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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
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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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The Truth About The Killing Of Khashoggi Will Be Revealed By The Turkish President

Amnesty International called on Saudi Arabia to "immediately produce" Khashoggi's body so an autopsy can be performed.

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jamal Khashoggi
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, delivers a speech at supporters in Istanbul. VOA

Saudi Arabia says Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke Monday by telephone with the son of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi to express condolences for the killing.

Khashoggi died after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is vowing to reveal details about the case in a Tuesday speech to his parliament.

He told an Istanbul rally Sunday, “We are looking for justice here and this will be revealed in all its naked truth, not through some ordinary steps.”

Erdogan spoke to U.S. President Donald Trump by telephone Sunday. Turkey’s state-run news agency said both leaders agree the Khashoggi case needs to be “cleared up with all aspects.”

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(FILE)- Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. VOA

Saudi Arabia called Khashoggi’s killing inside its Istanbul consulate “a huge and grave mistake” and vowed those responsible for it would be held accountable.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Fox News Sunday that Saudi agents “did this out of the scope of their authority,” calling it “a rogue operation.”

The top Saudi diplomat offered his condolences to Khashoggi’s family, but disclosed no new information about how the writer was killed, where his body is or if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — the country’s de facto ruler – was involved.

“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up,” al-Jubeir said. “That is unacceptable in any government.”

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Saudi Arabi’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. VOA

Saudi Arabia claims the 59-year-old Khashoggi was killed October 2 after an argument leading to a fist fight — an explanation that has drawn widespread international scorn and skepticism, including from Trump. After he initially seemed willing to believe Saudi accounts, the president now says “obviously there has been deception, and there has been lies.”

Al-Jubeir said in the Fox television interview, “This is an aberration. This is a mistake and those responsible will be punished for it. We want to make sure that we know what happened and we want to make sure that those responsible be held to account.” Saudi Arabia says it has fired five key officials linked to the death and arrested 18 others.

Critics are questioning how a team of 15 Saudi agents could fly to Istanbul to meet Khashoggi and eventually kill him without the crown prince’s knowledge and consent. But al-Jubeir said, “There were not people closely tied to him,” although news accounts have said that several Saudi security officials close to Mohammed were involved.

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This image taken from CCTV video obtained by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet and made available on Oct. 9, 2018 claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. VOA

Khashoggi was living in the U.S. in self-imposed exile, writing columns for The Washington Post that were critical of Mohammed and Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the conflict in Yemen.

Trump told the Post that Saudi Arabia has been an “incredible ally” of the United States for decades and it is possible the crown prince did not order Saudi agents to kill Khashoggi.

“Nobody has told me he is responsible. Nobody has told me he is not responsible,” the U.S. leader said. “We have not reached that point…I would love if he was not responsible.”

Numerous U.S. lawmakers, including Trump’s Republican colleagues, are calling for sanctions against the Saudis. Turkish investigators say Saudi agents tortured Khashoggi, decapitated him and then dismembered his body.

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In a frame from surveillance camera footage taken Oct. 2, 2018, and published Oct. 18, 2018, by Turkish newspaper Sabah, a man identified by Turkish officials as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, walks toward the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. VOA

Trump told the Post that “something will take place” in response to Khashoggi’s death, but said the United States should not let the incident disrupt a possible $110 billion weapons sale to Riyadh he announced last year.

“It’s the largest order in history,” Trump said. “To give that up would hurt us far more than it hurts them. Then all they’ll do is go to Russia or go to China. All that’s doing is hurting us.”

But one Trump supporter, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, told Fox “I don’t think arms should ever be seen as a jobs program.”

Other U.S. lawmakers voiced skepticism of the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi’s death.

Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN he believes Mohammed bin Salman was responsible, saying, “Yes, I think he did it.”

 

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President Donald Trump talks to reporters about journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance prior to boarding Air Force One for travel to Montana from Joint Base Andrews, Md. VOA

A Trump critic, Democratic California Congressman Adam Schiff, told ABC News, “This ought to be a relationship-altering event for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that we ought to suspend military sales, we ought to suspend certain security assistance.”

U.S. officials are faced with reconciling the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi’s death and Turkey’s claim an audio recording exists of Khashoggi’s torture and death. Trump denies U.S. officials have heard the audio or read transcripts of it, but the Post quoted sources saying that Central Intelligence Agency officials have listened to the audio. Verification of it would make it difficult to accept the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi’s death.

European leaders and the human rights group Amnesty International expressed skepticism about the Saudi explanation.

Britain, Germany and France issued a joint statement condemning the killing of Khashoggi and said there is an “urgent need for clarification of exactly what happened.” They said the Saudi explanation for the journalist’s death needs to be supported by facts in order to be credible.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the circumstances around Khashoggi’s death are deeply troubling, and called for a thorough, credible and transparent investigation.

Amnesty International called on Saudi Arabia to “immediately produce” Khashoggi’s body so an autopsy can be performed.

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Amnesty’s director of campaigns for the Middle East, Samah Hadid, said a United Nations investigation would be necessary to avoid a “Saudi whitewash” of the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s death. Hadid said such a cover-up may have been done to preserve Saudi Arabia’s international business ties. (VOA)