Premier Keneally charms Indian community

Winners of the inaugural Indian subcontinent community Premiers’ Awards: From L to R: Mohit Tolani, Pawan Luthra, Dr Orekondy, Dr Sidhu, Kumud Merani, Chandru Tolani with Premier Kristina Keneally and Indian Consul General Mr Amit Dasgupta

Aparna Vats helping Premier with her bindi

Chandru Tolani with Premier

Everyone was taken in by the new garb of Ms Keneally as she looked exquisite in her Sari. Tall, elegant, more a model than a politician Ms. Keneally was helped in the Indian outfit by Monika Geetmala broadcaster Aparna Vats and her mum Asha Sharma both of whom spent days getting the premier her choice of Sari and blouse. Premier thanked Aparna and said that there should be a special award for that. Premier Keneally also in her campaign launch had, earlier in the week, canvassed the Indian community by asking for ”˜support’ in the coming elections, as she spoke in Hindi language. Indian poet Rekha Rajvanshi taught her the Hindi sentence ‘Mujhe aapka sahyog chahiye’ while also teaching her some of our etiquettes like saying Namaste and Shukriya.



Story By Neena Badhwar

Donning a beautiful turquoise blue Sari on February 18, Premier Kristina Keneally looked gorgeous as she took centrestage at the Government House to recognise the Indian subcontinent community for community service awards instituted for the first time. It was a grand occasion, making those present at the function feel good and elated. Thanks to the election time.

The ladies from the community themselves looked stunning in their silk saris and laden with jewellery but the Premier stole the show as she moved around graciously like a model, taller than everyone else, and charming with heartfelt greetings.

The occasion was to declare the winners of Premier’s Indian Subcontinent Community Awards,  recognizing the contribution made by them to the state of NSW in areas of business, art, culture, community harmony, volunteer work and lifetime achievement.

Six winners in the inaugural function were: Trade and Industry Award – Chandru Tolani; Arts and Culture Award – Kumud Merani; Community Harmony Award – Pawan Luthra; Community Service Award – Mohit Tolani and Lifetime Achievement Award shared by Dr Siddalingeshwara Orekondy and Dr Gurcharan Singh Sidhu.

The Premier congratulated the winners who had distinguished themselves with outstanding service to the Indian Subcontinent community, particularly paying tribute to the Lifetime Achievement winners, Dr Orekondy and Dr Sidhu, who had devoted more than 37 and 45 years of service respectively to the community in various fields.

Ms Keneally said, “The challenges of balancing work life with family, as well as trying to find time for recreation, makes the contributions of all of our winners even more significant.

“On behalf of the NSW Government I congratulate and acknowledge your tireless service to the people of the Indian Subcontinent community.”

There were 63 nominations in all from which six people were chosen as the winners. The awards were announced on December 22 last year and asked for nominations from within the community which were judged by a panel of judges, some from the community being Raj Datta and Pravasi Bhartiya Divas Samman winner Dr Veena Sahajwalla. They said it was quite difficult to single out people for their excellence, yet their decision to choose certain people was based on the presentation furnished by the candidates along with their nomination.

This is an important juncture for the Indian community if the awards become an annual event when people will be felicitated for their selfless contribution to life in Australia.

Says Kumud Merani, “It has been a sheer labour of love. The plays I write and produce take me sometimes a whole year. Since all the cost is borne by me I spend hours researching, writing scripts then scouting for talent and organizing rehearsals at my own place since it can be costly to rent venues. It’s my humble contribution to the community in the field of art and theatre.”

Kumud Merani, currently the Executive Producer of Hindi Program on SBS Radio, is the recipient of two international awards of radio documentaries which she did a few years ago. One was based on Fiji Indians and how they were sent on ships as bonded labour; their struggle and trauma was depicted quite graphically in the strong script. The second play ”˜Jumping the Fence’ was based on the Anglo-Indian community on their unique culture, lifestyle ”“ their mixed heritage which resulted as a result of union between European men and Indian women. It was a journey exploring their lives as Kumud cris-crossed the world to get in touch with people to recount their tales about boarding schools, orphanages, shikar and their dilemma of where they belonged once the British left India.

Kumud is overjoyed at this initiative of the NSW government to recognize the contributions of Sub-continent migrants. “In any walk of life each day puts you on trial and every evening passes its judgement. We win a few and loose a few. However, it is important to hold your head high and participate in the fray. In that regard it is not just me but all of us who are winners. I am delighted to have received this prestigious award. To say that I am inspired to unleash my creativity further would be a cliché,” she said.

Chandru Tolani, a well known Indian businessman who made it big after coming to Australia, has been a prominent figure in the Indian community. Chandru owns many hotels and has generously donated funds to temples and other causes. His story is straight out of a migrant’s suitcase who come here with nothing except a 20kg baggage. Working from a stall in Paddy’s market, Chandru worked diligently and laboriously to achieve what anyone in the community would be proud of. Chandru International now is one of the largest importers and wholesalers of discount merchandise and owns a hotel portfolio that includes Holiday Inn at The Rocks, Rydges Camperdown, Macquarie Links International Golf Course and the Capitol Square Hotel.

This proud grandfather who TIDU caught playing golf on his own golf course said that he enjoyed quiet life with his family and playing with his four-month old new member of the family, his lovely grand daughter. “Though I have been given award for Trade & Industry, I feel good on part of the Indian community who have all been honoured for their contribution by the institution of these Awards by the Premier,” Chandru said.

Chandru, a Shiva devotee, has donated Radha-Krishna statues for Sri Mandir in Auburn and Shivalingam at the Minto Temple and helps conduct many charity events through sponsorship from his golf course, recently fundraising for the McGrath Cancer Foundation.

Pawan Luthra of Indian Link newspaper received award in the ”˜Community Harmony’ category for facilitating community cohesion, especially during the student crisis two years ago. The newspaper and the Indian Link Radio carried out extensive coverage of the student crisis. Pawan’s entry also into mainstream TV coverage of the Delhi Commonwealth Games was insightful and inclusive for the broader Australian community.

Young Mohit Tolani, a dentistry student at Griffiths University, made it to the final list as a winner in ”˜Community Service’ category for his contribution to a wide variety of volunteer projects and organizations. Mohit finds time to volunteer at ten different organizations and societies, including the institute for Advancing Community Engagement, the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience and the Australian League of Immigration Volunteers.

Mohit, who wants to be a ”˜face surgeon’, combining his dentist degree with a medical degree specializing in ”˜Face & Dental Surgery’, says, “I started my volunteering work  with ”˜Round Square’ involved in Tsunami construction projects and was involved in Australian Indigenous Mentoring Program where I helped Aboriginal students to achieve educational advantage through training in academics, leadership and curricular assistance. Currently I am working for its Gold Coast wing.

“I also worked for The Australian League of Immigration volunteers involved with refugees as well as newly arrived migrants and people of the Non-English speaking background in helping them assimilate and help them with knowledge of local services and resources. I also worked with Kids & Camp program where twice a month we went to a beach for some adventure and help kids improve their English.

“During the Indian Student Crisis I was associated with a Social Cohesion Program at the university in Sydney when I was doing my Med Science (Hons.) degree. We organized a Buddy system for the international students pairing them with local students who could help them familiarize and ease in,”

Mohit says.

On winning the Premier’s award, “I don’t have words to describe”¦I think ”¦I can say that it is an unparalleled elation,” he says.

Mohit is the son of Laxman and Minal Tolani and nephew of Chandru Tolani. One can say that Tolani clan is a talented and hard working lot to have achieved two of the Premier’s debut awards.

Dr Sidhlingeshwar Orekondy is a past president of the United Indian Associations (UIA), president of Overseas Medical Graduation Association (OMGA), founding president of Kannada Association and Basawa Samiti. He is currently the president of Veerashaiva Samaja of Asia-Pacific and a founder of Chandana TV. His charity work of conducting eye operations in Fiji and India was considered an important contribution by the judges.

Dr Gurcharan Singh Sidhu, a biochemist of international repute who had migrated from Pau, Ludhiana, prepared ambitious plans for the popular Sikh Gurdwara in the heart of Western Sydney with practically no funds in hand. He has contributed extensively in building the Revesby and Parklea Gurdwaras besides producing cholesterol free eggs as a CSIRO scientist. A keen Urdu poet, Dr Sidhu has been known for his shero-shayari in his younger days when he kept dinner functions alive with his poetry.

The awards, having been announced on December 22, happened too quickly and were not advertised well enough for more people to participate and get their nominations in, also due to the holiday period. Perhaps it is the election time and awards are a big plug for the premier who is struggling at the polls due to happen on March 26.

All said and done, this new chapter in the Indian community is welcomed and one hopes it has ongoing bipartisan support to recognise those few who sacrifice and lend a hand in serving the community.

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