Indian-Americans, South Asians in Queens, N.Y. celebrate “Home” through food, art and social services

Bharatanatyam Dancer, Malini Srinivasan performs the opening piece entitled, “The Pushpanjali,” or Flower Offering, a traditional way to make the stage a sacred space. The dancer honors the 8 directions and offers flowers to the stage. (Photo: Mansura Khanam for Chhaya CDC)

Thousands enjoyed the multicultural annual Chatpati Mela in Jackson Heights, Queens July 21, to get a taste of South Asian foods and culture. The theme for the street fair – “Home” — was adopted by Chhaya Community Development Corporation, which organizes the fair. It’s goal was to  highlight the ongoing attempts at gentrification and the resultant displacement taking place in the neighborhood, organizers indicated in a press release.

PaniPuri Eating Contest at the July 21 Chatpati Mela in Jackson Heights. (Photo: Mansura Khanam for Chhaya CDC(

The Mela took place virtually on Chhaya CDC’s front door at 77th Street between Roosevelt Avenue and 37th Avenue in Jackson Heights. A main stage occupied one end of the street, and a workshop space was located on the other. A host of vendors and community-partner booths were situated in between.

Udichi Dance School performs Bengali Folk Dance. (Photo: Mansura Khanam for Chhaya CDC)

Main stage performances ranged from classical Bharatanatyam, to Bollywood and Bhangra. Dancer/Choreographer, Parijat Desai and Dance In The Round, performed “A Garba Triptych” along with dancers Trinity Bobo, Sameena Mitta, and Melissa Morrone, after which the performer invited the audience to join in and learn some garba steps.

“For 18 years Chhaya has symbolized Home for thousands. We have helped individuals and families save their home, acquire their home, gain the skills & services to make NYC & Queens home through ESL classes, immigration services, financial education, credit building, and more.” Annetta Seecharran, executive director of Chhaya CDC, is quoted saying in a press release, adding, “Today at our Annual Chatpati Mela, we have come together to celebrate and promote South Asian culture, which is so deeply entrenched in the neighborhood of Jackson Heights.”

Trisha Sakhuja, Founder and CEO, Brown Girl Magazine. (Photo: Mansura Khanam for Chhaya CDC)

Chhaya CDC, an anti-poverty non-profit founded in 2000, said it has ramped up efforts in housing preservation, and will soon launch a small business initiative to support entrepreneurs who are struggling to stay in the neighborhood.

The emcee for the Mela was Queens native, Trisha Sakhuja, co-founder & CEO of Brown  Girl Magazine. She recounted the history of the Chatpati Mela, which is in its 9th year. “Brown girl magazine’s motives align very well with Chhaya’s in that we both want to build and foster communities for South Asian Americans, so being here today as the Emcee is a no brainer”, Sakhuja is quoted saying.

Mela-goers could register to vote at a booth run by the advocacy organization, Adhikaar. There was also an art project to map community safety with the Hate-Free Zone Queens coalition. One could choose to take an anti-Street Harassment Workshop conducted by another local non-profit, DRUM, Desis Rising Up and Moving, as part of their Eckshate gender justice campaign.

Community leadership awards were presented by Queens Borough President, Melinda Katz. The Small Business Trailblazer award went to locally renowned street vendor, Jhal Muri Dadas; and Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi of  of India Home received the Community Impact award. 

Parijat Desai + Dance in the Round show some garba moves at the Chhaya CDC Chatpati Mela in Jackson Heights, July 21. (Photo: Mansura Khanam for Chhaya CDC)
(from left to right) Queens Borough President, Melinda Katz, Sanwar Ahmed of Jhal Muri Dadas, Dr. Vasundhara Kalasapudi, Executive Director, India Home, Annetta Seecharran, Executive Director, Chhaya CDC. (Photo: Mansura Khanam for Chhaya CDC)

Sanwar Ahmed gained notoreity for his singing and his Jhal Muri cart after a feature in Anthony Bordain’s Parts Unknown series on CNN. At the age of 89, and after 38 years of living in New York City, a Go Fund Me campaign has been initiated to pay his return to Bangladesh to be with his wife and two children. India Home was recognized for elevating the issue of aging in the South Asian community, and for being the first secular organization to provide services for seniors inclusive of the entire South Asian community, Chhaya CDC said.

The Arts and Activism award was presented to Raj Kumari Cultural Center. The RCC’s mission is to preserve, teach and present the arts and culture of Indo-Caribbean communities from Guyana, Trinidad, Jamaica and Suriname, living in the New York Metropolitan and Tri-state area, and help members of these communities with various services. Chitra Singh of RCC also performed live vocals with acoustic guitar along with her sister Pritha Singh, and Atheana Spathena.

Two Schools of Hope bookbinding workshops took place in the Workshop Space exploring the Mela’s theme “Home.” Master Bharatanatyam teacher Malini Srinivasan taught a class under a tent to giggling youngsters and a few adults alike. Henna painting was provided by Nira Kamal, of MehdibyNira. Kamal was, born in Bangladesh and raised in Queens.

A major draw for many fair-goers was the famed Annual Pani Puri Eating Contest – the Queens’ version of the Coney Island hot dog eating contest, with spice, Chhaya CDC said. The contest garnered 25,000 likes on Facebook.

Other artists and groups at the Mela included Gangadai Kirtan, Habibi Express, Karma, Masoom Moitra, MeenMoves, Nepali Dance Theater, Masala Bhangra, Sharif Rabby, and Umesh Mangipudi.  Vendors included A1Bizarre, Al-Araf, Anshu Accessories, Bancha Ghar, Bonoshree Enterprise, CUE RATED, Inshadycompany, Jhal Muri Dadas, JHAL NYC, Khao-Na Kitchen, Kolkata Chai, Marks Home, Care, 3 Sisters, Rashda Fashions Boutique, Styles by Mona, and WISHWAS.



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