For two weeks every August, the tran- quil campsite of Lantern Creek in the city of Montgomery, Texas, becomes
the venue for a Vishwa Hindu Parishad of
America camp for desi youngsters.
The fun-filled camp — there’s pizza and
Coke for lunch, and even a garba night —
has about 35 counselors teaching 180 children Indian culture and traditions.
There are three one-hour sessions every
day on any topic of Indian heritage.
Sheylan Patel, 11, who attended the camp
this year, said violence is never an answer.
Anuja Pendse, 10, explained the avatars of
Vishnu and how they came down to help
mankind. Pratik Sharma, who recently
moved from Pakistan, said he has never
been to a camp like this before.
Sharad Amin, president, Hindus of
Greater Houston, was one of the founders
of the camp, which started 30 years ago.
Forty children joined the first camp, with
Suresh Patel as camp director.
After some years, the organizers felt that
the younger generation would be better
able to connect with the children. Since
then, it has been run entirely by camp
alumni who are now young professionals.
They train, plan and organize for three
months before assuming the responsibility
of taking care of 180 children.
The camp is a non-profit,
run only by volunteers, and
fills up quickly by word of
The children, who range
from 7 to 17 years, are not
allowed cellphones or
Their day begins at 6:30
am. They are taught
prayers, yoga and Indian
games like kabbadi and
kho kho. Other activities
include soccer, archery,
swimming, dodge ball, and
The 35 counselors, guided by two camp directors,
hold sessions for groups of
10 children on topics like
the ‘four stages of man’,
Ayurveda, and the four
yugas of the Gita.
Before dinner, there are
30 minutes of bhajans.
Lights are out at 10 pm. A
camp doctor is present
round the clock for minor
Sagar Patel, an information technology professional, and Bharat Pallod, a
financial analyst, took time
off from work to be camp directors this year.
The “first day is the toughest as everyone
is shy,” said Patel, adding that the children
bond with each other in no time. Pallod
said he formed “lifelong friends” at these
Both Patel and Pallod said they gained so
much from these camps that it was their
“turn to give back.” That sentiment was
echoed by Hema Patel and Sushma Pallod,
who organize the meals for the campers.
Saurabh Jain, who played Krishna in the recent Indian television series Mahabharat, entered the George R
Brown Convention Center in Houston in a
chariot August 23. He had been invited by
the Hindus of Greater Houston to participate in its 25th Janmashtami celebrations.
With a peacock feather tucked behind
his ear, he thanked everyone for inviting
him to Houston. Lord Krishna was always
seen smiling, he said, because Krishna
wants everyone to smile through their
problems and overcome them.
Seeing the response from the crowd to
Jain, Partha Krishnaswamy, chair, HGH,
said he was glad the organization made the
right choice. Sharad Amin, HGH president, told the gathering that Indian Prime
Minister Narendra Modi had wished the
Houston community a happy Janmashtami.
Swami Mukundananda said he believed
the celebration was an expression of unity
in diversity that typifies the Hindu religion
while for attendee Aslam Mohammed it
was “a great learning experience.”
One of the highlights of the celebration
was a performance by the band of
Mayapuris that urged the crowd to dance
and sing along the kirtans.
Up next was a costume contest in which
about 110 children participated. Hum A
Capella, a music group of students from
the University of Texas, Austin, sang
Other attractions at the event were a 25-
foot-diameter rangoli, signifying the silver
jubilee celebrations, designed and created
by Sangita Bhutada in 9 hours, and a 6-
foot ice sculpture of Krishna standing on a
India’s Consul General in Houston P
Harish presented life time achievement
awards to Raj Sayaji for mooting the idea
of celebrating Janmashtami 25 years ago,
and to Dr Appan who worked tirelessly for
the celebrations every year.
The prize distribution was followed by
aarti and garba. The Manpasand Group
rendered the music and the dancers kept
up the tempo till midnight.
The organizers said about 8,000 people
attended the event.
8,000 people attend Houston Janmashtami
At Texas kids’ camp, pizza, Coke
and lessons on Indian culture
Children at the 2014 Lantern Creek camp
COURTES Y: VHPA
Saurabh Jain greets the crowd at the event.