EKTA 2021—A Journey Celebrating Diversity, Unity and Friendship

Sripriya Kalidoos and Abhivyakti Dixit (MBAs ’22) report about EKTA 2021 at HBS

Sripriya Kalidoss (MBA ’22), Contributor
Abhivyakti Dixit (MBA’22), Contributor

The show must go on!—Announced Dean Datar as he kicked-off EKTA 2021. On Thursday April 15, the HBS community had a high-energy cultural immersion as students found themselves grooving to the tunes of Bollywood music. This year, South-Asian Business Association brought back the charm of the annual cultural show, EKTA, in an all-new virtual avatar. Bringing to life the multi-ethnic cultural diversity—both classic and contemporary, the organizers swept the audience away, leaving them longing for a South Asia Trek. 

EKTA is an HBS tradition, handed over by more than 12 generations of HBS students. However, EKTA 2021 was going to be different. Recorded over 30 days with over 150 performers, EKTA has been the largest cultural event in HBS this year. 

MC Rahul Chawla (MBA ’21) kicked-off the show with an anecdotal and humorous introduction. EKTA 2021 was tied together with the theme of “Virtual South Asia Trek,” promising students a flavor of diverse South Asian cultures. With the global pandemic forcing the school to shut down just a few days after EKTA 2020, students longed for a full-fledged cultural immersion. The show’s organisers believed that EKTA was the best way to bring South Asia to HBS. Reminiscing pre-covid times, an EC admitted that “travelling to South Asia was on my bucket list,” while another student said “I was looking forward to travelling to India to renew my saree collection.” 

EKTA 2021 performances were not just about students, faculty members also gave us a glimpse of their talent. Professor Malcolm Baker showed us his curt dance moves while Professor Ramon Masanell, graciously played keyboard tunes to “Over the Rainbow.” This year, faculty members of RC and Old EC sections kicked-off section performances with their jubilant introductions. Professors Ashish Nanda, Edward Berk, Jon Jachimowicz, Jaya Wen, Lena Goldberg, Natalia Rigol and Sunil Gupta presented their sections with utmost pride and enthusiasm. 

India TourDone Right!

To take the audience through a complete cultural journey, EC students (and partners) performed to traditional folk dance from Western India. Dancing to the songs “Nagada Sang Dhol” and “Ghoomar,” performers looked mesmerizing in Ghagras (Long skirts) and Chunaris (head coverings). Decorated with diyas (lamps) and graced by six beautiful performers dancing fervently, Baker Lawn was a breath-taking view that evening. This year, unlike the many past years, EKTA was not performed indoors within Klarman, to comply with Covid-19 guidelines. Instead, student organizers used beautiful outdoor locations on campus for recording performances.

Moving on with the India tour, next stop was Eastern India. EC students gracefully performed to a medley of two dances from West Bengal. Each performer adorned a traditional Bengali (East Indian) style saree and captivated viewers with their skillful classical dance, coordinated with ghungroo (anklets with metallic bells) and a beautiful smile. Yes! Despite face coverings, the EKTA organizers creatively used transparent face masks to show dancer’s expressions—an important component of Indian classical art forms. 

To complete the India tour, Chawla and Farook Raseem (MBA ’21), our very own Harbus Editor, took us through a satirical parody to contrast North Indian and South Indian Culture. 

The Ultimate Dance Face-Off 

EKTA has always been a way to form new bonds and deepen relationships with section-mates, but this year due to Covid-19 induced restrictions, the show helped form new and meaningful bonds. EKTA 2021 showcased 10 section performances, spanning across six RC and four EC sections.

Choreographed by Abhivyakti Dixit and Prajya Sharma (MBAs ’22), section-J (aka J-crew) opened the EKTA night. The performance featured J-boys in pursuit to impress J-girls in a quintessential bollywood style on “Ladki aankh maare” and “Sauda Khara Khara.” Old Section-J (aka Juicy-J) matched up to the Bollywood quotient in a performance choreographed by Harsha Mulchandani (MBA ’21). While boys turned up the heat with “Tattad-tattad,” girls stepped up with all the hook steps of “Nadiyon paar.”

Led by Akshay Amin and Prerna Arya (MBAs ’21), EC section-A brought the high energy punjabi flavor to the night with songs like “Dil le gayi kudi” and “Mundeya.” But how could RCs stay behind! Directed by Lina Vadalmani, Pragya Tooteja and Saloni Jaju (MBAs ’22), Section-A team took us on a trip down memory lane with a Shahrukh Khan classic “Maahi-Ve.” The A-team closed with a powerful, well-coordinated authentic bhangra piece on “Sadi Gali.” 

EC section-E, stood out from the crowd with their electric indo-western take on “Urvashi” and “Chamak Challo” choreographed by Niharika Bhargava (MBA ’21). Led by Rewa Mehta and Shrenik Sanghrajka (MBAs ’22), section-D performed on the house favourites “Ghungroo” and “Morni Banke”. Choreographed by Nishu Uppal, Snehal Ramchandani and Vivek Agrawal (MBAs ’22), Section-H presented “Main tera boyfriend, tu meri girlfriend” and “Aankh maare.” True to any Bollywood song, Section-H dance incorporated costume changes, interesting videography, and a lot of swag! With complex steps and perfect coordination, Section-F dazzled in bright red on “10 bahane”, “Kaliyon ka chaman/Swalla” remix and “Morni banke”, choreographed by Mili Sanwalka, Karl Yokono, and Shivangi Goel (MBAs ’22).

Led by Nimisha Ganesh, Poorvi Vijay and Brittany Becker (MBAs ’21), EC Section-C took it away with “Tumhi ho bandhu” and “Le gayi Le gayi” in their shining silver costumes against a starry night. RC section C, led by Misha Khurana (MBA ’22), beautifully contrasted their ECs in bright orange costumes dancing on a warm sunny day. While their song “MC Jogi” showcased beautiful formations, “Balam pichkari” set the mood for the colorful Holi festival.

When West Meets East—Music at EKTA 

Dance cannot be complete without great music. Vocal and Instrumental performances at EKTA 2021, were a perfect fusion of western and eastern music forms. Laura Carlson (MBA ’21) and Shivangi Goel (MBA ’22) paired up to sing Justin Beiber’s ‘“Let me love you,” which seamlessly transitioned to a hindi song “Tum hi ho.” The mash-up was complemented by melodious instrumentals played by Isha Chowdhary, Rahul Chawla and Faiz Ahmed (MBAs ’21). Next, Sidhant Rao (MBA ’21) and Vivek Agarwal (MBA ’22) joined on vocals while Ahmed played terrific guitar tunes to the song “Tera Yaar Hu Mein”—a story of friends. The recital also included a beautiful medley of “Love me like you do” and “Afreen” by Carlson, Goel and Saloni Jaju (MBA ’22). The band came together as a group to perform “Aadat” and “Every Night in my dream” bringing the beautiful musical journey to an end. 

Standing Stronger—EKTA 2021 and Beyond

Ekta (एकता) means “unity” in Sanskrit, and it is in these testing moments that we see communities coming together, united. The show brought together the student community to coordinate, practice and record the show despite several odds. Despite chilly Boston winds, outdoor practice and face-coverings, students kept up the energy and adrenaline to put up a splendid show. Students organised small-group dinners and virtual watch-parties to reconstruct the Klarman experience. EKTA 2021 was more than a cultural show, it was an opportunity to revive for new friendships and rekindle old section bonds. 

Harsha Mulchandani, Niharika Bhargava, and Prerna Arya (MBAs ’21), three EC students led the efforts to organize EKTA 2021. In spite of juggling recruiting, paper submissions, goodbyes and challenges of organizing the first ever virtual EKTA, the trio made sure to put together a memorable night that brought the HBS community together.

Amidst all the challenges in the last year, the South Asian student community stood united with resilience, enthusiasm and love for a unique and diverse culture. The evening was a true celebration of adversity and strength of the community here at Harvard Business School. 

Youtube link to EKTA 2021- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpehSNEZ1qQ&t=2584s

Sripriya Kalidoss (MBA ’22) is a first-year student at Harvard Business School. Sripriya has worked in the Consumer Products Industry prior to HBS. She is particularly interested in building affordable and accessible technology in emerging markets and is an active member of the South Asian Community at HBS.

Abhivyakti Dixit (MBA’22) referred to as Abhi) is a first year student at Harvard Business School. Prior to HBS, she spent time in consulting and VC at Boston Consulting Group and Lightspeed Partners respectively. She is keen on exploring operational roles at technology companies post HBS and is involved with the Tech Club leadership. She is a proud Koala and is trained in Indian classical dance and theatre acting.