Celebrating South Asian Culture

by Mark Graham
The second-annual South Asian Culture Show brought the dance, song and poetry of southern Asia to a large, appreciative, Oberlin audience in November. The College's South Asian Student Alliance (SASA) organized the event, which featured student performers from Oberlin and a dance group from nearby Case Western Reserve University.

Junior Lakshmi Ramakrishnan, a dancer and cochair of SASA, says organizers and participants want to demonstrate their pride in being South Asians in America; to say, "This is who we are." "In many Indian or South Asian communities in the United States, as well as at other colleges and universities, cultural shows play an important role in retaining culture and building community," she says.

Senior Olive Mitra and junior Saraiya Ishaque emceed the evening's entertainment. Describing the experience as a "very beautiful moment," Mitra says he was happy to celebrate his heritage with members of the Oberlin community. Ishaque, who danced in last year's culture show, was happy to emcee the event rather than dance. "These dances take a lot of effort on everyone's part," she says.

Dancers presented classical and modern styles. Junior Anupama Tantri performed a ethereal solo piece in the Bharatnatyam style, a 3000-year-old classical Indian form that combines a sense of spirituality with artistic expression and employs precise hand gestures, footwork, statuesque poses, and facial expressions.

Seniors Seema Shah and Chris Yap collaborated on a piece based on the music of the late Pakistani vocalist, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Yap remixed the music and Shah choreographed an ensemble piece that he performed with several other Oberlin students.

The Case Western group presented a Remix-Bhangra dance. A celebratory dance style that originated in the Punjab-now North India and Pakistan-Bhangra is now often mixed with dance genres such as disco, reggae, and techno.

The poetry of junior Akash Timblo revealed glimpses of his home, his life and his identity. Vocalists Aisha Ahmed, a senior; freshman Durga Roy; and sophomore Anjeli Murthy expressed differences in style, region, and mood with their songs. Ahmed, who hails from Pakistan, was impressed by the variety of performances. The show "gave me an opportunity to share a little bit of life in Pakistan with a large group of people," she says. The experience was "a little double-edged," she says "in that it makes you more homesick, but indulges the home part of you at the same time."

-by Mark Graham '97