Guyanese man invited to White House Diwali event By Vishnu Bisram
Stabroek News
November 1, 2003

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A Guyanese was a special invitee at the Diwali celebration held at the White House last Thursday evening. Ramesh Kalicharran, formerly of Essequibo and a teacher at the Diamond Government School, was among the 100 select guests invited to the event.

Kalicharran, a real estate tycoon in Queens and International Co-ordinator for the Indian Cultural Council, said it was like a dream come true for him. “I always wanted to go to the White House. And I have struggled for years to have Diwali recognised by our government. And here it is that I got both together. My wishes are fulfilled and I am deeply honoured to be invited. I feel great pride to be selected to represent Guyanese and Indo-Caribbean people at the event.”

Kali, as he is popularly called, is the liaison for Indo-Caribbean people to the New York-based Indian Ambassador for People of Indian Origin programme.

The Diwali event took place in the Indian Treaty Room of the White House, the same room where the Bretton Woods pact and the UN Charter were signed. President George W. Bush was not present for the occasion because he was travelling overseas, but he approved the celebration and deputed Presidential Advisor Karl Rove to preside over the event. Earlier, the President sent Diwali greetings to Hindus around the world, and a commemorative coin was also distributed to mark the historic event.

In his message, the President said:

“Diwali provides an opportunity to give thanks for the renewal of life, reflect on lessons learned, and anticipate future blessings. By celebrating their beliefs, ancestry, and culture, Hindus in America and around the world enrich communities and ensure that important values and customs are passed on to future generations”.

Presidential Advisor Rove and his wife greeted the Diwali guests who were dressed in traditional garb befitting the occasion.

According to Kalicharran, while there were no lighted diyas, Sanskrit shlokas (verses from the holy Hindu texts) filled the air as a big brass lamp was lighted in front of murthis of Lord Ganesh and Goddess Lakhsmi. Hindustani music wafted through the hallway of the White House and an Indian troupe did a traditional kathak dance.

The evening’s invocation was delivered by Trinidadian Pundit Anantanand Rambachan, a professor of religion and philosophy at Saint Olaf College, Minnesota.

Professor Rambachan explained the meaning of Diwali to the 100 invited guests. And he described the US as the most religiously-diverse nation on earth and said opportunities abound for Hindus to plant anew the seeds of Hinduism.

The Presidential Advisor read greetings on behalf of Bush, who was in Australia at the time.

After the formalities, the guests enjoyed vegetarian dishes including pumpkin, roti, curried aloo and channa, and a variety of sweets, while traditional Indian music played in the background.

The 90-minute White House Diwali function was the result of persistent lobbying by community activists and the event is being touted as a big victory for the two million strong Indian-American community.

Kalicharran said he hopes it would be an annual event and plans to lobby the White House to also host Phagwah celebrations. He said he also hopes that more Indo-Caribbean leaders would be invited to coming celebrations at the White House.