Rooted in India, they find each other in Baltimore Indian reunion mixes society, business


Some 5,500 North Americans with roots in India are in Baltimore this weekend for a reunion of old friends, and in search of business opportunities and maybe even a spouse.

The national convention, officially called the Brihan Maharashtra Mandal of North America, filled the Baltimore Convention Center yesterday and continues today.

Nearly all have direct ties to the Maharashtra state of India, on the western side of the sub-continent. Its principal city is Bombay.

"Is Bombay more humid than Baltimore? Yes, but only in the month of May," said Suresh Arurkar, a Gaithersburg importer and exporter who was enthusiastic in his promotion of Indian-U.S. trade.

"The Indian economy is opening. The country has 200 million middle-class consumers out of a total population of 870 million. It is very common for the siblings and parents to live together under one roof. Those households have tremendous buying power," he said.

Conventioneers attended seminars titled "How to Really Succeed in Indian Ventures," "Anatomy of Venture Capital," "Funding College Education for Your Children" and "What to Build? Temples or Indian Cultural Centers."

An exhibition of some 50 trade booths offered 79-cent-a-minute calls to India, as well as computer software and banking advice.

Many of the married women dressed in traditional garb, their saris often highlighted with gold or silver threads. Most men wore sport shirts and slacks, and their children appeared to have been dressed in outfits sold by The Gap.

Mr. Arurkar said the convention's goal was to draw generations together in the estimated 1,700 extended families who converged on Baltimore from throughout the United States and Canada. He estimated that 90 percent of the wage earners were white-collar professional workers, mostly engineers and physicians. A number are also involved in the computer industry.

"The culture of Maharashtra is available at these meetings. There is dancing, music, food, youth activities and business opportunities," he said.

Not all the talk, however, had to do with old friendships, the weather or business opportunities.

"Do you want your Colts back?" asked Dr. Jagdish Kularni, an Indianapolis resident, as he sat with a Baltimorean at the 4,000-person lunch served at Festival Hall.

The meal was served on two levels. An American fast-food cheeseburger and potato chip array for children and teen-agers was in the basement. Upstairs, adults sat for a meatless noon meal of dried spicy noodles, a chutney made of coriander and another of dates, rolls, yogurt, sweet cakes and Pepsi Cola.

Shashi Kamat, an Orlando, Fla., electrical engineer, table-hopped around the sprawling room.

"I just ran into two classmates I haven't seen since the 1960s back in India. The pattern is that you go to undergraduate school in India and then to an American graduate school.

"The main reason why I come to these conventions is to meet old friends and acquaintances," Mr. Kamat said.

"Most of the people here have one foot in each country, one in India and one in the U.S. I wasn't sure if my children would like these conventions, but now they can't wait to come back to another one," said Arvind M. Korde, the president of a TRW subsidiary who lives in Knoxville, Tenn.

Convention goers realize that the traditional arranged marriage may be difficult to accomplish in this country, but they believe these gatherings may prove to be a type of institutional matchmaker.

"We had five couples who got engaged after our last convention in Long Beach. We hope for 10 in Baltimore," said Mr. Arurkar.

Ravi Joshi, a civil engineer who lives in Cherry Hill, N.J., described the process:

"One of the things that happens at these conventions is that our children get to meet other children. Families meet families, too. My wife and I were introduced through our families back in India in the traditional way.

"With the traditional style of matchmaking, you know the family. You know the background. It can work out very well," he said.

Asha, his wife, nodded.

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