Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation Review - Fascinating and Compelling

I had the delight of attending the Community Preview of Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation, which will be on display in the Marae Gallery at The Field Museum through January 7, 2018. This Smithsonian traveling exhibition explores the heritage, daily experience, and numerous contributions of Indian immigrants and Indian Americans to our country. Visitors will explore stories of Indian Americans from throughout the United States, as well as those of our Chicagoland community— hearing  their oral histories and viewing artifacts interpreted by Chicago’s Indo-American Heritage Museum, co-presenter of the exhibition.    


Mr. O. P. Meena Consul (Press, Information & Culture) and Head of Chancery. Consulate of India Chicago & Dr. Richard Lariviere, Presidet & CEO Field Museum, Michelle Kuo, Courtesy of the Field Museum


Members of Indo-American, Michelle Kuo, Courtesy of the Field Museum Museum Board of Trustees wirh Field Musuem President Raja Nadimpalli, Gyan Agarwal, Madhoolica Dear, in front of Tamara Biggs, Amita Banerji, Happie Datt, Richard Lariviere, Lakshmi Menon, Padma Rangaswamy, Dorothie Shah

As I entered the exhibition space, I was immediately drawn to the large poster at the beginning of the exhibition.  There was an iconic photo of a very handsome  well dressed young man with garlands around his neck holding a travel bag. Looking at the photo, I had the sense of adventure and departure. I was curious about this young man. The photo description gave neither his name, nor his story.  But, as the photo suggests, he is the quintessential Indian immigrant.  A woman came by, looked at the photo, and, in surprise, said, “That is my brother-in-law.” A younger woman joined us and said, “That is my father.”  And that is how I learned the story of Hemendra Momaya’s journey to the U.S. Thus, here is another story about Indo- Americans to add to those that can be accessed by pushing a button in the exhibition in the Marae Gallery.


Wearing garlands presented by family members, Hemendra Momaya prepares to depart for the United States in 1965, Photo- Courtesy of the Field Museum and Hemendra Momaya


Flanking the photo of that handsome man are Jyoti Srikishan and Masum Momaya


Hemendra Momaya left Mumbai in1965, heading for graduate studies in Fargo, North Dakota.  He was part of a student wave at that time which I was surprised to learn, followed a migration much earlier when individuals left India in the mid 1800’s and worked in agriculture in California. The garlands that encircled Hemendra Momaya in that photo were offered to him by members of his very large family of about 60 people.  He was the first of his family to leave India. Off he went by ship to Genoa, Italy. Reportedly, the fifteen days on the ship were good excepting one night when everyone was seasick.


Ground Breakers

He met up with other students, traveled from Genoa to France by train, to London by ship, and then had his first plane ride from London to New York. His next visit was to Philadelphia where he spent three days with friends who helped him understand what the USA was like, its geography and culture before he continued his journey to North Dakota.  He traveled by Greyhound Bus, which was comfortable and it was an experience he enjoyed. Following the route on a map, he liked what he saw from the window.  There were two standouts during his 36 hour trip.  Somewhere in Ohio, he remembers the signs segregating black and white.  In Chicago, there was no room for him on the bus.  He worried that his friends in Fargo would not know that he would be late, but immediately, a new bus pulled up, and he became the only passenger.  He arrived in Fargo early and decided to take a cab to his friend’s house.  In March, 1965 he began his advanced studies in the field of Industrial Pharmacology and graduated with an M.S degree in June, 1967.  A friend suggested that he explore a company near Rockford, IL that involved quality control in drug manufacturing. He took this job and remained for seven years. During all that  time he found that obtaining vegetarian food was challenging but doable.  He also enjoyed host families in Fargo and In Pelican Bay, MN where Rotary International families reached out.  Eventually, he obtained an immigrant visa and became a US Citizen in order to fully contribute to this country. Jyoti Srikishan is a friend of the Indo-American Heritage Museum which has partnered with the Smithsonian  and the Field Museum in presenting this exhibition. Masum Momaya currated this amazing exhibition for the Smithsonian.


Masum Momaya interviewed by TV Asia - Photo: Michelle Kuo, Courtesy of the Field Museum


A welcome from Richard Lariviere, President & CEO, The Field Museum

The Community Preview and Luncheon provided an opportunity for Richard Lariviere, President & CEO of the Field Museum, to open the exhibition and welcome  individuals who contributed to the exhibition.  Sandra Aponte, Senior Program Officer, Arts and Culture of the Chicago Community Trust, which generously supported the exhibition, Robert N. Johnson, from the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center Advisory Board, and Madhoolica  Dear,  President of the Indo-American Heritage Museum, also briefly addressed the crowd. The luncheon was impressive and the musical accompaniment  by Puranlal Vyas on Tabla, Hinendu Dave on Harmonium, and Robert Lund on Sitar set the perfect tone for celebration of the exhibition co-presented in Chicago by The Field Museum and the Indo-American Heritage Museum.


Enjoying the Exhibition


Musical accompaniment by Puranlal Vyas on Tabla, Hinendu Dave on Harmonium, and Robert Lund on Sitar

Padma Rangaswamy and  Lakshmi Menon, who co-chaired the Indo-American Heritage Museum Beyond Bollywood Committee, were responsible for soliciting objects and preparing labels as well as collecting photos for the exhibition video.  Amita Banerji, Alaka Wali, and Dorothie Shah developed programs to complement the exhibition. Happie Datt recruited volunteers to act as docents for Beyond Bollywood and conducted a Training Session for them with Mary Ann Bloom, Field Museum Docent Coordinator.   Selections from several  respondents who participated in IAHM’s recent oral history project managed by Tamara Biggs are another highlight in the  exhibition.


Richard Lariviere, President & CEO, The Field Museum


Dr. Richard Lariviere chatting with sculptor Indira Johnson, Michelle Kuo, Courtesy of the Field Museum

The public is welcome to tour the exhibition every day except Christmas Day from 10 am to 5 pm.  Free Admission days  are listed the Field Museum website.  Numerous special program opportunities designed to complement Beyond Bollywood:  Indian Americans Shape the Nation also seek  to promote understanding of the rich diversity of Indian American culture.


Alaka Wali interviewed by TB Asia-Photo by Michelle Kuo, Courtesy of the Field Museum


The Great Melting Pot, Dalip Singh Saund, a California farmer, mathematician, and judge from Imperial County, made history in 1957 as the first Indian and first Asian elected to Congress. He served until 1963. Here, Congressman Saund stands with then - Senators John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, 1958. Photo courtesy of Eric Saund


Thursday, August 10 Treasures from the Field India Collection

Natya Dance Theatre Performance

1:00 - 3:30 pm Field Museum, Marae Gallery   Free Admission


Treasures from the Field Museum’s own collection of artifacts from India will be brought out of storage for a special appearance, joined at 1:30 pm by Natya dancers performing a selection from “Bharathi-My Mother.”  Classical Bharatanatyam performers will establish a link between Indian Americans and their heritage from India.


Attendees will become fully engaged as they share personal  memories prompted by  objects “from the Field’s “attic.” Field Museum staff members will also solicit comments which may illuminate the origin, purpose, or significance of items which  arrived in the  museum collection with scant documentation. 


Sunday, August 27 Cricket  Mela:  South Barrington Cricket Club vs The Fenders
10:00  am 4:00 pm 3 Tennis Lane, South Barrington, IL Free Admission

During this match between the South Barrington Cricket Club and The Fenders, fans will witness an active aspect of the heritage Indian immigrants bring to America. A kite fly and refreshments are scheduled during the interval.


Saturday, September 23 Chandra Day: Celebration of the Life of S. Chandrashekar

11:00am - 3:00 pm Field Museum, Marae Gallery   Free Admission

Join Kameswhar C. Wali, author of Chandra, a biography of the brilliant scientist, in this celebration of the life of renowned 1983 Nobel Prize winner S. Chandrashekar. In conjunction with a display of his Nobel Medal, on loan from the University of Chicago archives, selections form   Chandrashekar’s nine siblings will provide intimate glimpses of Ayya Mama, as Chandra was known in family circles.


Sunday, October 8 Strong Women in Greek and Indian Mythology
Hellenic Museum of America, 333 S. Halsted, Chicago, IL Free Admission

In an Inherit Chicago event coordinated by Chicago Cultural Alliance, the Indo-American Heritage Museum will collaborate with the Hellenic Museum of America to consider Models of Female Power in a presentation through drama and dance about   “Strong Women in Greek and Indian Mythology.”


Objects and posters tell the story

 Saturday, October 28 Family Day Diwali Festival

11 am - 2 pm Crown Family Play Lab, Field Museum East Entrance,

Stanley Field Hall

Storyteller Ajanta Chakraborty will charm children during  a Family Day Diwali Festival.   Crafts for children, including the creation of a large rangoli near the Field’s  east entrance promises to make the day very special. The Festival features performances in Stanley Field Hall. by Gauri Jog’s Kathak Dancers  at 11:00 am and Kalakshetra Drummers 1:00 pm  in Stanley Field Hall.


Sunday, December 10 -watch for details

Visit the IAHM website for further information


Photos: B. Keer unless otherwise noted.





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