From left to right - Sumana Madhu (entertainment lead), Mamta Kudlugi (secretary), Sharada Deshpande (entertainment lead), Jyothi Rao (President), Usha Rao(Treasurer), Chithra Poornima (Events & Facilities management), Rani Dwarki (Food Community lead)
Our community spotlight this month is on New England Kannada Koota(NEKK). Yogita Miharia of IAGB spoke to Mamta Kudlugi, the current Secretary of NEKK.
Yogita: Thank you Mamta for taking the time to talk to IAGB. First of all, I would like to tell our readers about your all-women’s Executive Committee! How cool is that!! How did it happen?
Mamta: It happened very organically. Couple of us who were going to run for various positions asked other women members and we all just came together to form the Executive Committee. It was so exciting and amazing when that actually happened. We have had a lot of women on the committee before, including women presidents, but this is the first time it is an all-women’s team.
Yogita: Tell us more about the history and mission of NEKK
Mamta: In the year 1973, few Kannada speaking people got to know each other and decided to meet for a picnic. Since the turnout was good and there was interest in further meetups, they decided to formally create NEKK in 1974. At that time, it was mainly students who came to the US to study.
The mission of NEKK is to bring people from common backgrounds together, especially when all of us are outside of our state and country so that we can celebrate festivals, culture and traditions.
Yogita Tell us about NEKK events. Which one is your flagship event?
Mamta: We have four functions every year. Ugadi is in April, then summer picnic, followed by Ganesha pooja in Sept. In late Nov/early Dec, we host a combined event for Children’s day/Deepavali/Karnataka Rajyotsava. Ganesha pooja is our flagship event. It is right after summer and an excellent way to meet each other after the vacations.
Yogita: Please tell us more about the Children’s Day event.
Mamta: Children’s day event is when our kids come and showcase their talent on stage. We call it “Mandaara got talent”, which is basically competitions in various categories for kids. This is a great way to involve children of various ages and keep the stage reserved exclusively for them. In the other 2 indoor events, the performances are mostly by adult members.
Yogita: How have you been working around COVID restrictions in terms of hosting events and keeping the members involved?
Mamta: Surprisingly we have been doing more than we expected. The current EC took over in summer 2019. The last in person event was in Feb 2019 called Dasa Vachana Day, which is a smaller musical event dedicated to prominent music composers of Karnataka. COVID hit right after that. Our Ugadi was held virtually. This year we hosted a Mother’s Day special, in which 4-5 men cooked live from their kitchen, and shared their recipes. Obviously, we had to skip the picnic. Ganesha pooja was again a virtual event, and we brought in professional dance drama performances from Bangalore. We also hosted an event where a panel of doctors addressed questions of members regarding COVID. We also had a session on Stress Management & Wellness, where our President Jyothi Rao demonstrated yoga techniques. Seva Mandaara had their workshop too, which was virtual. Our Children’s Day is happening on Dec 5th. All in all, as you can see, we are hosting more events than what we would do in normal times.
Yogita: Any other initiatives of NEKK that you would like to tell us about?
Mamta: NEKK strongly believes in social responsibility, for which we have our Seva wing – Seva Mandaara. It was started around the summer of 2013, it was one of the first of many focus groups that was started during that term. The other focus groups were- Jnana Mandaara, Chitrakala Mandaara, Yuva Mandaara, Kreeda Mandaara & Sahitya Mandaara.
Some of the key initiatives of Seva Mandaara are supporting schools in rural Karnataka for various things like improving school infrastructure, donating necessities to schools, building classrooms, bathrooms, etc. We hold 1-2 fundraisers annually. ‘We have conducted a few Microsoft Azure Certification workshops where Seva Mandaara members have taught week long sessions (one even virtually during covid), other Technical skill developing Programs, open to both Nekk members & non-members. Proceeds from all Seva Mandaara activities are donated. Most recent workshop was online and the funds were donated to the Black girls coding program. We also conduct cultural programs with professional performers and donate the proceeds. We did the Green initiative for the first time ever during 2020’s Dasa Vachana Day, where we used reusable plates, spoons & asked members to bring in their water bottles. The EC team with help from few other members, distributed the cleaning of the dishes job among ourselves. It was very fulfilling. We also have associations with food pantries in the local area, where we donate food and clothing.
Yogita: Going back to the all-women’s team, what are some of the differences that you have seen with that vs the teams that you have been part of in the past? Any challenges you have faced?
Mamta: It has been absolutely wonderful in all ways possible. We love when the 7 of us on the EC get together for a meeting. I would say probably my best experience.
Our biggest challenge was the pandemic but we have pulled off a wonderful Ganesha event. The Mother’s Day event was something that was never done before. This has been an opportunity for us to explore new things, and everyone on the team has been very supportive. Diwali was particularly different for all. We missed meeting each other face to face, and as women, the motherly instinct to bring joy to the community kicked in big time. So, we decided to do Diwali sweets for all the families of NEKK. We ordered mithai from India and the EC members took on the task of delivering to the doorsteps of every family. I would say this was something we all thought of and agreed upon immediately being the emotional lot we all are. I wish I could express the priceless joy we all felt of meeting someone you haven’t seen for several months and give a boxful of goodness.
Yogita: Please tell us about yourself and your journey with NEKK
Mamta: I came to the US right after I got married and have lived in Massachusetts for 27 years. I live in Wellesley with my husband and have 2 adult kids. I was born in Bangalore and grew up in Bihar and Tamil Nadu. My husband and I have been associated with NEKK for almost 24 years! I have held various positions in the Executive Committee in the past too. My husband Murali is the Seva Mandaara lead for the current 2 year term. We have made a lot of friends through NEKK, it is our family here.
Yogita: Would you like to share with us some memorable moments from your NEKK journey?
Mamta: I would like to share my memories of one NEKK member that I remember and miss the most. Mr. Rajendra Rao, who was a father figure to so many of us. He and his wife Renuka were one of the first people we met when we came to the country. Rajendra Rao was one of the founding members of NEKK. He was a pillar of the community who everyone adored. He loved kids so much and was always very encouraging to them. The Children’s Day event was his most favorite one. Every NEKK event, he would be the first to come and last to go, and recorded the entire event through all these years until he turned 80, couple years ago, when he passed away. NEKK has Rajendra Rao President’s award that is given to one outstanding kid of the NEKK family during Children’s day event.
Yogita: What message would you like to give our readers?
Mamta: I would like to urge the Kannadigas out there to come get involved with NEKK. It’s a nice place to meet your kind of people who speak same language and follow the same traditions. Keeping up your own culture and heritage through such an organization is really cool. Attend a function and get involved. We hope to see you.