Many things have gone right and many things have gone wrong during our last NABC2005. The following letter from Chitra Divakaruni exemplifies one of the things that went really wrong. We understand that managing such an event of this scale is not trivial and especially for the volunteers (I repeat, volunteers) it was indeed an arduous task to do their job and also keep their cool. However, I only hope that this letter from Chitra helps us in improving our festival, rather than turn out into a finger pointing exercise.
Dear NABC 2005 organizers:
Thank you very much for inviting me to be a speaker/performer at NABC 2005. It was a huge event! I cannot even imagine how you managed to organize such a large scale convention so successfully. Congratulations! I enjoyed all the events I could go to, and of course I particularly enjoyed the literary events. I could see there was a lot of interest, esp. in the main stage events we did, and I want to thank Goutam Dutta for working very hard to make all of these happen. The literary seminar discussions with the audience was very high quality as well.
My thanks also for your care and hospitality in terms of my airport car rides, hotel, timely honorarium, etc. I know how hard this is to arrange, when so much is going on.
I do want to share with you one negative experience I had–and I write this only because my hope is that if it is pointed out to the organizers, perhaps it will not happen again to someone else.
As part of my welcome packet, I was given a letter from the hospitality committee saying that I was to take my meals on the 7th floor of the Manhattan Center. After my Saturday morning event at Hammerstein, Goutam Dutta told us (the speakers) to go there for lunch. However, when I went there, I was treated very rudely by the 2 women in charge, and told I should not be coming there for meals. They also referred very rudely to Goutam when I mentioned that he had sent me there. This event was very embarrassing for all of the speakers. I was made to feel as though I had sneaked in there to get a free meal to which I was not entitled. I would have left right away to buy myself a meal outside the hotel, but the other speakers and Mohua, one of the literary organizers, requested me not to go as our next program was about to start in 15 minutes. She managed to get some food for me, putting up with many insults herself to do that. I ate it, But as you may imagine, I felt very bad, kind of like a bhikhiri in a biyebari. In my 15 plus years of doing events in this country and abroad, I have never been treated like this. It will be, unfortunately, something I will remember for a long time.
I know many NABC volunteers and organizers worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make things happen just right for the hundreds of performers and speakers that came to your event. Unfortunately, most of them did not interact directly with us, so we could not experience their warmth and sincerity. The volunteers/organizers who have the most impact on us guests are the ones who deal with us directly, one on one, such as the women in the meal room. Perhaps you could remind them of the importance of what they do–and the effect it can have on a guest’s overall memories of an otherwise wonderful NABC.
NABC 2005 organizers:
I hope we all learn from Chitra Divakaruni’s letter how wrong and demeaning it is for an organization like NABC when they start differentiating among artists on whatever basis. I am not denouncing every single organizer here as I am sure that many of you are conscientious and worked long and hard to make this Bango Sammelan a success, but I deeply resonate with Ms. Divakaruni’s hurt feelings and as an organization, you made some really unjust decisions. The meal area on the 7th floor of Manhattan center had big warnings posted, something like – only for non-US artists. So for a cup of tea, one of our Kolkata-based artists sneaked in 6 cups of tea in styrofoam cups for us, the US-based members participating in the same drama The Kolkata artists felt bad to drink tea without us and we felt cheap. I tried to make it light saying “it’s the reverse NRI effect. We are making special arrangements for non-locals.” In reality, I am disgusted to receive or to provide class-based priviledges. At the registration area, special arrangements were made for non-US artists. In dollars and cents, did it make any difference? Surely such treatments made a big dent to NABC’s prestige. NABC should do a post-mortem assessment of what they did well and what they did wrong by some unbiased people and asking for comments from people who attended. We should not let cheap, stupid, and ugly decisions of a few, however bigwigs, mar the long, arduous, and sincere efforts of many dedicated ones who gave their time voluntarily days in and out, nights in and out, taking time from their work and family.
From another person who was made to feel like a “bhikhiri in a biyebari” (quoting from Chitra Divakaruni)
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