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FLORIDIANS CELEBRATE HOLI - THE FESTIVAL OF COLORS
By NITISH S. RELE - editor@khaasbaat.com

TAMPA: The Gujarati Samaj of Tampa Bay will hold its annual Holi picnic from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 15, at Rowlett Park, 2548 River Hills Drive, Tampa. Color will be available for purchase at the picnic and membership will be strictly enforced, say the organizers. Non-membership charge is $10 per person. For more information, visit www.gujaratisamaj.org

ORLANDO: The Gujarati Society of Central Florida will celebrate the Festival of Colors from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 7 at Orlando's Turkey Lake Park, Pavilion 6. For more information, visit www.GujaratiSocietyCFL.com

Also, the festival welcoming spring will be celebrated March 15 at the Orlando Citrus Bowl. Admission is free. For more information, call Hari Singh at (407) 814-750, email indianhorizon06@aol.com or visit www.indianhorizontv.com

JACKSONVILLE: The Indian Cultural Society of Jacksonville will hold Holi celebrations on Saturday, March 28 at Hanna Park. Organizers say that this year is being planned to give participants the experience of a "Village Mela" back home. For more information, visit www.jaxics.org

TALLAHASSEE: The India Association of Tallahassee (IATLH) will celebrate the Holi Festival from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 21, at AJ Henry Park, Henry Park Drive, Tallahassee. IATLH will provide the Holi colors. Several members are bringing potluck lunch, snacks, drinks and cutlery. If readers are interested in contributing food items or paper-goods, contact any of the IATLH Executive Committee members. Visit www.iatlh.org for details.

SPACE COAST: The India Association of the Space Coast (IASC) will celebrate Holi from 1 p.m. Saturday, March 7, at Sand Point Park, Titusville. For more information, visit www.iascbrevard.com

SOUTH FLORIDA: The Bengali Association of South Florida (BASF) will hold its Holi event from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 14 at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park (Shade D-18), 1200 South Crandon Blvd., Key Biscayne. Cost is $10 per person; kids younger than 18 years of age are free. Park gate fees are $5 per vehicle. RSVP by March 9 to sf.bengali@gmail.com. For more information, contact Mita Bagchi at (786) 351-1180 or Kaushik Dutta at duttak@gmail.com or visit www.basfl.org




Dancers at last year's India Fest in Fort Myers.
FORT MYERS, GAINESVILLE TO HOLD INDIA FESTS ON MARCH 21
By NITISH S. RELE - editor@khaasbaat.com

Indian culture will be on display with food, dance, music, arts and handicrafts, jewelry and clothing at the India Fests on Saturday, March 21 in Fort Myers and Gainesville.

The Fort Myers India Fest will be an outdoor event with covered seating. There will be live entertainment on the outdoor stage all day, including fashion shows, dances and plays. A variety of Indian cuisine will be available.

The Gainesville India Fest features performances by talented artists from all over Florida. There will be 30 to 40 stalls offering food, CD, DVDs and arts and crafts.

FORT MYERS: The 22nd annual India Fest will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Lee County Alliance for the Arts grounds (10091 McGregor Blvd., near the corner of McGregor and Colonial Drive). Entry fee is $4 per person; parking is free. The event is organized by the India Association of Fort Myers. For more information, call association President Rajen Patel at (239) 634-1412 or visit www.iafortmyers.org

GAINESVILLE: The 10th annual India Fest will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Santa Fe College, 3000 N.W. 83rd St., Gainesville. Admission is $3; children younger than 3 years of age are free. The event is organized by the India Cultural and Education Center. For details, call (352) 377-2844, (352) 378-7112 or visit www.icec-florida.org




TAMPA VISHNU MANDIR TO HOLD 2ND ANNUAL COMMUNITY HEALTH FAIR MARCH 21
By NITISH S. RELE - editor@khaasbaat.com

Last year, 450 people attended the first annual Community Health Fair sponsored by the Vishnu Mandir. This year, on March 21, organizers expect a bigger crowd since screenings are free again and there has been more time to publicize the event in the community, said organizer Dr. Sadhana Shah. "We screened more than 300 people in 2008."

Physicians and health care professionals will answer questions and distribute information about child, adolescent, senior health and safety topics. Free health screenings will be offered for blood sugar, cholesterol and obesity. A blood pressure check and a bone density test will be available too. "This year, we are adding stroke screening and aneurysm along with spine screening," said Shah.

Also on the agenda is a children's carnival with games, entertainment, prizes and music.

The 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. health fair at Vishnu Mandir, 5803 Lynn Road in Tampa, is open to everyone. For details, call Dr. Sadhana Shah at (727) 798-4258 or Dr. Ram P. Ramcharran at (727) 460-2460.




Akshaya Patra USA President Madhu Sridhar
AKSHAYA PATRA TO VISIT ORLANDO, MELBOURNE IN MARCH
Story provided by Akshaya Patra Foundation

The Akshaya Patra Foundation, an organization with the vision that no child shall be deprived of education because of hunger, is holding informational meetings at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 13 in Melbourne and on Saturday, March 15 in Casselberry. Madhu Sridhar, Akshaya Patra USA's president, will share with Florida residents how Akshaya Patra is eradicating hunger and promoting education for children in India and how to get involved with the organization.

Akshaya Patra started in 2000 by feeding 1,500 children from a temporary kitchen in Bangalore. The organization has scaled its operations to feed more than 966,000 children in over 5,600 schools in six states in India.



Akshaya Patra is eradicating hunger and promoting education for children in India.
A public-private partnership, Akshaya Patra combines good management, innovative technology and smart engineering to deliver school lunch for a fraction of the cost of meal programs in other parts of the world. It costs $28 to feed a child for a year. Akshaya Patra's fully automated kitchens can prepare meals for 185,000 children in less than five hours.

The Florida events are open to the public, but space is limited. The Melbourne event will be at Taste of India, 606 N. Wickham Road, and the event in Casselberry will take place at the Hindu Society of Central Florida, 1994 Lake Drive. There is no admission charge and dinner will be served. To RSVP, e-mail Stephanie Peterson at stephanie@akshayapatrausa.org or call (781) 438-3090. For more information, visit Akshaya Patra at http://www.foodforeducation.org



NORTH SOUTH OFFERS EDUCATIONAL CONTESTS IN FORT LAUDERDALE, JACKSONVILLE, TAMPA

North South Foundation (www.northsouth.org) is gearing up for its educational contests in Tampa, Jacksonville and Fort Lauderdale. Held in the United States since 1993, the contests are designed to encourage excellence among Indian American children and prepare them to enter into better colleges.

Based on the contest category, the contests are grouped into Junior, Intermediate or Senior levels for children from first- through 12th-grade. The contests are conducted every year in two steps. First, children participate in Regional Contests at various locations throughout the country from March through May.

Participants with high scores, based on a cut-off, will participate in the National Finals. The first-, second- and third-place winners from each contest are awarded scholarships of $1,000, $500 and $250 respectively.

Spelling, Essay, Math and Public Speaking bee competitions are offered. Registration fee per contest are from $15 to $25.

Registration closed on Feb. 28 for the Tampa contest, which will be held March 14 at the University of South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler Ave. For information, call Kotha Sekharam at (813) 792-2646 or e-mail kothasekharam@gmail.com

Public Speaking Bee is being offered for the first time in Jacksonville. Two free workshops are being organized for kids to develop skills for better public speaking. Free workshops are on March 8 and March 15 at the Hindu Temple, 4968 Greenland Road, Jacksonville. Registration closes on March 21 for Spelling Bee and March 22 for Math, Essay and Public Speaking Bee, which will be at University of North Florida. The contests will be on April 4. Register at www.northsouth.org. For more information, call Rajiv Gupta at (904) 349-3179 or e-mail gupta_rajiv_jpr@hotmail.com.

Registration closes on March 14 for the Fort Lauderdale contest, which will be held at the Nova Southeastern University, Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences, Mailman-Hollywood Building, 3301 College Age, on March 28. For information, call Janevi Ramaji at (954) 483-8691 or e-mail janevi@gmail.com

For details, visit www.northsouth.org



COLUMN: MOTORING


Nissan Versa 2009
NISSAN VERSA AS IN VERSATILITY
By NITISH S. RELE - editor@khaasbaat.com

Unchanged for 2009, the 2009 Nissan Versa 1.8 SL hatchback celebrates a third year of success, part of which can be attributed to its fuel-sipping nature. The front-wheel-drive car is by no means a powerhouse but touts remarkable cargo and passenger roominess and numerous standard safety features.

Let's take a look at the 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine in the five-door, five-passenger car. It develops 122 horsepower at 5200 rpm and 127 pounds-feet of torque at 4800 rpm. The XTronic Continuous Variable Transmission is smooth as is expected of any Nissan equipped with the same. An independent MacPherson strut front suspension and a rear torsion beam with stabilizer bars assure the driver of a secure stable ride.

Up front, large multi-reflector halogen headlights meet up with the centered traditional Nissan grille. Step inside and you have 94.7 cubic feet of passenger space and 17.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the 60/40 rear seat folded flat. Personal belongings can fit just fine in the front and rear door pockets, in-dash, center armrest and under the dashboard. Also standard is air-conditioning, six-way adjustable driver's seat, cruise control, power windows, overhead sunglass storage and rear window defroster.

Safety features are abundant, starting with dual front and side airbags, side curtain for both rows, front seat active-head restraints and belts with pretensioners, three-point seatbelts for all, front and rear crumple zones, energy-absorbing steering column and tire pressure monitoring system.

Apart from being a gas sipper, the Versa is a decent performer with tremendous passenger- and cargo-hauling capabilities. It isn't for anything that the car was named Versa, short for Versatility.

VERSA 1.8 SL

Wheelbase: 102.4 inches
Length: 169.1 inches
Weight: 2,758 pounds
Steering: electric power-assisted
Tires: P185/65R19 all season
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gallons
City: 27 mpg
Highway: 33 mpg
Base price: $16,210
Web site: www.nissanusa.com




GUEST COLUMN
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Amol Nirgudkar
TRILLION IS THE NEW BILLION: ECONOMIC STIMULUS IN THE AGE OF OBAMA - PART 1 OF 2: INDIVIDUAL TAX RELIEF
By AMOL NIRGUDKAR, CPA and ADAM KIRWAN, J.D., LLM

The signing of the nearly $800 billion stimulus package, labeled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 by President Obama on Feb. 17, 2009, officially gave him ownership over our rapidly declining economy. This legislation combined with the TARP legislation, passed in November, has provided almost $2 trillion in stimulus. Additionally, another $275 billion is expected to be included in a future stimulus aimed at shoring up the housing market. The numbers are so mind boggling that most of us are having a tough time even figuring out how many zeros make a trillion, not to mention just what this all means for our futures.

Time will tell whether the stimulus package as envisaged by the Democrats will serve as the "elixir" and create the promised 4 million jobs and lift this economy out of a deep recession.

The new law provides relief to both businesses and individuals. This month's article will summarize key areas of individual tax relief. Next month, we will focus on the business provisions of the tax stimulus.

Individuals

" Making Work Pay Credit - Provides individual tax credit in the amount of 6.2 percent of earned income, not to exceed $400 for single returns and $800 for joint returns in 2009 and 2010. The credit is phased out at $75,000 for singles and $150,000 for couples filing jointly.

" Economic recovery payment - Provides for one-time payment of $250 to retirees, disabled individuals and certain Social Security beneficiaries and veterans receiving disability compensation.

" Unemployment tax - Excludes the first $2,400 of unemployment benefits received in 2009 from taxable income.

" Earned Income Tax Credit - Provides for temporary increase in EIC for 2009 and 2010 for taxpayers with three or more qualifying children.

" Child Tax Credit - Reduces the threshold to qualify for the credit from $8,500 in income to $3,000.

" Higher education tax credit - Creates a $2,500 credit that is available for first four years of college and expands the definition of qualified expenses to include books and course materials. This new credit temporarily replaces the Hope Credit.

" First-time home buyer credit - Increases the amount of credit from $7,500 to $8,000 for first-time home buyers after Dec. 31, 2008. Furthermore, the requirement to repay the credit back is eliminated as long as the taxpayer stays in the house for more than 36 months.

" AMT relief - Patches the AMT for 2009 by increasing the exemption amounts to $70,950 for joint filers and $46,700 for singles.

" New car deduction - Allows taxpayers to deduct state and local sales taxes on purchase of new automobiles, light trucks, SUV's, motorcycles and motor homes. The deduction is allowed even to taxpayers who do not itemize their deductions.

The economic stimulus also includes a package of tax incentives to promote investments in renewable energy projects. Important among these incentives are credits for making energy efficient improvements to your homes and businesses, including a credit for purchase of plug-in electric vehicles.

Discussing how the law impacts your individual situation is beyond the scope of this article. We strongly suggest urgently meeting with your CPA and discussing ways in which you can take advantage of the time sensitive deductions and credits for 2009. Engaging in tax planning at the end of the year may not give you enough time to make the necessary adjustments or investments to take full advantage of the expiring provisions.

Amol Nirgudkar, CPA, is the managing partner of Reliance Consulting LLC, and can be reached at (813) 931-7258 or email amol@reliancecpa.com


COLUMN: OUT & ABOUT IN FLORIDA


OUT & ABOUT IN FLORIDA
By NITISH S. RELE - editor@khaasbaat.com

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 editor@khaasbaat.com

SHARMAS OPEN GREEN CHILI IN ST. PETERSBURG

Downtown St. Petersburg folks are in for a treat. Madhu and Naresh Sharma, owners of Raga Asian Indian Restaurant in Clearwater, recently opened Green Chili Indian Bistro at 360 Central Ave. in St. Petersburg. Laura Reiley, St. Petersburg Times food critic, wrote in a review, "They've installed a short cafeteria-style steam-tray line, offering 10 or so vegetarian and meaty curries and dals: two veggie dishes, rice and bread for $5.75; two meat dishes, rice and bread for $6.95; or one each, rice and bread for $6.25 ..." Green Chili is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday to Friday. For more information, call the bistro at (727) 894-3663.

BENGAL CUISINE OPENS IN MIAMI

Bengal Modern Indian Cuisine in Miami is now open. It offers a contemporary Indian menu with a few Bengali touches, writes Linda Bladholm in The Miami Herald. "Meats, all halal, include lamb chops, goat curry and yogurt-marinated, grilled steak." Bladholm found home-style cooking she was craving for in the vegetable options such as the veg thali, mattar paneer, shobji, aloo gobi and spiced mashed eggplant.

Bengal Modern Indian Cuisine is at 2010 Biscayne Blvd. in Miami. It is open daily for lunch from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and for dinner from 5 to 10:30 p.m. For information, call (305) 403-1976.



TUN-DU-REE OPENS IN NEW LOCATION

Hats off to Pat Bhava for a remarkable job. After successfully running Tun-Du-Ree at a trailer near MacDill Air Force Base and an eatery on Henderson Boulevard in Tampa, he has opened a restaurant of the same name at 1506-B W. Kennedy Blvd. "The place seats 10 to 15 inside and 20 to 35 outside," notes St. Petersburg Times' TBT magazine. Entrees are $6.99 and under.

For information, call (813) 251-2111, toll-free at 18-tundure-18 (1-888-638-7318), or e-mail tunduree@gmail.com or visit www.tunduree.com



Also in the news is Laziz in Clearwater. Recently, a Tampa Tribune food critic was greeted by "the scents of curry, cilantro and what I can only describe as deliciousness …" Jamie Pilarczyk continues, "The palak paneer (chunks of homemade cheese with spinach and Indian spices) and chicken madras (cooked in south Indian style with coconut, roasted ground spices and curry leaves) were equally delicious. Their sauces soaked into the ride or mopped up with garlic naan, a soft, thin Indian bread, were the true pleasure of the meal."

Laziz is at 2475-J McMullen Booth Road in Clearwater. For information, call (727) 797-7541 or visit www.lazizonline.com

And while you are at Laziz, don't forget to go grocery shopping next door at Namaste. The British, Indian and Oriental (B.I.O.) groceries store is at 2475-H McMullen Booth Road. For information, call (727) 669-3737.



In a Bites of the Bay section in TBT magazine (essentially a review of past reviews, sort of a "best of" list), Laura Reiley mentions quite a few Best Indian restaurants. Her present favorite is Cilantro in Temple Terrace. "The food has punch and heat, with especially good vegetable dishes and breads," she points out. Cilantro is at 11009 N. 56th St. For information, call (813) 983-8220 or visit cilantrojax.com.

The Times' food critic also is impressed with Raga Asian Indian Restaurant, owned by But Madhu and Naresh Sharma. She notes, "It offers a Northern Indian buffet during the week, a Sunday grand buffet showcasing the lesser-known vegetarian delights from Southern India, and Saturday morning cooking classes (the same folks are opening Green Chili Indian Bistro this week on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg)." Raga is at 16080 U.S. 19 N. in Clearwater. For information, call (727) 531-6400 or visit www.ragaflorida.com



Among vegetarian restaurants, Udipi Café in Tampa is the only Indian eatery mentioned by Reiley. "Veteran Indian restaurant Udipi Cafe serves the vegetarian community with huge Southern Indian dosa pancakes and veggie-studded uthappam (something between a pizza and an omelet), all proof positive that meatless can get spicy," she writes. Udipi is at 14422 N. Dale Mabry Highway. For information, call (813) 962-7300 or visit www.udipiusa.net



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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