Toronto artist with Down Syndrome thumbs her nose at naysayers

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Gurvir Singh, 24, an artist/songwriter/fashionista founded Power of One, an initiative that through art teaches participants the impact of words when it comes to discrimination.

Sassy, artistic, brave, and a total diva.

Gurvir Singh, 24, is unlike any woman I have met.

She hasn’t let her disability (Down Syndrome) become her identity rather, with the support of her family this amazing artist is carving quite a niche for herself as a fashionista, songwriter and an advocate.

When I met her, Gurvir sported a black top and jacket, paired with a sapphire blue scarf and trendy accessories. She exuded confidence I wish I could borrow.

Each of the pieces of art she brought along, turns out was the result of a powerful creative stirring she experienced when she watched: Harry Potter series, the azure blue ocean she glimpsed when she visited her sister Sara in Halifax, the music of One Direction and so on.

Without art, Gurvir would have probably carried the hurt of the words her bullies hurled at her all through her school years. Even though she was bullied, she didn’t let the bullies win.

“Words can hurt,” said Gurvir. “I was called names all through my school and one day, during a hip-hop class, one of the boys called me fat.”

I have to interject here. Sahil Prashar, whom I wrote about earlier, too was bullied.

I can’t understand the mindset of families that nurture these bullies. Children learn aggression and behaviour from their parents and then expel their cruelty outside. If I had my way, I would parade the parents and shame them like the media does with impaired drivers during the annual RIDE (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere) program.

So, back to Gurvir.

gurvir2One day, after she went through yet another volley of taunts at school, Gurvir and her sisters Sara and Navprit, launched Power of One, an arts initiative that offers series of workshops to help participants understand the impact of words in bullying and discrimination. At the end of each session, folks create a tangible piece of art to take home.

I am amazed at Gurvir’s spunk. Even though it would have hurt horribly to go to school every day and be at the receiving end of her bullies’ cruelty, she did not give up her learning. She graduated and hoped to pursue a university degree in fashion, except there are none for students with disabilities.

The Singh Sisters, as I like to call them, have taken it upon themselves to advocate for educational opportunities for those with disabilities.

“Watching Gurvir and all the barriers she faces made my family want to become advocates of change,” said Sara Singh, Gurvir’s older sister explained adding her non-profit Broadening Horizons’ mandate is to help, educate, inspire and mobilze youth to use creative expression as a tool to address social issues. “We urge people to promote inclusion in their workings whether it’s through employment or artistic endeavours. Through inclusion we can educate not just ourselves but other people as well on what inclusion and exclusion is.”

Gurvir has no time to dwell in the past. She keeps busy creating t-shirts with personalized art, writing songs and painting. Her advise to those getting bullied?

“They should stand up for themselves and maybe talk to a teacher, principal or someone they trust,” said Gurvir. “As you grow up, things change and you become stronger and that helps too.”

Amen, sister, Amen.

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Gurvir flanked by the “rocks” in her life, sisters Sara (right) and Navprit. The Singh Sisters are advocates for those with disabilities and run Broadening Horizons, a non-profit group. Photo by Bryon Johnson/Metroland Media Inc.

 

 

Non-verbal autistic teen from Toronto sings in three languages

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The two subsequent blog entries belong to Sahil Prashar, 17, and Gurvir Singh, 24. Both have disabilities and both have experienced bullying. I was able to put my life in perspective after meeting them. I hope you will too, after you read about them.

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Sahil Prashar, 17, is a non-verbal autistic teen and a savant who can sing in three languages. Supplied photo.

 The autistic teen with the voice of an angel

The 45-minute drive through the rural roads of Caledon and Orangeville took us into the bowels of inky darkness of a fall evening.
As the GPS announced our destination, all I could think of was: Why on earth would a desi family, with young children – Sahil and Jiya – choose to live in virtual isolation?

Minutes into my conversation, Anoop Prashar — Sahil and Jiya’s dad — as though reading my mind, answers my question.

Anoop and his wife Sudha Prashar chose to move away from the bright lights of city so they could escape the insensitive taunts families and children hurled at their non-verbal autistic son Sahil, 17.

In Hindi/Punjabi or for that matter in other Indian dialect, there’s a complete absence of language and word that has both sensitivity and compassion for individuals that don’t conform to a cookie-cutter mold.

So, people resort to the harsh and inappropriate “paagal” (or crazy). Imagine for a moment, how the reference may have made the Prashars wince. To toss the ubiquitous “Paagal” at anyone with autism, Down syndrome, learning disability or mental health, is cruel.

So, understandably when society gave them the cold shoulder, the Prashars tried spirituality.

“Those preaching/visiting temples and Gurudwaras are interested in chasing religion, not humanity,” observes Sudha who has had to watch her son being bullied at school. The adults too exhibited zero compassion.

Sahil, an extraordinary teen on the Autism spectrum, cannot speak, read or write, but he can sing. Boy, can he sing.

“Sahil has recorded more than 50 YouTube videos in three languages: English, Hindi and Punjabi,” Anoop shares. “Do you know any other 17 year-old with autism that can sing Marvin Gaye and other Motown hits, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga along with bhajans and ghazals?”

That’s a truly impressive feat, except the Prashars are not social media savvy or well connected, so they have not been able to share Sahil’s gift with the world.

No takers/no supporters

On a recent day, when Sahil’s voice began to hit the notes of a spiritual song about a mother pleading to the deity, it took every ounce of willpower not to break down and sob.

The innocence on Sahil’s face as he stared into space, twisted my heart. His voice was pure.

A dad – who’s the breadwinner – leaves for work and interacts with others as part of his work, but a stay-at-home Mom’s sole focus is her child. She makes several journeys to hell and back, protecting him from pain, discomfort and the world. Worse, she has to hide her tears, so her son can see the strength and hope.

There’s no doubt, this vulnerable youngster, who cannot take care of himself or defend himself from his bullies , is enveloped in a warm and solid fortress of love. But, the question, one that likely keeps parents of  children with disabilities awake at nights is: what will happen to our child after us?

“Till date, Sahil has not had anyone his age come over to the house to play video games, he has not been invited to any birthday parties,” Anoop said. “To society, he’s invisible because he’s disabled…”

When their child was three, Sahil’s parents noticed he did not talk and missed key milestones. To their amazement, he would sing along to songs on the car’s radio.

“When he was a child, Sahil had this toy piano that he would play with until it broke,” his father said. “When it broke, we would go get another one (same make).”

This song is from the heart

Anoop, who works in the trucking/construction industry, decided to share Sahil’s incredible talent with the world, some three years ago.

Each day, he would play a song whose lyrics and melody Sahil would instantly pick, thanks to a photographic memory. Hours of practice later, the duo would record the number. The sound system they use is primitive and out dated, a second-hand Karaoke system that doesn’t capture the acoustics or inflection of sounds well.

When they had recorded a fair number of songs, armed with links to the videos, Anoop and Sudha knocked on doors of media/bloggers/YouTube influencers urging them to share Sahil’s gift. No one bit.

The Prashars are completely at loss. Music makes Sahil happy and all they want is to give him a stage on which he can perform and share his love for music.

“I want Sahil to be a world-famous Canadian,” Anoop said adding they would welcome any band/studio that was willing to work with Sahil.

To check out Sahil’s talent, visit his Facebook page here.

Toronto desis continue Diwali celebrations and more in Nov. 2016

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Friday, Nov. 4

Event: Deepawali Milan
Details: Head to Hilldale Public School, 100 Hilldale Cres. for a satvik Diwali celebration at 6 p.m. Proceeds will go to Seva Canada International in support of educating the girl child.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 5

Event: Diwali Celebrations
Details: Telugu Alliance of Canada (TACA) is celebrating its 2016 Diwali at Port Credit Secondary School, 70 Mineola Rd. E. Mississauga at 5 p.m.
Contact: Here

el-poster-image-e1476906009779Event: Enchanted Loom
Details: Factory and Cahoots will present The Enchanted Loom, a play written by Suvendrini Lena and directed by Marjorie Chan at Factory Theatre, 125 Bathurst St. Play runs from Nov. 5 to 27.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 12

Event: Himachali Night
Details: people attending this gala at Parivar Banquet Hall, 237 Advance Blvd. in Brampton at 5:30 p.m. will likely spend the evening reminiscing about life in the hills. This function hosted by Himachali Association in Canada will celebrate the spirit of Dev Bhoomi – Himachal Pradesh.
Contact: Here

Event: Miss India Canada 2016
Details: The 26th Annual Miss India Canada will crown a winner at the International Plaza Hotel, 655 Dixon Rd. Event starts at 6 p.m. . Dr. Zeus is the celebrity guest.
Contact: Here

Friday, Nov. 18

Event: Taal 2016
Details: The Indian Students’ Society, Pakistan Development Foundation, Bangladeshi Students’ Association and Tamil Students’ Association are inviting residents to sample a taste of South Asia at their event – Taal 2016. The event will take place at William Doo Auditorium, 45 Willcocks St. Toronto from 5 to 10 p.m.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 19

Event: Scarborough South Asian Film Festival
Details: The Scarborough South Asian Film Festival (SSAFF): Through a Social Justice Lens kicks off at Woodside Cinemas, 1571 Sandhurst Circ., from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Festival hosted by The Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) in partnership with Woodside Cinemas.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Nov. 26

Event: Asia Wedding Lounge
Details: Vendors – which includes wedding designers and brands – are bringing their stuff to Toronto in this first-ever fair. Event taking place Nov. 26 to 27 at Rose Garden Banquet Hall, 6638 Finch Ave. W. Etobicoke.
Contact: Here

Brinda Muralidhar explores tangled ties in her debut film Knot Not!

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Dilip Krishnamurthy (Mohan) and Jessica Seigner (Patricia) filming a scene of Knot Not! in Mississauga. The film recently made its Canadian debut.

The making of a movie

Theatre, acting, stage and spotlights are entrenched in Brinda Muralidhar’s DNA.

So, having her debut film, Knot Not! premiered recently to a packed house, was Brinda’s ultimate homage to her Indo-Canadian roots.

The 1 hour 44-minute film about values, parental pressures and seeking ones identity, boasts an impressive line-up of local artists, most of who are relatively unknown, but bursting with potential.

Knot Not! is about what happens to your family when the parents are not on the same page,” Brinda explains. “In so many cases, one parent is tied down to the rules while the other doesn’t give a damn.”

And that’s how the film’s title came about: one parent is committed to preserving the knot of the marriage, while the other is not.

The premiere in Brampton was a sold-out one. This shows there may be a yet-to-be captured market for entertaining stories told from a hyper-local perspective

Shot in the GTA, Knot Not! has original music scored by Vinayak Hegde and Deepak Sant. It’s produced by Brinda’s soul mate/husband – Gunny, who’s also the cinematographer. Incidentally, it was Gunny, who came up with the idea for the film. Since communication at the Muralidhar home is unconventional, Gunny enacted his idea in a short one-minute narrative. Brinda was sold. She took on multiple responsibilities: director/screenplay/dialogues/editor and watched the idea grow and grow.

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Suniti Santosh (L) and Dilip Krishnamurthy in Brinda Muralidhar’s Indo-Canadian film Knot Not!

What’s Canadian film without a winter scene filled with snow, eh? Jessica Siegner told me one blustery winter day, Gunny and Brinda showed up at her Mississauga home after Ma Nature deposited some significant quantity of white stuff. They shot a particularly beautiful scene, framed against the beautiful backdrop of the Marilyn Monroe towers in Mississauga. I guess, it can’t get more Canadian than that.

The film showcases among other things, the stark contrast of family values from a desi’s perspective versus a Caucasian’s way of thinking.

Before this final version of Knot Not! there was an earlier one that was nearly 80 per cent ready, but Brinda and Gunny had to shelve the earlier version and re-shoot it all over again. Talk about teething troubles.

Initially, Knot Not! was supposed to be a 30-minute short film, but it took on a life of its own. This meant, the Muralidhars’ budget was shot to hell.

Brinda jokes the film’s finances are courtesy, “Bank of Muralidhar.”

The credentials

Brinda’s father­— Ramachandra Rao— was playwright and director, while her uncle (father’s older brother) M.V. Narayan Rao was a well-known stage and cinema artist/producer.

Canada however proved to be a fertile soil for Brinda’s artistic mindset because since she moved here, she has kept busy with more than a dozen stage productions in Kannada, English and Hindi. Brinda launched her film production company 1CanMedia Creations in 2013.

When the Muralidhars invited talent to audition for their film, they received dozens of responses. Brinda says she hated rejecting anyone because of a philosophy she inherited from her dad.

Her dad apparently would pluck an unknown, but eager artist from the neighbourhood to polish their rough edges and turn them into a brilliant theatrical gem.

Brinda says while shortlisting her actors to play Patricia’s role, Mississauga’s Jessica didn’t almost make it, but she had second thoughts and invited her to audition.

“As soon as Jessica walked into the room and said ‘hello’ to me, I knew that was the girl…” Brinda said.

Brinda said she started fleshing out the characters based on her actors as opposed to asking them to slipping into her vision. Dialogues and backstories were carefully crafted to include the artist’s mannerisms.

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Jessica Seigner (Patricia) and Dilip Krishnamurthy (Mohan) in Brinda Muralidhar’s debut film Knot Not!

Knot Not! Who’s there?

The film is about Mohan (Dilip Krishnamurthy), a South India arrives in Canada as an international student. In school, he befriends Patricia Smith (Jessica Siegner) a Canadian who guides him through his search for his identity.  Mohan’s parents Srinivas and Padma want their son to wed Lakshmi (Suniti Santosh), the beautiful daughter of their friend Bhaskar (Nat Pennathur).

Mohan does not want to meekly follow the path paved by his father, instead with Lakshmi and Patricia’s help Mohan discovers himself.

The film journeys through many plots and subplots and through comedy, drama and insightful scenes unties the tangled web of human relationships.

 

October’ 16 events in Toronto are filled with Navratri and Diwali celebrations

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Dhamal Masti Group (DMG) will host a Navratri event, Oct. 1 at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. Photo by Bryon Johnson/The Brampton Guardian

Saturday, Oct. 1

Event: Dandiya Dhamal

Details: DhamalMasti Group (DMG) will host its annual Navratri celebrations at the Hershey Centre, 500 Rose Cherry Pl. in Mississauga from 7 p.m. until midnight. Cost of tickets is $20/person and can be purchased at the door.
Contact: Here

Event: Mere Sung Gaa
Details: Head to Cineplex Entertainment, 110, Courtney Park Dr., Mississauga for a karaoke contest. Championship open to South Asians between 11 to 60+ (There are various categories.
Contact: Here

Event: Navratri Gujju Garba
Details: Ami Modi and Pratik (vocalists) will perform at David Suzuki Secondary School, 45 Daviselm Dr. at 7 p.m. for a garba/dandiya event hosted by Suravali Musical Group. Cost of tickets is $12/person (advance) and $15 at the door.
Contact: Here

Sunday, Oct. 2

Event: Sadhana
Details: Pratibha Arts will be collaborating with Harbourfront Centre’s NextSteps Dance Series for this performance series, taking place at the Studio Theatre, Harbourfront Centre, Toronto.
Contact: Here

Friday, Oct. 7

Event: Monster Rock Orchestra
Details: With the far-out sounds of a rock band and classical instruments of an orchestra, the unconventional Monster Rock Orchestra (MRO) will deliver rock and pop hits from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today at a spectacular free concert at Yonge-Dundas Square at 7 p.m.
Contact: Here

Friday, Oct. 14

Event: Diwali Raazmataaz
Details: Indo-Canada Arts Council is bringing Diwali celebrations to the “Square.” Event will have elements of Dandiy, Dusherra and Diwali and takes place at the Celebration Square in Mississauga at 5 p.m.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Oct. 22

Event: Kardoon Kamaal
Details: A Diwali dance/dinner concert featuring many local artists will take place at Shingar Banquet Hall, 2084 Steeles Ave. E. Brampton at 6 p.m.
Contact: Here

Thursday, Oct. 27

Event: Piya Behupriya
Details: Soulpepper Theatre, will present Company Theatre’s (India) Piya Behupriya (Twelfth Night) Oct. 27 to 29. Amitosh Nagpal has translated the work of Shakespeare into Hindi. Since it was introduced at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, England, this Hindi musical adaptation about romance, mistaken identity, love and unrequited love has wowed the audience world over. Show will take place at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane, Toronto.
Contact: Here

Note: This is just a few of Navratri and Diwali events happening in the Greater Toronto Area this year. There are lots of others happening, unfortunately, given the resources, It was impossible to list them all.

 

Ayaz Virani has the voice and the heart to become Canada’s top crooner

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So, when the presser about North York’s Ayaz Virani found me, I read it with more than cursory interest.

It’s not everyday a South Asian singer wins a coveted prize for his original work, a mellow pop/soul number with undertones of R&B.

Before, I ramble on, let me introduce the man whose song–Take it From me– strikes more than a chord with listeners. It has a “It” factor.

I am about to make this entire blog irrelevant by suggesting people hit play on the video now.

Recently, a panel of musicians and music industry experts chose Ayaz as the 2016 recipient of the Emerging Artist Music Mentorship Program, courtesy, a Canada’s Walk of Fame initiative.

Ayaz will receive $25,000 worth private studio recording time, introduction to an already established artist, face time with executives and get couple of opportunities to perform.

Here’s where his win gets more impressive. The panel received more than 350 hopefuls from coast-to-coast.

Music, not soccer makes my heart, beat

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North York resident Ayaz Virani is scaling the ladder of success after he won the 2016 Emerging Artists Music Mentorship program from Canada’s Walk of Fame. Photo courtesy Canada’s Walk of Fame

Ayaz grew up listening to a medley of musical styles as a result of Toronto’s multicultural vibe: Bollywood, ‘70s soul music, hip-hop and more

“The passion for music was always there, but I ignored it,” he said. “I am happy, I am now taking charge of my life.”

Yes, this story, like others narratives featured in this blog is about to meander down a predictable path: a young man (Ayaz), brimming with potential, abandons his artistic interests to pursue a profession worthy of his immigrant ancestors.

Childhood was all about playing soccer, attending math programs (outside of school) and performing at myriad cultural shows South Asian parents invariably drag their kids to.

Making his grandpa proud

After high school, he put his music away in cold storage and switched tracks with a B.Sc. in human kinetics from University of Ottawa. This path, he hoped would lead to him becoming a physician. Three tries later, Ayaz managed to pass the stringent MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), but was told, he was eligible to pursue medicine in Ireland, not Toronto.

That sobering news woke him from his reverie and self-imposed musical exile.

“I finally came face-to-face with my reality,” Ayaz told Toronto Desi Diaries on his lack-lustre interest in medicine. “Music is all I wanted.”

His parents surprisingly were supportive.

“South Asian parents want us to take these classic routes because of all that they sacrificed to bring us to this country and the opportunities they let go,” he said. “To them, that (engineering, medicine, accountancy) degree is about stability. My grandfather was an accountant back home (Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania), who brought his family to Canada in 1972 and worked as a janitor here for pretty much the rest of his career…”

The perfect storm of emotions

Take it From me, is a pure sublime melody wrapped in insightful words. Ayaz’s voice oozes pure Maple syrup. The guitar accentuates the singer’s velvety cadence and is just right, not overwhelming, nor too timid. In this song, Ayaz serenades the listener. He observes, he muses and questions love.

It’s always a broken heart that sings, right?

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North York resident Ayaz Virani. Photo courtesy Canada’s Walk of Fame

“This song in particular poured out of me,” he admits. “Sometimes you feel something so intensely that there’s nothing else you can do, but release it.”

The girl that broke the floodgates of the artist’s creative energy happens to be Ayaz’s current girlfriend, who at that time, decided to get back with her “ex.”

“I got off the phone, quite heartbroken and couldn’t sleep,” he recalled. “I got out of the bed at 2 a.m., pulled my guitar out and by 5 a.m., I had a full song…”

The rest, is still unfolding.

Follow Ayaz on Instagram

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You can catch Ayaz as he opens for Juno-nominated Matt Dusk with jazz/blues artist Florence K, Sept. 21 at Mod Club, 722 College St. Tickets are $30/person.

Then, on Saturday, Sept. 24, he along with other finalists from Canada’s Walk of Fame’s emerging artist music mentorship, will perform noon to 2 p.m. at Yonge-Dundas Square.

 

September ’16 events elevate Toronto as a Mecca for artists

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Janak Khendry Dance Company will be hosting a dance/drama Ganga at 3 p.m. at the Sir Fredrick Banting Secondary School, 125 Sherwood Forest Square, London, Ont. on Sunday, Sept. 25. Photo courtesy of the Janak Khendry Dance Company

Thursday, Sept. 1

Event: Salim-Sulaiman Concert
Details: The Kidney Foundation of Canada wants GTA residents to experience a musical evening with Bollywood composing duo- Salim and Sulaiman. Event is happening at Mississauga Living Arts Centre. 4141 Living Arts Dr. in Mississauga at 7:30 p.m.
Contact: For tickets visit, Here

Saturday, Sept. 3

(Please note, this event has been cancelled)

Event: Kalangan Series
Details: Samprada Dance Academy will welcome Aditya Prakash Ensemble for its signature, Kalangan Series at the Samprada Theatre, 4-3250 Rideway Dr. at 7:30 p.m. The concert will blend traditional Indian vocals/ragas with western musical instruments. Tickets cost $20 (adults) $15(students). Check out the accompanying video to get a sample. The sounds are magnificent.
Contact: Here

Saturday, Sept. 10

Event: Rung De’ One
Details: Since its launch few years ago, the Holi-inspired event has been adding colour to the social scene in the GTA. This year, the action shifts to Scholars’ Green (outside Sheridan College Campus), 275 Prince of Wales Dr. from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Contact: Here

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Rung De ONE, an event inspired by the Indian festival of Holi made its debut in Toronto. Organizers invited not just South Asians, but everyone to sample the culture of India. Supplied photo

Saturday, Sept. 17

Event: Swayamvar
Details: Dubbed as one of the largest singles events in the GTA, the evening, kicking off at 3 p.m. at Tich Restaurant, 2314 Lake Shore Blvd. W. Toronto combines an exhibition portion as well as some components of speed dating. So, if you’re sleepless in Toronto, head there. Tickets are $35/person.
Contact: For more, visit Here

Saturday, Sept. 24

Event: Bhangra/Reggae concert
Details: Small World Music Festival and Dhol Foundation are bringing a wonderful concert at  noon featuring sounds of Bhangra, infused with reggae as part of in/future – an 11-day festival of arts and music at Ontario Place, 955 Lakeshore Blvd. W.
Contact: Here

Sunday, Sept. 25

Event: Ganga (dance/drama)
Details: Janak Khendry Dance Company is hosting a dance-drama Ganga at 3 p.m. at the Sir Fredrick Banting Secondary School, 125 Sherwood Forest Square, London, Ont.
Contact: Here

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Janak Khendry Dance Company will be hosting a dance/drama Ganga at 3 p.m. at the Sir Fredrick Banting Secondary School, 125 Sherwood Forest Square, London, Ont.on Sunday, Sept. 25. Photo courtesy Janak Khendry Dance Company