FIA’s annual Republic Day program on January 23, also made a shift away from the usual folk dance competition. Held in New Jersey, ‘Dance Pe Chance—Bollywood Dance Competition’, had a score of groups—dancers and choreographers— emoting and recreating the magic of their favorite film stars.

Talking about giving a new direction to FIA, Mehta said, the planned FIA Foundation will come up this year. It will reach out to fellow human beings in time of need— whether the need arises in India or anywhere in the world.

FIA Junior Committee is also in the pipeline. FIA will also work on immigration reform legislation. He also mentioned the FIA’s role in getting the fees drastically cut for passport renunciation in a new ill-conceived policy of Indian government earlier this year.

Over the last 40 years, the FIA has made innumerable cultural and trade contributions to the

community. The FIA has used its initiatives to influence political decisions, empower the Indian Diaspora, take a stand against terror, support disaster victims, aid India‐US relations and show its commitment to the Indian community residing in the US.

A key word in Mehta’s lexicon is inclusion. As president, he has reached out to past FIA presidents and committee members to become active again. Consequently quite a few, including an FIA founder Thomas Abraham, were present at the parade’s curtain raiser a few weeks back at the Indian Consulate in New York.

What has motivated Mehta himself to get into community service? “To make a difference and leave behind a legacy in the community. Besides, the satisfaction and respect I get, that is priceless,” he said.

A Gujarati Jain, Nirav Mehta hails from Ahmedabad, where he did his B.Sc from St Xavier’s. Soon after taking a few courses at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in town, he joined his family’s chemicals business, growing it sevenfold. But being hyperactive and thinking out of the box, he set up a most modern plant for production of paneled furniture and prefabricated doors. Following challenges in business environment then, he migrated to the US in 2002. Here he ventured into furniture trading, but finding it dominated by big players, he got into financing, mortgage banking to be precise: first residential and then commercial, where he succeeded and has stayed till date.

His flagship company, First Empire Group, based in Warren, NJ, has handled mortgage business worth $ 1.3 Billion in terms of volumes since 2003. He also owns 15 Dunkin Donuts in Clearwater, Tampa, FL, with $ 13 million annual sales. The group’s inventory includes real estate and hotels.

Nirav Mehta is married to Rupali Patel, a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. Their lovely daughter Roohi is in high school.

He urges Indian Americans to “wake up and join hands as one force to make India we left behind proud”.