The Hampton Roads Indian community knows how to throw a party. This week they’re throwing a party for around 10,000 of us Hampton Roadites.
It’s called Taste of India (TOI). And in all the 5 years I’ve lived here I’ve never missed it. Except for one year, because of work and that was a sound-of-silence-GOB-Bluth kind of terrible mistake.
Held at the Ted Constant Convocation Center, TOI serves as one of the largest cultural gathering points for the Indian community in the entire state of Virginia. I’m here to tell you why you owe it to yourself to attend this year.
Clouds of cardamom, pepper, and anise float magic-carpety through the air. Dazzlingly vivid saris, kurtas, and jewelry alight every room. And the food. So. Much. Food. Oh, and the magnificent music that sounds like lost centuries and found dreams. Also, the food. Quick disclaimer: eating delicious food is central to my vision of a life that matters and if that doesn’t interest you then I’m afraid there’s nothing for you here at TOI, or anywhere. Two words for you: Gulab Jamun. Go find some and never ever let them go.
OK, let me actually try to do justice to this mega-block party of an event.
This year will be the 9th annual TOI. Every year the list of vendors, attendees, and performers grows. And that’s because it’s designed to be so much more than just a tourism-in-a-box look at Indian culture. It’s a collaboration by and for the thousands of Indians living in Hampton Roads, to share the heritage that binds them all together. More than that, it’s an invitation for those who live outside that heritage to not only witness it but be a part of it. Even for just a few hours.
Throughout the day there are performances scheduled that highlight talented youth, eager adults and everyone in between. Where else can you witness little kids mumble-singing Indian pop ballads? Or bouncing, thunderous bhangra groups competing in a contest even wilder than the climactic final scene of Shall We Dance 10: Punjabi Shake?
Ok, so I made that movie up for dramatic effect but you get the picture.
Each year there’s a theme too. This year the theme is Indian Weddings. Here in the States we get tiny glimpses of what Indian weddings are like from friends’ Instagram posts or our dabbling in the artfully fabulous bollywood canon. But a real Indian wedding, that’s something that has to be witnessed. Fortunately, this year you can watch a traditional Indian wedding in all its sacred splendor.
So we’re talking about dancing and singing and exaltation in glorious measure… but all of that isn’t even the best part. The best part, the really really exciting best part, is that all of this is free. Now, I don’t want to be misleading. You’ll have to pay for stuff like clothes and food, obviously, but admission is free. It always has been and always will be.
But I think what resonates most and keeps me coming back after all these years of attending is that everything is presented so genuinely. Every detail is given care and thought to help any outsider’s experience be one that connects to what, for some, is a very unrelatable culture. From the way you’re greeted when you arrive to the ease with which everything is communicated to you, it’s designed to be an authentic, but comfortable, window into Indian traditions. Wait, are you talking about unironic sharing of meaningful and contextually appropriate culture?
Yes I am. And it’s so refreshing.
I had the fortune of catching up with Pramod Malik, public relations chair for TOI–the sponsor of this article–and the more I talked with him the more excited he got about everything happening this year. So then I got really excited. And when I asked him what the organization really wants communicated to the public he said, “I know it probably sounds cliché but we really just want this to be a small taste of India and who we are.”
In so few words (far fewer than my own) he captured simply the essence of the event.
In conclusion: you need to get yourself to Taste of India, especially if any of the following are your favorite things:
– Free events
– Eating food
– Watching children adorably (and sometimes grudgingly) sing Bollywood hits. There is so much entertainment, and educational opportunities, for children
– Trying on lavish handmade wares
– Eating food
– Watching students receive scholarships (and maybe feeling a little proud of some strangers’ kids)
– Dancing like a crazy
– All of the above + eating more food
Come out this Sunday, April 26th from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. All are welcome. And if you need more info, check this out. Oh, and if you’ve made it all the way down to the bottom of this article: come on Sunday, find me, and I’ll buy you some gulab jamun. I swear on my copy of Shall We Dance 10.
**Promotional consideration for this article provided by TOI.**