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Long Island gets its own India Day Parade

Traditional Indian dancing by women and girls, such

Traditional Indian dancing by women and girls, such as these girls who hail from different dance schools on Long Island and Queens, is among the activities at India Fest, held last year in Melville and this year in Hauppauge on Aug. 12. (2011) Credit: Vaaho Photo

For some Long Islanders of Indian descent, traveling to Manhattan annually to enjoy the floats, the costumes and the revelry of New York City's massive India Day Parade is a tradition -- and a hassle.

"Every year, it's too crowded, there's no parking and it's too far away," said Ajay Batra, of Valley Stream, an engineer and a producer at the cable program "Indian Variety Show TV."

This year, he said, a new tradition will be born.

"We decided, 'Why don't we do something on Long Island?' " he said.

The Island's first India Day Parade, which organizers hope will draw as many as 30,000 celebrants, is to step off Saturday in Hicksville.

It is to feature about 25 floats, dozens of dancers and band members, arts and crafts, an endless array of Indian food -- and Indian celebrity and former Bollywood star Vinod Khanna as a grand marshal.

The parade, themed "Celebrating Democracy," begins at 1 p.m. and will run up South Broadway.

"It's us celebrating as a true democracy," said Batra, the parade's media liaison. "Democratic India and America. We have the same values."

The parade also will celebrate the swelling Indian-American population on Long Island, especially in Hicksville, Jericho and Plainview, organizers said.

More than 55,000 Indian-Americans live on Long Island, according to 2010 census figures, drawn here by what parade chairwoman Indu Jaiswal calls "the very good schools and quality of life."

Jaiswal, of Garden City, a dietitian and nutritionist, said she hopes younger generations are inspired by the parade. "We want our children to know what our forefathers and parents have gone through," she said.

Organizers noted how the community was shocked by news of Sunday's deadly shootings at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. The Hicksville event will observe a moment of silence for the victims and their families. Nassau County police have assigned a security detail typical of parades, Insp. Kenneth Lack said.

The day's events are to include an hours-long cultural show with singing and dancing that Jaiswal said will be enjoyable for attendees, whether of Indian descent or not.

"We are showcasing our community, but on the same token, this parade is for everybody to watch, to participate and to support," parade co-chair Mohinder S. Taneja said.

Organizing the parade -- from lining up business sponsors to arranging floats -- has been a two-month affair with organizers meeting daily in the last couple of weeks to finalize details. It will cost about $150,000 to pull off, Batra estimated.

The preparations reflect all aspects of the thriving community based on Long Island, said Taneja, of Westbury, who is also North Hempstead Town's deputy commissioner for community services.

"It's about our culture, our traditions, our strength in numbers, the success of our community in America," he said. "America has given people the opportunity to succeed in any field that they want, and we are very thankful."

Jaiswal said: "We are doing it for the first time, so my vision is that we are creating history in Long Island."

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