India Festival in Columbus at Ohio Expo Center/Celeste Center on Saturday August 20, 2016
We drove down to Columbus early Saturday morning to attend the 18th Annual India Festival organized by the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA) of Central Ohio. We were warmly received by the President of the FIA, Urvish Shelat, and the Chairman of the Vendors’ Sub-Committee, Neelkantachar Bhagavan. As one of the sponsors of the event, Margaret W Wong & Associates LLC was given a booth at a strategic location, right next to the entrance, which ensured that visitors had to pass through our booth in order to reach other stalls. Also, we were located next to the seating arena with the stage.
We were soon introduced to the Chairman of FIA’s Board of Trustees Niranjan Neil Patel who seemed to know our Margaret Wong well and he had referred a number of clients to our firm. He was very pleased with the services we provide to the Indian community and was very delighted to hear that we had engaged staff that could speak Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu.
After setting up the booth, we toured the other stall vendors to introduce our firm to them and explain the services we provide for our clientele. There were more than 50 booths that sold a variety of goods that appealed to the growing Indian market from ethnic ware, costume jewelry to real high-end jewelry, ancient Indian furniture, and the usual services like real estate and insurance.
What was real cool was that a number of sister associations of FIA had set up booths to promote their programs and membership. One of the largest organizations included the Gujarati Mandal of Central Ohio, representing the Gujarati community. We were soon in the “Patel” world and had the opportunity of meeting Rakesh Patel, the President of the Gujarati Mandal. Rakesh spoke about areas where we could collaborate to reach out to his community especially the commemorative book he is putting together to celebrate 50th anniversary of his association in 2017.
The next stop was Columbus Tamil Sangam. We met their Treasurer Arul Neelan who was very excited when we greeted him in Tamil. We spent some time talking about Tamil movies and stars. In fact, one of the popular Tamil stars, Sivaji Ganesan, of yesteryear had inaugurated the association in the 70s. The association has about 1,000 members and have been operating a Tamil language school for 10 years. The association had an office near our Columbus office in Westerville. The Treasurer stopped by later at our booth to continue our conversation of Tamil movies and politics and immigration issues his members were encountering. We told him that we could conduct a free immigration clinic for his members.
Throughout the day a few thousand people stopped by at our booth to make enquiries about our services. Some stopped by to express their gratitude for the good work we had done in helping them in their immigration journey in America. Others brought their relatives and friends for referral. Many attendees knew our immigration doyen, Margaret Wong, some even knew our attorneys Francis Fungsang, and Fabiola Cini, and there were a few who had spoken to one of our paralegals, Enrida Milo, too.
Our greatest worry was running out of our marketing material like our pens and letter openers which were hot items. Our bilingual cards in Hindi and Punjabi were a real hit and several people expressed their appreciation to our firm in making a dedicated effort in promoting different Indian languages. Several people suggested that we should print cards in Tamil and Telugu as well.
Our next stop was Columbus Telangana Association started by the growing number of students from Telangana at Ohio State University. Pramod Janagama, President of the association, explained how and why Telangana became a separate state in 2014 and broke away from Andra Pradesh because of socio-economic issues. Prior to 1947, Telangana was part of the Nizam’s princely state of Hyderabad which was forged into Andra Pradesh after India’s independence. Though both the states speak the same language, Telugu, Telangana was the poor part of the state because only Telugu and Hindi was encouraged in their schools. On the other hand, Andra Pradesh adopted English and Telugu and went on to become the Silicon Valley of India centered round the IT city of Hyderabad.
The Telugu Association of Central Ohio represents a growing community of H1B software professionals working for Nationwide, Cardinal Health, government services in Columbus and the hospitals. The president Ashoka Kamineni said that he will invite us to their Diwali [Festival of Lights] program in October.
The variety of Indian food offered was such a big temptation. From a variety of vegetarian cuisines to Indian street food, Indian chai and coffee and sweets, was just mama mia! We had Nanak Bakery offering westernized cakes catering to Indian palate – eggless, sugar-free, vegan or gluten-free. The owners were a Parsi couple and they were so kind to take a thick stack of our business cards and marketing cards to place in their bakery which is located next to an INS finger-printing and biometric office in Westerville.
Our main highlight was when the Chief Guest Indian Deputy Chief of Mission in DC Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu stopped by our booth for a photo session and we presented him a copy of “The Immigrant’s Way” written by our own immigration doyen Margaret Wong. Surprisingly, the Ambassador knew a couple of our mutual friends like the late lawyer Kirpal Singh who was the Opposition Leader of Malaysia and lawyer Davinder Singh, first Sikh Member of Parliament in Singapore. He had just attended the dinner in honor of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong held in DC.