A taste of Indian culture draws crowd to ‘One Book’ kickoff

The cultural taste of India drew a diverse audience to Monroe County’s One Book, One Community kick-off event.

About 120 people attended Monday night’s festivities, said One Book, One Community chairwoman Cheryl Johnston.

The event, which promoting Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s One Amazing Thing, combined the Indian cultural elements of music, dance, and henna tattoos with the novel’s fundamental premise of storytelling.

“Because Divakaruni is Bengali, we thought it was important to present diversity in a way that students haven’t seen before,” Johnston said. “We wanted to have an event that celebrated India’s contribution to our culture.”

Attendees could connect with the culture by listening to the rhythmic Indian music playing in the La-Z-Boy Center Atrium.

“Music is a universal language,” Johnston said. “We don’t have to speak a foreign language to appreciate the music of its culture.”

Combined with traditional Indian dancing, featured performers brought new life to the music being played. 

Performers included dancer Ruchita Coomar, the daughter of Peter Coomar, MCCC’s Dean of Industrial Technology, and singer Oishi Chakravarti.

Seeing young individuals interested in the arts and cultural preservation is refreshing, Johnston said.

The event’s final performer was Noopur Parekh, a 17-year-old who has been practicing traditional Indian dance since the age of five.

“Dancing is my only passion,” Parekh said.

Since turning thirteen, Parekh has been teaching Bollywood dance to younger children, including Ruchita Coomar.

“It’s important to spread our culture-not just with younger people, but with everyone in the community,” she said.

Parekh, Coomar and Chakravarti were excited to share their culture, and event attendees were eager to embrace it.

“I am most interested in watching the dance performances,” MCCC student Kevin Stewart said.

The performances provided artistic insight that MCCC student Kaitlin Moore appreciated and respected.

“Connecting with a community that I haven’t had access to is a new, enriching experience,” she said. “I hope to see more of this culture in the future.”

Other attendees, such as community member Donna Wickenheiser, were more interested in the henna tattoos being offered by Henna Muse artist Jen Schafer.

“I’ve always been fascinated by henna art, but have never had the opportunity to wear it,” Wickenheiser said.

Many others shared Wickenheiser’s enthusiasm for henna tattoos. The line for Schafer’s table was consistently full of children, students, and adults during the One Book, One Community kick-off.

“It was worth the wait,” Moore said.

When attendees were finished enjoying the cultural elements of music, dance, and henna, they were encouraged to record their own story.

Inspired by the storytelling in One Amazing Thing, community member Sue Neshkoff finds personal stories important to the formation of relationships.

“Most people don’t take the time to learn other peoples’ stories,” she said.

In an effort to change this tendency, many attendees chose to have their stories filmed and shared with the community of Monroe. 

“There is a difference between living in a community and being part of a community,” Johnston said. “Storytelling creates our sense of belonging to a group.”

Eric Slough, grant coordinator for MCCC, spoke with community members to find the similarities that connected them as a communal unit.

“We’re all connected,” he said. “People can grow up in completely different areas and have a lot of things in common.” 

The One Book, One Community kick-off event succeeded in displaying the universal appreciation of cultural diversity, and the necessity of storytelling within a community.

“It was a great success,” Johnston said.

Attendees agree with Johnston’s appraisal of the kick-off event.

“Not only is the event culturally enlightening, but it is really important for the college to have a presence in our community through the One Book, One Community program,” Moore said.

 “By promoting One Amazing Thing through events like this one, MCCC is bringing the community together.”