The Story Behind it
An overview of how Kannada Balaga came into existence
By DR SNEHA KULKARNI
It was a cold winter day in 1982 in Leicester. My husband and I were out shopping for Deepavali that was right around the corner. I felt a soft, warm hand on my shoulder. I turned around and saw a young lady in a beautiful Mysore Silk saree, excited and emotional, with a most welcoming smile on her face. We were complete strangers yet we felt a strange feeling of affection for each other. She asked me excitedly “Were you speaking Kannada? I have not heard a single kannada word in the last six years of my stay in UK! When I heard you talking in kannada, I felt as if I was in my ‘tavarumane’ in Dharwad!”. After a hearty conversation, she gave me a big hug and left.
This was the day the seed of Kannada Balaga was sowed. The experience made us realise that we too were homesick and concerned about our children being alienated from their roots and culture. We had a group of four close knit families who used to meet for festivals, birthdays etc. When we met for Deepavali, we discussed our idea of having a kannada organisation in UK. Everyone was immediately excited and enthusiastic to start the venture. Each of us deposited £5 per family and decided to call it Kannada Balaga – Balaga implying a family of all kannidigas. Thus, Kannada Balaga was born!
“The aim of the organisation was clear from inception – to have a nonreligious, non-political, non-profit making organisation for the benefit of all Kannadigas in U.K.”
There were no mobile phones and no internet! All communication had to be done by post and over landline. How do we let people know of the newly formed Balaga? Since a lot of people we knew were doctors like us, we hit upon an idea to advertise the newly formed organisation in medical magazines and newsletters. The original advert read like this – “Five friends trying to establish a Kannada organisation in UK. Anyone interested please contact by ringing our number…”. To our pleasant surprise we had about 50 responses within a few weeks. We decided to formally inaugurate the organisation in May 1983 when the weather was better. The plan was to get-together in our house in Mansfield. However, by April more than 150 people got in touch with us, excited to be a part of the community! We changed the venue to Hindu temple in Nottingham where we all met. We borrowed large cookware from the temple and we made ‘uppittu’ for 150 people and served tea, coffee and biscuits. It was an electrifying experience because there were so many passionate kannadigas, all wanting to come together in this foreign land and form a large ‘balaga’. We made new friends and met old friends we did not know were already in UK.
In May 1983, late Sri Mathur Krishnamurthy of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan officially inaugurated Kannada Balaga. He was also our first guest speaker. He reminded that there was a similar attempt previously to start a kannada organisation but had failed to take off. I am proud that after 36 years Kannada Balaga is very much here and thriving. The organisation was officially named “KANNADA BALAGA U.K.’ An 11-member Executive Committee was elected by show of hands. I was honoured to be elected the first President of Kannada Balaga. Within a year of formation, Kannada Balaga became a registered charity organisation.
“Life membership was £10 for individuals and £25 for families. We all felt that we should get together twice a year – for Ugadi and Deepavali”
We decided to have two events every year – Deepavali and Ugadi. I feel so proud to say that the same tradition has continued till today! Catering for events was different from what it is today – five or six familes got together and prepared the menu for the whole gathering. It was hard work but everyone enjoyed the challenges. We had great camaraderie and made a lot of life long friends along the way. The Balaga was our family. We had to assume several roles – organisers, cooks, cleaners, volunteers etc.
All Executive Committee members were working professionals with young families spread across the UK. We met three times a year by rotation; meetings were usually held in members’ homes and the entire family was included. We felt like we were part of a bigger family during these meetings. The children developed friendships which has continued for the last 40 years.
There are many kannada organisation in UK now. However, we are all kannadigas first and we must work towards preserving our culture and heritage.