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At 60, free & all over NY

New york, Sept. 23: Unmindful of the political schism in Delhi caused by the nuclear deal and an apparent lack of trust in the US as a friend or as an ally among sections of Indians, the Big Apple has embraced India.

India is everywhere in Manhattan, from Times Square to city buses and streetlight poles: in focus is a four-day mega celebration across this town of the 60th anniversary of India’s freedom.

New Yorkers woke up on Sunday to a rare full-page advertisement in The New York Times inviting them to “experience India in New York”.

Last night, hordes of tourists and residents of this megapolis gawked at huge illuminated billboards trumpeting details of this “experience” at two of the most coveted advertising spots in the world: the facades of the Nasdaq Building and the US headquarters of Reuters, both in Times Square.

The decision by Ambika Soni, the embattled tourism and culture minister who is defending herself politically over the Ram affidavit, to skip [email protected], which she has micro-managed during a year of its planning, has not dampened enthusiasm here for the celebrations.

Even without Soni, half a dozen Union cabinet ministers are in attendance at [email protected], which kicked off this morning with the first Pravasi Bharatiya Divas or Day of Overseas Indians held outside the country.

It was rolled out by Vayalar Ravi, the minister for overseas Indian affairs, attended by a gathering of people of Indian origin from coast to coast in the US.

Pranab Mukherjee, the foreign minister, who is standing in for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as leader of the Indian delegation to this year’s UN General Assembly, will formally open [email protected] this evening followed by cultural performances of Kathakali, Theyyam, Odissi, Kathak, Bharata Natyam, Kuchipudi and Manipuri, culminating in a sarod recital by Amjad Ali Khan.

Tarun Das, the chief mentor of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which is executing the four-day celebrations as a public and private sector partnership, said the idea was born out of a similar campaign called “India Everywhere” at the World Economic Forum in Davos last year.

“The UN General Assembly is the time when the world comes to New York,” Das said as the rationale for holding the programme in the Big Apple now.

Kiran Pasricha, the US-based deputy director-general of CII, said some 265 banners promoting the event have been put up on New York city buses. This is in addition to several more 100 banners on streetlight poles all across Manhattan.

There is something for everyone at the [email protected] celebrations.

Yale University and CII are co-hosting two panels on Monday and Tuesday as part of the programme. One panel has been titled India 2050: A Grand Strategy for India Rising, while the other is on Women and Global Leadership.

Yale’s president Richard Levin said the university’s involvement in the programme “signals the growing interest that India’s emergence holds for all Americans. The topics of the panel discussions in New York City reflect the values of critical engagement, leadership, and public service that Yale has long sought to instill in our students”.

In addition to Yale, one other Ivy League institution is a co-host for the events here. Columbia University’s Earth Institute, along with CII, will take an in-depth look at “India’s Growing Water Crisis”, a critical issue that is often neglected amid the hype about the country’s emerging economic achievements.

For New Yorkers uninterested in high-brow discussions on the merits of Indian democracy or successful strategies for doing business in India, there will be samplings of Indian cuisine and spices as well as culinary demonstrations at South Street Seaport, often described as a “not-to-be-missed” American landmark on Lower Manhattan’s historic waterfront.

A big hit is expected to be “Bollywood Live”, contemporary dances from Indian films at Bryant Park, a popular public location behind the New York Public Library.

Bryant Park will also showcase folk dances and music from different parts of India: Raibense from Bengal, Pung Cholam and Holipala from Manipur and Bhangra from Punjab, in addition to day-long chanting of Sanskrit shlokas.

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