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MELA lights up Levin

By Emily Wishingrad
On November 20, 2012

The South Asian Students' Association's MELA, an event named after the Hindi word for celebration, was by far the most well-attended of all the cultural events I have been to this semester. The line snaking out the door of the entrance to Levin Ballroom suggested that it was going to be crowded inside. However, I was not prepared for the enormous number of people I encountered. The event sold more than 600 tickets and Levin couldn't have been more packed.

This year's theme was "Kahaani: Our Story." The event celebrated, as the co-events coordinators Natasha Qidwai '14 and Sindhura Sonnathi '14 said in their introduction, the small moments in all of our individual lives coming together to create our story, a complete narrative of the Brandeis community. Proceeds from the event were donated to the organization Apne Aap, an acronym for a phrase in Hindi meaning "self-help." This organization is dedicated to empowering women and girls to resist sex trafficking and change their own stories.

Walking in, I quickly noticed the magnificent backdrop for the stage; what looked like streamers in gold, yellow, green and red were spun across a blue background. Imprinted on the streamers were faceless dancing figures, different Asian languages, the banyan tree (which in Hinduism is supposed to represent the resting place for the God Krishna) and the words Kahani: Our Story. As the program says, these different colored streamers and the images imprinted on them seem at first glance to have nothing to do with each other but, upon closer look, it is evident that they are all connected by one golden thread, symbolizing the unity of the stories.

Each class of students, ranging from first-years to seniors and graduate students, did its own dance and each dance seemed to reflect the spirit of the class. The first-year dance was fun, joyful and reflected the excitement of the first-year experience. The sophomore dance was a bit more relaxed. Although the music was still upbeat, the dancers were more confident in their movements and made more attempts to improvise. In the junior dance, the dancers drew attention to themselves through their powerful and skillful movements. One of the songs that the seniors danced to was LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem." The dance was beautifully choreographed, incredibly coordinated and reflected the seniors' celebration of their last three and a half years at Brandeis and their intent to savor their last semester. The graduate student dance depicted an incredible amount of confidence. One dancer even came out in a Superman costume, and the dance reflected the dancers' readiness to seize the world.

In between each of the performances, three students-Nabila Kabir '13, Jay Dev '13, and Nikhil Pallikonda '16 read letters from three different perspectives aloud to the crowd. One of the stories was about a student on a year-abroad tour of southern Asia, and her experiences with the new cultures she encountered. Another story focused around a Brandeis student who was trying to adjust to his new, independent lifestyle, and a third story focused around a Brandeis alumnus, who was trying to find his way in the world outside of Brandeis. These juxtaposed stories formed a conversation between different experiences. By alternating between the stories, the audience was able to see how all the experiences and stories were in some way intertwined.

There were only two solo performances at the event, but they were both magnificently done. One of them was a Bharatanatyam, performed by Pooja Gupta '16. In her beautiful performance of a classical dance from Southern India, Gupta danced with precision and grace. Gupta choreographed as well as performed this dance. The other solo performance was a piece of spoken word preformed by an alumnus, Usman Hameedi '12. Hameedi spoke with passion about the impact of MELA on his cultural identity. In an interview with the Justice, Hameedi says he "hopes to promote a larger alumni presence at this event going forward."

Another impressive dance was a Bhangra, a folk dance from the Punjab region in India, choreographed by Prasant Lokinendi, a master's student in Computer Science, and Gauri Thaker '14. Every component of the dance, from the bright blue and red costumes, to the two daring students, Anuj Vadalia '15 and Vincent Asante '14, who rode a scooter down the stage, screamed 'fun.' The costumes twirled around the dancers as they ran, jumped and danced their hearts out. At one point in the dance, the music switched from the traditional Indian music to an Indian version of the popular song "Gangam Style." The audience cheered loudly as the performers switched from a more traditional dancing style to the infamous "horse-riding" dance.

MELA is an annual event in which graduate and undergraduate students, families and staff come to support the performers and enjoy the inspiring performances. As audience member Flora Wang '15 commented in an interview with the Justice following the event, "It was really cool how they pulled the whole thing together. The collaboration was very impressive. There was just so much energy in the room; it was crazy. I would definitely go again next year!"

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