The blog of Satyam Roychowdhury
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North American Bengali Conference, New York 2016

New York City – of cloud-kissing skyscrapers, charming neighbourhoods, sprawling parks, street-side bagels and famous musicals.

I looked out of the window of my room at the city that never sleeps. All of my earlier visits have been memorable, but this time it was different. When people think of New York City, Manhattan is often the first place they picture in their minds. And that’s where we stayed. A short walk from the neon-lit Times Square, we had put up in different floors of Hotel Affinia, just across the road from the Madison Square Garden – the main venue of the 36th North American Bengali Conference.

Manhattan in the first weekend of July adorned a different look. Vehicles selling Bengali meals halted at signals around the venue, men and women in ethnic-wear sang and danced and laughed and celebrated their own language in another land. On Fifth Avenue, the Empire State Building had been illuminated in blue, red and white hues of the American flag, the beams shining against the backdrop of the cloudy night sky.

Madison Square Garden dazzled with an unforgettable cultural extravaganza. Starting with an opening ceremony astounding in its ethnicity celebrating Bengali films, and ending with a splendid closing ceremony, the days in between teemed with breathtaking performances - a star-studded classical night, an eclectic east-west fusion night of dance and music, a prestigious film and drama festival, different genres of Bengali music, traditional and contemporary dance, a fabulous fashion show, panel discussions and so much more! Literary and business seminars brought two continents closer. Painting and installations by artisans and maestros kept us spellbound. I vividly remember the entourage of Bengal’s rich legacy of poetry, lyrics and music – I sat there, my gaze fixed at the artistes on stage who magically brought the eternal works of the legends alive.

Looking back to the afternoon of June 30th when we stepped out of the John F. Kennedy International Airport, the wind felt cold against our skin. On the way to the hotel, I looked out of the car window and let the warm sun touch my face. It felt good to be in another land in another continent to celebrate a language that’s my own. At the hotel, known faces were everywhere, most of them artistes and performers from Kolkata; and many of them had travelled in the same flight.

The opening ceremony was organised on the first day in the evening at the main venue – Madison Square Garden auditorium with an inaugural dance performance by Pandit Birju Maharaj troupe, followed by an entertainment program by our very own Tollywood stars. Presenting the IBFA Film Award alongwith the Indian Ambassador in USA Shri Arun Singh to the very young and talented Jaya Ehsaan for her incredible performance in the box office hit Rajkahini was an absolute pleasure. In all these years one thing I have felt very deeply – beyond participating in the cultural extravaganza, attending the North American Bengali Conference means meeting a lot of friends, and strangers who turn into friends, and a nurturing the inner creative self profoundly.

I had to walk the ramp on the second day at noon at another venue – the Hammerstein, that too as the showstopper! The fashion show was organised by LA Rongin, and modern Bengali songs were played as live background score. Quite thrilled to be in a set of ‘dhoti’ and ‘punjabi’, I walked the ramp amidst loud cheers and claps, and what an amazing feeling of frolic it was!

Walking around New York helps a person to know the pulse of the city in the best way. Beside quaint cafés are huge plush malls, and fashion apparel stores with chic clothe exhibited behind large glass windows. The wind felt soothing through the soft summer sun, and the city bustled with curious tourists, rushing office goers and festive Bengalis!

Other events were going on simultaneously in the ballroom inside Hotel Pennsylvania, at the Hammerstein auditorium, and in the grand ballroom of Hotel New Yorker. Popular Bengali movies were being screened inside the Sky Ballroom of Hotel Pennsylvania. A moment of pride for me was when National Award winning film ‘Shankhachil’, of which my wife Mou is the co-producer, was screened there, with director Goutam Ghose and lead role Prosenjit Chatterjee engaging in an interactive session with the audience prior to the screening.

Coming back to the hotel meant walking alongwith the crowd, looking at smoky pretzels and gyros at roadside stalls, and the palatial pillared architecture of the post office. As I walked, I thought about the city and its spectacular charm – a perfect blend of culture and commerce.

On the last day of the Banga Sammelan, we staged a song recital titled ‘Krishner Radha’. Saheb (Chatterjee) and Iman (Chakraborty) in their soulful voices sang some of the timeless songs of Tagore, and the very talented Rituparna Sengupta and I narrated and recited. Words met melody, and from our creative unison, emerged a performance that thrilled the audience. When thousands of people inside the historical Madison Square Garden applauded, I transported myself to a time more than a century ago when none other than Swami Vivekananda had visited the US, and the same place where I was standing.

We awarded some outstanding Bengalis on behalf of Aajkaal Publishers – men and women who have achieved immense success in their respective fields. I was moved by the humility and simplicity of the Chairperson of State Bank of India Arundhati Bhattacharya at the Madison Square Garden auditorium, and I spoke to her for quite some time. Catching up with the founder and chairman of the KPC Group Kali Pradip Chaudhuri was a positive vibe in itself; he is a man who has attained the pinnacle of success with sheer hard work and focus.

Wherever the NABC is organised each year, the experience remains beyond the three scheduled days. Each city offers itself in entirety, blending into us in ways unimaginable. It is like, carrying several slices of Bengal and the Bengali language within you to empty yourself faraway from home, to celebrate what belongs to you with thousands of others in another land.