SAO PAULA , BRAZIL(by Shoban Saxena, Times of India): Alameda Sarutaia is a quiet street just off Avenida Paulista, the main avenue that runs through the center of this megalopolis. Cross a couple of buildings, you come across an old villa and the sounds coming from inside, tabla beats mixing with the strains of sitar and an Indian voice singing an old song devoted to a God -- make you stop. A step closer to the gate and you smell incense. This is the Indian Cultural Centre (ICC) of Sao Paulo. The ICC has a decent auditorium, but it is overflowing, with people sitting on the floor, on the steps or standing just standing outside the hall. When you see such a large number of Brazilians at an Indian cultural event, it's impossible not to ask what attracts them to Indian dance and music and culture. The two countries have been geographically as well as culturally so far from each other that there hasn't been much cultural exchange between them.
But at least here is Sao Paulo, the scenario has changed in the past couple of years. With the opening of the centre less than two years ago, the ICC has become Little India, where anyone interested in any aspect of Indian culture can drop by and get immersed in Indian dance, music, spiritual traditions or in the impressive collection of books in the library. But if the centre has become a thriving hub of Indian culture in such a short span, it's because of hard work and dedication of some people--Indians and Brazilians.
Iara Ananda, who teaches Bharata Natyam at the center is one of them She is a young Brazilian dancer who is equally at home in classical traditions as well as in Bollywood dancing. The next person is Gyaneshree Karahe, the Kathak instructor at the centre she is a disciple of Kathak legend Birju Maharaj, Gyaneshree. Silvana Duarte is the Odissi teacher at the center, she is a disciple of Odissi legend Kelucharan Mahapatra. A few months ago, Sonia Galvao, who also learnt Odissi from the great Kelucharan Mahapatra, gave a performance at the ICC, the auditorium was packed to its capacity with only a few Indians in the crowd. The evening ended with food--a mixture of Indian Brazilian cuisine. The programme was held under the umbrella of Brazil India Club, a brainchild and initiative of Indian consul-general, G V Srinivas, and the ICC director, Kamaljit Singh.
The center is always buzzing with activity. Walk through its three floors and you see Brazilians learning Indian dances, music, Hindi and yoga. And it's all free. As one Brazilian said, "In a city where the only thing free is air, it's unbelievable that you can learn so much without paying anything." But it's not free courses that has made the centre so popular. The director of the centre, Kamaljit Singh, brings amazing energy to the place. He organises events, invites people, addresses the gatherings, moves chairs and even makes coffee for his guests, all this with a smile on his face. It's his tireless work that has made the centre a Little India in the heart of Sao Paulo.
[HPI adds: The ICC has also proved to be a convenient venue for celebrating the now-annual Durga Puja. For events see its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Indian- ... Sao-Paulo/264620656923828