South Asian culture shines through on rainy day

Toronto Mela Summer Festival a success despite early weather-related 'disaster', organizers say

The weather put a damper on festivities at Scarborough Town Centre, but it was far from a complete washout.

Attendance was down at this year’s Toronto Mela Summer Festival, which took place on a rainy Sept. 7. The 2012 event drew 2,000 people, almost double the 1,200 who braved the rain this year.

“This time, due to rain, it is a disaster,” Dr. Mahbub Hasan said during the festival. “But still, even after rain, you can see over 300 to 400 are here. And we are expecting 1,000 more at around 5:30 p.m.”

Toronto Mela was presented by the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) in partnership with the City of Toronto to bring together a diverse community with one goal: to celebrate the rich cultures of South Asia.

The purpose of Mela is to create an inclusive society and set aside the stereotypes that some associate with Toronto, said Hasan, who has been working with CASSA as a project co-ordinator for three years.

“We want to bring other community members together in a day where they can celebrate the South Asian cultural heritage in a manner which is in light of Toronto and can portray our diverse and rich culture,” he said.

Mela is unique, CASSA executive director Neethan Shan said, because it aims to unify the South Asian community by representing cultures from a wide area, including, but not limited to, the Tamil, Bangla, and Indian regions.

“A lot of the South Asian festivals can be more Bollywood-centric or Indo-centric,” Shan said. “Here, you can see that we’re enjoying Nepali music and before that we had Pakistani performances, so it actually brings richness within a diverse community.”

This year’s Mela, the first for attendees Faisal and Nadia Ashfaq, also featured a market of vendors and small businesses that had clothing, jewellery and handmade crafts for sale.

“There are good stalls here,” Faisal Ashfaq said. “But I think they can improve that and have more because I don’t think there is enough.”

Options in the food court were a little thin, said Faisal said,  who added he would also like to see more activities to keep children entertained and more acts for adults to enjoy.

As for the future, Shan said hopes to extend the Toronto Mela Summer Festival into a weekend-long event featuring a film festival.