Saturday, July 22, 2006

BONG FLAG FLIES HIGH

The annual Bengali Sammelan that coincides with the 4th of July weekend was held at the Downtown Convention Center, Houston this year. Highlights were movies, music, dance and fashion shows. And as odes were sung to the commercial gods with rows upon rows of stalls selling exquisite sarees, mouth watering snacks, CDs/DVDs, and jewellery; publishers off-loaded works with leftist intellectual rants in a very sandesh-esque environment complete with bengali food bong naris draped in the best cottons and silks and gentle bhadraloks in dhotis and achkans....



The opening ceremony performance was a beautifully choreographed dance to Vande Mataram. It concluded with participants bringing onto the stage the flags of India, Bangladesh, US and Canada. (But that was about all the national identity one saw on display at this musical-cultural event...an interesting bit of trivia...the very next evening the same stage saw the bangladeshi singer Ferdous Ara decline to sing her national anthem (despite frequent requests) saying that all the nationalistic jingoism and tugging was well and good but if we were talking of a greater bengali cultural awakening and identity, then, that will have to transcend all barriers. And if she must sing anthems, she might have to sing too many!!!.....three cheers for Ms. Ara.



The lamp was lit by the doyenne of Bengali cinema, Sabitri Chatterjee. (It was heard later that she was the "substitute" for Raima Sen who couldn't make it.) Needless to add the elegant (and eloquent as we found out several evenings later when she held the microphone after a lifetime award) Sabitri was a treat so that nobody missed the nakras of Raima.

The opening stage was shared by Usha Uthup and Shampa Kundu. The latter it seems had been asked to ad-lip some lines (though with a mellifluous voice like hers one wondered why?!). The next evening she had the audience in raptures with her real voice working magic on the older Burman's folksy tunes...Ke jaash re, bhati gaan bainya is still ringing in my ears....

(said song can be found at the following link
sung by another singer.)

Anandabazar Patrika had huge book displays (and extensive distribution of freebies making it difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of milling crowds). Music and movie sellers did good business, too. The hordes, of course, were to be found at two places, namely, the saree stalls and the food court. And even in the midst of all the haggling over prices, noone forget when the time was just right to queue for the food.



This year, the organizers had an neat arrangement whereby all meals could be prepaid in a very reasonably priced package. In manners of khana peena, bongs believe in the best bang for your buck. So come 11:30 am, there were long lines of overdressed folks patiently waiting for the food arena to open. Never mind that it was still an hour away. After all you can't miss the biggest piece of hilsa in mustard sauce and the early bird as they say does get the worm. Comparisons of worms and hilsa aside, many were upset that the fish turned out to be trout or catfish or some such instead of hilsa from the waters of Ganga or Padma. The luchis drew a lot of flak too, as Bong bhadraloks tched tched about the sad state of affairs when fried tortillas can be made to pass off as maida luchis.






The classical nite with Hariprasad Chaurasia was another treat as the audience sat mesmerized well past midnight. Regular singers, who do the round every year or every alternate year such as Usha Uthup, Raghab Chatterjee, Indranil Sen were all there. The new face, atleast for me, was Santanu Roychowdhury who did quite a medley of Bengali and old Hindi songs. Nice booming voice I thought. With lilting melody.
The closing ceremony featured among other things, some music by the Bangla band Bhoomi. I missed a bit as mutton curry and rice beckoned, and what true Bong can resist that. The last bit of the closing ceremony with singer Abhijeet was meant to be a riot but misfired (and went the way all misfired rockets go!!!). Though the guy did joke about some stereotypes especially the meshomoshai who ate 5 pieces of fish in mustard sauce, drank water,belched and then proclaimed maachta arektu sheddo hoto (that fish needed a bit more cookin')

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