- by Roopa Sharma
The 'Windy City' Chicago was rocking during the July 4th Weekend. No, not due to its ever-present wind; Chicago was rocking with our Assamese heritage, culture, tradition, music, dance, and with the beat of dhol, khol, taal and heart-wrenching sound of pepa.
Oh Yes, we brought Assam to Chicago...
It was an honor and joy of the Assamese Community of Chicago
to host the Assam Convention 2011 in their beautiful city Chicago on July 2nd and 3rd, 2011. More than 400 people came from different parts of the country - even a few from London - England and India. From all parts of America and Canada - from Houston to Seattle, San Diego to New York, Altanta to Calgary, Los Angeles to Boston, Cincinnati to San Jose, Austin to Washinton DC, North Carolina to Indiana, Minneapolis to Toronto - and many places around and in-between, Assamese people and their friends and relatives came to Chicago to gather under one roof - to Celebrate Assam.
The convention site was - majestic and beautiful hotel Oakbrook Marriott Resort. For three wonderful days, this hotel was transformed into a mini Assam - with ladies walking through the halls wearing eye-catching mekhela-sadors, gents with kurta- pajamas, even some small children with muga dresses.
From Friday evenings till Sunday night, all the 'tea-times' became the meeting-grounds for all. Everyone relished the pitha, narikolor-laru, sira-badam bhoja, cake and many other things (made by Chicago ladies) - paired with store-bought somosa, bundi-laddu, jilebis...
Two very popular singers from Assam - Zubeen Garg and Zublee Baruah came from Assam and graced the occasion.
On both nights, 2nd and 3rd July, these two well-known artists delighted the audience with their melodious voice. Zubeen is no stranger to Assam Convention. This is his second time after Austin. On Sunday, the final night of the cultural program, Zublee stole the show with her wit, endearing nature, and singing non-stop with her million dollar signature smile on her face. Assam Convention 2011 began unofficially in the evening of July 1st Friday, with a casual get-together, snacks, and later with an informal entertainment - 'Jalsha'. On the morning of July 2nd Saturday, a Bihu workshop was conducted which was thoroughly enjoyed by all the 'nasoni's as well as some audience. Then came the ever-popular 'Assam Trivia'. It was wonderful to see the different teams cheering, laughing and having a mighty good time. The official inauguration of the convention began around 1:15PM on Saturday, July 2nd. After the convention president welcomed everyone, four young ladies - wearing traditional mekhela-sadors entered the hall from back of the hall behind the audience holding 'saaki' inside the 'baan-baati's with both their hands.
They walked very slowly towards the stage in front - while 'Xur-Somrat' Bhupen Hazarika's eternal song "Aai tuk kihere pujime" was played in the background. They were followed by the cultural co-chairs walked through the audience together with guest artists Zubeen Garg and Zublee Baruah. When the music ended, the rhythmic beating of 'khol' and resounding sound of 'taal' beautifully played by two out-of-town attendees absolutely rocked the hall.
On the stage, we welcomed two dear son and daughter of Assam with real traditional Assamese way with 'gamosa' and flowers. Zubeen and Zublee did the 'bonti-prajwalan' - lighted two 'saaki's (complete with 'xolakani' and homemade 'ghee'). Time stood still - when two cultural co-chair ladies started "Urulee" 'dwani'...More ladies in the audience joined them in "Urulee". Many people mentioned later - THAT was the defining moment of the convention. A few ladies said they could not help but crying... "Tears were rolling down because we felt we were in Assam". It was indeed beautiful! Chicago resident, Assam's daughter-in-law, musician Shelley Bhuyan's singing of American National Anthem set the tone for the convention. Her flawless and powerful voice echoed, echoed and echoed. And keeping with the Indian tradition, young Farasha (from Chicago) delivered a beautiful dance of Ganesh vandana. Assam Convention 2011 officially began! Followed by the inauguration was ASSNA (Aassm Sahitya Sabha - North America) meeting - where the yearly magazine 'Luitor Pora Mississippi' as well as the Assamese Directory were released. There was Children's Cultural Program on both Saturday and Sunday. Both the days, these youngsters' superb performances were enjoyed by each and everyone. And parents and grand- parents were in cloud nine! Well done kidos! Keep up the good work. And how much all of us were waiting for the fabulous Fashion show! This is one program, no matter what - always draws a lot of crowd and lot of cheer. It was very well coordinated and was enjoyed by all the spectators as well as the models - whether they were twenty-something or over fifty or sixty!
"Age is a state of mind!" Yeah? A sumptuous Indian dinner was served that evening at the beautiful Marquis. People enjoyed the meal and everyone was ready for the cultural show. Before we began the program, we honored two members of our Assamese community who passed away last year.
Dr. Mrs. Kamna Das of New York, a familiar face at the Assam Conventions, who worked tirelessly for AANA as well as for the Assamese community and Mrs. Rita Dutta of Detroit, a kind and sweet lady as her friends described were remembered and a minute of silence was observed. The adult cultural program started with a Oddisi dance (Ganesh Vandana). It is worth mentioning that the dancer Mrs. Louella Das from Calgary, Canada - daughter of a British couple, is now an Assamese daughter-in-law. Thirteen singers from Chicago land welcomed everyone singing "Swagatam" - a welcome song (in Assamese) especially composed for the convention by a Chicagoan! On both the evenings, the cultural programs were packed with fantastic songs, dances, instrumental music, dance, skit etc. There were beautiful self-composed songs, funny skit, authentic Assamese 'husori', 'xotrya' dance, bihu dances etc.
We are so very proud of a few Assamese young ladies born and brought up here - and learning Indian classical dances so perfectly. They deserve a lot of credit. We thank the parents for giving their children the opportunity to learn Indian culture and heritage. The second part of the cultural night was Zubeen and Zublee LIVE - the audience enjoyed their performance thoroughly. Later, young adults (as well as young-at-hearts) enjoyed the D.J's high- energy songs and dancing. Sunday started early - with a morning yoya-workshop for the people interested. There was an Exhibition of Assamese books, artifacts, handicrafts, arts, Assamese utensils, Assamese musical instruments, decorative items etc. It was organized by Juri Bhattacharyee from Iowa. We wish there was more interest among the attendees to go the the exhibition room and take a look at some of the prized and rare items from our motherland! Sunday sure was a busy morning. In one room there was youth forum going on organized and participated by young adults - with interesting and thought-provoking discussion. The general body meetings of AFNA (Assam Foundation of North America) and AANA (Assam Association of North America) kept the members of these two organizations busy all morning with discussion and future plans. After very successfully executing the responsibility for past two years, the outgoing AANA Executive Committee formally announced the names of the new Executive Committee of AANA who will take charge from September 1, 2011 for two years. In the afternoon, the magic show organized primarily for the children kept even some adults wide-eyed and spell-bound. Like the past few years, late Anima Chakravarty Memorial Chorus Competition was held on Sunday afternoon. Three groups took part in the completion.
The judges agreed that they had hard time deciding the first and second places. Finally, Chicago and Minneapolis group were tied in securing the first place and Michigan+Ohio group was runner-up.
After the cultural evening, Zubeen and Zublee performed for the second night. The grand finale was 'Mukoli Bihu'. After the convention-secretary gave vote of thanks, the convention came to an end by everyone singing "O' mur aapunar dex" - led by the guest artists. Chicago Host Committee tried their best and gave their all to make this convention a successful one. We are truly grateful to each one of you that you came to our city from near and far, attended the convention and took part in various activities. We very much appreciate your kindness and goodwill towards us and we will always cherish your friendship. If you have enjoyed the convention, it is because you gave us the inspiration. If we made some unintentional mistakes, I have full faith in Assamese people that they will remember only the good times and let go of the rest.
To welcome you all, we sang (in 'Swagatam'):
"Botris bosoriya aamar kahinee
xomoi gotit juwa aagbarhi,
Probaxi Oxomiyar moha-milonot
ujali uthok ei obhibortan...
O' Chicago, our kind of town,
Welcome to Chicago, our kind of town..."
Assam Conventions will go on - let's hope - for eternity!
So, see you all at next year's convention in Calgary!
On a personal note:
Sorry that I could not mention all the participants' names. We like to thank each and everyone who performed and participated in various activities. It would not have been possible without all of your help. WE ARE GRATEFUL.
This my last report to AANA newsletter as I will be taking another role for AANA for next two years. I will take your support and good wishes with me in doing my duties for AANA.
I leave you with my favorite Irish poem:
"May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always be on your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,
may God hold you in
The hollow of his hands".