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Calcutta Club USAHosts International Book Fair SANSKRITI 2016

Ruma Neogy

The Ambassador of India Mr. Arun Singh at Calcutta Club USA International Book Fair SANSKRITI 2016

Calcutta Club USA held Sanskriti 2016, its second annual Book Fair on April 24th in collaboration with The Boston Pledge. It was an event of historic proportions with the fusion of literature, art and theater on a platform that drew participation from global South Asian authors and leaders, as they rallied behind this unprecedented initiative in North America. In a huge endorsement of Calcutta Club's novel effort, the ambassador of India Mr. Arun Singh flew down for the day, sans any protocol, just to attend the Sanskriti Book Fair.

The event had four major components - a multicultural book fair with popular & new titles in English, Hindi and Bengali; an art contest on the fair floor; an ensemble of conversations with renowned writers and two award winning Indian plays. On the book fair floor were a host of publishers, some from India and a few local bookstores including Bearly Read books of Sudbury and Wellesley Books. A key attraction while browsing books was also munching on the many Calcutta style delicacies like radhaballavi, fish 65, rolls and langcha at the cuisine stall. Said Abraham Menacherry of Walpole - "The food was AWESOME!". In parallel, a timed creative contest was held on the book fair floor, organized by co-convener Ruma Neogy and club member Madhuparna Sen. Awards were given to winners in three categories - jewelry making, floral decorations and rangoli. For Padma Balaji of Acton, this was her second win at a Calcutta Club event, the earlier one being at the Cuisinier Culinary Contest.

Many authors spoke over video conference directly from India and other locations, and were projected in the auditorium, with bidirectional audio/video, enabling anyone in the hall to participate in engaged discussions with the speaker right from their seats. The venerable lineup of speakers included renowned vocal artist Bratati Bandyopadhyay, novelist Dr Amit Chaudhuri, socialite and columnist Shobhaa De, the firebrand realist poet Srijato and maverick technologist and biographer Dr Sam Pitroda. After Bratati set the stage with her famous rendering of Ruposhi Bangla by Jibanananda Das, Amit Chaudhuri explained how his latest work explores the rich heritage of a city through the untold history of its ancient, ill-maintained legacy buildings, that are in risk of being torn down.

The supreme popularity of Shobhaa De, the Jackie Collins of India, was remarkably palpable when suddenly her skype connection crashed. Not to be outdone, the organizers switched to a whatsapp call, relying on the mike held next to a cell phone for communication. Still, members of the audience rushed forward to ask questions to her in rapid succession, ranging from her Kate Middleton related sari comment to contemporary fashion statements or writing tips or even her persona while sipping her morning tea. Without missing a beat, Shobhaa parried the provocative questions in her characteristic charismatic style, and received a thundering applause as she signed off after a final repartee with the ambassador. Next on air was the mystical poet Srijato, whose lilting and magical words came effortlessly as he responded to multiple questions from Alokesh Duttaroy, a Boston based scientist and poet. This was followed by a panel on historical perspectives in literature and community from Punjab and Bengal, Guadalupe to Harlem, with Dr Vivek Bald of MIT, Dr Maina Singh of American University, Washington DC and Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, a popular historical fiction writer from New York.

Mr Arun Singh spoke eloquently about the critical need for literature based events in fostering mutual understanding of Indo-American culture, in addition to the various diaspora events held at a ethnic, religious and collegiate levels in the USA. He called upon the Calcutta Club to keeping building on the Indian book fair foundation and ensure that it attracts participation from global communities. The ambassador toured the book fair, sampled the food and spoke with a number of attendees. Tausifur Rahman of Mansfield was excited to find a common childhood connection with him through a relative in Bihar whom Mr Singh recalled fondly.

After a day of considerable literary discourse, the hall erupted in laughter as the ECTA group of New Jersey performed its hilarious reality show based theater “Dance Pe Chance”. This was followed by a reading session with leading poets from New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts. The final play of the day was “Sipahi ki Ma” by the Boston based group Hindi Manch, beautifully depicting the story of a fallen war hero and his family.

The audience was very appreciative of the ambitious venture of pulling together so many well known people and groups within a single day event. Dr Anjan Chaudhury of Newton was one of many attendees who asked the organizers to include him in Calcutta Club's mailing list of all future public activities. Most people said they hadn't seen anything close to this quality in Boston. One of the event volunteers who loved the two plays insisted she pay the registration fee as a token of support.

"We have been very fortunate to receive the unconditional love of the literati and the media. We even received sponsorships from as far away as Singapore and Denver, CO. This year, the Jaipur Literature Fest organizers also provided significant help" - said Chitro Neogy, one of the conveners of Sanskriti 2016. "In 16 months of existence, the tiny Calcutta Club USA has now been recognized for cultural innovation on a global platform. We will continue to execute some big vision items but still the idea is to do interesting and nostalgic things with friends in the club."

Calcutta Club USA's next major public event will be the Caleidoscope Film Festival in September. Information about the club can be found on its web site, www.calcuttaclubusa.com.

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