How has the absence of Memphis India Fest affected South Asians in the community?


Poonam Nair

High school students dancing at the 2019 India Fest take their final pose as their performance comes to an end. They received a standing ovation from the audience when they finished their choreography to the popular Bollywood song “Ghar More Pardesiya.”

Immediately after entering the Agricenter, welcoming aromas of flavorful Indian foods, families in sparkling cultural attire and Bollywood music blasting from the stage are found. Stalls containing intricate jewelry and beautiful clothes are lined up all around. Despite being 9000 miles away from India, the cultural connection is powerful. Every year in November, people are invited to gather at the Agricenter to celebrate India Fest, one of the biggest fall time festivals in Memphis. It is a festival open to people of all histories and cultures to learn and discover Indian culture.

It’s just a really joyous celebration,” Naisha Panjwani (12) said. “You get to have fun celebrating your culture and sharing it with other people. It’s such a fun time I would recommend it to anyone.”

This annual function aims to celebrate South Asian culture within Memphis through several attractions including art exhibits, food stalls and cultural performances. Over a thousand people show up every year for the lively event.  

“Honestly, just because India is so varied in culture, you get to experience all of it there and get a little bit of everything,” Panjwani said. “The music, the food, the fashion, the whole experience.”

India Fest presents a variety of different attributes for all sorts of people. With a specialized kids corner of games and activities, a full-day program of cultural performances for music lovers and food stalls with cuisine from each state in India, there is something for everyone. The lively atmosphere captivates many people. 

Having an annual India Fest gives us something to look forward to for the month of November,” Harini Gopi (11) said. “I think it’s necessary to have. If I were in charge of it, I would make it twice a year.”

In addition to being an enjoyable experience, India Fest has helped the second-generation  South Asians in Memphis embrace and connect with their culture. 

Like a lot of Desi kids, especially those who grew up here, when I was younger I did not like wearing Desi clothes at all. I felt kind of different in them,” Brindha Kottu (11) said. “But when you see a lot of people wearing them and how pretty they really are, you kinda wanna wear it. I think that’s when I started learning how to love my cultural dresses especially. You don’t have to be the odd one out.”

The term “Desi” is commonly used to describe the people and culture of the Indian subcontinent. Memphis Desis use this occasion to reunite with each other to share their culture as well as showcase it for those who attend. By participating in the function, second-generation Desis who have grown up in the USA are able to connect with their roots.

It can be really easy to just forget that aspect of yourself living here, especially if you don’t have as many groups of Indians to hang around with,” Panjwani said. “So when you go to India Fest, you’re immersed in all of that again and reminded ‘Oh yeah, this is why I love my culture!’

However, due to COVID-19, there has not been an India Fest for two years. This has negatively impacted several South Asians in Memphis who look forward to the occasion. 

Honestly, it’s just really saddening to not get to do that and hang out with people,” Panjwani  “It’s kind of like other people won’t understand this aspect of us, but this is an aspect of our identity, and we’re getting to embrace that at this one event in a year.”

With such a diverse population in Memphis, cultural events are always popular attractions. Despite the absence of India Fest, the Indian community in Memphis continues to strive and hopes to celebrate India Fest again in the coming year. 

Without India Fest, I wouldn’t see the more fun sides of my culture,” Gopi said. “The people, foods from all regions of India, it makes me feel more connected with my Indian identity, not just the region I’m from. It’s good to see people who look like you and are like you. It makes me feel like there are a lot of Indian people in Memphis. It makes me feel not alone.”