- By Sabina Zeenat, Minneapolis
Detroit, the legendary American automobile city, hosted the 34th Assam Convention, the most anticipated annual get-together of Assamese people living in North America. It took place from July 4th to July 6th, 2013 in the beautiful Auburn Hills Marriott in Pontiac, and friends from different parts of USA/Canada and India assembled in this hotel for an unforgettable Assam Convention. The Assam Association of Michigan or AAMI (a very apt acronym) was the most gracious host and their hospitality and cordiality made the convention a very memorable one for all of us. The event was thoughtfully planned and neatly executed.
A few things deserve a special mention ahead of the details of the convention in this write-up. Firstly, team AAMI’s hard work, creativity and personal touch was evident everywhere - right from the thoughtful welcome package for the guests, the colorful rangoli in the hotel lobby and the creative bamboo décor in the stage to the delectable home-made snacks, and the exquisitely decorated dining tables and chairs. The welcome package consisted of a souvenir coffee mug with the artistic convention logo on it. It was wrapped beautifully with shimmering tulle and filled with tea leaves from the gardens of Assam. A magazine “Oikyotan”, was also published on the occasion. There was also a display of Dr. Bhupen Hazarika’s signature cap in a glass case, as a memorabilia and a tribute to the great legend. Secondly, a very melodious welcome song was especially composed for this occasion. This special song, “Swagatam”, was composed by Bankim Sarma, the noted lyricist from Tezpur. Debojit Bora and Jun Janak from Sibsagar directed and arranged the music for the beautiful song. Thirdly, the cultural performances from the kids, local artistes and specially invited guests were of stellar quality. Even more encouraging is the participation from all corners of the North American continent at this great get-together.
The convention experience was accentuated by the presence of some very special guests. Riddhiman Das, the young Assamese innovator and entrepreneur and recently honored with the President’s Champions of Change Award was invited as a special guest. The guest artists from Assam - Singers Simanta Sekhar and Parthana Choudhury and Satriya dancer Dr. Mallika Kandali enthralled the audience with their brilliant performances. Kisan Upadhyay, the person with an incredible personal story, also attended the convention and shared his story and his mission in person. In a first for the Assam Convention, NewsLive, the Assamese television channel, covered the event to take back a piece of this amazing experience to our folks in Assam.
The convention also marks the annual general body meetings of the three organizations, Assam Association of North America, Assam Foundation of North America and Assam Sahitya Sabha of North America. These organizations are focused on serving the Assamese community and preserving its rich culture. This year’s Kamna Das memorial award for community service was presented to Aradhana and Robert Satin of New Jersey. In another event, Dr. Chandan Mahanta, Professor of IIT Guwahati, presented a proposal on harnessing the resources of the mighty Brahmaputra in his presentation “Healthy Luit Happy Axom”. Besides, there was a proposal for a North East Ethnic Village by Hiren Sarma.
The informal get together or the ‘Jalsa’ was held on the evening of 4th of July. It provided an opportunity for all the attendees to mingle and enjoy a casual and fun filled cultural evening. The convention was formally kicked off on the afternoon of 5th of July replete with inaugural traditions like “Bonti Prajwalan”- lighting of the ceremonial lamps, by Dr. Kripanath Borah and Dr. Prafulla Baruah, melodious rendering of the national anthems of India and the USA, welcoming of the invited guests and memorable speeches. The Chairman of the organizing committee, Dr.Debojit Barua, welcomed the gathering and noted academician Dr. Kulendu Pathak, retired Professor and former Vice Chancellor of Dibrugarh University shared his thoughts as well. In another first for the Assam Convention, a red carpet was inaugurated creating a great photo-op location. The cultural program followed the inauguration and it showcased a huge variety of talent in both kids and adults. It is heartening to see the dedication and passion with which they performed.
Highlights from the Little Stars and Jhankar Kids - By Chitralekha Deka
The Assam Convention is a great venue for our children to showcase their talent and learn from each other what our culture is all about. The clip clap of little feet and the enthusiasm of the little performers blew us away. Starting with the first day, which was an informal get-together but had a well-organized “Jalsa” night, to the next two days of continuous entertainment, our new generation of “Probaxi Axomiya” children made us all very proud. It was pleasing to the eyes and ears as they started performing their songs and dances – all of them with a sense of pride in what they were doing.
The Indian National Anthem, Bihu Dances (both group and individual), Bhupen Hazarika’s songs were among the many items that really stirred the Assamese soul. Songs performed by young Assamese upcoming singers filled the air with melody as they sang popular Axomiya numbers to beautifully made tracks. There were other performances by little ones that were striking to say the least – songs from Sound Of Music performed by two sisters, Hindi songs performed by kids and Kathak recital by two sisters that caught everyone’s attention to name a few. The group performances by kids of different ages entertained the crowd as they acted out an old favorite “Bahor Mura, Bogorir Gura”. The kids enjoyed as much as the adults as all the beautiful performances unfolded. The hard work and dedication came shining through clearly as our young ones took to the stage - confidently showcasing one brilliant performance after another.
The enthusiasm was twofold as the organizers gave out trophies to all the kids for their performances. This will surely be a treasure in every family as the little ones grow up and the reminiscence of the 34th Convention is kept alive by this little memorabilia that came back home with them. The organizers also did a wonderful job of keeping a special section for the kids to show their creative talent as the essay competition and art competitions unfolded. Everyone was spellbound by the magic show and other entertainment that was arranged for the kids. For the young parents attending the Convention, it was of great convenience that the “Kid’s Room” was situated close to the auditorium. That really helped the parents and children stay close together at the same time taking turns to watch the wide variety of shows that took place throughout the day. The arrangement was perfect to keep younger ones engaged and entertained. At the root of making this entire experience a huge success for all age groups was a very dedicated and well-orchestrated organizing committee with a lot of attention to detail – starting from getting performers lined up to getting them to perform with the help they needed on or off stage, was outstanding. Our kids are still reliving those moments with joy and every time we talk about it a smile lights up the innocent faces! It’s such a precious feeling to see our new generation immerse themselves in our culture and enjoy it to the core. It was sad for all of us especially our little ones when the three day fun galore ended. “Why did it end now?”, “Can we stay some more, please?” were common questions we were hard pressed to answer at the end of the three glorious days! Most of the kids are already asking about the next Convention. They can’t wait to see everyone, enjoy the cultural shows, meet “Axomiya” friends and “have lots of fun staying in a hotel with all Assamese people”!! That in itself is an achievement for us as parents – what a joy to see that pure enthusiasm to embrace a culture we all struggle to showcase for them. The nostalgia carries on and the feeling of pride in our heritage is reborn after the 34th Assam Convention!
Highlights from Swagatam and Rongali Xondhiya - By Dr. Ankita Deka
One of the hallmarks of the 34th Assam Convention at Detroit was the meticulous organization of various cultural events that showcased both local talents as well as professional artists from United States and Assam, India. A wide repertoire of cultural programs such as songs, dances, skits and instrumental medleys were featured at the convention that highlighted the distinct cultural flavors of Assam. The cultural programs were divided into two major segments: adult performances and kids performances.
On the second day of the convention, July 5th, the much-awaited event, Anima Chakravartty Memorial Chorus Competition was held during the day. Five very talented teams represented the Assamese communities of Texas, Seattle, Ohio, Toronto and Minnesota. The Minnesota team bagged the prestigious Anima Chakravartty Memorial trophy with their flawless rendition of Kalaguru Bishnu Rabha’s “Nahor Phule Nuxuai”. That same evening, the segment called “Swagatam” featuring several performing artists, kept the audience captivated with soulful music and exuberant dance performances. The host-committee welcomed the guests with a soul-stirring chorus, specifically composed for the occasion. The chorus was a true representation of the exceptional warmth and hospitality of the Assamese Association of Michigan (AAMI) community. Kajari De’s invocation in her well-toned voice reverberated through the room and uplifted our minds and spirits.
Some of the highlights of this segment of the evening were: the father-daughter hip-hop dance by Parvez Hussain and Neeshan Khanikar. Their tribute to the great legend Michael Jackson was flawless and left the audience spellbound. Elina and Raina Sarma’s innovative presentation of the Black-Swan themed dance was brilliant. It was exceptionally well choreographed, and the sisters mesmerized the audience with their intricate movements. Modern Assamese and Hindi songs, Bihu songs by various artists, Indian classical dances were also some of the strong highlights of the evening.
Guest artist, Dr. Mallika Kandalli’s Sattriya dance performance, followed by the talented guest artist Prarthana Chaudhury provided an apt closing to “Swagatam”. The second part of the late evening bonanza was rightfully called “Motown Blast”. Detroit, the motor capital of the world, is also home to very popular soul style music that had iconic influence around the globe. Sameer Barua and band’s “Motown Revue” was a fitting illustration of the musical vibrancy of the city of Detroit and its people. Sameer and his impromptu band delivered a show-stopping performance that had the audience rocking the floor. A medley of songs, classical and modern dances performed by talented artists kept the high energy flowing, even as the evening glided into midnight. The final part of this segment featured popular Assamese singer-composer and guest artist Simanta Shekhar. Simanta’s melodious performance of Bihu songs, popular Assamese and Hindi songs were spectacular. He electrified the crowd with his foot-tapping music well into the wee hours in the morning. All was not over yet, since the first day ended with a DJ masti, which had the crowd letting loose their hair, fears and inhibitions and hitting the dance floor.
The final day of the Convention, July 6th, marked several events through the day. The main attractions of the segment called “Nostalgia” in the late afternoon were various songs and dances by artists from North America and Assam. Tez Hazarika’s moving tribute to his father, luminary and doyen of Assamese culture Dr. Bhupen Hazarika, was one of the most awaited event of the day. The fashion show event titled “Xaaj Paar” was held shortly thereafter. It featured elegant men, women and children from the Assamese community of North America, in traditional attire. The participants looked resplendent as they sashayed the stage in their uniquely creative outfits.
Assam Trivia conducted by Dr. Rathin Devchoudhury was another highlight of the July 6th afternoon following the tradition of past conventions. It was an interesting competition among the various teams: Team Llb-PhD, Cotton College, JEC, and Minnesota Boys. The 1st position was shared between Team Llb-PhD and MN Boys.
The cultural evening of July 6th was divided into three segments: Oikotaan, Rongali Xondhiya and Dhoom Dhamaka. Each segment was replete with brilliant performances of songs, dances and music. Some of the main highlights of the grand finale evening were as follows: instrumental tribute to Dr. Bhupen Hazarika by AAMI boys, skit by P.N. Sarma and teams, dance by the AAMI girls, and a one of a kind live Bihu Husori by the Minnesota group. The guest artists continued to enthrall the audience with their energetic performances through the evening. Dr. Mallika Kandali’s dances, Prathana Choudhury’s melodious songs and Simanta Shekhar’s electrifying musical renditions spread infectious energy among the crowd that had gathered from near and far at this great city. Much to the reluctance of everyone gathered, the night had to draw to a close with a vote of thanks by Himadri Das and the announcement of next year’s convention venue by Gautam Lal Baruah. Over three days, moments nestled together to converge into vivid memories, forging stronger bonds among expatriate Assamese living in North America. Into the quietness of the night, our voices roused in unison as we sang our much beloved state anthem “O Mur Apunar Dexh” expressing our pride in our cultural heritage and Assamese social identity.
Hosting a convention of this magnitude requires a dedicated team and months of hard work. Big kudos to team AAMI for a job so well done. Your painstaking efforts and hospitality is much appreciated. It will be hard to put everyone’s name down here but our sincere and heartfelt thanks to each and every one in the Core Committee, Event Management, Cultural Committee, Food and Refreshments, Decorations, Children’s Activities, Souvenir & Fundraising and Website & Online Content Committee. The flow of congratulatory messages to the AAMI team following the event is a testimony to a successful 34th Assam Convention.