What drew you to become more involved with the Chitresh Das Dance Company and Chhandam?
My involvement began in 1999. My daughter, Shalaka, was eight and I wanted her to learn some kind of dance form. I took her to a few classes around the Bay Area and asked her to choose one. Shalaka chose the Mt. View branch of Chhandam and began her study. After two years, in 2001, Shalaka was asked to audition for the Chitresh Das Youth Company, something Dadaji had wanted to create. Through the Youth Company, we got to know Dadaji better, and I was really, really, really impressed with him and the organization. To see the effect of Dadaji on all these students was amazing. I thought, “This is what I want: this is the village I want my child to grow up in". I was frantically looking for something like that, but it was missing. I’d go to parties, and all the women talked about jewelry and food and the men talked about tech stuff and business. I was discontented but I couldn’t pinpoint it until I saw what the organization was really offering. It’s helped my daughter to be proud to be a Desi in America, to transition between American life and her life as a Desi without insecurity. Now through Chhandam, it’s easy to make that transition. She’s grounded and she’s proud of it. Now both of us are so happy to have a community that’s striving for a better goal, which is more than just making money. They are raising a community to a higher level, which is beneficial for everyone, and that made me a Chhandam fan. It’s empowering so many people to become better humans.
What does it mean to you personally to be a member of the Advisory Board of CDDC/Chhandam?
In my opinion, I’m putting a single drop of milk in a very large bowl. It makes me happy to do whatever I can. Everybody knows that I am associated with Chhandam because I’m an ambassador in whatever little circle I have. I am happy to do it because I know how important and valuable this organization and what it is doing is.
What are the joys you find from supporting the mission and vision of CDDC/Chhandam?
I find deep contentment and satisfaction. When I see girls like Rina Mehta and so many others working so hard, it brings tears to my eyes. That kind of spirit is something that reflects the mission of Chhandam. It is bigger than we are. To see the things they’ve done is so heartwarming and I want to give whatever little I can give them and support them as much as I can. I think, “Oh my God. Look at these girls and what they are doing!”
How have you seen the organization change over the years?
When I first became involved with Chhandam, 13 years ago, every single dancer had a full-time job elsewhere. But now that’s changing and I think several of them work solely for the organization. That’s a huge accomplishment – I don’t know of any other dance companies that are able to do that. I believe Celineji is a great partner and leader in the organization. She’s really made that success happen. Chhandam’s reputation is well known. Once you have a child taking a class at Chhandam, you no longer have to sell the parents on the organization. They are sold already – they understand what their child is learning. In the last 10 years, the awareness of the organization among the public has definitely grown.
Any additional thoughts, comments, reflections?
When Shalaka was stressed out in high school, she would take out her flute and play Dadaji’s favorite bhajan -- if that doesn’t say it all – if that doesn’t impress a parent, what will?