Annual KP Cultural Meet - 2011


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Annual KP Cultural Meet-2011
Highlights the challenges being faced by a community in exile
Annual Kashmiri Cultural Meet was held this year at the Yosemite, in California, USA on July 4th weekend. Kashmiri Hindu Families from USA, Canada and India attended this mega event. With “Connect to Kashmir” as event theme, this event was celebration for people with roots that lay in 6000 year old history in the lap of Western Himalayas in the terrorist ridden Kashmir Valley.

For a community that has lost its ancestral moorings to terror and fanaticism, this meet rekindled a sense of 'belonging'. Organizers highlighted the challenges Kashmiri Hindus were facing in exile and response to these challenges on social, political and cultural fronts.
A group of participants at Yosemite Falls
KP cultural meet 2011 was held over the July 4th Long weekend at Oakhurst CA, which is the gateway to the picturesque valley of Yosemite. This year it was like a trip back home as Yosemite resembles a lot with our own homeland we fondly call Maej Kasheer. All the people involved with this event leave no stone unturned to exceed the expectations of all the attendees of this event which have grown tremendously in last four years. Now what should I say about Yosemite, I had read it on one of the websites " Not just a great Valley...but a shrine to human foresight, strength of granite, power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra." 
Participants at the Welcome address

All said about the location let me focus back on the event which we all had been waiting for the last one year. After a successful event last year at Big Bear we were all looking forward to a wonderful three day weekend filled with lot of fun and masti. The event was organized in a small city of Oakhurst which is just at the entrance of the Yosemite Valley. Accommodation for the attendees was arranged at Shilo Inns Suite hotels where all the rooms were sold out which had been pre booked for this event, and due to the overwhelming response this year accommodation was also arranged at Americas Best value Inn. For all the events a separate location was arranged which was the Oakhurst community center which would be enough to seat all the attendees. Everybody was asked to come to this hall to register for the event and get further information about the programme. For this year?s event catering was arranged with the help of an Indian restaurant "New Brahma Bull" located at Fresno and to the surprise of many at the event authentic Kashmiri dishes were prepared at the camp site like Chok Nadur, lamb Yakhini, lamb Roganjosh, doony- marchwangan Chetin along with other regular Indian dishes. The food was reminiscent of koshur saal, and the cooking was done with the help of our own Mrs. Chandramukhi Ganjoo who has to her credit the kashmiri cuisine book "Koshur Saal". This year again there was a mix of all generations which had attendees coming from all over California and different parts of US which includes, Utah, New Jersey, Florida, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington and also India.
Traditional Kashmiri Food served during entire event and at Yosemite Park with recipes from kashmiri cuisine book "Koshur Saal"
Highlights from each day of the event:

Day 1: As has been the case since last four years Rajeev Sumbly was at the registration desk personally with his team welcoming all the Attendees and handing over the welcome package, There were few attendees who had arrived a day before and some arrived in the morning while most of them started arriving towards early afternoon and were greeted with the hot tea along with samosas, chicken tikka and mini vadas. Hot Indian Masale wali chai on arrival took the tiredness of the long drive away and infused the shot of energy which was required to get the event started. Around 4PM all the people who had gathered were asked to proceed towards the hotel to check in and freshen up and be back by 5.30PM which was the official start of the event. Around 5.30PM everybody was back in the community center, well refreshed and ready to Rock on! The Emcee?s of the evening were Mrs. Archana Raina and Mrs. Monika Kaul and they kick started the event with their witty one liners both in English and kashmiri and they went around the whole hall letting all the participants introduce themselves. There were quite a few new faces this as has been the case every year and it was good to see them. Then the stage was taken over by Mr. Amrit Nehru who gave the introduction of the people behind the show and also felicitated few board members of the current KOA- USA organization who had come to attend the event including Mr Naveen Zalpuri, Mr Ajay Garyali, and Mrs Monica Aima. He also introduced senior executives of KHF including Rajeev Sumbly, Kuldip Thusu, Ankit Monga and Deepak Ganju. Senior leaders of other organizations were also introduced including Mr. M. L. Pandit of KECSS and ex-President of KP Canada chapter, Mr. Sunil Dhar.
The event saw participation from Kashmiri community leaders
This year we were also privileged to have Mr. Deepak Ganju from Bay Area who had been a sponsor in the past years and this year he personally was able to make it for the event with his family and he was also gracious enough to sponsor lots of prizes for the competitive events which were held among the kids and adults likewise over the next few days. Dr Amrit Nehru Also on behalf of the KHF committee felicitated Dr Kuldip Thusu, Deepak Ganju of Bay Area and Mrs. Sushma Kalla for their support to the camp and was presented with a memento. The evening program started with the lighting of auspicious lamp in front of Lord Ganeshji?s idol and a very famous Kashmiri Bhajan dedicated to Shree Ganeshji and also aarti of Sharika Mata by Mrs. Sushma Kalla who was being accompanied by Mr. Sudarshan on Tabla.
Kashmiri songs, Chakri and Bhajans in traditional style with Sushma Kalla who attended from India
After the bhajans there was a big surprise in store for all the attendees, Dr Kuldip Thusu introduced Mr. Ramesh Maraj of Indisax entertainment who plays Saxophone, no one in the audience knew what to expect and he started with the first song " Aye mere pyaare watan" it was a mesmerizing performance which left lot of people in the audience with moist eyes and deservedly was given a standing ovation. After such a nostalgic number Ramesh took everyone in the audience to a dancing tour with old melodious Shammi Kapoor hits and in a flash everyone was on the floor dancing to the songs like "Aaya yaa Suku Suku", "Aajkal tere mere pyaar ke sapne".... He also played some new numbers to keep the attention of the younger crowd who were not so familiar with the old songs. He concluded with one of the famous Kashmiri songs "Bhumbroo Bhumbroo" which Mrs. Shushma Kalla joined with her melodious voice. Even though the attendees wanted more but Mr. Maraj had to leave as he had a concert next day in San Jose. After such a scintillating performance there was a Koshur quiz which was hosted by Rajeev Sumbly. Except couple of questions it was a great to know that we are still aware of our culture and heritage which we left behind many years back. Now it was time for the dinner. Right after dinner it was the time for Mrs. Sushma Kalla to enthrall the audience with her melodious voice singing few kashmiri songs and some well known Urdu Ghazals. IT was almost about midnight when the night was called off as there was a lot scheduled for the next day everyone retired to their rooms all excited in the anticipation of the following day activities.
Ramesh Maraj of Indisax enthralled the audience on Saxophone with Hindi and Kashmiri songs

Day 2: It got kick started with few of the attendees going for a hike and most of them had a continental breakfast at the hotel itself and proceeded towards the community hall where luxury buses where waiting for them to take them to Yosemite valley for day picnic. Chole puri was waiting for all as the traditional breakfast at the hall and after having that most of the attendees boarded the bus and few of them took the option of driving in their own cars. The trip started at about 10AM and what a ride it was, full of fun music and masti. It was a adventurous and surprising drive as lot of hidden talent was discovered during the drive, with many of the adults and kids coming out with their singing skills, for some parents it was surprising to see their kids so talented which they were not aware of at all. Due to the July 4th weekend the traffic into the valley was overwhelming, it took us more than 2 hours to get to the spot which was reserved for our picnic and the drive to that spot through the twisting and turning road was reminiscent of the drive which we used to take from Jammu to Srinagar. No one complained of the long drive as it was quite a nostalgic trip as it took us back to those tiresome road journeys which we used to take quite often when living in Kashmir. The spot which was chosen for our picnic on the banks of a river with the Yosemite falls in the background and surrounded by trees and nice grassy area again took us back down the memory lane of the picnics which we used to do in Kashmir. In all respect it seemed as if we were back in Kashmir. Due to the heavy traffic lunch was delayed and made few of us anxious but in the end it turned out worth a wait with a nice warm Indian food. After the lunch all of us took a walk of about a mile to the foot of the Lower Yosemite falls, and what a view it was with the sierra mountains having more than normal snow this year the fall was its full flow. We were all back in the bus at around 5PM and driving back to the community hall as there were lot of activities waiting for the evening.

Kashmiri Skit "Aasivee te Lassive"- Live and Let Live
 All the attendees were quick enough to freshen up and back at the hall around 8PM and the evening got kicked off with the first of the plays "Aasivee te Lassive" enacted on the stage, directed by Dileep tikoo, with hardly any time to rehearse together as the cast included people from both northern and southern CA, it was quite an experience to watch the cast showing their acting skills. Everyone in the audience enjoyed the play. After this the next play which everybody was eagerly waiting for was “Ammajee’s cultural shock" presented by Deepak and Chandramukhi Ganju. This was the third part of the Ammajee series which had started from the first KP camp in 2008. With rib tickling humor and excellent comic timing of the cast everyone in the audience had a laugh of their life even the kids who would not understand it completely had wonderful time and enjoyed it. In between the plays Ajay Dhar mesmerized the audience with his melodious voice singing kashmiri ghazals. Sushma Kalla released her CD titled "WalayMaajay Yoory", a collection of Leelas dedicated to Sharika Bhagwati and presented to all participants free of cost. Dinner was served at the same time and right after dinner it was time for Shushma Kalla nite, she again captivated the audience with her melodious singing and this time she sang a mix  kashmiri and Urdu ghazals. She also involved the young women to accompany her on the stage and sing with her some famous Kashmir folk songs. It went beyond midnight and it seemed everybody had lost the track of time around 1AM lot of audience started resigning back to their hotel rooms and few who stayed back had the karaoke session and everyone tried their singing skills. On one corner of the room Poker session had started which went all the way into the wee hours and we later came to know that the session went on till 5AM in the morning.

Kashmiri Comedy Skit "Ammaji"
Day 3: It started with the continental breakfast provided at the hotel since the more traditional breakfast was called off at the hall as everyone was complaining of overeating all the time. Lot of families had their kids in the pool enjoying and then everybody started assembling back at the hall by 10AM as it was the turn of the kids to take the center stage and show their talent. We had kids who showed us their vocal skills by singing some of the latest Hindi film songs, one surprise item was the play enacted by two kids, Ishan and Diya Kaul (children of Neeraj and Liloo Kaul) where all the dialogues were in kashmiri and it was heartening to see the little kids speak in kashmiri. We also had privilege to see classic dance performance by Siya pandit and Yuvika Salman. They had been training in Kathak and Bharatnatyam and had the audience spellbound with their dance performances. All the kids were presented with gift cards mostly of their favorite MacDonald?s which were sponsored by Deepak Ganju of Bay Area. After the kids performance there was a small skit presented by Amrit Nehru, Kiran Kalla and Ashwini Kaul which was based on the situation at the time of migration in 1990 from the valley. Lunch was served right after that and everyone after having lunch and kath baath started to leave back to their respective homes with the promise to meet again next year and most of them promised that next they would try to bring one new family along with them. As is said that ?All good things must come to an end.? so did the 4th KP National camp.

In the end I would like to thank all the Volunteers who made this event a great success, Even though the whole event was a huge success because everyone contributed to his/her capacity but there are few who took lot of pains in making this event a success. It is due to their effort that such events are so successful which includes Rajeev Sumbly, Ankit Monga, Dr Kuldip Thusu, Deepak Ganju Fl, Deepak Ganju Bay Area, Amrit Nehru, Pran Kaul...Also I would like to thank Mr. Rao the owner of the "New Brahma Bull" restaurant who along with his wife catered the food during the camp. Everyone was in high praises for the kashmiri dishes which they had cooked and then icing on the cake was the cone kulfi which everyone enjoyed from kids to adults. I would like to end it with a famous quote "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened"
Monica Aima ?Salman