Learning About Our Heritage: A Task For The First Generation

by Amitava Sen

DurgaA few years ago at the annual Durga Puja, the organizing club published a booklet for the benefit of the generation born and raised here, explaining the significance and meaning of the festival and its various events on different days. Rightly so, the narration started with Mahalaya, the new moon day preceding the Puja. Mahalaya is actually a day when Hindus, typically Bengali Hindus pay homage to the ancestors, culminating in Sharodiya Durga Puja six days later. Indeed, it is a Hindu practice to invoke the blessings of the ancestors before any solemn occasion, be it a wedding or an Annaprasan. But that was not what the author of the little booklet wrote in his explanation of Durga Puja for our children. Mahalaya, according to his narrative was the day on which Calcutta radio broadcast an audio musical, Mahishasurmardini. And that was all, what Mahalaya meant! Continue reading

Rajar Chithi : A Playwright’s Note

Rabindranath Tagore in Berkeley CaliforniaAbout a year and half ago, when I was researching on Rabindranath Tagore’s visits to the USA, an incident caught my attention. It said, that apparently there was an assassination attempt on Rabindranath by some Indians during his visit to San Francisco in October of 1916. This piece of information shocked me to say the least and I started to dig into the matter further. I looked into several books on Tagore by well regarded scholars and slowly an image started to take shape. I’ll refrain myself from getting into the details of the various accounts published in several books (you may look for them in the attached bibliography), but just to put matters in context I’ll quote some references: Continue reading

Bengali Theater in North America : My First Experience

Since 1989 I have been involved with Bangla Theater in USA. Over the years I have worked with several groups, several associations and have been involved with several theater productions. My theater journey in this country started with the theater group Sansaptak with their production “Sabda Moho Bandhane”. The play was directed by Sakti Sengupta.  Being involved with theater since my childhood, I was a bit skeptic about the theater scenario in USA when I first arrived in this country.  But my first experience was not only a pleasant surprise but an extremely enjoyable one.  All the stereo typical notions of expatriate Bengali theater were shattered with that production.  Sakti-da took us through a complete production development process of a new play. The script was developed based on Shirshendu Mukherjee’s short stories, Sunil Ganguly and Sakti Chattopadhyay’s poems.  It was not a simple narrative, but rather a complex collage of character’s, their relationships, their dreams and disillusionment. Continue reading

“Ekti Gnaye Thaki” : A Preview

Simanti Dasgupta

ektignaye_norm Many of us will intuitively link the title of the play to Rabindranath Tagore’s well know poem, “Ek Gnaye” and correctly so. Sambhu Mitra and Tripti Mitra particularly immortalized the poem in their rendition of it in Bidhayak Bhattacharya’s celebrated radio play, “Tahar Naamti Ranjana”. “Ekti Gnaye Thaki”, written and directed by Sudipta Bhawmik, is the story of a sister, Ranjana and her brother, Rajat, reuniting after fourteen years. Rajat immigrates to the US with his family after Ranjana sponsors their green cards. The reunion is marked by its usual excitement followed by nostalgia for their “gnya” they left both behind. Rajat becomes a critical link for Ranjana to relive her past, while Ranjana helps him come to terms with his decision to abandon his familiar world in Gobindapur. Ranjana is also ill and Rajat’s presence offers a long-awaited emollient. As the brother and the sister often slip into the past, the rest of the characters are excited at the prospects of their future in the US, especially Rajat’s son, Rajib.

Continue reading

Countdown to NABC 2010

Sapphire Creations Dance WorkshopThe count down to NABC 2010 has started.  In little more than seven months from now, Bengalis from all over USA and abroad will converge upon Atlantic City in New Jersey. Kallol of New Jersey, the host organization of NABC 2010, is working at a hectic pace to make it a great event. Most of the performers have been lined up, registrations pouring in and the committee members are busy working on the final details like scheduling and fund raising. On January 8th, 2010, a kickoff meeting/press-conference will be held in Kolkata in the presence of most of the artists and performers.

Lets take a look at some of the foreign performers who will grace the Atlantic City convention center stage. I’ll not be able to cover all of them in this article and plan to continue in future posts.  At the 2010 NABC Kallol will be presenting some performers who are relatively unknown to the Bengali crowd in USA. One such group is Sapphire Creations Dance Workshop who will be performing at the opening ceremony.  Sapphire Creations  is a premier experimental dance company based in Kolkata and the only one of its kind in Eastern India performing regularly and popularly in festivals and arts events in India and abroad. Their objective is to integrate in its dance an awareness of tradition, a dimension of experimentation, an urge to entertain and a purpose to provoke consciousness to inspire us to reach brighter horizons. Continue reading

Durga Puja and Cultural Events: The 2009 New Jersey Lineup

Ujjaini MukherjeeIn New Jersey, Durga Puja is a special time when the festive mood brings with it a flurry of entertainment and cultural programs across the state. This year too the line up looks very promising although the spirits have dampened a bit due to the tough economic times and with the rejection of visas of few of the performers.  Still the combination of local talents and professionals from India is bound to enthrall the Puja attendees on the coming weekends.

I’ll try to briefly summarize the lineup this year, although the organizers have in many cases conveniently omitted the details about the local performers from their web sites. I tried to collect as much information I could manage. If any of you have more information, then please feel free to add them to this post as comments. Continue reading

Community News Bites: NABC 2009 and Urhalpool

North America Bengali Conference (NABC) 2009 kicks off at the San Jose Convention Center on July 2nd. The biggest Bengali event of the year will run till July 4th and will feature some of the best performers from India, Bangladesh and USA.

Urhalpool editor Goutam Datta will be awarded the “Distinguished Service Award” at NABC 2009 on Friday, July 3rd at 6:45PM in “Banga Mancha”. The award is given by the Cultural Association of Bengal (the umbrella organization of NABC) for helping the cause of propagating and nurturing Bengali culture in North America.

URHALPOOL (www.urhalpool.com) had been chosen by NABC2009 as their internet media partner. URHALPOOL in association with NABC2009 will be presenting extensive coverage of the event for all 4 days from July 1st to July 4th. Catch up with all the NABC excitement at URHALPOOL(www.urhalpool.com).

On June 26th, Anandamandir hosted their monthly “Sahitya-o-Alochona” meetings where the attendees discussed the celebrated Bengali poet Joy Goswami. The attendees read Joy Goswami’s poems, discussed the artistry of his work and shared their personal experiences with the poet.

Tauryatrika 2009 [the annual cultural program of Bharatiya Kala Kendra - BKK] was a mega success. The event started with an excellent and highly interactive seminar, followed by screening of a movie on Ustad Bismillah Khan [directed by Goutam Ghosh]. In the cultural program, students of BKK put an excellent presentation. At the end, Bappi Lahiri was on top of his form.

Habib Tanvir : The Legend Lives On

Habib TanvirVery few theatre personalities in India have become legends in their life time. Habib Tanvir was one of them. Born as Habib Ahmed Khan on September 1, 1923 in Raipur, Chattisgarh, Habib Tanvir has reinvented Indian folk theater and brought it out on the world stage in its full glory.  I still remember the evening in Calcutta when I watched his brilliant creation “Charandas Chor”.  The presentation of the play in a traditional folk form looked so modern, so fresh, that I couldn’t think of anything comparable in contemporary theatre. Habib,  through is work, has left a legacy that is difficult to carry on – because it demands a level of dedication that many of our modern theatre workers will fail to match. The sensitivity with which he nurtured the folk forms, experimented with content and presented them with such grace and simplicity – only a true genius can achieve such excellence. 

Habib Tanvir passed away on June 8th, 2009, but the lengend he became still lives on and inspires theatre workers all around the globe.

Kathak in America – The Story of Kalamandir

Kathak by Kalamandir StudentsThe classical Indian dance form Kathak is now quite well known amongst the dance connoisseurs of America.  Americans who have some familiarity with classical music and dance of India, know about Kathak – a dance form that truly blends together the various components of Indian music – melody, rhythm and the beauty of the physical form.  It is true that many stalwarts of the Kathak dance form like Pandit Birju Maharaj and others have graced the American stage with their amazing performances, but the primary reason for its popularity and sustenance in this country is due to the tremendous efforts put in by several Kathak dance schools and academies run by the immigrant dancers from India who wanted to spread their passion for this art form amongst the next generation. Once such school is Kalamandir of New Jersey led by its director, Malabika Guha.

Continue reading

Community News Bites: Banaprastha and Urhalpool

ECTA’s latest production “Banaprastha” premiered at the Edison Valley Playhouse on May 16th in front of a full house. The play was very well received by the audience as you can see in the accompanying video.  The second show was held on May 17th. Besides the video comments, here are some of the comments sent over the email.

We thoroughly enjoyed Banaprasta. This is a very timely production. I wish this drama can be viewed by millions Indians in India in view of the fact that India is crazy about Bollywood. Once again congratulations for presenting a great drama.” – Aurobindo Mukherjee

Continue reading