March 15, 2004

Asha Cornell Group Holds Charity Dinner

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Over 300 people dined on Indian food Saturday night at the Asha Cornell charity dinner to benefit primary education for underprivileged children in India.

Hope

Asha, which means hope in several South Asian languages, has sprung up in at least 40 clubs nationwide and raised over $2 million for its cause since 1991.

“If the kids in India have a reasonably good education, they have a better chance at life,” said Giridhar Jothiprasad grad, the president of Asha Cornell.

Food Focus

During weeks of preparations leading up to Saturday, the group’s focus was on the food.

To the hundreds of graduate and undergraduate students, faculty and community members in attendance, the effort paid off.

“It’s outstanding,” said David Conner Ph.D. ’02, who couldn’t remember if it was his third or fourth year attending. “It’s the best Indian food in town.”

Sweets

One-year-old Anessa Conner enjoyed the kulfi (Indian ice-cream with coconuts) and was in good company, with many other children also enjoying the meal.

There were two seatings, at 6:15 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and people waited patiently in lines winding up staircases and hallways leading to the One World Room at Anabel Taylor Hall.

“They were overbooked,” said Prabu Selvam ’07, a volunteer. “They had enough food, luckily.”

Between 50 and 60 volunteers helped make the event happen.

Volunteer chefs worked with Cornell Dining chef Richard B. Roberts Friday night and all day Saturday to make dishes such as mutter paneer (cheese and peas in gravy) and vegetable kurma (mixed vegetables in a creamy sauce) in the Straight’s kitchen.

“It went as smoothly as we could expect,” Jothiprasad said.

Women in saris, patterned Indian dresses, and men in kurtas, long-sleeved cotton shirts, served food buffet-style.

Food committee member Pankaj Porwab grad helped fetch supplies and related his experience of driving around and getting stuck in mud for 15 minutes.

“I think it’s a really good learning experience,” he said. “You get to know all the real world coordination.”

The vegetarian dishes, which included a number of vegan recipes, come mostly from North India. The menu included appetizers tomato rasam (tomatoes, lentil and spices broth) and subzi puffs (pastry with spiced veggies); dinner included naan (bread spread with butter and baked in a tandoor oven), coconut rice (rice flavored with coconut and spiced lentils), vegetable biryani (rice layered with mixed vegetables), chana masala (spicy chickpeas in gravy), mutter paneer , vegetable kurma and dal makhani (lentils and beans); desserts of mango lassi (sweet yogurt and mango drink), gulab jamun (milk dumplings in sugar) and kulfi.

The event, typically held every semester, raises $3,000. The volunteer-driven group has no overhead, so all proceeds go directly to projects in India, according to Jothiprasad.

For the first time, Asha sold out the day before the event, according to Jothiprasad. 280 persons registered on their website, www.ashanet.org/cornell, and food was prepared for 320.

Archived article by Peter Norlander

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