Reprinted with permission of Rediff.com.
Just as they have done in the past, Avinash Suri and members of the India Association of Long Island will soon meet for the annual Valentine's Day dinner.
But this time, romance will be put aside, and the dinner will focus on raising money for the victims of the Gujarat earthquake.
Such a gesture is one of many different efforts now going on across the United States, as Indian-Americans rally themselves to provide financial support to the relief work being done in the quake-stricken regions of Gujarat.
Indu Jain, the past president of the Long Island association and one of the best-known community activists in New York, is working on a telethon on Indian television channels.
Meanwhile, over a dozen Indian Republic Day events were turned into drives for relief work. In Houston what was planned to be the largest Indian American event in the entire state became a relief effort on Saturday. The original plan was to hold the India Millennium Republic Day event planned by more than 80 social, religious and cultural organizations.
"This was going to be joyous celebration," said Jay Aiyer, one of the committee members for the event. "It was going to be showcase, a coming-out of the Indian-American community for all of Texas."
But given the extraordinary tragedy thousands faced, he continued, there was no way the community would have overlooked relief efforts. Several community leaders including Pradip (Peter) Kothari of the Indo-American Cultural Society in Iselin, New Jersey, have already left for India or are planning to do so. They want to have immediate information on how they could help; some also said they wanted to ensure that money and materials reached the right people-and on time.
"When a natural disaster of this kind happens, people will want to help each other immediately," said Mohammad Aleemuddin, a Chicago engineer whose brother and his family had remained safe in Ahmedabad.
"This type of calamity doesn't think, `This man is a Hindu, this one is a Muslim, and this is a Christian.'"
Aleemuddin was reaching Chicago organizations including the Gujarati Muslim Association and the BAPS Swaminarayan temple to raise money and relief material for the quake victims.
In scores of mandirs, masjids, gurdwaras and churches across America this weekend there were prayers-and more-for the victims and survivors of the earthquake in Gujarat. The congregations were urged not only to give but also to give fast.
Abhay Belambe, a spokesperson for the Boston chapter of the India Development and Relief Fund-a large national umbrella group said that its sister groups had already released approximately $20,000 that would be sent to Seva Bharati, a local charity in Ahmedabad.
On Saturday IDRF set up a booth at the Republic Day celebrations held at the Burlington High School organized by the Indian Association of Greater Boston. Over 300 people stopped by the booth and pledged support, Belambe said. In the past 48 hours, IDRF-Boston has collected approximately $5,000. The goal, Belambe added, was to raise $75,000.
"We are trying our best here," Belambe said. "Our members are contacting campuses, restaurants and grocery stores with fliers. We are making an all out effort."
The earthquake, which made page one news in major American publications on Friday and Saturday, also touched the hearts of many second generation Indian Americans. At schools such as Rutgers, Stanford, MIT, Harvard and Berkeley, students have planned fund-raisers and relief efforts in the coming weeks. BAPS temples are sending 2,500 volunteers for door-to-door fund-raisers, said Anu Patel, who is coordinating the efforts from Chicago. The volunteers will also seek support from corporations.
Community leaders believe that in just half a dozen cities over $500,000 have been pledged by Indian-Americans within two days of the disaster. In San Jose, $100,000 was pledged at a meeting on Saturday. In Houston, the number was expected to be far bigger. Organizers said they would know on Monday how much has been given-and how much has been pledged.
"We have to give much more than what we have given," said Simran Bajwa, a New York health professional. "We spend hundreds of dollars every summer when Shah Rukh Khan or Rani Mukherjee comes to America.
"If President Bush has given $5 million for relief work, we should raise five times that figure," she said.
Many in the community also used the occasion to reflect on the tragedy. Some said they want to talk to government officials in Gujarat and other Indian states to stress the importance of safety in buildings. They were referring to the speculations that many buildings had collapsed.
Some had philosophical thoughts.
"I only wish we would come together in normal circumstances as one people, one community," said Aleemuddin.
(With contributions by J.M. Shenoy, Som Chivukula, Radhika Shankar, Shaheen Pasha, Ravi Rao and Aseem Chhabra)