By Amitava Sen
This is the other Bengali convention I am writing about. Not many know that it exists, but it has lived for last fifteen years, hail and hearty.
The event is organized by Mid America Bengali Association (MABA), a loosely held central body of many regional Bengali clubs from Louisville, Chicago, Birmingham, Atlanta among other cities. No one owns a franchise and it is made obvious by the apparent absence of claims of ownership by the organizing leaders of the convention.
The fifteenth Bangamela, this year was held in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 19,20 and 21, 2013. The venue, Holiday Inn at the airport area is a reasonably large facility with 275 rooms and a 600 capacity arena for performing arts and another 200+ capacity hall. He hotel rooms and other amenities were upscale and the rates negotiated by the organizers were moderate at $89.00 per night. There are one or two other hotels in the area as well. Close to 550 people attended this year, each paying $65.00 for advance registration and $75.00 for the late comers. The good news, I am told, is that the revenue has exceeded their expenses. In addition, there were a few sponsors and patrons from Calcutta, three real estate companies and the daily Pratidin included. As to the consideration of cost containment and staying within the budget, “We do not go after only the big name” said one organizer “we attempt to make an evaluation of quality and value when we engage the overseas artists and try not to go overboard.” The working members are from different cities scattered all over the region; when asked about problems in coordinating and its cost impact, replied another organizer; “we manage most work by telephone and video conferencing, which saves on travel and hotel costs.”
Upon arriving at the hotel what struck me was that there was no body running around wearing huge badges and halo of self importance. The people of MABA were approachable and what was more, eager to help. It gave me a real homey, intimate and relaxed feeling.
The event started on Friday, July 19 with a simple lamp lighting ceremony, followed by a few introductions and speeches. The program line up was adequate, clean and of satisfactory entertainment value. And remarkably un-ostentatious. There were no business forum, no health clinic, no art exhibits of questionable relevance and no Bollywood mega-star. Overseas artist roster was impressive and included Raghav Chatterjee, Aditi Mohsin, Lakhandas Baul, Anjan Datta, Kamalini Mukherjee and a few others. There were also programs sourced domestically, many of them were of high standard. An Odissi number by Nilanjana Banerjee of New Jersey and a Sruti Natok by Rajarshee and Sayanhika Bhattachrya of Dallas, deserve special mention as crowd pleasing.
The programs were conducted professionally and generally on schedule. Masters of ceremony conducting the programs were up to their job; one of them Soma Mukhopadhyay was excellent by any standard, soft spoken, fluent and restrained. The programs were somewhat marred by the attempts of the Calcutta artists to sell their CD’s on stage. But one in bad taste in particular, was the hard-sell by one of their own, who seemed like a core official of the convention and his wife. They too had a programing slot as a local group, but the amateurish performance did not hold out much promise for the quality of their recorded music.
It is true that in conduct of such events the financial support from the overseas sponsors helps. But they do it with their own interest in mind; the exposure here possibly also helps them to market their product. They rightfully deserve thanks but not gratitude. But the organizers of the various conferences here in the United States sometimes lose this perspective and go out of their way to please the overseas sponsors, bordering obeisance. The same mind frame was in display at the Bangamela. The overseas representatives had a field day on the stage, walking in and out of the stage as they pleased.
The appeal of the Bangamela 2013 was its disciplined management and intimate ambiance; one contributing factor was arguably the size of attendance. That point of view raises a reasonable question about other Bengali conventions which more often than not inevitably end in chaos and confusion. Is it the typical lack of Bengali managerial skill,generally speaking? Are they attempting to bite more than they can swallow?
I wish Bangamela of MABA does not get afflicted with delusion of grandeur; stays within a manageable proportion and continue to offer a weekend of Bengali convention, entertaining, enjoyable and hassle free.