India Nite 2013

Saturday, Nov. 2

For one evening each fall, Jesse Auditorium fills up with people celebrating India Nite, a two-hour show featuring traditional and modern music, dances and other performances to celebrate India’s cultural diversity.

For many Indian students, families and community members, it’s an opportunity to close the gap between two countries.

You’re 8,000 miles away from home, and that’s the fact,” says Marwa Ghouse, external affairs coordinator on the Cultural Association of India’s executive board. The board’s eight members plan the event, with help from faculty adviser Ranadhir Mitra, associate professor of pathology and anatomical sciences.

CAI, a 55-year-old organization, has been organizing India Nite for the past 22 years. The event is co-sponsored by ORG, the Chancellor’s Diversity Initiative and the Office of the Vice Provost for International Programs.

As cheesy as it may sound, we try to take families who have been here for 10 or 15 years back to India,” says Nikhil Dhadake, general secretary for CAI. “This is two hours of a complete Indian experience.”

Balancing act

For Gautam Gurnani, the trip home — to Hyderabad, India — is about 8,500 miles from Columbia.

The master’s-degree student studying electrical engineering, who came to Mizzou in fall 2012, is wearing multiple hats for this year’s India Nite: He’s the historian for the CAI executive board, one of the two emcees for the show and a dancer in the student group Dashing Desis, which will perform dances to Bollywood songs.

Gurnani has had no trouble making friends at Mizzou. In fact, one of his best friends, Adithya Kumar, is the other emcee for the event.

The day we came to the United States we met each other,” Gurnani says. “We were roommates. We became buddies. The bond between us is very strong.”

Man crouches on stage with a drum while a girl twirls next to him

Ronak Patel, 20, drums on stage at an India Nite rehearsal while Mansi Patel begins a group folk dance. Mansi, who is 13, has been performing in the annual event for the past six years.

The two men emceed last year’s India Nite, and their chemistry and humor made such an impression that they were asked back. They both danced with Dashing Desis in last year’s event as well.

Kumar, a master’s-degree student studying mechanical engineering, is the vice president for CAI and also will perform with the Dashing Desis this year.

Growing up in Mangalore, India, Kumar loved to perform. “I always wanted to be the kid that everyone admires,” he says. At Mizzou, he is proud to perform on stage. “The very fact that you’re representing your whole country in a foreign land is a big thing.”

Gurnani grew up dancing as well. “My mother was a trained classical dancer, and my aunt is a choreographer for Bollywood films, so I have dancing in my genes,” he says.

Skype makes it easy to keep family in India involved in the event. Gurnani and Kumar often show their families videos of practices to get feedback.

When we were on Skype, my father told me Gautam was a better dancer than me,” Kumar says. “That was a good thing and a bad thing for me.”

That was a good thing for me, though,” Gurnani says, laughing.

The weeks leading up to the event are hectic, to say the least. The two men juggle several dance practices a week, writing the script for the show and attending executive board planning meetings on top of courses, part-time jobs and lab research.

We stay up late sometimes,” Kumar says with a smile.

Both men say the late nights are more than worth the end result.

Someone asked me, ‘You’ve been working so hard. What do you get at the end?’” Gurnani says. His answer: “When you stand there and people applaud. You’re being appreciated for your work.”

Like mother, like daughter

Nitu Patel counts off steps for a group of 13– and 14-year-old girls: “One, two, three, four.”

For India Nite 2013, she’s choreographing a folk dance, Garba, which is a spiritual dance traditionally performed in a circle and commonly seen during the nine-day Hindu festival Navratri.

She watches the group, which includes her 13-year-old daughter Mansi, as they rehearse the dance in the garage of her family’s home. There are a few pauses as the girls erupt in fits of giggles or stop to take pictures of one another with cellphones, but Patel tries to keep the group on task. India Nite is fast approaching, and she knows how nervous the girls can get before they go on stage.

A group of men and women dance in pairs on stage

Dashing Desis practices its modern Indian dance routine at an India Nite rehearsal. Most of the group’s members are MU graduate students.

Patel, a medical technologist at University Hospital and a master’s-degree student studying health administration, has been choreographing dances for India Nite for the past six years.

The first time she attended India Nite, she immediately wanted to get involved. “I liked it so much that I thought I might have a group,” Patel says. “My daughter at the time was in second grade. She was really into the culture, so I decided to start doing this.”

As her daughter has gotten older, she’s taken on a bigger role in helping choreograph dances. “She’s been doing it for so many years, so she’s pretty good at it,” Patel says. “She’ll even watch dances on YouTube and say ‘Oh I like this step better.’”

Patel has three younger children — a 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old twin boys — who could join their older sister on stage in the future.

My second one, she says, ‘I really want to do it, Mom,’” Patel says. “Probably next year I’ll start planning for the younger kids.”

Patel, who is originally from Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat, India, makes a trip back to India each year with her husband and children. “If I can’t go, I’ll still send my oldest daughter,” Patel says. “She really likes going.”

India Nite, Patel says, is a good opportunity to help her family stay connected to their heritage.

We are far from our country, but we still need to remember our culture.”