Bangladeshi community abroad indeed like to celebrate cultural events as long as it has the native vibe of Bangladesh. Organized by Muktadhara Foundation, the International Bangla Festival and Book Fair was such an event for Bangladeshi community living in New York City. Held in Jackson Heights from May 20 to 22, 2016, the three-day event was lively, colorful, festive and attended by thousands of people. Bangla Book Fair, started in 1992, was a tiny and modest event but as the Bangladeshi community has grown, the celebration has transformed into a bigger event with kind of festival flavor. This year it was the 25th anniversary of the fair. Authors and book publishers participated from Bangladesh and India, therefore, it was international in essence.
Writers, publishers, cultural personalities related with Bangla language and literature attended the festival. Mayor of NYC and other elected officials sent their welcome messages. The festival started with a colorful parade from Diversity Plaza at 7 pm on Friday. The parade, participated by over hundreds of people, ended at the PS 69 – the venue for rest of the event. The festival was opened with ribbon, balloons, candlelights and Bangla literary celebrities present at the stage.
Program Schedule of Bangla Book Fair
- Parade from Diversity Plaza
- Formal opening of the fair
- Speeches of the invited guests
- Opening dance
- Honorary reception of Dr. David Nalin
- Event for new generation
- 25 years 0f Muktadhara: a retrospective
- Music of Ferdous Ara
- Child and youth competition
- Writer, reader, and publisher: face to face
- Book of the year: discuss on new books
- Self-written poem reading
- For would-be writers: tips from editors and publishers
- Face of Bangladesh in the USA: a discussion
- Folk tradition of Bangladesh: discussion and songs
- Cultural program
- Books of the new generation
- Why do I write?
- Social responsibility of writers
- Sitar playing
- Woman as a writer: uneven playing field
- Poetry is my worship
- Raft of music: songs by invited singers
- Guest singer of the evening
- Magic of rhyme: reading and discussion
- Book fair: Dhaka, Kolkata, New York and Berlin
- Our Rabindranath
- Genocide 1971: discussion
- Children’s competition
- Best child artist: prize distribution
- Self-written poetry
- Poetry recitation
- Is television a hinder to spread Bangla culture? – a discussion
- New books
- Channel I/Muktadhara book fair literature prize
- Abar asibo fire: poetry of Jibanananda Das
- Hirodoye Rabindtanath
- Raag and raginee: use of raag in Rabindranath’s song
- Democracy and development: open discussion
- Folk song
- Raft of music: songs by invited singers
- Face to face: discussion
- Songs of Nazrul
- Reception of Selina Hossain
- Guest singer
- Breakfast and meeting of writers
- Workshop on Nazrul’s songs
- Book introduction
- Little magazine: an evaluation
- Remembering Khasruzzaman Chowdhury
What the Bangladeshi community got?
A lot of fun, utility and sense of belonging. Thousands of Bangladeshi community members converged at the book fair in three days. There were book, food, cloth, jewelry, art, not-for-profit business vendors at the event. The most crowded places were women’s clothing booth. Then food stalls. Cloth and food sellers were busy almost all the time. People browsed and bought books from 17 participating booksellers. Got autographs from authors, received samples from Bangladeshi food importer, talked about course and career with the tech company, stopped by at art vendor’s and non-profit organization’s booth. People also talked to authors, took pictures, enjoyed music and dance, listened to discussions, met friends and families, exchanged greetings. The most popular attraction – the cultural event in the evening – was full of audience. It was a great festival atmosphere.
Children’s program was elaborate and a good source of inspiration for Bangladeshi parents. Bangladeshi children, from 5 to 16 years, competed in five categories and won prizes.
Although most of the Bangladeshi community members attended in the evening to enjoy cultural programs, the organizers have filled two days with lots of events. On Saturday, 20 events were packed into 13 hours in two rooms – the main auditorium and ‘Deepon’ room (a room named after Faisal Arefin Deepon). Sunday was even more tightly filled, 23 events were scheduled from 11:00 am to 11:30 pm. To finish all the events the organizers had to keep a tight grip on timing. In some segments, moderators literally pressed speakers to finish their talk in seconds – which is an utterly impossible task for Bangladeshi people.
- 32 participants were given 60 minutes for the ‘Book of the year: discussion on new books’ to read and talk about their books
- 30 poets got 75 minutes to read their own poems, including moderator’s introduction
- 33 poets were given 75 minutes to read their self-written poetry
- 12 writers were given 30 minutes to introduce their new books
Perhaps these tight scheduling and high-pressure segments were designed to exercise brevity and precision talking as well as just to introduce writers and showcase their works only!
Room for Improvement
Bangladeshi community in New York truly enjoys the Bangla book fair a great deal. It is especially popular among the first generation Bangladeshis and their families. It brings back memory and nostalgia of Ekushey Book Fair in crowded Dhaka city. Muktadhara Foundation has worked tirelessly to organize the annual showcase of Bangla literary works from Bangladesh, India and beyond. The fair has also enhanced the cultural vitality of Bangladeshi community at the backdrop of New York City’s rich and vibrant multicultural environment. However, the Bangla book fair can be improved substantially in content and management. Aside from previous suggestions, here are some more recommendations:
- The Bangla book fair was organized in Jackson Heights, one of the most diversified neighborhoods of New York City. Other ethnic communities were curious about the event but had no clue what was going on? Displaying signs in Spanish, Arabic, Korean, Chinese language could have been a great idea! Displaying signs in Spanish, Arabic, Korean, Chinese language could have been a great idea.
- Book fair can be more diversified by adding more interesting and modern ideas. The event was filled with too many items related to song, dance, Rabindranath and Nazrul. Some discussion on blogging, filmmaking, spreading science, making a podcast, utilizing technology, using social media, reading e-books could have been added. There was even no discussion about blogging or bloggers!
- Young second generation Bangladeshi writer participation was almost none. In recent years, some non-resident Bangladeshi writers are actively writing: Tahmima Anam, Zia Haider Rahman, Abeer Yusria Hoque, Tanwi Nandini Islam, Javed Jahangir, and others. On Saturday, only two people briefly talked about Books Of The New Generation – both are from old generation!
- Organizers can give more attention to floor plan for booths, better signs and directions, better audio/sound system, typo-less or correctly spelled program guide, etc.
- The website of the foundation has no information about how many publishers/writers attended the fair, how many books were sold, what was the most popular book, who sold the most books, who own the children’s competition, program details of the event. Actually, only a few photos were posted online after the event, nothing else!
- Organizers can improve the image and management of Bangla book fair by collecting comments, suggestions, recommendations from the visitors (suggestion box)! There was no way to give any feedback on the event onsite! Bangladeshi community in New York can help improve the image, the quality and the direction of Bangla book festival by engaging more into the process in future.