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Vijay Mehta
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xx Keynote address by Parag at SPSC Convention
« Thread started on: Jul 12th, 2009, 08:09am »

Here is the text of Keynote address by Parag many of you have been asking for. Parag had a difficult task of addressing nearly two thousand attendees at Saurashtra Patel Cultural Samaj at Richmond Convention Center, Ricnmond VA. He had to talk about politics to the audience of young kids to old grand parents. Some fluent in English while some who speak mostly Gujarati. I was curious to see how he would handle it and sure enough he pulled it off!
Parag recognized that among all the diversity of the group the Garaba was one uniting word!

Poor me I had to follow his act. - Vijay Mehta


EVERYTHING I NEEDED TO KNOW ABOUT POLITICS… I LEARNED AT THE GARBA
Keynote Address by Parag V. Mehta (V stands for Vijay!)
5th International Saurashtra Patel Cultural Samaj Convention
July 3, 2009 • Richmond, Virginia
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To all the Chokras in the house, what’s up?
To the uncles and aunties, good morning.
To the Dadas and Baas, KEEEEMMMMCHO!

It’s a great honor to be here at the Saurashtra Mehta convention. My name is Parag Mehta. Shortly you’ll hear from my dad Dr. Vijay Mehta. And tomorrow, you’ll get to meet the incredible Nipun Mehta. You know, all my life I thought we Mehtas were totally outnumbered by the Patels. So, today gives me some hope that maybe we’re making a comeback.

Let me begin by congratulating the organizers of this incredible convention. I wish that my cousins in Morbi and Jamnagar could see what we’re doing here, ten thousand miles from our homeland, spreading Saurashtra ni Kirti (the fame of Saurashtra) here in America.

When my Dadaji made the courageous decision to send his six children to America – way back in 1968 – his elder brother was convinced that the next generation would be lost – that we’d lose our culture, our values and our identity. If only Mota Bhaiji had remembered the old saying, Jya jya vase ekh Gujarati, thyah thyah sada kad Gujarat – “Wherever one Gujarati goes, there he creates a whole new Gujarat.” That is our culture and that is the legacy you leave to the next generation this weekend.

I’m here to talk with you about American politics. We live in an extraordinary time in this country’s history – a time of great challenges, but also of great opportunity. I had the privilege to spend the last four years working for the Democratic Party – the oldest political party in the world – to help elect President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. I worked on the President’s transition team, helping to build this new government. And I got to see firsthand the incredible talent and leadership that he and his team have brought to the government.

It’s been said that Bill Clinton was our first black president – because he understood the African American community in a personal way. I think Barack Obama may be our first Guju president. He knows us, he’s lived the immigrant journey, he understands our culture and he profoundly respects the talents and contributions we bring to the table. It’s no surprise that there are more than a dozen Indian Americans already serving in senior positions throughout his administration – including our very own Sonal Shah, who is the first Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Engagement in the White House and, of course, Kalpen Modi – best known as the actor Kal Penn – who will be the Public Liaison for Asian Americans and the arts starting next week.

But politics isn’t about a party or a president. It’s about people. Ordinary people, trying to build their lives, raise their families and support their communities.

I was nervous coming here today because I know this is a topic we don’t discuss very much. And when we do talk about it, it’s usually just talk as opposed to action. There is a challenge here for us. We Gujaratis are, by our nature, a highly political community. We are the heirs of Mahatma Gandhi and Vallabhai Patel. But for a variety reasons, this has not translated to political power here in the U.S.

I think the first step is for us to once and for all acknowledge that this country is not a pit stop. It is our home. Whether you came here from Kathiawar or Kenya from London or Lahore – it’s time to embrace that we are all Americans now. I know some of you dream of going back to India. But keep in mind that this journey you have made has forever changed the destinies of your children and grandchildren. Whatever we do next, wherever we go from here, America is going to be a part of our DNA.

So given that reality, how do we make the most of the enormous opportunities this country has made available?

We do it by getting a world class education.

We do it by building businesses and expanding the horizons of science, industry and technology.

And we do it by sharing our greatest assets: our culture, our passions and our values. It’s in the art, the literature, the music and the philosophy – that is where we leave a lasting impression on our new homeland.

I love politics. I always have. Since that summer day in 1988 when my dad made me come in the house and watch the Democratic National Convention, I’ve been hooked. Politics is about the art of what’s possible. Just imagine, four years ago, who in this room believed that this country would elect a skinny, black guy with a funny name, born in Hawai’i to the son of a Muslim goat herder, raised in Indonesia by a single mother from Kansas and then by his nanima and nanaji – who would have believed that guy could be the President of the United States?

During the campaign last year, a lot of people said this election would be about making history. And there’s no doubt that we made a lot of history last year – with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and even Sarah Palin. But the more important point is that we didn’t just make history. We made possibility.

Today, in America, my nine year old niece and all the little kids who performed this morning can sit in a classroom and look up at a wall with pictures of all the American presidents. And when they look at them, I hope they’ll pause to take a good look at number 44… because that one looks different. That one sounds different. That one IS different. And in that moment, possibility is born… for our kids and for millions of others who can now dream of serving their country in any way they imagine.

I told you, I love politics.

Tomorrow afternoon, I’ll be leading a workshop where we can talk more about how to get involved and make a difference. This morning, I just wanted to tell you that everything I ever needed to learn about politics, I learned at the garba.

You see, Navaratri (the Hindu festival of nine nights) and elections have a lot in common. They both happen in the fall. They both seem to last forever, until they end – and then you can’t wait until the next one. And they both teach us a certain set of rules:

Rule #1 – you gotta love people.


Garba and politics are about socializing. To be successful, you have to get out there, mix it up and find the value in all kinds of people regardless of shape, size, opinions, profession and age. Don’t be shy.

Rule #2 – there are circles of power; so, get in the right one.

At the garba, the Baas (grandmas) are your base. They will always start the outer circle. They move at their own pace and that’s where they’re comfortable. As the music goes on, other circles will develop and the steps in those circles get more and more complicated. So, when you’re new don’t try and jump into the middle circle on your first try. Hang back with the Baas. Get your groove and work your way into the middle. The same is true in politics. You don’t have to start with a presidential race. Every one of you will leave this convention and go home to some place – whether it’s Edison, New Jersey, or Nashville, Tennessee. There is work to be done in your town, in your county, in your state. Now more than ever, power doesn’t flow from the top, it grows from the bottom. Learn from the Baas before you move on up.

Rule #3 – dress to impress and be at your best.


It doesn’t matter how good a dancer you are, garba is a place to see and be seen. So, look your best and more importantly, be on your best behavior. Everyone is watching and talking and impressions matter. Mummy always said that what you do in public is a reflection on the family. When you work for a campaign or an elected official, you are a reflection of him or her. If you get elected to office yourself, you hold a public trust. If the Governor of South Carolina were here today, I’d take him to a garba and tell him to remember that bhai, everyone is watching… and talking.

Rule #4 – arrogance makes you sloppy; so, keep your eyes open and be humble.


At the garba, you might be flying high. You look good in your gagra chori, your latko has got the boys’ attention, you’re friends are following your lead in the most complicated 12-step extravaganza ever. Then wham – jaadi faiba with her vichitra elbows pounds you right in the gut. Folks, the world is full of jaadi faibas. Be aware. You’re on their turf. They’re bigger than you. They’re stronger than you. And in a collision, your skinny, pretty little butt is going down. In politics, don’t let power get to your head. Remember that public service is first and foremost about service, not ego. Remember the people who got you where you are and always be aware of your surroundings.
« Last Edit: Jul 16th, 2009, 3:02pm by Vijay Mehta » User IP Logged

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xx Keynote address by Parag Part 2
« Reply #1 on: Jul 12th, 2009, 08:21am »


Rule #5 – in defeat, remember the lesson of the Ramzaniyu.


At the end of the garba, after the dandias have been put away, we always end with a dance called the Ramzaniyu. We link up our arms with our family and our best friends to form a wheel around Matagi’s statue. As the drum beat starts we leap together in three steps forward and then take four steps back. Now how is it that we take more steps backward, but somehow the wheel moves forward? The lesson here is that progress is hard. There are times when it feels like all we’re doing is moving backwards. But if you hold on to the ones who are close to you, your forward movement will always be bigger and bolder than the hesitant steps trying to pull you back. Progress doesn’t happen in a moment. It happens in a movement. You’ve got to be a part of that movement and keep looking ahead.

Finally, rule #6 – if you remember nothing else I’ve said, remember this: it’s time to get in the game.


Every time I go to garba, I see a crowd – usually the guys – standing on the sidelines, hanging in the back and loitering in the parking lot. I tell you guys now, get over yourselves. Get past the self-consciousness because you know you want to jump in. It’s way more fun to dance than to observe. Ladies and gentlemen, bhaiyo ne bheno, we live in incredible times. With all that’s going on in the world, it’s time to stop watching and start playing.

Get informed. Get registered to vote. Get behind a candidate or a cause. Give of your money and more importantly, your time. It’s time to get skin in the game and get involved.
After all, you don’t want to get to the final aarti and realize you missed out on the fun of the garba.

Thank you so much for inviting me to speak and I look forward to meeting you over this weekend.

Jai Sri Krishna!


Parag Mehta was deputy director of inter-governmental affairs on the Obama-Biden transition team.
« Last Edit: Jul 17th, 2009, 1:16pm by Vijay Mehta » User IP Logged

Greatest threat to Hindu religion comes from Dhongi Baba - Dada - Didi - Swami etc.
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