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Journey to the Top: Indian Origin Alka Sharma shares her inspiring story of tightening Indian roots in US

From being an actor, dancer, poet, radio jockey, freelance writer to a painter, Alka possesses multitude of talents

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Mandi Theatre group. Image source: Alka sharma

Superlative in her own way, she is a renowned figure in the field of Arts and culture. With the Community Service award, Best EmCee Award and Best Radio Media Award in her bag, she has been tightening the Indian roots in the USA through dance and theatre. She is also one of the notable members of the Indian community living in Chicago, USA. From being an actor, dancer, poet, radio jockey, freelance writer to a painter, this woman possesses a multitude of talents.

She is Alka Sharma and her journey to the pedestal where she stands on today is astounding and inspiring in the true sense of the term. In an exclusive interview with the reporter Karishma Vanjani of NewsGram, she opens her heart out about her radio channel, Mandi theatre group and shares some word of advice for youngsters living abroad.

Alka sharma

Karishma: You are indeed a master of all trades! Founder of Mandi Theatre Group, channel head of Radio Spice Box, a dance teacher and a doting wife. No journey to prominence is easy but today our readers would love to know about yours. Let’s start with your time in India, your home away from home.

Alka: Thank you. I’d like you to note that unlike many girls born in Indian cities who are surrounded by prejudices, I rather had a simple upbringing. I did my schooling from a Hindi medium school in Jamshedpur, Bihar. My interest in the theatre of arts wasn’t innate, as a matter of fact; I went on to finishing my Post Graduation in Computer Applications from Delhi. The magic began in this beautiful city, where I later joined Shree Ram Bhartiya Kala Kendra to learn classical dancing. During this time, I was also called in by the famous Aakashwani radio channel to do a segment for their shows called ‘Samiksha’ and ‘Yuvavani’. However, destiny had other plans and soon I was married and I moved to America.

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Karishma: Journey to the top. A lot of girls dream but fail to achieve that height. How did you find a way out of these tough situations?

Alka: After I moved to Chicago, things were depressing for a while as I was not able to zero in on any particular direction, several years went by as well. But, one fine day, I read about a budding radio channel in Chicago called ‘Chann Pardesi’ looking out for new talents to join them. I immediately called them and the rest, as one says, is history.

Karishma: Radio Spice box started as Chann Pardesi in Punjabi and Gurbani back in 2012. Today, the same channel has more than 50,000 listeners per week. Making a radio channel reach this applaudable height of success is a feat. Could you shed some light on your role in Radio Spice Box?

Radio Spice Box

Alka: As I was saying, one positive move can shape up a lot of things in your life. I made a call 5 years back to Sarwan Tiwana and Darshan Basraon, founder/director and MD of Chann Pardesi respectively. They looked at my background with Aakashwani radio and trusted me with my idea to start a Hindi radio channel. Today, after 3-4 years from its name change to Radio spice box from ‘Chann Pardesi’, we are the only radio channel in America broadcasting not only in Hindi but other regional languages such as Gujarati, Bangla, Bhojpuri and Marathi. We have around 14 volunteers contributing to our shows from all parts of the world to help create a phenomenal 24*7 broadcast show for our listeners.

Karishma: Would you like to share some words of wisdom for Indian kids living in the States?

Alka: There are just a few things I’ll like them to remember. Living away from our heritage doesn’t necessarily mean that we forget them. Hindi is our national language and shying away from speaking our own language degrades the value of our country. Visit Japan or China and look at how they respect their ancestral language. I wonder why we don’t hear anyone counting in Hindi, why is it always one, two, three and not ‘ek’, ‘do’, ‘teen’. In my opinion, music is the best way to get this point across. Let me add, music and dance. Dance is the way I teach my students things they wish to learn about the Indian legacy.

Karishma: Even though you stay in the U.S, your roots still belong in India, which is very well proved by your words. Please share some details about your dance group named ‘Amrapali dance group’?

Alka Sharma: My group consists of kids who come to learn Bollywood style dancing. What makes me happy is that they are also very inquisitive and eager to learn Hindi. We’ve also performed for the U.S consulate.

Karishma: Coming to your multitude of talents- your contribution as an actor and a dancer in the Mandi theatre group reminds the audience about some great Indian classics and help them re-live it. Can you tell us how the Mandi theatre group came into being?

Alka Sharma: A lot of good theatre plays were performed in Chicago for years but I saw that all of them were performed in English and with that thought, we founded the Mandi theatre group, a small way to preserve India’s theatrical tradition. We meet once a week and practice, I write plays, direct and act in them. It is a team effort.

Karishma: How has your journey in the Hindi theatre been so far?

Alka Sharma: It’s been beautiful. Last year, in 2015 itself we had 8 performances. One of the plays that I’m very proud of is ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’; it was a tribute to a Great Indian Writer, ‘Premchand Ji’. Part of the proceeds generated from this play were donated for the welfare of Senior Citizens to the NGO, HelpAge.

Karishma: What social issue does your theatre group cover apart from promoting India’s theatrical culture and art or Diaspora?

Alka Sharma: Our mission revolves around strengthening the role of ‘Traditional Indian Theatre’ in the arts community of Chicago area. Amongst our productions, one of the plays called ‘मटकी छाप पर मोहर लगायें’ (Matki chaap par mohar lagaye) was solely based on water shortage faced by many parts of India, it was a political Satire based on Shard Joshi’s short story.

Karishma: Our readers would love to know what’s in store for Mandi now? Are there any future projects or goals set in stone?

Alka Sharma: This brings me to the official announcement I have been meaning to make through Newsgram. Our Mandi Theatre Group will very soon hold Chicago’s first theatre festival showcasing the work of eminent playwrights of India. That’s right, I have been working on its press release and I assure you the theatre festival will be the first of its kind Chicago has seen.

Karishma: So Alka Ji, who stands behind this successful image?                                           Alka: Definitely not, I have a list of people to thank but amongst them, I would like to especially thank my husband Rohit Sharma, it’s due to his support that I took a few life-changing decisions and my mother CK Sharma, who has been my inspiration throughout.

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Karishma: Our readers want to know what does RJ Alka Sharma love to do in her leisure time?

Alka Sharma: (Laughs). I have always been an avid photographer. I capture everything beautiful from a water droplet to a whole field filled with snow. Adding to that, my home in Chicago is filled with oil paintings. These are the ones, I painted during my hard times and I still pursue painting whenever I find the time.

– by Karishma Vanjani of NewsGram. Twitter: @BladesnBoots

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Student Project into Space, NASA Comes Up With Chicago Planetarium

As the NASA-owned, Northrop Grumann-developed Antares rocket successfully blasted off from the coast of Virginia on April 17, it wasn’t just making a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

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Earth
“Our main goal was to see if the ozone layer is getting thinner and by how much, and if there is different parts of the Earth’s atmosphere getting thinner because of the pollution and greenhouse gases, Pixabay

 

College student Fatima Guerra, 19, will be the first to admit, she’s into some really nerdy stuff.

“Like, up there nerdy.”

“Way up there nerdy,” she says. “All the way up into space.”

Guerra is an astronomer in training, involved since a high school internship with a small project at the Adler Planetarium, with big goals.

“Our main goal was to see if the ozone layer is getting thinner and by how much, and if there is different parts of the Earth’s atmosphere getting thinner because of the pollution and greenhouse gases,” she told VOA from the laboratory at the Adler where she often works.

FILE - Apollo 13 crew members Commander Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., right, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred W. Haise pose for a photo during a 40th Anniversary reunion of the moon mission at the Adler Planetarium, April 12, 2010, in Chicago.
Apollo 13 crew members Commander Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., right, and Lunar Module Pilot Fred W. Haise pose for a photo during a 40th Anniversary reunion of the moon mission at the Adler Planetarium, April 12, 2010, in Chicago. VOA

Coding ThinSat

Data that sheds light on those circumstances is gathered by a small electronic device called “ThinSat” designed to orbit the Earth. It is developed not by high-paid engineers and software programmers, but by Chicago-area students like Guerra.

“We focused on coding the different parts of the sensors that the ThinSat is composed of. So, we coded so that it can measure light intensity, pressure.”

“This stuff is very nerdy,” Jesus Garcia admits with a chuckle.

“What we hope to accomplish is look at Earth from space as if it was the very first exoplanet that we have. So, imagine that we are looking at the very first images from a very distant planet.”

As a systems engineer, Garcia oversees the work of the students developing ThinSat for the Adler’s Far Horizon’s Project, which he outlines “bring all types of students, volunteers and our staff to develop projects, engineering projects, that allow us to answer scientific questions.”

Garcia says the students he works with on the project cross national, racial and cultural divides to work toward a common goal.

“Here at the Adler, we have students who are minorities who have been faced with challenges of not having opportunities presented to them,” he said. “And here we are presenting a mission where they are collaborating with us scientists and engineers on our first mission that is going into space.”

Rocket carries project into space

As the NASA-owned, Northrop Grumann-developed Antares rocket successfully blasted off from the coast of Virginia on April 17, it wasn’t just making a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

On board was ThinSat, the culmination of work by many at the Adler, including Guerra, who joined the Far Horizons team as a high school requirement that ended up becoming much more.

“A requirement can become a life-changing opportunity, and you don’t even know it,” she told VOA. “It’s really exciting to see, or to know, especially, that my work is going to go up into space and help in the scientific world.”

Daughter of immigrants

It is also exciting for her parents, immigrants from Guatemala, who can boast that their daughter is one of the few who can claim to have built a satellite orbiting the Earth.

“I told them it might become a worldwide type of news, and I’m going to be a part of it. And they were really proud. And they were calling my family over there and saying, ‘She might be on TV.’ And it’s something they really feel a part of me about,” Guerra said.

Also Read: ‘Big Steps To Reduce Carbon Emission’ Apple Expects Cooperation With China on Clean Energy

Long after the data compiled by ThinSat is complete, Guerro will still have a place in history as a member of a team that put the first satellite developed by a private planetarium into space.

She says her friends don’t think that’s nerdy at all.

“It’s cool, because it’s interesting to see that something so nerdy is actually going to work, and is going to go up into something so important,” she said. (VOA)