by Amitava Sen
Kallol has done it again, a very successful and thoroughly enjoyable Banga Sammelan and Kallol deserves our gratitude. We needed it, a three days’ escape from humdrum of the life and for some of us from depressing economic uncertainty. Do not forget that this is a very difficult economic time in America, never encountered since thirties. It is never far from our minds. To venture into such a huge undertaking at this difficult time takes courage and boldness; Kallol accepted the challenge and succeeded under the very able leadership of Timir Hore, Sudhir Nag and Soumen Roy. Thank you.
In contrast with all other places around the country space and accommodations are at a premium in this New York metropolitan neighborhood, holding a convention here is hugely costly proposition. Compared to other years the attendance was sparse. No surprise. Foresight and wisdom on the part of the organizers contained the event to a manageable and economically viable limit.
Discipline and skill of management were noticeable even before the convention started. No e-mail was un-answered, no inquiry was un-responded. The hotel check-in and the registration were uneventful and flawless. All it required was the presentation of a letter issued by Kallol in advance to the reception at hotel desk. Chaotic check-in, lost registration has so far been the rule in most Banga Sammelans.
Innovative ideas were noticeable in many other areas; food service for example. Self-service was a new concept; it eliminated the vendor’s inclination to spoon out skimpy amount with the intention of limiting supply, saving money and leaving our stomach half full after paying full price. Morning program started late morning, giving the attendees time to sleep off their late night adda exhaustion. Very considerate on the part of the organizers. Selection of overseas performers was well thought of. Who knew about Sahaj Ma? Wasn’t she a breeze of fresh air? She carried the day on her own. Her unique stage presence, delightful personality, penetrating music have never been experienced by many or most of us before. Aneek Dhar is an established singer, we have heard before; but here he made it like a one to one connection with individual listener. His subtle intimacy with the audience touched our heart. It speaks well of the judgment and cultural taste of the organizers to get artist like Bari Siddique. The emcee Biswanath Basu was a disappointment though. He sounded more like a court jester with his dull commentary and tasteless, stale jokes.
Usually Banga Sammelan authorities in different states invite a drama group from Calcutta; they at times adopt out of touch scripts from ancient times, fifties, sixties or seventies or some times they choose relatively contemporary plays or shall I say, riddles the main purpose of which is to leave the audience confused and befuddled. That is what in Bengalee parlance is called “intellectual” stuff. General idea is unless the group is imported from Calcutta, Banga Sammelan crowd will not be attracted. The 2010 Banga Sammelan committee made a bold exception. They recognized that there was talents right here under our nose. More intelligent, more entertaining, more thought provoking plays are being produced locally. Our own Sudipta Bhawmik is one such talent. His production, We Live in a Village was well accepted and appreciated by all who saw it and if I may add, a much superior production to what I have seen in commercial stage of Calcutta.
The movie section of the Sammelan was well organized under the leadership of Ajit Rakhit. The combination of movies and documentaries were selected thoughtfully. We had the opportunity to watch certain films, which we would not normally come across during our trips to Calcutta. The screenings were nicely and systematically organized without a glitch.
In most Banga Sammelan distinguished award comes dime a dozen. Kallol authorities decided to make it worth its name. They awarded it to one single rightly deserving person. The rest were recognition for their services to the communities through Kallol or their services to Kallol. This I think is the right model.
To give this award the prestige and dignity that it deserves Cultural Association’s central administration may ponder over it in their award choices. In all the CAB award plaques the operative word was “demonstrated” achievement. In the list of the recipients from CAB there were not too many demonstrated talents. The list in part sounded like a mutual appreciation vehicle. It is possible that their list contained potential achievers, but it is not the same as demonstrated.
Whenever I attend a Banga Sammelan one person is never far from my thought, the architect of Banga Sammelan, and still the force behind it, Prabir Roy. As a Bengalee I acknowledge the monumental task he has accomplished, building up a stable and continuing institution, which adds to the quality of life of the entire Bengali population of North America and has grown to be a part of their lives.
On the financial side of the event, living in the United States, the richest country in the world and being a part of the most affluent Bengali Diaspora among all the other countries of the world, it is quite anomalous that we have to depend on economic assistance from Calcutta. Besides, this is not sustainable over long period of time. Response to vendors from Calcutta has been poor this time. Some of them complained loudly. I doubt many of them will keep coming back. Real estate demand from US residents of Bengali origin has peaked out. With gold at $1,100.00 it is hard to believe that jewelry sale is flourishing either.
We have to pay our own way. Depending on the projected cost the registration fees can be raised and why not? Many of us pay $200.00 for three hours A.R. Rahman concert. The slogan “Bengali culture in the world court” of this Sammelan has somewhat been tarnished by the highlight of the event, Bollywood mega-music by Abhijeet. It is plausible that Bombay artists enhance the attendance. But do the authorities have a scientific study to prove that premise?
Indeed, it will be quite in order for the Banga Sammelan authority to appoint a blue-ribbon committee to study, survey and report on the basic ideas and values of the convention and its mechanics. A guideline can be laid out for the future meets as to why people come, to meet old acquaintances? How much weightage on Bollywood singer, how much on Calcutta artist? Do they come for a vacation with friends, for fun and frolics? How many attend literary seminars, how many for business forums and how many for art and crafts. Or how many people have read the literary journal that every Banga Sammelan brings out at a considerable cost? That will establish the cost effectiveness of each section. How far they are willing to travel and what amount they are willing to spend? Choices of food, Bengali food, Mughlai food, Chinese or American? There are many other issues. It is a job for a professional to design the survey and ask the right questions.
God speed to Banga Sammelan.