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The Indian Cultural Society in Jacksonville will celebrate Independence Day on Aug. 15.

Here are some of the activities being held throughout Florida to celebrate India's Independence Day: TAMPA BAY AREA: About 1,500 people are expected to attend an India Independence Day Charity Festival Sunday, Aug. 16 at India Cultural Center, 5511 Lynn Road. "We are holding a charity drive so people can bring non-perishable food items and children's books to the event," said Ram Reddy, president of Federation of Indian Associations of Tampa Bay.

Benefiting charities are The Children's Home and Metropolitan Ministries. "We also are accepting money for the two charities," said Reddy. Another charity effort is an Asian Indian Cookbook that FIA will publish with well-diversified recipes from the various parts of India. (If you would like to submit a recipe, e-mail Sheila Narayanan at

Nearly 36 different organizations, which are part of FIA, will be presenting folk and group dances. Satish Ankalikar and his troupe will sing. Several Hillsborough County commissioners will be attending the event, which will be held from noon to 7 p.m. "Flag hoisting and a procession should be between 3 and 4 p.m.," said Reddy. There will be at least 15 booths showing off Indian arts, crafts, clothing, jewelry and of course food.

For more information, call Ram Reddy at (813) 926-6617 or Malti Pandya at (813) 431-9731.

ORLANDO: The Hindu Society of Central Florida New Age Group will celebrate Independence Day at 1:30 p.m. on Aug. 2 at the community hall, 1994 Lake Drive, Casselberry. On the agenda is a speech by veteran Indian diplomat Raj Kapur; individual experiences of its members regarding independence, seminar on U.S. Census 2010 and time permitting, games such as carom board, chess, cards. Cost is $5 per person. RSVP at

MELBOURNE: The Indian Association of the Space Coast (IASC) will celebrate India's independence on Saturday, Aug. 15, at Melbourne Stadium. For information, visit

TALLAHASSEE: The India Association of Tallahassee (IATLH) will celebrate Utsav/Independence Day on Aug. 29. The 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. event will be held at Florida State University's Moore Auditorium. Utsav, the non-film cultural event, also will take place. IATLH is partnering with FSU's International Center and FSU Indian Student Association for the event. For information, visit the association's web site

GAINESVILLE: The Gainesville Indian Cultural Education Center (ICEC) Youth Group will hold Independence Day celebrations on Aug. 15. The event will be at ICEC, 1115 S.W. 13th St. A short Indian patriotic cultural program, including dances and speeches about freedom, will be followed by dinner. Games and activities for kids will be conducted. Also planned is a welcome program for new graduate students from India. All new students are gifted a new pillow to get a good night's sleep as a gift and token of ICEC's presence in the community to help the young Indian students. ICEC is collecting donations for the pillows ($8 per pillow). If anyone is interested in supporting the cause, send checks to ICEC, 1115 S.W. 13th St., Gainesville, Fl 32608.

For information, call Youth Group coordinator Neeta Someshwar at (352) 335-1433 or Shaheda Qaiyumi at (352) 378-7112 or visit

JACKSONVILLE: The Indian Cultural Society is celebrating the 62nd Independence Day of India on Saturday, Aug. 15, at the University of North Florida (UNF). Events include a parade reflecting unity in diversity of India, exhibition displaying various aspects of Indian Independence and a variety cultural program.

Sports competitions for carom and chess are organized for ladies and senior citizens. Awards for these competitions as well as for distinguished personalities in the community will be distributed during the cultural program.

A statue of Mahatma Gandhi was installed at UNF in 2006. The parade, which will culminate by garlanding the statue, will include floats and people dressed up in costumes representing various parts of India.

The parade will start at 3:30 p.m. in front of Lazzara Hall at UNF and end at 5 p.m. at the statue of Gandhiji. The cultural program will begin at 5:30 p.m. with flag hoisting and a speech by the chief guest. The exhibit will be held in the lobby of Lazzara Hall.

Indian organizations participating in the activities include Gujarati Samaj, Malyalee Association, Bengali Association, Savikannada, Hindu Society of Northeast Florida, Jacksonville Tamil Mandaram, Sikh Society/Kirtan Darbar, IndoUS Chamber of Commerce, Telugu Association of Jacksonville Area, Jain Association, Indo American Medical Association, Florida Cricket Association and Gandhi Memorial Society.

All the programs are free and open to all.

For more information, e-mail, or visit

SOUTH FLORIDA: The Association of Indians in America (AIA) is hosting its annual Independence Day celebration on Saturday, Aug. 22 at Coral Springs Center For The Arts, 2855 Coral Springs Drive, in Coral Springs.

AIA is inviting other Indian cultural organizations to join in the celebration. Dancers, musicians and singers are urged to participate in the cultural program from noon to 3 p.m. All items should be patriotic in nature, geared towards recognizing and celebrating India's Independence Day. They can be between 3-5 minutes long. Traditional folk dances are welcome.

To participate, call Amita Singh at (772) 485-7937 or e-mail or call Uma Eniasivam at (954) 341-9346 or e-mail Also, visit


When we first began planning Khaas Baat, we hoped for it to grow. But five years later, we could not have imagined it would grow into the publication that it is today, reaching Indian Americans throughout Florida.

One of our original goals was to make Khaas Baat a valuable resource for the Indian American community and we hope to continue that effort with the help of community members from cities around the Sunshine State.

We would like to thank our children for their understanding around deadline time every month, and Shephali's father for all of his help. We know her mom would have been proud of our efforts.

It goes without saying that advertising is needed to run the business end of a publication and we are grateful to all our advertisers for their support.

Reaching this milestone five-year anniversary would not have been possible without the continuous efforts of our columnists. We are happy to have accomplished columnists who can provide informative reading. Speaking of columnists, our astrology writer Ketu Patel is back with her monthly forecast. Also, with this issue, we are launching a Profile column. It is our honor to start this new endeavor with a profile of Braham Aggarwal, chairman of Park Square Homes, of Orlando.

Remember, Khaas Baat is the ONE AND ONLY Sunshine State publication to offer comprehensive coverage of happenings in your Florida Indian community.

Do e-mail us at with news of upcoming activities in your community by the 20th of the month so we can share that information with our readers in the following month's issue.


For the first time ever in Florida, the National Fogana competition takes place Sept. 6 (Labor Day weekend) in Clearwater. You will want to be a part of at least 2,000 people expected to come and witness the annual Gujarati folk dance competition. Winners of the regional finals from across the United States will compete for the national Fogana title.

FOGANA stands for the Federation of Gujarati Associations of North America. Founded in 1980, the group seeks to promote the cultural heritage of Gujarat among the younger generation through raas, garba and Gujarati folk dance. Participants are grouped into categories by age, ranging from age 6 to adult.

"The dances are all high end and professional," said Dr. Mahesh Amin, president of India Cultural Center (, which is sponsoring the 1 to 7 p.m. event at Ruth Eckerd Hall. There will be 20 vendors selling food, clothing, arts and crafts just outside the auditorium.

"We are looking for sponsors since we are hosting all the 35 teams, putting them at hotels, taking care of their transportation," said Amin. "We are bringing more cultural events to ICC such as a tabla and sitar concert next spring and Morari Bapu in spring 2011," he said.

Ruth Eckerd Hall is at 1111 N. McMullen Booth Road. To purchase tickets priced at $10, $25, $50, $100, visit Tickets will also be available at the door. For sponsorship, booths or more information, call Swapna Shah at (813) 789-4142 or Nikunj Patel at (813) 264-4638.


More than 450 store owners and decision-makers representing over 1,500 stores and gas stations and liquor stores are expected at the Asian American Convenience Stores Association of Central Florida (AACSA) Expo 2009 Aug. 22 in Titusville.

At the free event, attendees will attend workshops, and gain an understanding of new markets, opportunities and technologies. The turnout will include 50 wholesalers, manufacturers and suppliers.

AACSA 2009 will be from 1 p.m. to midnight at BCC Titusville Campus Gym, 1311 N. U.S. 1, Titusville.

All attendees must register at For more information, call Tino Patel at (407) 579-5050 or Dr. Kanti Bhalani at (321) 298-5531.

Story provided by CFCC

"The Art of Ganesh" exhibit is now open at the Webber Center at Central Florida Community College in Ocala.

"We are pleased to offer this exhibit in conjunction with the Asian Cultural Association of Florida," said Dr. Jennifer Fryns, CFCC's instructional manager of Visual and Performing Arts. "The exhibit examines celebrations of Ganesh from all regions of India mostly through sculpture and photography."

Jasbir Mehta, executive director of the Asian Cultural Association, explained: "The exhibit provides insight to the popular Hindu deity Ganesha, who assists individuals in overcoming obstacles, bestowing favors, and providing success. Images of Ganesha are a common sight in everyday India, appearing on car and taxicab dashboards, in commercial establishments, and in shrines and temples."

On Monday, Aug. 24, there will be a presentation on "Women and Spirituality" by Dr. Renuka Singh at 6 p.m. in the Webber Center at CFCC. Singh is an associate professor of Social Sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and a noted gender studies scholar.

A closing reception will be held on Thursday, Sept. 3, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Webber Center. Dr. Veluchamy Chellammal, CFCC's Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence from India, will be the guest lecturer. For gallery hours and more details, call Laura Wright at (352) 854-2322, Ext. 1552.

Submitted by M. P. Ravindra Nathan

The Hindu Temple of Florida is sponsoring Gurudev Sree Amritji for the third Amrit Yoga seminar and retreat Aug. 21-23 at its Community Hall, 5509 Lynn Road, Tampa. The program includes discussions and demonstrations on Amrit Yoga, Pranayama, Yoga Nidra, Meditation and Satsang.

In this new millennium, stress is a major cause of ill health and "How to reduce stress" will be a major topic for discussion during the seminar. Gurudev invites attendees to "step into zero stress where all the boundaries of the body-mind dissolve, freed from the inhibitions of mind and time, in the boundless space of your being. The zero stress zone improves your perception, creates new openings, clears your doubt and confusion and enhances your ability to communicate."

For details and to register, contact Sherry Preston at or (352) 428-0709 or M. P. R. Nathan at or (352) 799-3728.

Story provided by Lowry Park Zoo

An endangered Indian rhinoceros (also known as the great one-horned rhinoceros) was born July 7 at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo to first-time mother "Jamie," in her night house within the zoo's Asian Gardens exhibit area. The Indian rhino birth is the first for the zoo and a significant conservation milestone for the species in captivity with only a few documented births each year.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Indian/Nepalese Rhinoceros Species Survival Plan (SSP) maintains a record of all captive specimens of that species in North America. According to the SSP's most recent report in June 2009, there were a total of 54 Indian rhinos among 17 AZA-accredited institutions in North America, with just nine animals born in the last three years. Indian rhinos are listed as an endangered species, with an estimated wild population of about 2,000.

Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo is home to a breeding pair of Indian rhinos known as "Arjun," an 11-year-old male and "Jamie," an 8-year-old female and the new mother.

The Indian rhinoceros is one of five species of rhinos worldwide and one of three species found in Asia. It is native to the remote, swampy grasslands of Assam and Nepal. Weighing several thousand pounds on average, the Indian rhino's most distinct feature is a single horn on the end of its muzzle (three species have two horns), which is composed of keratin - the same protein that forms human fingernails and hair. The species has a unique upper lip, known as a prehensile lip, which acts as a hook to grasp onto plants and food in its herbivore diet (grass, twigs, bamboo shoots, water hyacinths and various produce).

The gestation period for Indian rhino pregnancies is about 16 months. When born, calves normally weigh in the range of 75-100 pounds and will nurse throughout their first two years. They are normally able to stand just hours after being born.

Open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Lowry Park Zoo is at 1101 W. Sligh Ave. For more information, call (813) 935-8552 or visit


ICICI Bank Limited (NYSE: IBN), India's second-largest bank, has launched the International Remittance Transit account to facilitate easy and quick money transfers from its New York Branch.

The International Remittance Transit Account service addresses the requirements of Indian citizens who want to send money to India. This account can be opened with no initial deposit or minimum balance. It allows customers to avail the twin benefits of competitive exchange rates and efficiency.

Mr. G V S Ramesh, head of ICICI Bank Limited's New York Branch, said, "This product ensures that we offer confirmed Indian rupee exchange rates to a customer prior to him sending the money. Our treasury desk enables us to offer U.S. dollar - Indian rupee rates right here in New York. This, coupled with our strength in technology, ensures that money reaches the recipient bank account in India efficiently."

By opening an International Remittance Transit Account, the customer need not visit the branch but can now transact from home or office.

For more information, visit


Vatsalya Gram founder Sadhvi Ritambharaji, popularly known as Pujya Didi Maa, will deliver various discourses on spiritual subjects, including Sundar Kand Katha, from Aug. 27-29 at India Cultural Center in Tampa.

The Pravachan (Katha) is presented by Param Shakti Peeth of America and ICC. It will be from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, 7 to 8 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday. Prasad (dinner) will be served on all days.

This is Pujya Didi Maa's first visit to Tampa. She is known for promoting the dignity of India and Indians particularly with respect to Hinduism. She also is the founder of Vatsalya Gram, which is a unique alternative to orphanages and women's shelters. It is the only facility in the world where orphaned children and destitute women of all ages are given homes so they may live like families and form everlasting bonds as parents and siblings.

Sadhvi Ritambhara has also been the propagator of women's rights and has been actively involved in bringing several environmental and social changes in India ranging from advocating for a cleaner environment, maintaining and cleaning temples, etc.

For more information, call Chandrakant Patel at (813) 340-5505.

Braham Aggarwal

His passion is to bring Indian heritage, which is to teach the art of living, to the universe. "All our teachings are a dialogue, a question-and-answer," says Braham Aggarwal, chairman of Park Square Homes in Orlando, as we sit and chat in his home office, surrounded by photographs of family and world-renowned personalities. And books, dozens of them since he is an avid reader.

"There are no Commandments in our teaching," he continues. "In Mahabharata, Lord Krishna gives an explanation for every question posed to him but leaves it up to Arjuna to make the decision."

You get a much-needed dose of wisdom as you listen with open and eager ears to the 73-year-old builder, developer and philanthropist. "Religion is about power and money," he says, sounding quite blunt. "Religion represents fear (of hell) and incentive (of heaven). But Dharma is different. Dharma is about your duty, the art of living."

Aggarwal also is a firm believer of Vasudeva Kutumb (the whole world is one big family). In 2000, during a citizen-led initiative to Lahore, he addressed a group of students with 'Namaste,' "which means I bow down to the divinity within you. Beyond the body who you really are." The explanation earned a thunderous applause from the crowd. His point is that "if you can get a warm response to 'Namaste' in Pakistan, why can't Hindus talk to Muslim students in India?" Oh, and he can read Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi and of course English. "The essence of all teachings is service, compassion, love."

Born and brought up in Kenya, Aggarwal was forced to drop out of high school for financial reasons. But he continued high school and accounting from home before acquiring a degree and a job. In 1975, he moved to England for education of his children while continuing export business of Land Rover parts to Kenya, among other businesses. Five years later, he landed in Baton Rouge and began developing land for apartment housing, a shopping center and a hotel.

It was in 1983 that he met up with Anil Deshpande, a civil engineer, and founded Park Square Homes. He and Deshpande developed complexes and subdivisions and built homes. "We sold 1,000 homes," says Aggarwal. Among the well-known communities was Suntosh Village, a golf course community for Indian retirees, which was built out after 200 homes. At present, Park Square has sold 15 of 300 homes in Anand Villas, another retirement community, among the numerous developments in the works. "Our business is twofold: one where people come and live permanently; and the other are resort communities, where people buy and live in a home before renting it out."

Aggarwal cites financial struggles as a child as the reason for supporting Ekal Vidyalaya, a program to eradicate illiteracy in rural and tribal areas of India. "You can add value by providing education," he says. "Education is most important and ignorance is the root cause of all conflicts." For his part, he is too modest to mention it but he has supported well over 1,000 Ekal schools (its $365 per year per school, so you can do the math).

He also is chairman of the Hindu University of America in Orlando, which offers master's and doctorate degrees in Hinduism, yoga, astrology, ayurveda and Sanskrit.

Then there's the Community Foundation of Central Florida, where he serves as a member of the Board of Directors. The organization manages and invests donor funds, connecting donors with projects they are passionate about.

"I've also become involved with Swami Ramdev, who teaches yoga," says Aggarwal. "Swamiji's mission is to bring good health to all the six billion people on the planet."

The Park Square Homes chairman has a few tips for the youth struggling to be successful in today's competitive world. "If you want to succeed in life, you need a trained and disciplined mind," he advises. "Hanuman represents that. He is totally devoted to doing whatever Ram and Sita ask of him. If our mind could go along with our intellect, we will succeed. A wandering mind loses a lot of energy."

And then there is Lord Ganesh through whom you can learn the secret of achievement, leadership and management, Aggarwal points out. "Ganesh's big head means 'Think Big.' Those big ears are for listening carefully. The thick skin is so you don't get carried away if someone flatters you. The trunk represents intellect, to discriminate between right and wrong. You cannot see Ganesh's mouth but it means do not gossip, take whatever you've heard and digest it. The mouse represents the mind. In our case, the mind wanders off. But Ganesh's mouse is trained to be ready for use."

Aggarwal and his wife Krishna have two daughters and one son. They live as a joint family. His daughter, Rohini, is married to Suresh Gupta, who is the CEO of Park Square Homes. His son, Avanish, is a physician in the Orlando area. His other daughter lives in England with her dentist husband.

Aggarwal, being the humble and generous person he is, won't take credit for his accomplishments. "I stumble upon people, upon opportunities," he says in all honesty. "So many people have helped me and given me advice. As for giving, I'm a mere trustee of all I have. I only should use on myself what I need."

Now if only everyone followed up on those ideals, we would have a "Vasudeva Kutumb" envisioned by Aggarwal.


Some may ask: Why the HS 250h? Heck, why not? After all, it fills in the gap between the IS and ES entry-level sedans quite nicely. The four-door, five-passenger gas/electric hybrid compact car is equipped with an Atkinson-cycle 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that offers a total of 187 horsepower. It is mated to a slick Continuously Variable Transmission.

Like the Prius, the hybrid system employs a four-cylinder gas engine and two electric motors. At higher speeds, power comes primarily from the gasoline engine. During deceleration and braking, the vehicle uses regenerative braking to apply much of the wasted energy toward recharging the hybrid battery. Fuel is saved by using electric motors at low-to-mid-speed acceleration, where a gasoline engine is much less efficient.

Keeping tabs on the driving habits is a hybrid system monitor and an eco-drive indicator on the LCD screen. You can toggle navigation, climate, audio and phone controls with the optional mouse-like, easy-to-use Remote Touch.

If you are in the market for an entry-level luxury hybrid sedan that boasts decent gas mileage while backed by a powerful engine, the 250h fits the bill. With a combined EPA estimate of 34 mpg, you could travel nearly 475 miles on a full gas tank. It's a tough act to beat.


Wheelbase: 106.3 inches

Length: 184.8 inches

Weight: 3,682 pounds

Suspension: MacPherson strut in front, double wishbone type in rearv Steering: Electric Power Steering

Fuel capacity: 14.5 gallons

City: 35 mpg

Highway: 33 mpg

Base price: $38,490v Web site:


Amol Nirgudkar

At kitchen tables across America, the burning question is: What do we make of the American economy and when are things going to get better? The truth is that the recent rallies in the stock market have baffled all of us and left us looking hard for the answer to this frustrating question.

The market rally offers us hope while it lasts, but mere hope is not enough to recover the investment losses incurred over the past two years. The rising oil and commodity prices, along with higher interest rates are both troubling "telltale" signs that foreshadow even tougher times. And as if these problems are not enough, the massive stimulus packages do not seem to be working either, at least for now.

So where do we go from here? How do we reclaim our retirement? In this article, we will discuss a popular insurance product called the Variable Universal Life (VUL) that has been touted as an alternative retirement savings tool for years by many in the financial services industry. I know that the last thing people want to hear today is that they should buy another insurance product, but sometimes bad economic times are the best times for making investments, whether in the stock market, or even in depressed real estate; either of which can payoff big in the future.

A VUL is a type of permanent life insurance whereby the death benefit is paid no matter if or when the insured dies, as long as there is sufficient cash inside the policy to cover for policy costs. VUL's flexibility allows the policyholder to select the timing and amount of payments within certain contractual framework. When a policyholder pays premiums, the insurance company deducts various costs and invests the rest of the money in separate accounts. Separate accounts allow the policyholder to invest the cash in several combinations of stock and bond funds set to a comfortable yet measured risk-preference. As long as the investments within the policy outperform the internal policy costs, the policy holder can come out ahead and guarantee himself a decent retirement income through tax free withdrawals.

The recent turmoil in the stock market, however, has wreaked havoc on the cash values within the VULs. The skeptics are absolutely right when they say that a market downturn can make a poorly designed policy virtually worthless. And it might take years before the cash values yield net positive returns and thereby make the policy assumptions true once again.

The depressed markets do offer a unique opportunity for certain investors to look into the VUL as a retirement vehicle. Does this mean that everyone should just go buy a new policy and pitch their 401(k), IRAs and other qualified retirement accounts? The answer is a vehement NO. VUL should only be considered as an option for retirement only after maximizing available alternatives for retirement.

Before you make a decision to buy a VUL, it is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of owning a policy. Important advantages of a VUL are flexibility of premiums and death benefit, tax-free investment earnings and tax-free withdrawals through policy loans. Some important disadvantages are that they are costlier than other types of life insurance, may lose value in bear markets or with bad investment choices and can be complex to understand and thereby set wrong expectations.

Whether a VUL suits your retirement needs depends on your specific situation. It is vital to have a vigorous dialogue with your financial advisor to discuss the pros and cons of buying such a policy for the purpose of retirement planning. It is easy to get carried away by illustrations that show unrealistic linear returns over long periods of time. The stock market, as we all know, does not behave in a linear upward fashion. The last thing you want to do is throw good money in a bad strategy and expect a good outcome.

Amol Nirgudkar, CPA, managing partner of Reliance Consulting LLC and a partner at Reliance Wealth & Trust Partners LLC, can be reached at (813) 931-7258 or email



Have you opened a new store or restaurant in the last six months? Expanding or relocating? Has your business won an award or a mention in your local newspaper? We want to hear from you. Call Nitish S. Rele at (813) 758-1786 or e-mail us at


The eatery owned by Pat Bhava been made it among the nine "Great Eats, One Street" (Kennedy Boulevard) by the TBT tabloid recently. Here's what the newspaper writes, "… this brightly colored Indian restaurant draws those seeking cheap and healthy 'curry in a hurry.' This MacDill Avenue transplant serves curries, wraps and smoothies for takeout, dine-in and delivery."

The "Best fast food that's not fast food" restaurant at 1506-B W. Kennedy Blvd. is open for lunch and dinner. For more information, call (813) 251-2111 or visit


Creative Loafing picked Udipi Café as one of the Top 50 restaurants in Tampa Bay. Here's what the weekly had to say: "Udipi is strictly vegetarian, strictly no-alcohol, but this Carrollwood Indian restaurant still draws all kinds of people for its traditional cuisine. You won't think about what you're missing after tasting Udipi's tender rice crepes stuffed with brightly seasoned veggies, or the wide selection of classic breads."

Udipi is at 14422 N. Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. For more information, call (813) 962-7300 or visit

Mental Health Column

It is time for the Tampa Bay community to have a forum where voices can be expressed, respected and heard. This column will provide just such a corner. In time, I hope there will be enough interest generated when you, the reader, will begin to request certain topics of discussion.
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