Kamini Dandapani, a native of Chennai, and a current resident of New York, is a writer and trained classical artist. Her book, Rajaraja Chola: King of Kings which was recently published by the renowned Aleph Book Company, is fast becoming a popular read. Through her book, she explored the man behind the larger-than-life image of Rajaraja and the milieu in which he reigned.

A kind-hearted philanthropist herself , Ms. Dandapani, is also a keen supporter of Chai for Cancer, and had hosted the first New York Adda in 2015 at her lovely home in Harlem. After attending the CFC New York Adda 2023 hosted by Amit Vaidya and John-Herbert Wright, Ms. Dandapani has written this beautiful piece for us.

As you get older, it is easy to get enveloped in cynicism and take a gloomy and despairing view of life. And when you live in a city like New York where the ills of society hit you viscerally every day, negativity and distrust can easily become a way to cope. And then there comes an event, you meet people, you witness a certain magic, that lifts you out of your slough of despond and and propels you into a realm of love and goodness.

This was the Chai for Cancer “adda”, or gathering, the brilliant brainchild of The Max Foundation’s Viji Venkatesh, to spread awareness and raise funds for cancer patients, particularly those who are economically disadvantaged, to provide them every support they might need to live their lives. This adda was hosted by Amit Vaidya and John-Herbert Wright. It took place in the Blue Building, a place that I, who prided myself on knowing New York City well, had never heard of. It is a delightful place, brick-walled, warm, so full of life and character (and yes, the building is blue), an artist’s dream. Amit and John had curated a wonderful collection of art by artists, all from New York, all of whom had donated their work to this cause. Gallons of delicious spiced (and spiked!) iced tea had been prepared, Amit and John had invited Tyler James Bellinger to perform his music… so much of love and care had been lavished on this adda because this was New York City, a place that does nothing in half-measures, a place that reaches for nothing less than the moon and stars.

Viji and I reached early, and the set up was in full flow. Amit was nervous: would anybody show up, would people enjoy the evening, would they contribute, what if no paintings were sold, what if the event was a bust……

People started trickling in at 4 o’clock. Introductions were made, people wandered around admiring the lovely paintings, partook of the tea. The evening was kicking into gear. And then Amit took the stage and told us about his own cancer story (do read his book Holy Cancer, to learn more). His emotions touched us all and we were inspired, too, by this young man who is all alone in this world but also surrounded by the most amazing community of friends so many of whom showed up to participate in and support this beautiful cause. And then Viji took the mike as more people poured in and how inspiring she was, telling us the stories of the people that have been helped – some for decades – by the Max Foundation and Chai for Cancer, bringing their faraway lives and worlds into our hearts and that very special space that evening.

And then it was time for some music as Tyler James Bellinger took over. What can be better than music to brighten up a room, to bring people together, to put a smile on faces!? Tyler’s songs did just that, and then it was back to Amit who urged us to spend the next hour getting to know one another, to drink more tea, to check out the paintings and bid on the silent auction.

The hour that followed was pure magic. Something was released into the air then. When Viji and I first arrived, people were a bit shy, a bit wary, preferring the comfort of their phones to making the effort to mingle. But that hour, oh, being there, witnessing it, being a part of it, was truly extraordinary. The Blue Building was abuzz as new friendships were forged, old ones restored and reinforced, as worlds swirled around each other and came together. There wasn’t a face without a smile. The goodwill in that room that evening could have lit up the world.

Amit brought the evening to a close and what a resounding success it was. All his fears, his worries, his stressing about how the evening would go evaporated into the balmy New York evening. This was an event that truly exemplified the “adda” spirit of warmth, support, togetherness and friendship, an event that put cynicism in its place, that proved that the world is a beautiful place, after all. I was so fortunate to be a part of that evening; it was such a balm for my soul that restored my faith in this city, in humanity, in the wondrous possibilities of life against all odds.

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