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Chicago, Delhi for stronger ties

Both had signed a sister cities pact in 2001 whose contours are now emerging with a focus on the IT and manufacturing.

india Updated: Jan 12, 2006 17:06 IST

Niyati Shah has a masters in construction engineering and runs a $5 million company in Chicago but is more excited about forging stronger business ties between her hometown and Indian capital New Delhi.

"Most of the time, the sister city arrangement becomes a simple cultural exchange but in the case of New Delhi, Chicago's mayor (Richard M Daley) wants us to work on business and economic arrangements as he views New Delhi as an emerging market," said Shah, the Delhi Committee Chair of the Chicago Sister Cities International Programme. She was here for the just-concluded Pravasi Bharatiya Divas.

New Delhi and Chicago signed in 2001 a sister cities pact whose contours are only now emerging with a focus on the IT and manufacturing sectors.

"(Daley) looks at the world as a very small place. He likes to bring in someone with a global bent because it adds value to our city - and we can add value to New Delhi," the Chicago-born Shah added.

Her father Niranjan S Shah, who migrated to the US in the late 1960s, was one of the 15 prominent overseas Indians to be conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman by President APJ Abdul Kalam on January 9 before the conclusion of the diaspora day celebrations.

The elder Shah is CEO of the Chicago-based Globetrotters Engineering Corporation. Niyati Shah, who has bachelors and masters degrees from Illinois' Northwestern University, set up her company, Span Technologies, seven years ago. The company focuses on public infrastructure development, facility management, construction management, programme management and engineering design.

Shah admitted the New Delhi-Chicago sister cities programme "had a little bit of a slow start because we were trying to find a way to develop business opportunities and also focus on the social and cultural aspects.

"People are now excited about learning about opportunities in New Delhi," Shah said.

The impetus came in November 2003, when Mayor Daley travelled to Delhi. "That was great because he saw the things that were happening in Delhi with the Metro being built and all the other projects under way."

In September 2005, a delegation of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) travelled to Chicago for a conference to which Daley was also invited.

"The mayor is now taking an active interest in some of the things FICCI is doing and that's a good start. But then, It's not just FICCI - we'll try and do things with other agencies as well, Shah said.

Last November American Airlines inaugurated a New Delhi-Chicago flight "so we brought a delegation and as part of that some business leaders came and Mrs Daley came.

"Mrs. Daley's focus is on social and educational exchanges. She met with educators. She talked about what we can do in terms of exchanges where our children can learn from each other. With the business delegation, we had meetings with some of the ministries and some of the local chambers of commerce and industry to explore opportunities," Shah said.

Commerce Minister Kamal Nath was at one of the meetings and he too expressed interest in the sister cities exchange.

"On the third side we did a cultural thing. We brought the blues band. That was my programme. We had three concerts and my favourite one was the one we did in the embassy with the forum of public schools. You had to hear these kids singing 'Sweet Home Chicago'. It was great; it was so fantastic. We were thinking that if the mayor was here, he would have loved it," Shah added.

What this means is that "we've got the business people here and back home interested. The social and cultural stuff is easy because people want to see the blues band and fashion shows. The great thing about this trip was there's an interest by the business leaders to get involved in Chicago," she contended.

Speaking about the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, Shah said that for her generation, "it's very exciting because now we have a chance to come and to get to know people.

"It's been very interesting. I'm very active so I've had a lot of opportunities to meet chief ministers and others. This is a good forum where people have the opportunity to sit down and listen to leaders talk about what is happening in their state and it gives us a chance to say: Hey look, we're going to go out and ask questions and you might not always get the answers you want to hear but it's the answer you may be able to get," she said.

"For me, part of it is taking back my culture. While I was raised as an Indian, I was also raised as an American and that makes a big difference in terms of a sort of dual cultural identity.

"Now you find a lot of people like me want to learn Hindi. A lot of people want to be part of Indian culture. Because we are of Indian origin, we understand India, we feel comfortable here. And we want two things here, whether it's social whether it's business, we know the strength it gave our parents and we know of the opportunities it has for us to come back as well," Shah added.

Chicago, a city of five million, is home to 200,000 Indians, the majority of them upper-end professionals. It has exchange arrangements with 25 cities, including, Paris, Osaka, Shanghai and Warsaw.

First Published: Jan 11, 2006 12:50 IST