There is something about Bengali cultural programs in the US. They are my dad’s way of remembering good times of yester years, not mine. There is something else too. The organizers of such events, though young at age, are still under the notion that it takes 3 months to reach India by ship from the US so one would do this maybe once in a lifetime. You would want to know why!
You see, the elements of such events are mostly a borrowed concept from the age when people would be able to hear a maestro once in a blue moon and women would flip through the pages of a Bengali magazine in lazy afternoons and kids will almost never get to go near a media outlet, be it radio or TV whatever. One 3 minute trailer of a hit movie would perk your spirit and you could perhaps go on and on over Manna De’s voice, Uttam-Suchitra’s on-screen chemistry or expensive, capitalist taste of Jyoti Basu. Such an era would definitely sport an event that would have ordinary looking saree shop to cater to the middle-class housewives or a book stall that’ll have Khirer Putul – something that all kids read in those days. Or maybe some junk jewelry stalls to keep up with the mela-feel, as those carnivals were the only places where one would buy such stuff (read glass bangles, fancy ear-rings).
Now, I can get my semi-precious danglers, that too ‘made in India’ in Kohl’s with $10 right in every corner of America so it makes no sense to me why I’d buy something like that from a fest like this by paying five times. And the less I talk about the sarees the better. The samplers, primarily silk, tussar and chiffons were extremely conceited in style and variety. There was like one sample of each category, stacked up in a dingy corner with no heeds paid to latest fashion.
I’m sure there are plenty of Indian-Americans in LA and in other parts of US who pretty much go to Bengal every year. Wouldn’t they want to check out the options at Fab India or Kanishka and pick up something unique, tasteful, worth the trousseau? What is that ‘extra’ these outlets are providing? I’d have understood if there was some real bargains as NRIs always end up paying a fortune for desi stuff out here. But, considering the inflated cost for the ordinary stuff, one has to be a real sentimental fool to buy something. And if the organizers thought that NRBs have money to throw away in this market of recession then they better start reading the newspapers. An ABP publication will be a good place to start.
There is a serious discord in the presentation of Bengal and Bengali culture here in US than what contemporary Bengali ethos is back there. Yes, we had our Tagore and Ray but life moved on. A number of new age artists- musicians, film-makers, hotelier, couturier et all are basking in creative glory in Calcutta today and everywhere else. Some works of modern Non-Residential Bengalis, including some based in US are commendable. If this is not a platform to showcase upcoming talents, then which is?
Moreover, the three day tenure could have so well spent in exchanging news, views and ideas. One would expect a sneak peek at the latest news back there, maybe even a presentation. Or at least a compilation of top Ananda Bazar Patrika news from the last six months. Or selective gift packages consisting latest books, CDs, DVDs. Live reality show like interactive programs could have been arranged showcasing what Calcuttans are saying about NRIs and vice versa. We have wonderful mediums of communications these days…none used, all wasted.
The only saving grace however was the people. Sharmila Tagore and her daughter Soha were at their gracious best while Usha Uthhup was in her usual spirited self enamoring the audience with her husky voice like always. Ustad Amjad Ali along with his buoyant sons rendered a slice of musical heaven. But, my favorite was the spicy colloquy of Mir and Churni Ganguly. They clearly were in their elements and engaged the audience with their vibrant vibes.
However, there was hardly anything for the youngsters. Yet, they are the gene pool that needs to feel the calling of the soil. They are the rootless bunch of hapless kids, growing up in foreign lands, tangled in a tug of war between ethnicity and global razzmatazz. They are the future of Bengal at home or abroad and if no attempt is made to create awareness on Bengali consciousness right here, right now, then maybe it’d be an impossibility to bridge the gap someday. Maybe it would take Sourav ganguly to do some Dadagiri – the very popular quiz show hosted by the former Indian cricket captain- to involve the young American Bengalis in his quiz show next. Just a thought.