Neelu Sondhi was born in Kolkata, India and lived there until her husband got an opportunity to move abroad. At 21, a newly married Sondhi left home and moved from place to place in England until another opportunity finally allowed them to settle down in Indianapolis, IN. Years later, as the Committee Chair of Cultural Journey: India she is sharing her story and her hopes for the festival with Heartland Film.
HF: How old were you when you moved from Kolkata to Indianapolis?
NS: After getting married to Naval at the age of 21, I moved from Kolkata to New Delhi. From New Delhi, Naval and I packed two suitcases and moved to England where we moved with his training and our jobs from London to West Yorkshire, Edinburgh, New Castle upon Tyne, and finally ended up in Wolverhampton. In 1984 he was invited to Indiana University School of Medicine to do a fellowship in Pediatric Ophthalmology. We moved to Indy that year. I was 28 years old.
HF: What is one of your favorite memories from your life in India?
NS: I was really young when I left and my favorite memories were mostly around family. My mother was a musician and composer and I was roped into being in her musicals and really loved it.
HF: How was your transition to life here? Were there any challenges? What helped you feel at home in Indianapolis?
NS: My transition to life in Indiana was pretty smooth. Since Naval was a fellow and subsequently a resident, I was automatically part of a community of wives of the resident husbands who worked 15 hour days and had no money. We were called “scrub mates” and after our husbands graduated we also “graduated” with a certificate of endurance.
HF: Have you gone back to Kolkata since you came to Indiana?
NS: I didn’t get a chance to go home for almost 10 years but have since been back many times. My family and friends are still there and I love going back to visit them.
HF: Why did you join the committee for the Cultural Journey?
NS: I have always been a Heartland Film junkie and I love Indian films. So when Michael asked me if I would like to be involved in this project, I was delighted. This has been a chance to showcase my birth country to my home community. Indianapolis is home. This is is where my children were born and grew up. I am excited to share parts of Indian culture and heritage to my Indiana community and friends through films, food, dance, and music.
HF: What sort of impact can you see events like this having on our community here?
NS: I am hoping that it will show Indianapolis residents that people-no matter where we live or from what part of the world we come from-are all the same. I am hoping that by seeing a film from a different country, by tasting a different food, and by experiencing a different culture people will feel comfortable about perhaps going up to someone who looks different from them and start up a conversation. It’s all about sharing cultures and starting conversations .
HF: What do you hope people who attend the Cultural Journey get out of this experience?
I hope they get a taste and feel of the incredibly rich heritage of India. I hope they enjoy the events we have planned and the food, coot, and pageantry. But most of all, I hope people leave the Cultural Journey feeling like I do after I attend the Heartland Film Festival – enriched, invigorated, and renewed.