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  • Courtesy “The Flowering Tree” is part of a collection of oral tales. The dance production is one of many Indian cultural events Shruti has put on since its creation.

Thursday, June 15, 2017 1:00 am

Group shows culture of India

FRANK GRAY | The Journal Gazette

If not for one daughter's desire to learn to dance, Shruti, the Fort Wayne Indian Culture Society, might have never been established.

Vijan Chalakamarri, a local cardiologist, had a daughter who wanted to learn Indian dance. But after taking lessons here, she was told she'd have to go to Chicago if she wanted to learn more. So for years, Chalakamarri drove his daughter to Chicago every two weeks for instruction.

When she was finished, in order to graduate, she had to put on a solo concert. Her concert, a private affair with family and friends, took place at IPFW.

The school's dean, however, caught the performance and decided Fort Wayne needed more of that type of culture.

And the Indian Cultural Society was born. That took some doing, though.

Chalakamarri assembled a group of about 10 fellow members of the local Indian community to figure out how to get a concert series started, but the men, all in their 40s and 50s, were doctors, IT professionals and business owners. They didn't know anything about the arts or performing.

Ultimately, the group decided to focus on instrumentals and dance programs that would transcend language barriers, though some performances involving stories familiar to Indians are narrated in English.

The first of what is the Indian Concert Series was performed about four years ago, financed by support from local businesses and foundations. In order to draw an audience, tickets were offered for free. All you had to do was reserve them at IPFW's ticket office.

But some of the people who reserved the free tickets never picked them up. There would be a couple hundred empty seats in the auditorium, Chalakamarri says.

Shruti realized they had to put some kind of modest price on the tickets so people, once they had shelled out the money, would show up. How much, though, was the question. People in Chicago might pay $100 for a ticket, but in Fort Wayne, people wouldn't pay $50.

Ultimately, they settled on $10 per ticket, and to be able to afford the talent they wanted, raised money on the side through donations from community members and businesses and support from the Indiana Arts Commission.

“We're trying to bring in some top-notch groups,” Chalakamarri says. The most recent performance was by sitar player Anoushka Shankar. Shruti also helped Fort Wayne Dance Collective with the Indian-themed production “The Durga Project.”

In India, to see some of the talent that's been brought in for the concert series, you'd have to buy tickets seven months ahead of time, Chalakamarri says.

Concerts are held during the fall and spring semesters during the school year so students also have an opportunity to attend.

The concerts have succeeded in drawing crowds to IPFW's Rhinehart Music Center. One drew 900 people. Then another drew 1,450 people, so many that when Mayor Tom Henry, given a courtesy invitation, showed up, they had to scramble to find him a seat.

The focus, from the start, though, has been to bring in the highest quality entertainers from India.

“We don't want to compromise,” Chalakamarri says.