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Taste of India Festival: A  Unique and Vibrant Addition to San Jose’s Cultural Scene 

Taste of India Festival: A  Unique and Vibrant Addition to San Jose’s Cultural Scene 

  • Organized by Vrajesh Shah and Rinku Shah, the two-day festival brought an array of desi culture, cuisine, and community in the form of a “mela,” drawing throngs of Indians from far and wide.

I attended the first Taste of India Festival in California’s Bay Area last week. Organized by Vrajesh Shah and Rinku Shah, the two-day festival was held in Plaza de César Chávez across from Market Street in downtown San Jose. The July 6-7 event was a vibrant tribute to the Indian diaspora in Silicon Valley. It brought an array of Indian culture, cuisine, and community in the form of a “mela,” drawing throngs of Indians from far and wide, filling the parking lots and hotels downtown to full capacity. There was no entry fee and the festival was good for local businesses, and people also enjoyed basking in a concentrated wave of Indianness.

Atmosphere and Entertainment

The festival boasted an eclectic mix of entertainment that kept attendees engaged throughout the day. Bollywood music, live karaoke performances, and energetic dances created a lively atmosphere. The emcees engaged the crowd by asking Bollywood and cricket trivia. The chants of “India, India, India” echoed downtown, celebrating the recent victory of the Indian cricket team at the T20 World Cup in Barbados. 

My daughter’s friends participated in a Bollywood dance on stage. Another highlight was California actor Omi Vaidya, famous for his role as Chatur Ramalingam in the iconic movie “Three Idiots.” He spoke at length about his experience working with the cast and crew in Bollywood and recalled playing Scrabble with the other actors at the IIM campus in Bangalore. He amazed them by using all his letters for the first word “Gauntlet.” After being challenged and verifying it was a valid word, Aamir Khan became razor-focused and won by a single point. 

Culinary delights were undoubtedly a major draw, with over 40 food trucks and vendors offering a variety of Indian street foods like dosa, pav bhaji, chaat, momos, kebabs, Indian ice cream, and sugarcane juice. The rich flavors of Indian cuisine were delightful, though the long lines and overwhelming turnout led to some organizational challenges. At the end of the night, you could gauge how many people had eaten there just by witnessing the overflowing trash cans. 

Cultural Diversity and a Sense of Community

The festival was a true reflection of India’s diversity, with women attendees dressed in sarees, salwar suits, lehengas, maxis, midis, and miniskirts. Engineers sported T-shirts from Google, Facebook, Amazon, and more, serving as walking advertisements for the companies drawing so many software engineers to the Bay Area. 

It was heartwarming to see people from various Indian communities, including Karnataka, Maharashtra, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh, gather to celebrate their heritage. Parents visiting from India talked about living with their children who were still trying to process their work visas to green cards. 

Other ethnicities also seemed to enjoy the Indian food and music, adding to the multicultural atmosphere. At night, the event transformed into a dance party with a light breeze flowing through the tall blue jacaranda trees. People danced to popular Bollywood hits like “Jhumka What Jhuma,” “Kala Chashma,” and “Maan Meri Jaan,” making it an unforgettable experience. 

A dance troupe from Toronto performed on stage, showcasing impressive moves. The San Jose Civic Center was lit up in saffron and green, resembling Indian colors and serendipitously adding to the festive spirit. 

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Historic Venue

The choice of Plaza de César Chávez as the venue added a historic charm to the festival.  It was shaded and so we did not feel the intense heat wave that has been scorching the Bay. As the oldest public open space in Northern California, the plaza’s origins date back to 1797. The park is surrounded by landmarks such as The Tech Museum of Innovation and the San Jose Museum of Art, making it one of San Jose’s primary civic spaces and the historic center of Downtown San Jose.

I had an opportunity to speak with Vrajesh Shah, who is associated with the hospitality industry and has organized these shows in Toronto Canada for several years. A resident of San Jose, his efforts are supported by their NGO “Global Heritage Foundation, and the events in Canada have been sponsored by Costco, Walmart and Hilton. They are expecting about 40,000 attendees this year. Shah said that next year the event will be ticketed. As per the organizer, and program director Yashwant Koppala, Bollywood star Preity Zinta was scheduled to make an appearance to attract larger crowds.

Overall, the Taste of India Festival was a unique and vibrant addition to San Jose’s cultural events, offering a rich tapestry of Indian culture, food, and entertainment that left a lasting impression on all who attended. I am sure this festival will become an annual event. 

With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India, and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. She has published hundreds of poems, movie reviews, book critiques, and essays and contributed to combined literary works. Her two books are My Light Reflections and Flow through My Heart. You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.

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