I had earlier promised to give daily updates on the NABC proceedings from Las Vegas, but I couldn’t and I apologize for that. First of all, I did not have any internet connection from the hotel and secondly, I was too busy to find some time to sit down and type few words. But here I am, reporting all the three days from my perspective which was quite narrow due to my pre-occupation with the literary seminar events. Nevertheless, I would not refrain from giving my opinion about the proceedings. However, before I start writing, let me put forth a disclaimer. My opinions and criticisms (if any) are targeted only to the general organization and event management as a whole and should not be considered as personal. I know, that most people who worked for NABC (committee members, conveners, volunteers etc.) did their jobs for the love of it and for the sake of the community and I applaud their efforts. Without their tireless efforts an event of this magnitude would never have been possible. So thanks to all of them.
Day 0: Thursday Evening
As I walked into the hotel at around 11:30pm (Pacific) and approached the registration desk, I saw a long line of Bengalis waiting to collect their room keys. As I waited in the line, I noticed the people quite happy and eager to enjoy the convention. Little later I saw a scruffy looking Rupankar Bagchi (the famous singer from Kolkata) walking to the reception desk and complaining about something. Whatever the response was from the counter didn’t seem to make him happy. He went back shaking in head which only demonstrated his deep frustration. Well, NABC is in session, I thought.
After collecting the keys, as I proceeded towards the elevators, I met one of the committee members frantically looking for the artistes to call them for dinner. He explained to me the crisis situation. The artists had gone for a day tour to the Grand Canyon and were late in arriving at the hotel for their dinner. Unfortunately the Paris hotel cared less for the visiting dignitaries and closed their dining hall and kitchen sharply on time. The guests were obviously upset as nobody was waiting for them with their dinner. The NABC organizers scrambled to order some food from the adjoining restaurants and managed to feed the guests, although it was a bit late.
Day 1: Friday
NABC opens today at 5:00pm. But my events, that is the literary seminars, start from Saturday. But I needed to contact my guests from Kolkata, the acclaimed short story writer Swapnomoy Chakraborti, poet Bithi Chattopadyay, and journalist Gautam Bhattacharya. I proceeded to the breakfast room where all the guests were supposed to come for their breakfast. I met Swapnompy and Bithi and discussed my plans with them. Gautam Bhattacharya also arrived. He proposed, he’d talk about “Sourav Ganguly and a Bengali journalist’s dilemma”, an exciting topic indeed. Swapnomoy decided to talk about how a story is created from apparently simple day to day events. He named his talk “Golper Green Room.” Bithi said, she’d talk about “Influence of Expatriate Writers on Bengali Literature.”
The organizers had told me that famous journalists Suman Chattopadhyay and Ranjan Bandopadhyay will be attending the NABC and I can include them in the seminar if I’d like. But I could not track them till later that afternoon. I explained to them about the seminar and invited them to talk about any topic they’d like. They both accepted the offer. Ranjon Bandopadhyay said he’d read from his latest book, “Kadambarir Suicide Note.”
At 11:00am, all the dignitaries and conveners were asked to attend an orientation lecture by Kajal Sarkar (CAB Pres) where he explained all the logistics involved in this entire event. Issues related to programming, hospitality and all other potential snafus were discussed and the guests were made aware of the do’s and don’ts! The guests were made aware of the Hotel protocols and their time schedules, especially regarding dinner timings.
The opening ceremony started at 5:00pm sharp. I was quite impressed with the punctuality, and thought maybe finally we are going to witness a well run NABC. Sukalyan Bhattacharya and his team of dancers from 8 different US and Canadian cities rocked the stage with a colorful dance extravaganza which was breathtaking to say the least. A giant African elephant paraded amongst the audience with Sukalyan dancing with her. Writer Swapnomoy, who was sitting with me, was ecstatic. He was surprised to see how a bunch of American born kids could produce such a magnificient show. However this ecstatic feeling did not last long, and as a long series of lectures by dignitaries and organizers started, time lost its meaning. Hon’ble Ambassador Smt. Nirupama Rao spoke with the help of her iPad. Hon’ble Chief Minister Smt. Mamata Banerjee spoke via a recorded video, and so did CAB Pres. Kajal Sarkar. Hon’ble Finance Minister of WB, Amit Mitra gave a spirited speech and challenged the NRB’s to join the march towards development along with their motherland Bengal.
The dinner served that night was really delicious though – Mooger Dal, Begun Bhaja, Kumror Chhokka, Kosha Mangsho, Payesh etc. and the quality was really unexpected.
I watched few shows that night. A classical instrumental by Suman Laha (playing a guitar modified to a Beena) with Pt. Abhijit Banerjee on tabla. But the poor sound quality made the concert quite dull. Kallol of New Jersey’s dance production of “Na Hanyate”, choreographed by Sunrita Mitra was very good. The Rabindrasangeet rendition by Saswata Sanyal was good too, but I personally do not prefer to listen to such songs being performed with a background track. It kind of sounds too mechanical, too karaoke like.
The exhibition room featured an excellent collection by Dhriti Bagchi show casing the handicrafts of Bengal. The depiction of the life of Swami Vivekananda through Krishnanagar clay dolls was just superb.
The rest of the evening was spent meeting friends and having general adda with golden drinks!
Day 2: Saturday
After a quick breakfast, I went to attend the IIT Kharagpur reunion where the discussion primarily focused on the new admission process proposed by Kapil Sibal. After about an hour I rushed to the Gold Ballroom in the Bally’s hotel to get started with the literary seminar. My guest writers arrived on time along with the other attendees, except for Suman Chattopadhyay and Ranjan Bandhopadhyay. We started the seminar without them. The first session was a panel discussion with the three guest writers talking about the topics I mentioned earlier. Surprisingly, the attendance was quite good, given the fact that we had no “star” writers in our panel. The Q&A part got quite interesting and discussions covered not only Sourav and Bengali literature, but also the effect of social media tools like Twitter, Facebook etc. on Bengali culture as well as the representation of the Bengali diaspora in Bengali literature.
This year, as the literary seminar convener, I had sent out an open invitation to all NABC attendees to read their literary works (poetry, prose etc.). The response was very good indeed. I had asked each participant to send me the piece they’d like to present. Although some veteran writers had some mild objection to this process, but finally they all accepted. After all, they have been sending their works to magazines and journals and are quite accustomed to the editorial process. My primary objective was to give the opportunity to as many writer as time would permit and fortunately I was able to do so. It’s rare we get the opportunity to listen to the works of others who write in Bengali in different parts of this country. Sharing with each other, comparing notes, feedback and comments from fellow writers are extremely important. That’s what my motivation for this event has been all along.
Before the next session started at 3:00pm, I took a quick peek at the “Sesher Kobita” being performed by Tollywood stars as an audio play. Unfortunately, the play could not hold me to my seat for long and I won’t go into the details. All I would like to say is, maybe we should not waste our precious stage time with these stars, rather we should have them exclusively for photo shoots with the attendees. Maybe we should build some exclusive areas, like movie sets, reminiscent of the movies they starred in, and let the attendees take photos with their favorite stars in those settings. I think this idea should be explored further.
The afternoon session of the literary seminar started with poetry readings by Bithi Chattopadhyay. This was followed by readings by several domestic writers including me. I read a piece from one of my recent monologues, “Banijye Basate Lakshmi”. The session was chaired by Arundhuti Sarkhel from Massachusetts.
One of the key events of the evening was the CAB awards distribution. Every year, during NABC, CAB presents “Distinguished Service Awards” to few individuals who has helped promote Bengali language and culture in the USA. This year the awards went to Prabir Saha (posthumously), Dr. Vinod Das, Rumi Bagchi Bhawal and yours truly. I am deeply honored to CAB and the selection committee for considering me worthy of the award. I accepted the award on behalf of all those who worked with me on or behind the stage to sustain quality Bengali theater in USA.
This event was followed by the long awaited play “Byomkesh” produced by Bratyojon and directed by Bratya Basu. I had high hopes for this play, but unfortunately it didn’t quite meet my expectation. The play was marred with technical issues and audio problems (lapel mic turned on and off at wrong times, delays and echoes, ambient noise etc. etc. ). The play was put up on the main stage in Paris Ballroom which was designed for a different purpose. The colorful backdrop of the stage went against the dark plot of the play. Plays should have been staged at the Paris Theater (where Jersey Boys perform) which is more suitable for drama shows. However, I’d guess, it was the audience capacity what the organizers had in mind. This event was followed by a musical performance by Rupam Islam who sang some of his songs accompanied by track. But the time provided was not at all adequate for this great performer.
The final event at the Paris Ballroom that night featured Sangeet Martyand Pandit Jasraj singing Hindustani classical vocal with tabla accompaniment by Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri. The concert was indeed phenomenal and showed that age can never be an issue for a well trained artist.
Day 3: Sunday
The literary seminar this morning was scheduled in a much smaller room in Paris hotel, in the same area where the main events took place. However, this did not attract any additional people to the seminar. In fact the numbers were even less than that of Saturday. The proceedings started with readings of short stories by Swapnamoy Chakrabarti. Swapnamoy read some of his micro stories, each of which took no more than 2 minutes to read. But they were just amazing. I have not read or heard stories like this after Banaphool. He ended his session with a regular sized story about “Theme Pujo” published couple of years ago in Sarodiya Bartaman. Gautam Bhattacharya also read a piece about “Steffi Graf’s House” from his book. Other North America based writers also read their work.
At the end of the session I rushed to the Paris Theater where Kallol of New Jersey’s play “Dance Pe Chance” was scheduled to start. Since I wrote this play I had some back stage privileges where I learnt that the play has been delayed by about 40minutes. When the time approached I wished luck to the team and came back to take my seat in the audience. But soon the emcee came out and announced that the play will be delayed further by 30 minutes due to the mandatory lunch break for the crew members. My grape vine source told me that the delay will be in fact for 45 mins. We walked out of the theater and tried to kill some time in the trade fair area. However, most of the stalls were selling saris and jewelry and was of very little interest to me. I browsed through some books at the Muktadhara stall (who also had a saree stall), and then after 40 mins or so, walked back to the theater. The play started 15 more minutes later. As I was involved with the development of the play, I was having as much strage fright as the actors, although I was just a member of the audience. But within a minute after the first dialogue was spoken, the crowd broke out in riotous laughter. And it continued through out the play. I wiped the sweat off my brows and relaxed to enjoy the play along with the others. The cast and crew of the play really did a great job and the audience appreciation after the play showed.
In the meantime, audience in the Paris Ballroom were enjoying Kavitha Krishnamurthy’s wonderful vocal performance. When I entered the stage, she was performing some of her popular Bollywood numbers including those from the hit film Devdas. Soon after, the closing ceremony started with a colorful dance presentation by the Bay Area dancers, accompanied by Las Vegas Cirque de-Soleil performers and the Blue Man Group drummers. The choreography was well designed and very well executed. After this show, the audience members were asked to vacate the Ballroom for two hours to allow the star of the show Shankar Mahadevan’s light and sound check. The break was good for those who wanted to have their dinner and for some last minute shopping.
Shankar Mahadevan’s started the show with a Ganesh Vandana and then switched over to more lilting numbers. I consider Shankar Mahadevan as one of the best playback singers of India at the moment, and he did live up to the expectation, although his voice did sound a bit tired. He was well accompanied by Anusha Mani.
Overall, NABC 2012 was just like any other NABC in the recent times, with similar problems, issues and bright spots. However, even at the risk of becoming a bit unpopular, let me ask this question. Is this the NABC we want? NABC today has reached a size which is quite beyond the handling capacity of a group of amateurs. If we have to keep NABC of this magnitude, we should be thinking of handing this over to some professional event management company. If that is not possible (mostly because of financial reasons), maybe we should consider if we need such a huge extravaganza. Maybe we could do without big budget performers like Shankar Mahadevan. Maybe our Kolkata based performers are good enough for us. Maybe we should focus more on our domestic performances. Some think that such a downsized NABC would not attract attendees. But again, we may have to think if we need such a big attendance! If our primary motive is to promote and nurture Bengali culture, then that’s what we should focus on. I am not against entertainment, but we should not forget what NABC stands for. And whatever we do, we should try to execute well. End of the day, It is quality that matters, not quantity.
Looking forward to a great NABC 2013 in Toronto.