September 27, 2020

BY STEPHANIE LEFEBVRE

Though the weather didn’t co-operate, Mela 2012 was still attended by hundreds of people.

In its ninth year, the Indian-inspired festival was held Sept. 8 by the India Canada Association of Waterloo inside Kitchener City Hall. Usually the event would be held outdoors, but the early morning rain forced them to move it inside. Full of aromas, vendors and colourful attire, Mela is a way for people from South Asian backgrounds to get a little taste of home.

Along with the food and clothing for sale at Mela, there were many entertaining acts. From Bollywood karaoke singers to belly dancers, the festival featured talent well known in the South Asian culture. Even comedian Dan Nainan performed and emceed the event.

Nainan is a well-known comedian and has performed for the likes of Barack Obama and in over 15 different countries. He was the highlight of the day.

The event started in 2002 as the brainchild of Ian Mendes, former president of the India Canada Association. It’s a miniature version of what occurs back home. Usually taking place in the spring, in South Asian culture, Mela is a festival or carnival that brings people together to celebrate their heritage.

However, the festival is attracting more people from different cultures as the years go by.

In Kitchener, the event is a way to celebrate the culture and talent of people of Indian descent. Kokila Khanna, Mela chairperson, said seeing as summer is a busy time for most people, instead of in the spring, having Mela occur the weekend after Labour Day seemed appropriate.

Khanna did say the festival started small. The first one was held at Countryside Community Centre, followed by years of bouncing around to different community centres. It only got to Kitchener City Hall in 2008.

“The idea was always to grow it,” she said.

Khanna’s co-chair, Chandrika Anjaria, said she enjoys Mela every year because it’s a way to showcase the culture.

“We are fortunate to take the best of both worlds. We are Canadian, we live in Canada, but we also have a rich heritage.”

Kitchener MPP John Milloy seemed to agree, as he has attended several since he’s been elected.

“It’s a great way to bring together the South Asian community, but also non-South Asian folks to get a taste of that culture,” said Milloy. “It builds bridges and it helps us to celebrate.”

Sheela Samat Spohn, president of the India Canada Association, said the region has been very accepting of the cultural festival.

“This region is extremely dynamic. It’s extremely diverse. When we talk of multiculturalism, we think it only happens in bigger cities. It’s happening here.”

The president also said the fair represents a small taste of what South Asia is.

“For me, it’s a little bit of home,” she said.

Next year they hope to have the event back outside, in front of City Hall, and extending all the way onto King Street.