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Pandit Jasraj in Tampa

“Vaishnava Jana To” rang into my ears as I drove in my car to meet Pandit Jasraj for the second time in about seven years. I hadn’t planned to listen to this melodious tune by before meeting up with the Sangeet Martand during his recent visit to Tampa. I just happened to have this new CD with me in which Panditji sang the title song. Within a half hour, I was standing in front of the music legend. Dressed in his usual kurta/jacket and dhoti, Pandit Jasraj greeted me with a smile on his face and a customary namaste.

The man with the noticeably flowing gray hair needs no introduction. One of the most internationally acclaimed classical vocalists comes from a family in Haryana that has produced four generations of musicians. Tampa Bay folks should become accustomed to seeing Panditji a little more often. In September, Panditji will begin teaching a three-credit course in Indian music at the University of South Florida (USF).

“Last year, I presented a concert and lecture demonstration in Tampa that was attended by the vice chancellor of USF,” says Panditji. “He and the others who were listening to my demonstration liked it so much that they asked me to teach music at their university. I would like to make Americans understand what Indian music is.”

In the meantime, the Pandit Jasraj School of Music continues to grow in the Tampa Bay area. “Our vocal teacher Shri Radharaman Kirtane is very good,” he says. “We have about 65-70 students at the moment.” Other Pandit Jasraj schools in the U.S. are in New York, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Vancouver in Canada,”

Ask Panditji about his son Sharang Deo and his face lightens up. “In 1975, I had conducted music for a dancer ballet, ‘Geet Govind,’ ” he recalls. “The orchestration was by Vijay Raghav Rao and art director was M.R. Achrekar. Sharang had taken the vocal music out of this orchestration and released an album by the same name recently with top singers such as Shankar Mahadevan, Anuradha Paudwal, Mahalaxmi Iyer, Shreya Goswal.

“ ‘Geet Govind’ is at the top of the devotional music list and so is ‘Naman – Mantras for Children,’ by Rattan Mohan Sharma, Panditji’s nephew. Up next for Panditji are four bandishees of Sangeet Samrat Tansen. “The album should release in June,” he says.

Classical music has been known to exist as far as back as 2000 B.C. But with the onslaught of pop and Hindi film music, does Panditji believe that classical music is a dying breed? “Classical music is immortal,” he points out. “Yes, there are channels that promote music, which is contradictory to our heritage. We all musicians would like to start a 24-hour classical music channel. We can provide our services free for a year or two.”

May the Sangeet Samrat live for many more years after his wish of a 24-hour classical music channel comes true. Indeed, the classical music world is blessed to have this Padma Shree amidst us all.

Story provided by Hindu Temple of Florida

More than 2,500 devotees watched in awe April 2 as gold-plated kalashas were kept on the vimana and the newly constructed Rajagopura of the Hindu Temple of Florida in Tampa. Mahakumbabhishekam was performed for all the gopuras and the main deities.

Twelve highly erudite priests from different parts of America conducted the yagnas as prescribed in the Agama Shastra during the five-day event, which began March 29. New Navagrahas and Naga Devathas were installed.

The highlight of the program was Swami Dayanand Saraswathi of Rishikesh who performed the kumbabhishekam. In his address, Swami Saraswathi noted that the success of any undertaking, especially building temples as an abode for prayers and for seeking peace, can only be achieved through human determination, courage, vitality, dedication and devotion.

Swami Suryadevananda (also a monthly Khaas Baat columnist) of Divine Life Society, Rishikesh, gave discourses on Bhagavad Gita Chapter 1 through 5.

A cultural program with Sri Ravikiran and his troupe on the gottuvadyam, as well as by Tampa Bay artists also was presented during the five-day event.

Kudos go to G.M. Ramappa, president of the Hindu Temple and chairman of the Building Committee for overseeing the construction of the tallest rajagopura in America today.

Indira Sastry deserves kudos for taking charge of the religious part of the kumbabhishekam. She was given assistance by the temple priests Sri Gurudutt and Sri. Narasimha Bhattar.

On the five days of the kumbabhishekam celebrations, mahaprasad (breakfast, lunch and dinner) was served by the temple canteen Prasad sadan. The temple’s two cooks Ramprasad and Venkata Narasimhan, along with two other cooks and volunteers from the food committee, served authentic south Indian meal.

For more information on the temple at 5509 Lynn Road, Tampa, click on


Bay area performers entertain the crowd during the Baisakhi celebrations in Clearwater

About 500 people attended the seventh annual Baisakhi celebrations April 15 in Clearwater. Organized by the Punjabi Association of America, the event featured local entertainment such as Giddha, Bhangra and Phulorida Kudian, as well as Sabar Koti and Kulwinder Kely, singers from Punjab on tour in the U.S., and comedians Bhotu Shah and Kake Shah.

“Our focus as a cultural organization has been to get local Punjabis involved in order to foster a sense of community based on a shared heritage,” Amrita Bedi, vice president of the association, told Khaas Baat. “We would like to get more children involved in the performances because it gives them an opportunity to showcase their talent and at the same time forge friendships that hopefully will last a lifetime.”

Baisakhi celebrations also were held in Coconut Creek in the South Florida area by the Punjabi Association of South Florida on April 15.


Young special needs performers from India will present “Colors of Ability” May 13 in Orlando.
Story provided by Asian Cultural Association

The Asian Cultural Association (ACA) of Central Florida continues its season of cultural events with the Saturday, May 13 presentation of “Colors of Ability,” a soul-stirring performance celebrating the talent and abilities of young special needs performers from India.

“Colors of Ability” includes “Glimpses from the Epics,” pieces from traditional Indian musical dance dramas such as “The Bhagwat Gita,” and “Durga” as well as “Ramayana on Wheels” and “Martial Arts on Wheels.” The celebration of ability is at the heart of this unusual cultural event and eloquently highlights the indomitable spirit that enriches not only the performers but the audience as well.

The unique performance is conceived, directed and choreographed by Guruji Sallauddin Pasha, widely acclaimed as the pioneer of Indian Therapeutic Theatre. It is presented by the Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust, which is devoted to the concept of service to the disabled.

The dance and music performance reflecting the traditions and culture of ancient India will be presented at 7:30 p.m. in the Lyman High School Auditorium, Longwood/Orlando area. The $20 and $35 tickets can be reserved by calling ACA at (407) 333-3667.

Story provided by Hindu University of America

More than 100 people attended the late March conference “Ayurveda: Living Healthy Longer” held in Orlando. Sponsored by the Hindu University of America, the weekend event brought together top authorities in Ayurvedic and Allopathic medicine. The participants in both these systems of medicine addressed diseases such as cancer, arthritis and diabetes.

The conference program read like a Who’s Who listing in the Ayurvedic and Allopathic medical community. Sri Swamini Mayatitananda, Dr. Vasant Lad, Dr. Marc Halpern, Dr. Vivek Shanbhag, Dr. Claudia Beghe, Dr. Bala V. Manyam, Dr. Gopal Basisht, Dr. Prachi Garodia, Dr. Light Miller, Dr. Virender Sodhi, Dr. Alakananda Ma, Dr. Nikita Shah and Gayathri Shanbhag each addressed a unique concern for today’s healthcare crisis faced by millions.

Hindu University plans another conference on Ayurveda in 2007. For more information, contact the Hindu University of America at (407) 275-0013 or click on


Nearly 3,000 people, 250 performers and 60 volunteers were involved in the success of the recent 11th Festival of India in Coral Springs.
Story provided by Association of Indians in America

About 3,000 people attended the daylong 11th Festival of India in late March at the Coral Springs Center for the Arts in South Florida. Indian food, clothing, jewelry, paintings and popular DVDs and CDs were in abundance.

Nearly 250 performers presented a cultural show featuring dance and music of India. Highlights included a sari pageant, inaugural dance competition and the fashion show, “Bollywood Dhamaka.”

The children’s booth, packed with Indian arts, crafts and activities, also included a puppet show by New Yorker Gary Gewant.

“This was our best festival yet,” said Lakshmi Subrahmaniam, past president and festival executive chair. “The weather was perfect, the venue was ideal and the cultural show outstanding.”

For more information on the Association of Indians in America South Florida chapter, click on

Story provided by INDOUS Chamber of Commerce -

The Museum of Science & Industry (MOSI) along with the INDOUS Chamber of Commerce is holding a fundraiser May 13 at MOSI in Tampa for its ongoing cultural education initiative, Demystifying India.

A special screening of the IMAX film “Mystic India” will be held at MOSI that day, which starts at 6:30 p.m. Donation is $250 per person for the evening of food and entertainment.

At MOSI, children will get the rare opportunity to understand the world and the people that make up the worlds mysterious cultures globally -- such as India.

The Demystifying India project is designed to help create a community, which embraces and celebrates cultural diversity. This important endeavor will provide the Tampa Bay community with a thorough education and detailed insight into India, its rich culture, and its vast contributions to society, past, present and future.

There are seven goals of this joint initiative:

Educational Exhibits: highlighting the culture and contributions of India past, present and future. These exhibits will explore India as it exists today and provide opportunities for students to examine the current economic, science and mathematics contributions of India and Indians.

Teacher Training: annual teacher training seminars will be held to provide teachers with the tools and insight to teach about India its long rich and diverse culture.

Resource Library: to create and maintain a library and resource guide for teachers and students to use when studying India.

Updated Curriculum: on Indian matters for teachers to use in their classrooms. This curriculum will focus on extending discussions from traditional to contemporary India.

Educational Trips: public and private school field trips and projects to study India at MOSI.

IMAX Experience: “Mystic India” -- a glimpse into the awe-inspiring spirituality and complexity of India. Free to the public.

Speaker Bank: of Indian presenters for teachers to call upon to address their classes.

For more information, click on


Kumar Sunil Mungee

Kumar Sunil Mungee, the Prince of Ghazals and Bhajans, will be presenting four concerts in May. Organized by the Ekal Vidyalaya Foundation of USA, “Ekal Aur Sandhya 2006” will benefit India’s rural and tribal children.

“Our movement looks to eradiate illiteracy from tribal India by 2011,” said Jawahar Taunk of the Tampa Bay area chapter for Ekal Vidyalaya. “Last year, we raised about $150,000 from three events to benefit our goal. Ekal is more than a literacy movement; it is an education movement. Our main objective is to provide value-based primary education to tribal and other underprivileged communities in rural India.”

Mungee, a disciple of the late Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki, will perform at 7 p.m. on May 18 in Auburndale/Lakeland area (Auburndale Civic Center); 6:30 p.m. May 19 in Tampa (India Cultural Center); 4 to 7 p.m. on May 20 in Gainesville (UF Shands HPNP Auditorium); and 4 to 8 p.m. May 21 in Jacksonville (Mandarin Middle School). Suggested donations vary per city.

For more information on the Auburndale/Lakeland event, call Nilesh K. Patel at (863) 853-9315; Tampa, call Jawahar Taunk at (727) 789-9087; Gainesville, call P.Y. Keskar at (352) 338-1591; and Jacksonville, call Dilip L. Kothekar at (904) 737-1269; or click on



Opening a new store or restaurant? Expanding or relocating? Has your business won an award or a mention in your local newspaper? We want to hear from you as Khaas Baat kicks off yet another new column to meet the rising needs of businesses and our readers. Call Nitish S. Rele at (813) 758-1786 or e-mail us at


Indian Grocery is now open in New Tampa.

Residents of the burgeoning New Tampa area in north Hillsborough County have no reason to complain anymore. Yes, you folks now have your own Indian Grocery store, which opened nearly two months ago. The owners are Terry and Hira Pearson, both originally from England. The couple moved to Tampa about a year ago and just “love the weather, friendliness of the people and the cleanliness,” says Terry.

The 1,200-square-foot store offers Indian groceries such as spices, rice, atta, daal, fresh vegetables (on Wednesday and Friday), new DVDs of Bollywood films, frozen foods and of course British products. “Our sore is uncluttered, clean, light and airy,” says a beaming Terry, who once was a project manager back in London. He plans to start selling frozen fish and halal meat as well as do takeouts on Friday and Saturday.

Indian Grocery at 10046 Cross Creek Blvd. (behind Marathon gas station), Tampa, FL 33647 is open 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. For information, call (813) 907-2176 or just drop by to check out the store. “We listen to all our customers’ request,” says Terry. And he means it!


How rewarding can meatless food be? Go see for yourself by visiting Udipi restaurant in Sunrise in South Florida. That’s the advice of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper, which reviewed the South Indian restaurant recently.

“The intoxicating aroma from the kitchen let you and your nose know this is about intriguing spicing rather than fancy décor,” writes Judith Stocks. The dining correspondent is all raves for the chaat, dosai, uthappam, kadai bindi curry and gulab jamon. And we have every reason to believe her.

Udipi is at 2011 N. University Drive, Sunrise or call (954) 748-5660.


Mumbai native Desmond D’Sa, chef of the newly re-opened Clay Oven in Longwood (Orlando area), gets a pat on the back. Make that two. The restaurant of this former president of the Florida chapter of the American Culinary Federation was recently reviewed by the Orlando Sentinel. “The food was exciting, with vibrant flavors and layers of spicing that unfolded in your mouth,” writes Scott Joseph.

Clay Oven is at 1275 S. U.S. Highway 17-92 in Longwood or call (407) 696-7775.


India Grocery, a new store on Baymeadows road in Jacksonville, is now open. Timings are 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

For information, call (904) 807-9802.


It’s that time of the year for high school graduations. Khaas Baat would like to recognize the accomplishments of our graduates with a high school senior roundup in an upcoming issue. Please send us the high school senior’s name, school name, some achievements/awards, hobbies/interest and future plans, including college name and intended course of study. E-mail the information to with GRADUATE in the subject line.

Steven Belmonte


Benjamin Franklin needs no introduction. His accomplishments and contributions to our country in the 1700s were many. Likewise, his words of wisdom have been recited to us by our mothers and fathers for many generations. Some of my family’s favorites included: “A penny saved is a penny earned,” “A place for everything and everything in its place,” and “A small leak can sink a great ship.”

But some of the less known phrases are the ones that can perhaps teach us the best lessons if we relate them to the world of hotel franchising. In particular, two Franklin quotes come to mind: “Well done is better than well said,” and “A countryman [or hotelier for our purposes] between two lawyers is like a fish between two cats.”

Think about those two statements for a moment.

Well done vs. well said

As many in the industry know, I am not short on words. I truly enjoy conversing based on 30 years of hotel experience with friends and industry colleagues at brand conferences and other industry events. But success and respect do not come from what you say, but rather from what you do – and more importantly, what you do well.

Over the past 30 years, I’ve served as an owner/operator, franchisee, franchisor, brand president/CEO, and head of one of the largest hotel management companies. So what . . . so have many other people.

What if I tell you that I built my successful hospitality career with no formal education—starting in this industry as a desk clerk and working my way to president of Ramada, one of the most recognized hotel brands in the industry and a company that doubled in size under my direction? What if I tell you that I’ve mentored and motivated many employees and colleagues . . . That I’ve helped hotel owners to improve their franchisor relationships and negotiate solid contracts to ensure success. . .That I’ve mediated win/win outcomes for owners who were in jeopardy of losing their franchise . . . And that I’ve received the Humanitas Award for my work with Childreach, which helps to build medical facilities, schools, youth centers and housing in third-world developing countries across the globe.

I’m not stating these accomplishments to toot my own horn but to stress the importance that “Well done is better than well said.” Just saying that you are president, or owner, or manager is not impressive in itself. What is impressive is having a positive, measurable outcome as a result of the role you played.

This is most true in the human resources aspect of hospitality. One of the biggest problems that we as an industry face today is hiring good managers or persons in executive positions. Too often, we base our hiring practices on an impressive title on a resume. But what looks good on paper is only good if the job was done well – and if there is proven results to back it up.

Franchisor vs. franchisee

In the world of hotel franchising, “Well done” also bears more weight than “Well said” on both the part of the franchisor and the franchisee.

A hotel franchise can boast to possess the best flag to fly for a particular location and to deliver the best bottom line results to the owner. But actions speak louder than words. What actions are being taken on the part of the franchisor to ensure that their particular brand will draw more guests to the owners’ door and deliver a better average daily rate, RevPAR and occupancy? What tools are they providing to owners to ensure that the best possible outcome can be achieved? What specific steps will they take to assist the owner who is struggling to compete in the marketplace? How far will the franchisor go to assist the franchisee who is in violation of their franchise agreement or in jeopardy of losing their franchise altogether?

Likewise, a franchisee or hotel owner can say that he or she has done everything possible to make his/her hotel a success all-the-while blaming low ADR, RevPAR and occupancy on the lack of assistance from the franchisor. But is the owner using all the tools provided by the franchise or are they trying to do things their own way? Is the owner marketing properly? Is he or she using online distribution channels as their competitors are? Is the owner meeting brand standards by taking care of the physical asset?

One of the best ways to ensure that both the franchisor/franchisee IS doing a job well done is to make sure that the franchise agreement was well negotiated or written. Hiring an experienced third party who understands both hospitality and franchising to assist in the negotiations of a franchise agreement is important. Otherwise, an owner going into a franchise agreement totally blind can find himself/herself in court between two lawyers “like a fish between two cats.”

Part of the problem with franchisor/franchisee relationships is that the franchisee doesn’t understand the initial process of structuring a franchise agreement. Contracts are often incredibly complex and virtually filled with legal land mines — which are why, up until the past year or so, the typical franchisee had to retain legal counsel to negotiate a fair contract up front or an equitable termination agreement on the back end. And even with a lawyer, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the best possible agreement — typically, lawyers know the law, not the hotel business. Nor do they know the individual culture that exists at each of the franchise companies.

The solution is to find a company that offers owners and operators franchise-negotiation services at a fraction of the cost — and, frankly, at a fraction of the time — that it normally takes to hire a lawyer to do the job. This expert – especially one who knows hospitality -- can negotiate entrance or exit agreements far faster and less expensively than an attorney.

In addition, a negotiations specialist can wrap up the typical project in as little as two weeks — the time it usually takes lawyers just to get you on their calendar. Cost-wise, there’s also no comparison.

With true negotiating power in the hands of the owner, he or she is guaranteed to enter into a franchise relationship that is a win-win. The result of a contract “well done” will be a hotel operation that is well run.

Thanks Mr. Franklin for your words of wisdom. I sincerely hope that many franchisors and franchisees will take them to heart.

In conclusion, I leave you with another quotation from Benjamin Franklin that is good for all of us to put into practice:

“The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all men, charity."

Steven Belmonte, president and CEO of Hospitality Solutions LLC, based in Randolph N.J., can be reached at (973) 598-0839, via email at or visit

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