This report on the 20th anniversary celebrations of Sakhi for South Asian Women was written by new SAJAforum contributors Maia Efrem & Jehangir Irani, with photos by Irani.
Jehangir Irani is a former pilot in the U.S. Air Force. He served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s now a broadcast student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism - ji2168[at]columbia.edu
Maia Efrem, 24, is a writer for the Russian Jewish Institute. She is a master’s student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism - me2383[at]columbia.edu
Clad in a gold and burgundy churidar kurta, filmmaker Mira Nair (right) took center stage in Manhattan's Prince George Ballroom, promising, "...only dinner. Appetizers included and excellent conversation," to one lucky bidder. She jokingly added, "and maybe, depending on how tantalizing the conversation is, it can go places." Nair, who agreed to be auctioned off for a charity fundraiser, was one of almost three hundred people in attendance on Friday, Oct. 2, at Sakhi for South Asian Women's 20th anniversary gala. Minutes later, Sotheby's auctioneer Maarten ten Holder went to work, generating a winning bid of $5,000 for the dinner date with Nair. [Nair's new movie, “Amelia,” starring Hilary Swank, Richard Gere, and Ewan McGregor, opens on October 23.]
Sakhi, meaning "woman friend" in several South Asian languages, is a non-profit organization, founded 20 years ago by five South Asian women. Its modest roots trace back to no particular location, rather various apartments in New York, where volunteers fielded phone calls from women in distress. "Our call volume has tripled over the last 7 years," said executive director Purvi Shah. "I think our community based approach is successful and our community trusts us as a resource," she added.
DJ Rekha, a pioneer in New York's "Basement Bhangra" scene, provided the soundtrack to the night's festivities. Years ago, Rekha was one of three women participating in Sakhi's first internship program. "Through the years I've done many events with Sakhi,"she said. "In fact, it was one of my jobs as an intern. I did their first fundraising event; I organized it."
The evening began with a reception at the World Monument Funds Gallery, adjacent to the ballroom. Inside, traditional South Asian hors d'oeuvres (think samosas and shrimp patya), catered by acclaimed restaurant Devi, awaited arriving guests. The food complemented Rekha's music, which provided a chill, laid back vibe for guests to peruse the items in the auction. Artist Gazala Chinwalla donated one of her paintings for auction. Having two relatives who were victims of domestic abuse motivated her to do it. Sakhi's supportive network also helped both of her family members end their abusive relationships. "Even in these tough economic times, it is inspiring to see the community make protecting our women a priority," said Roopa Unnikrishnan, a former board chair of Sakhi and a NY-based executive. "It is great to see that the 20th anniversary brought out our existing supporters as well as a whole new generation of people who believe in the cause."
Entering the ornate Prince George Ballroom, guests were greeted for dinner by former Miss India New York, Bhavna Toor, also the night's MC. But before the food arrived, Toor pumped the crowd up, with a little help from the Sa Dance Company. Led by company founder Payal Kadakia, the dance troupe electrified the audience, mixing elements of both, traditional eastern and modern western dance, into a lively and upbeat routine. The action subsided temporarily for dinner, but the crowd stirred once again, when Sotheby's auctioneer ten Holder strode to the mic to begin the live auction. Capitalizing on the buzz from the dinner-with-Nair auction, ten Holder worked his magic throughout the room, person by person, and item by item. In rapid succession he he doled out front row seats to the 2010 U.S. Open, a vacation package to Bali and a real-life breakfast at Tiffany's. When his fist hit the lectern for the final time, Sakhi had raised nearly $40,000 from the live auction, and almost $48,000 from the two auctions combined.
A great night was capped off with a speech from outgoing excutive director Shah. Presented with a bouquet of roses at the podium, she reflected on how Sakhi started, and spoke about its future. "For the last 20 years it’s been a groundbreaking organization," Shah said. "It has begun by breaking the silence about the abuse in our community, and today, because of Sakhi's hard work, our community recognizes that domestic violence exists and it is an issue," she added. After nearly eight years as executive director, Shah will be leaving the organization in order to consult on violence against women, language access, and media matters. In closing, she personally thanked all of Sakhi’s members and volunteers in attendance. She also acknowledged her parents, Kirit and Bharti Shah, who were in attendance. "Thank you," she told them, "Without you, I'd be nothing. And when I feel I have nothing, there is still you." After her impassioned speech, Shah received a standing ovation from the audience, and bowed her head to them in return.
The night ended with a Sakhi group photo, then came the Sakhi group hugs, and eventually the group split into smaller pieces, grooving with one another on the dance floor, to the sounds of “Om Shanti Om,”provided by DJ Rekha.
Sa Dance Company founder, Payal Kadakia, opens the night up with a high-energy dance number.
The elegant Prince George Ballroom, site of Sakhi’s 20th anniversary gala.
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