India’s Cultural Ambassador: MALINI SHAH

Entrepreneur, community representative, teacher, cultural advisor, mother. These are a few tags that go with Malini Shah. A woman of very high repute, Malini Shah tells Pooja Premchandran of The Indian Panorama about her ventures to date and the adventures she wishes to take upon in the future

When it comes to seeking advice or expertise in the matter of Indian culture, one would rarely think of anyone else besides Malini Shah in New York. She possesses an encyclopedic information about the Indian heritage and cultural systems that were gathered and learned from her experiences in the field for decades. Serving as a cultural ambassador to many organizations across the globe, Malini helps in educating the world about the rich and multi-faceted Indian culture.

Such relentless pursuit of widening people’s knowledge about Indian culture takes sheer determination and continual motivation. Shah attributes her success in the field to her immense love for the Indian culture. Since childhood, she worked at being a representative who promotes culture. On studying Indian traditional dance forms she began discovering her love for India’s heritage. She has traveled across India and the globe extensively on behalf of the Indian government and began learning the subcultures of India.

She has been a teacher for over 30 years, one of the schools being Modern School, a prestigious school situated in Delhi. Through this journey Shah realized the wealth of information about Indian culture that needed to be learned and shared. As a pioneer in promoting Indian culture and heritage in the United States and abroad, her travels via New York since 1978 and other parts of the world led to her inevitable success in escalating the awareness of the diverse cultural history of India.

She then decided to settle down in New York in 1992, Malini has strived to promote Indian culture in the USA. And it began by the formation of Nritya Kala Kendra, a cultural association that has been in New York for the past 20 years. She is also the President of her Diamond company Difference Inc. and Chair of the Diamond Council of INOC (Indian National Overseas Congress). When it comes to promoting our vast culture, Malini does not merely scratch the surface of our heritage unlike many others in her field.

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“India is a world by itself”, different states, different languages, different cultures, the arts, music and dance, temples architect and history. It is so vast.” But the journey, she admits, has not been free of challenges and risks. Not one to accept defeat, Malini fought through the mires to be where she is today. She tells us that such dedication requires an immensely motivating force that helps in fighting the challenges. Malini attributes her fascination and love for Indian culture as the main motivator to keep her rooted to her path.

Her love for culture and preservation of the same was developed at a young age. Malini’s mother was a Principal who upheld the ideals of Indian culture and heritage. Malini grew up with the same values and sought to explore the avenue even further. But to necessitate this, she believes education is the solution. She explains that she loves her job of being a teacher or an educator, stressing once again how important education is for her.

Education, according to Malini is not just what we achieve from schooling but it is also the wealth of information that we receive from books. An avid reader herself, Malini developed the habit of devouring books by the page since childhood. She recognizes that in order to understand and develop someone’s potential education must be first achieved. Education, she says, is the key to success. Malini is not unfamiliar with success.

Today she is perhaps best known as the representative of Indian culture in the world. She stands as an advisor to many international forums and also presides many cultural communities in the United States. But she does not stop there. She realizes that as the torchbearer for Indian culture, she must pass on her wisdom to the youth . To achieve that, she takes up the role of being a teacher and guides students belonging to various age groups and teaches them about what she knows about Indian heritage.

“I share and direct them about the cultural heritage of India.” Currently, the not-for -profit organization she founded Nritya Kala Kendra is doing several pilot programs at Public School 163Q at Flushing in Queens. Malini juggles with her multiple roles everyday and yet comes out being a success at whatever she attempts. Her fierce confidence comes from Late Prime Minister Mrs. Indira Gandhi, who Malini explains is her role model.

Indira Gandhi herself was known for stressing on the upholding of Indian cultural values and she also opened several cultural centers across the globe. Malini tries everyday to fulfill Mrs. Gandhi’s dream of preservation of Indian cultural heritage. Besides preserving and promoting our culture, Malini has other personal ambitions too. But being a strictly private person, Malini explains her reservations about sharing her goals with the world.

“I am not the kind of person who wants the world to know about my ambitions and goals. I’d rather complete my tasks and ambitions and tell the world that I did it,” she says. Malini has just completed assisting with Year of India which was held from August 2012 to April 2013 at Queens College. She says that her association with such big institutions helps her in achieving a sense of fulfillment.

Her main role in the event was to advise and guide the kinds of cultural programs that need to be included in the calendar and also in bringing eminent artists from India and other countries to New York to perform. Malini sees herself as the connecting factor between other communities and the Indian community. Year of India, she explains, was an ideal opportunity for anyone to get a taste of what India offers. Usually, such events are scattered in different parts of the country.

But as per Malini’s instructions, everything under the sun about India was available at Queens College New York. Malini has interest in a variety of activities and is associated with multiple organizations. She has worked with the Museum of Natural History on Meeting God. Through this event she was able to explain to people about how Indians connect with gods from different geographical places and as different individuals. She also worked with many American schools and taught students about India and its culture.

She has been hosting children’s Day at the Indian Consulate in New York for many years now. She has worked with Universities and Colleges like NYU, Columbia University, Pace University and Queens College to promote Indian culture. And as she sowed, so she reaped. Malini has been the benefactor of many prestigious awards for her outstanding contributions and work done in her field.

She was recently awarded with the “Exceptional Woman Award” for community service and philanthropy from South Asian American Women’s Alliance on May 19, 2013. Some other awards she received include the ‘Indo- Image Award’ from Queens Borough Community College, a Citation from New York City Council member Peter A. Koo for recognition and honor for years of service to the community, the “Outstanding Mother Award” by CAPSC (Chinese American Parent Student Council), the Hind Rattan Award for outstanding services achievement and contribution in London by NRI Welfare of India, the Distinguished Leadership in the Arts and Culture Award from Assemblyman Nick Perry in New York.

She also has received many prestigious awards from India including the Award of Sahitya Kala Parishad. With such immense experiences in her way, we wonder if she has ever faced any excruciatingly difficult challenges in her way. But Malini does not see such obstacles as being capable of stunting her success. “My mantra has always been simple. I made my path and I made sure that I never made any changes,” she says. Malini elaborates that if you stay focused then success will absolutely come to you. She believes that everything is possible in this world.

The ideals that Malini believes in helps her return home everyday satisfied with her professional duties. While she promotes Indian culture heavily, she does not limit herself from imbibing other values from different cultures. On being questioned about how Indian conduct themselves in the United States, Malini firmly replies that we must learn to gain from things America offers . She believes that while keeping Indian culture at heart, we must learn to strike a balance especially when living in another country.

She explains, “We must learn to gain all the good things from the American culture.We are in a land of opportunity.We are in a country which is renowned for being a ‘melting pot’ of cultures from around the world.” To everything that she has achieved so far, she attributes all the success to her loving children and husband. Family, she explains is the most important relation of all. She first learnt about culture from her parents and now she is passing it on to her children and the world. And she hopes that in the days to come, she is able to explore the vastness of Indian culture in its entirety and share everything she knows and help the world in understanding India better.

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