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'Day With India' celebrates upstate diversity

Published on Thursday, May 3, 2012

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Day With India is scheduled Saturday at the TD Bank Convention center.

Day With India is scheduled Saturday at the TD Bank Convention center.

When considering stereotypes about the south, cultural diversity is not the first thing that springs to mind. In the past generation however, Upstate South Carolina has become a welcoming environment for foreign business.

Manufacturing Co., Michelin North America, Met Life and the General Electric Turbine Plant have attracted engineers from India. That, among other reasons, has led to a culturally and ethnically diverse Upstate. For that reason, the India Association of Greater Greenville (IAGG) formed, and has been presenting Day With India since 2004. This year it’s on Saturday at the TD Convention Center.

The IAGG started in Greenville in 1970, and is the biggest voluntary non-profit Indian organization in South Carolina. It provides individuals and over 500 families a forum for cultural and social interaction in the greater Greenville area; anyone that has links with (or interests pertaining to) the Indian subcontinent, and often reaches out to colleges. IAGG, according to its website, “conducts several activities throughout the year that foster community interaction, provide entertainment, and showcase local talent, undertake community service and contribute towards building a collective image and identity.”

Anand Manian, a Program Manager at GE, has been with IAGG for over a decade now. She has lived in the United States since 1991, and in Greenville since 1995 (briefly returning to India for a few years in the late ‘90s, only to come back to Greenville in 2000).

Not long after his return was when he became involved with the IAGG. “Twenty years ago,” he said, “I could run into an Indian person, a stranger, in Greenville and get invited to dinner. Now the Indian population is much larger, and that doesn’t happen.”

He chalks that up to the software influx of the late ‘90s bringing in more than the usual “Business Indian” population (physicians and shop owners), as engineering attracts international talent. Now he’s the public relations coordinator for Day with India festival, and has been since it started.

The first year it was held at the Phillis Wheatley Community Center. They didn’t expect many to show up, but 500 people came and over $5,000 was raised and donated to a Tsunami relief fund.

The next year the event was held at the then Palmetto Expo Center. Although it’s grown in popularity since, including an appearance by not-yet-governor Nikki Haley (who is of Indian descent) in 2009, this year’s festival is the first since 2009. Manian chalks this up to coordinating all 300 volunteers’ (and 100 more the day of the festival) schedules.

This is the first time the event is held in May, and faces competition in such events as the Greer Family Fest and Greenville’s Reedy River Duck Derby. Still, this should be the most exciting event yet, with Indian food from every region of the country (labeled for education purposes, interactive demos, dance classes, classical music, Bollywood movies playing, and henna tattoos being given. The event tends to attract the whole spectrum of the family, and an age range of 10 to 70. In the past 3,000 to 5,000 people have attended, and Manian is hoping for a similar turnout this year. He cites the theme of Utsav, celebration, this year as being a particular draw in its unifying implications.

Every year has had a theme: in 2006, for example, it was “The Mela”, a fair or carnival held in many parts of India during various occasions, while in 2007 it was Unity in Diversity. This year is the embracing of several celebrations throughout the year in India, including Muslim holidays and Christmas. Although Hinduism is the predominant religion in India, Manian accentuates that other religions are practiced there and among Indians in Greenville. When discussing his own spirituality, he philosophizes on finding the divine in anything and everything.

“It’s in you,” he says. “It’s in this table,” knocking on it. He illuminates the Hindu practice of treating cows as sacred. He says this is not worship, but respect for that which provides.

“Cows’ milk is the closest to mothers’ milk,” he said. He compares this practice to the domestication of horses and dogs in the United States. “Dogs originally helped with the hunting, then were for protection, and now are a part of the family. You don’t eat your family.” He said newer concepts, like computers, have gained a degree of reverence in a culture comprised of many software programmers.

This is the kind of intimate knowledge that brings understanding, and can only be passed on from person to person. This is what Day with India is all about.

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