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From mcguffey to mumbai: students spend a night in india

Many Miami students' exposure to Indian culture may be limited to dinner at Krishna uptown, but it doesn't have to be. In fact, if you play it right, you can enjoy Indian cuisine for free right on campus -- at least that's what happened in a lecture hall on a gloomy Saturday evening this weekend.

McGuffey 322 was filled with the smell of Indian food and sounds of Bollywood. Platters of chicken tikka, rice and naan bread awaited hungry visitors. Displayed up on the projector screen was a "Straight Indian Songs" Spotify playlist. This is how the room stayed, complete with henna tattoo and sari wrapping stations, from 6 to 8 p.m. as the Indian Students Association (ISA) transported local students and families to a Night in India.

"I have had something similar," sophomore Diana Ridgeway said, taking a bite of naan. "I've had Pakistani food, because my neighbors are from Pakistan, but nothing Indian specific." Ridgeway said this was her first time being exposed to Indian culture.

"I never knew this event existed until a few friends pressed the interested button on Facebook, so it came up on my newsfeed," Ridgeway said. "I'm actually an RA on campus, so one of our requirements is to go to an event throughout the semester that's outside of our identity. So I thought this kind of aligned perfectly, and an event that I thought sounded fun and cool."

Ridgeway was far from the only non-Indian identifying participant at the event. Senior Joshua Gentry sat wrapped in a sari, scooping chicken tikka and rice into his mouth as he preached his love for Indian culture.

"I went to high school with a lot of Indian people, and I became good friends with them, and since then I'm like, 'man, Indian culture is super cool,'" said Gentry. "There's a lot of religious stuff involved with it, their food's great, as I'm eating it right now."

Gentry is a member of the ISA and will be performing in three dances at the Diwali Show in November. Gentry encourages other majority students on Miami's campus to expose themselves to culturally diverse organizations like ISA.

"Just because it's Indian Students Association does not mean it's just Indian students," he said. "So if anyone's interested in any different cultural organizations, don't feel afraid to join them and to get involved with it."

At Night in India, students of all backgrounds got involved with henna tattoos. Trisha Chatterjee, third-year exec board member of ISA and captain of the Bollywood Fusion dance team, sat at the henna station and designed her own tattoo, carefully painting the dye on her right arm with her left hand.

"Henna is one of my two skills," she said. "My other one is maybe sleeping."

Chatterjee said that henna comes from a pod plant and means something a little different in present-day America than it did in traditional Indian heritage.

"It was started as a bridal thing," said Chatterjee. "So at a wedding, when they were all arranged marriages, the woman who had the henna was, obviously, the bride. But as the culture changed and time changed, it became that everyone in the bridal party did it.

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"And then when Indians moved here, people here were so enthralled by the fact that, like, 'this is the coolest thing in the world,' that more and more people started doing it. So now it's like something that has become Americanized in a way because people do henna tattoos for fun, like I just did."

Senior Simren Cheema, treasurer of ISA, was happy with the turnout for Night in India. She said it was exciting that people outside of the Indian community were there and interested in the culture.

"It's awesome! I love that," she said. "It makes me happy that people wanted to come. People are open to learning about new things. And I feel like at Miami, we aren't a very diverse school at all, so I think that's cool."

As the night went on, more food was eaten, trivia was played, colorful saris were wrapped and music was danced to. Chatterjee and a friend taught toddlers in attendance how to "floss" while a new playlist, "Indian Songs" blasted from the speakers. Gentry kept his colorful sari on for the full two hours.

"I talk to people about other organizations that they're in, which are really noble and great, and that's awesome, but maybe it's not, like, as fun, ya know?" said Gentry. "There's a lot of enjoyment that they get out of it and there's a lot of fulfillment, but, for me, this is a really fun club. I love dancing, I love learning about it all, there's food, I get to hang out with these guys. I don't know, I get a lot of fun and knowledge from it. I don't even think about it as knowledge, though, I just think about it as me going to hang out and knowledge as a side effect."

The Indian Students Association will host their next event, the Diwali Show, at 7 p.m. on November 9 and 2 p.m. on November 10 in Hall Auditorium.