The Indo-American Heritage Museum promised an "evening extraordinaire" for its Gala 2017 on Sept. 16 at the Field Museum and deliver it did, in abundance!
Set in the vast grandeur of Stanley Field Hall was an intimate dining area, elegantly laid out in IAHM's signature peacock colors, where Ustaad Amjad Ali Khan, his sons Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash and musicians from the Chicago Philharmonic were to present the first-ever North American performance of his "Samaagam" concerto.
For Samaagam to make its debut at an IAHM event was appropriate indeed, given that celebrating the cultural diversity of Indian Americans is at the core of the museum's mission. The gala committee was spearheaded by Dr. Umang Patel, Dr. Birinder Marwah and Dr. Prem Rupani.
Channel 7 news anchor Ravi Baichwal, master of ceremonies, and keynote speaker Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi both spoke of the importance of the museum's work and the need for the community to document its contributions and participate fully in the life of the nation.
Exactly one year earlier, Dr. Patel and Mrs. Paragi Patel attended IAHM's Jazz by the Lake honoring pianist Vijay Iyer. Deeply impressed by the cause and the dedication of the volunteers who run the institution, they decided to donate a building in Lombard to serve as the museum's new home.
"We felt very confident in current leadership and assured that our rich heritage will be best projected in this museum," Dr. Patel said. "This is one of the most fundamental institutions that we must build to reflect the continued contributions of people of Indian origin to USA and to provide a great learning experience for our generations, neighbors and every one at large."
Guests at the gala feasted on a creative array of appetizers and viewed the Smithsonian's groundbreaking exhibition, "Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation," which is being copresented by IAHM and the Field Museum and runs through Jan. 7 at the Field.
The co-presenters worked together to augment the Smithsonian's narrative of the national Indian American experience with the Chicago chapter of the story. True to its grass-roots origins, the Indo-American Heritage Museum worked to engage the community in creating the local component. Chicagoland Indian Americans offered heritage artifacts, objects of historic significance and photographs to help tell their story through displays, wall panels and a video.
"I have an 8-year-old son," said Sadhana Myers, who was visiting from Mississippi. "It is wonderful to have a place like this where I can take him so he can understand what life was like for his grandparents and how proud he can be of his heritage."
Items available for auction during the program included a baseball signed by all members of the 2016 Chicago Cubs World Series Championship team. A sumptuous dinner followed a brief program, and then the music began. Separate performances by the Chicago Philharmonic, Ayaan and Amaan set the tone. Then Ustad Ali Khan took over, and held the audience enthralled, opening with a Rabindra Sangeet piece, followed by two of Mahatma Gandhi's favorite melodies.
And then it was Samaagam -- a confluence of East and West where the notes came tumbling out as music from sarod and tabla and instruments of the Philharmonic, fed into each other, building into a rousing crescendo, the performers playing as if possessed, transporting musicians and audience to an otherworldly zone before it all ended in a sudden, breathless silence. Everyone in the room knew they had been a part of something magical.
"Incredible," said one guest as the audience leapt to its feet in thunderous applause. "I feel so privileged to have been a part of this. IAHM gave us an experience I will really treasure."
The Indo-American Heritage Museum continues to offer its regular activities as well as special programs at the Field Museum related to the "Beyond Bollywood" exhibit. Up next is Chandra Day on Sept. 23. The program will honor Nobel Laureate S. Chandrasekhar celebrating his work and featuring members of his family who will share stories of their uncle. Well-known Indian Americans will exchange views and ideas at a Dec. 10 panel discussion, "Beyond Community: Indian Americans Shape the Nation."
For more information about the Indo-American Heritage Museum, please visit www.iahmuseum.org.