Khaas Baat : A Publication for Indian Americans in Florida


By NITISH S. RELE - [email protected]

Danny, left, and his wife Manisha Gaekwad
with Casey and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

More than 200 Indian-American community members gathered in Tallahassee in early November to help Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his wife Casey debut Diwali at the Governor’s Mansion.

At the invitation of the governor and first lady guests arrived from across the Sunshine State: Tampa, Fort Myers, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, West Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Orlando, Ocala and Tallahassee itself. Physicians, entrepreneurs, hotel/motel owners and other professionals came together at the Governor’s Mansion on Nov. 6 event.

It was first time DeSantis celebrated the Hindu Festival of Lights during his role as governor as well as the first time the holiday had a gubernatorial endorsement.

Danny Gaekwad, left, Casey and Gov. Ron DeSantis,
Akhil Agrawal and Dr. Piyush Agrawal light the Diwali lamp.

Danny Gaekwad, a prominent businessman and entrepreneur from Ocala, began the process that led to the inaugural Diwali event in the state’s mansion. He recalled starting the process a year ago upon DeSantis’ election simply by asking the new state chief executive the question: “’Would you consider Diwali here at the mansion?’” Gaekwad recalled saying. “Promise he gave me, promise he kept.

“That’s how you want your governor,” he said, going through a geographic roll call of Indian-Americans at the party in the official residence, an antebellum-style house surrounded by spreading moss-draped live oaks.

A welcome sign greeted visitors at the front steps, while the home’s interior shown with light from oil lamps that displayed its decorations. Savory sweets and a full delicious Indian cuisine spread from Tallahassee’s Essence of India restaurant tempted appetites.

After prayers, the governor and first lady – both adorned with garlands – lit the traditional diya oil lamp. “This is a good event I think and we need to do it every year … so as long as I am governor,” DeSantis said. He added that when he was a congressman he celebrated the Festival of Lights: “… that’s why I know more about it than the average elected official.” 

The Gaekwad family, Kunal, left, Manisha,
Danny and Karan, pose with First Lady Casey DeSantis.

While thanking Dr. Piyush Agrawal and his son Akhil of the Fort Lauderdale-Miami area for participating in Diwali festivities, the governor reminded guests that the Governor’s Mansion belongs to the people of Florida.

Opening it up for Diwali “is us recognizing the great contributions of Hindus, particularly Indian-Americans in the state,” he said. “We are constantly striving to expand opportunity for people and to make it a better place to be. Look around this room and if we are trying to do better in business, medicine, etcetera, there’s not any (field) that does not have Indian-Americans leading the way.”

DeSantis reminded everyone that the theme of Diwali – focusing on light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance – provides an appropriate message for the present. He said now is the time for unity in the state, a time for people to focus on ideas, customs and traditions that bring Floridians together.

“There are a lot of things that are divisive, but the more we can come together like this, the better off we are as a state and as a people, and my wife and I are committed to it,” he said. Tallahassee, of course, is not the most centrally located place, he acknowledged, but “you took the time to come, such a really big crowd, great turnout. We appreciate your friendship.”


Photo credit: BAPS

Annakut display at BAPS Shri
Swaminarayan Mandir

Photo credit: Rashmi Nayee

Gujarati Society of Central Florida
Diwali celebration

Photo credit: IRCC

Participants at IRCC Diwali


Photo credit: IRCC

Competitors vie at the IRCC Diwali dance competition.


Photo credit: IRCC

Entrance to the IRCC Diwali hall.

Photo credit: IRCC

IRCC committee chair members pose with state Rep. Joe Geller and his wife Betty.

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