- Roopa Sharma, Chicago
Nestled in the grasslands of the majestic Canadian Rockies, lies a beautiful city - Calgary, in the province of Alberta, Canada. There is a small yet vibrant Assamese community in this city - far from their homeland and yet retaining the Assamese culture, heritage and language and passing those to the next generation.
The venue of the 33rd Assam Convention was the Sheraton Cavalier Hotel in Calgary. In spite of the distance from the major hub areas from USA and Eastern Canada and also high airfare, more than 200 people from different parts of USA, Canada, New Zealand and India gathered under one roof to celebrate Assam and its culture. The Calgary Host Committee, together with their friends and neighbors from Edmonton left no stone unturned to make it a wonderful, well-rounded convention. The 33rd Assam Convention will be remembered as one of the most enjoyable Assam Conventions.
From the evening of June 29th to July 1st past midnight, the hotel was transformed into a miniature Assam - ladies walking up and down the hall with eye-catching 'mekhela-sadors', gentlemen with kurta-pajamas and some small children with 'muga' outfits. Peals of laughter and Assamese conversation rocked the hallway during the tea-breaks. And everyone relished the mouthwatering 'narikolor laru', cake, 'barfee', 'sira-badam-bhoja', 'pitha' prepared by the Calgarians along with some store-bought delicacies.
The informal meeting and greeting on Friday evening was lovely. We were delighted to see some old friends and were happy to meet many new people. At the registration desk, everyone was so warm, friendly and hospitable! There were plenty of hearty snacks (which were actually 'dinner' for some of us!). At one point, my friend Louella (Das) took me to the main hall to show two huge, very beautiful 'Japi's they made to decorate as the backdrop on the stage. My jaw dropped...they were absolutely gorgeous! She said, their own, very artistic Aswini Sharma painstakingly carved the Japi's 'bodies' while Louella and her talented friends attached the colorful red-and-green 'appliqué' and gold 'zari' on them. That was my first glimpse of their wonderful labor of love. The beautiful and unique name tags the host committee members were wearing in the form of cute little 'japi' and 'gamosa' were another example of their talent, hard work and enthusiasm. The impromptu burst of singing session by some people that evening set the tone for a lively convention for the next two days.
Robert Satin and Aradhana Barua Satin have been volunteering to publish the annual Assamese directory for many years. A tedious job indeed; yet, they have been doing this community service happily and diligently for years. The directory was distributed to the AANA members, which was complimentary, and non-members were able to purchase this valuable collection of contact information of the Assamese people residing outside Assam. Heartfelt appreciation to both of them for their hard work of many many hours and days of editing and adding new information.
Mr Pritish Chakravarty, retired IAS officer from Shillong officially inaugurated the convention. In his inaugural speech, he praised the community for not only preserving their culture and heritage, but also for thinking about the problems and progress of Assam and willing to lend their expertise to help their motherland. The lighting of the lamp was led by Honorable Minister of Services, Alberta, Hon. M. Bhullar. ANNA President Gautam Lal Baruah and Host Committee President Arup Goswami gave welcome speeches to the audience. The Host Committee released the Souvenir Magazine "Pragya" during the inauguration.
The Canadian National Anthem was sung by the Host Committee and everyone joined them in singing the Indian National Anthem - 'Jana Gana Mana'. A 'borgeet' was beautifully presented by guest artist Bornali Kalita from Assam.
One of the highlights of the convention was the "Assam Forum". There were presentations by Tej Hazarika, Partha Boruah, Arati Barua and others on different topics related to Assam and its people. Interesting topics and ideas, such as health and wellness, tourism, Bhupen Hazarika Foundation, community projects, flooding and erosion in the Brahmaputra and its tributaries in Assam generated useful and lively exchange of discussions. Everyone enjoyed this program.
Tribute to Dr. Bhupen Hazarika
Assam Convention 2012 organized a special tribute to Assam's legend Dr. Bhupen Hazarika. His smiling photograph adorned the stage. Tej Hazarika, Bhupenda's son, Stuty (Ruby) Patel - Bhupenda's youngest sister (also with her, were her son-in -law and granddaughter) and Ruma Barua lighted the lamp in front of the picture. They spoke a few lines in memory of Dr. Hazarika.
Dr. Bhupen Hazarika was an honorary Life Member of AANA. On behalf of the organization, the four-member team of AANA executive body paid tribute to Dr. Hazarika by lighting the lamp during the evening cultural show.
Alpona (Lonee) Barooah and I recited our self-composed poems honoring Dr. Bhupen Hazarika. Here is the link to my recitation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqADNBsWniQ
Like previous few years, late Anima Chakravartty Memorial Chorus Competition was held during the convention. Later in the evening, the winners were announced and President Arup Goswami requested Dr. Deva Borah and me to present the running trophy. The Calgary chorus group bagged the first prize - the trophy. The second place winner was the group from Edmonton. Both the groups sang beautifully.
I have to mention something about the third group - who represented the 'Goodwill group'. Since there were only two chorus groups joining the competition, Arup Goswami (President of the Host Committee) requested me to form one more group from the AANA executive body. Although it sounded daunting at first, it was discussed amongst us and we agreed to go ahead. Talk about self-confidence...! The AANA group consisted of Gautam Lal Baruah, President, Roopa Sharma, Vice President, Deva Borah, Treasurer, Ranu Dutta, General Secretary and two spouses - Anu Borah and Satyajit Dutta. A song was distributed and we practiced at home - by ourselves. The unique thing was - we all live in different cities and hence we could not practice the song together at all. Winning a prize was not our intention. With sheer good will in our hearts, we rose to the occasion (and literally - rose to the stage) and sang our hearts out. There is always a first time. Go AANA!
Of course, in every convention, the main focus is the Cultural Show. Louella, Prasanta and Suman did an outstanding job in delighting the audience with a superb cultural program on both the days. It is not possible to name each program and each performer. Just a few come to mind: The 'Line Dance' - a true western flavor by the young and not so young adults of Calgary with the beat of Eddie Rabbit's immortal song "I Love a Rainy Night'. It was awesome.
The beautiful 'Xotriya dance' by Xuwodi Dutta Bordoloi (my adopted niece), the authentic 'Husori' by the members of the host city, the excellent and very rhythmic Spanish dance 'Senorita' by the young gals and guys of Calgary (the gals' beautiful skirts were home-made!), the ever popular Fashion Show, Papari Borthakur's melodious 'Goalporia lokogeet', Deva Borah's beautiful rendition of flute, Arpita Gogoi's graceful dance 'Xagor Xongomot', Tej Hazarika singing his father's song "Xomoyor Agragoti" and many more...
Young children did beautifully in acting an Assamese skit "Bilati Pitha". Students and teachers of 'Assamese School of Language and Performing Arts', Calgary thrilled everyone with a comedy drama "Calgarir Kolaguri".
A unique and wonderful presentation was done by Saumya Barua of Calgary with help from his wife Sumana. Saumya entertained the audience with several beautiful 'Goalporia lokogeet' playing beautifully the distinctive instrument of Goalporia lookogeet 'Dotara' while in between, Sumana gave an informative, wonderful running commentary along with a short video presentation on the elephants in Goalpara district.
Aswini Sharma and Aghore Bhattacharya's impromptu, hilarious few minutes of stage acting kept the audience laughing - nonstop. Aghore's repeated line "Apuni baru Punjabi neki" and Aswini's 'irritation and outburst' were so perfect!
The Bihu dance by the Calgary ladies was absolutely lovely. There was a funny incident for me during the Bihu dance. I went forward towards the stage to get a better angle for my picture. "What! I am seeing things - in this case, I am seeing people! These are ladies from Calgary; but how come Ranu (Dutta, from Austin) is among them? I guess, my cataract has really deteriorated..." - I thought. Wiping my glasses I looked again. Yes, it was Ranu! Later I heard, during the dinner, Ranu was approached by the group to dance with them as one of the ladies from the group could not be able to dance. They gave her a pair of Muga mekhela-sador to wear to perform...and the rest is - Showtime! Well done Ranu!
And then of course, we all were waiting eagerly to our guest artists...