Thursday, 9 April 2015

After the event

The after-the-event report promised in the last blog...

Feb 28th came and .... went. But not before a few, in fact more than a few, large hiccups needed to be dealt with. We managed, not as well as we would have liked to, but there was nothing to be done. The first scare came minutes before we were due to start with the book exhibition at 3 p.m. -- the lift of the Vivekananda Kendra Auditorium stopped working -- since the hall is on the 4th floor and many of our guests were old and could not negotiate that many steps, this meant certain disaster. I really went crazy with worry, wondering about alternatives, in case the lift did not get repaired in time. Where else could we move the event, how would we manage to do up a hall in the few minutes that were left, how would we manage to physically carry our dignitaries up if we had to continue at the Kendra. My mind went on a spin -- I sent whoever I could to go and see that the lift got repaired. It did work, a few minutes before 4 p.m. when the main award event was due to start. That was a huge relief.

We had planned the Feb 28 event to be the central event of the centenary, in the end it was nothing more than a `diminished' award giving event, diminished because we did not have an invited speaker, as we have always had on earlier occasions. Of course in a way it was good that this event focussed entirely on the award since this was the 20th year of the award which was first given away in 1995. We had also planned to have an exhibition of books by the awardees. Many of the awardees did send in their books for display but the exhibition did not really take off as there is not much space in the Kendra for that sort of thing.  In any case, a lovely little book about all the awardees of the Munin Barkotoki Award for the past 20 years and their award winning books, put together painstakingly by two past award winners -- Kushal and Lutfa, was released by poet Hirendra Nath Dutta.

There were quite a few other books that were originally scheduled to be released at the meeting -- but on the day, none of them were ready. There was also a documentary that was being made on my father which we hoped to screen at the meeting -- in the end we had to make do with a very short version (which was not much more than a concatenation of few interviews, put together under duress). The actual film is still far from ready, the director having decided to take another break since there were no immediate deadlines, except for the end April deadline that he has set for himself. I am waiting to see whether he keeps his own word this time round.

There were other problems that came up in the run-up to the event -- for instance, Chandan Chutia, who had always taken care of getting the awards ready for distribution and of  the hall-decoration, was taken seriously ill and we had to do without his presence at the event. He did what he could from even within the ICU, but it was not quite the same thing. He was missed. We had approached as many as three persons in turn to give the invited speech at the meeting, all three turned down our request, for various reasons, either due to health problems or due to other appointments. In the end we had to do without an invited speaker. The morning lecture programme had also to be cancelled, since the person we had wanted to deliver the lecture could not come on the day. Arun Sarma khura also could not be present on the day, although he, as Chairman of the Centenary Celebration Committee, was the mastermind behind the whole event. Never in all these many years since we started with the award, have we had so many cancellations and no-shows.

Anyway, the hard work put in by a small group of our past awardees  paid off and we managed to put up a reasonably satisfying programme on the 28th with many guests and a lot of media attention. Ma did sit on stage but she did not speak -- after what had happened last time (when she had a mild heart attack on the morning of our event), I did not trust her to take part in the action this time. But she was very much there and made a huge difference just with her presence. Upen khura was there as always. Our Chairman for the day's meeting, Shri Radhika Mohan Bhagabati, also did not come as the Indian budget was being presented to Parliament at the same time as our meeting. We requested Prof. Biren Dutta to do the honours and he gracefully accepted. Prof. Hiren Dutta was at his very best and Nilmoni Phukan khura gave a very emotional and overwhelmingly powerful speech about his association with Baba and the responsibility of young writers. 

It was decided to have another meeting in October 2015 to mark the end of the Centenary Celebrations, by which time hopefully, all the many incomplete projects would see completion. That means yet another trip to India in early October for me, to organise that event. Slowly as the years go by, I am beginning to lose my sense of why we should be doing all this -- of course I am not questioning the purpose of the things we do -- they all serve some important goals  but the fuss around my father as a person seems to become more and more unnecessary.My mother is getting old and I am slowly getting convinced that we should continue with what we are doing, like giving an annual award, but move on from having a smriti-charan for my father to other, more constructive, things. My father would prefer that too, I am sure.

After this centenary year, we have to find a different way of doing honour to his memory, by concentrating on doing more of the kinds of things he thought were worthwhile  doing  -- of course he lives on in our awardees, in their books and all that we have managed to do in the years since his death in 1993.  And also in what we will do in his name in the years to come. But we must be able to find a way of doing that without having to necessarily invoke the person, Munin Barkotoki, at every event. Enough has been said and written about him, let him now be left in peace... and if in the process he, as a person, is forgotten, then so be it. Who can stop time from blowing away the last shreds of memory...a memory remains as long as it does voluntarily, not by insisting that it least my father would not have wanted that...

In a sense this is already happening, for a kind of generational change happened this time. With the act of  handing over of responsibility -- from my mother to a  few selected from among the awardees, it was as if my father had moved from within our closed private family circle into a more public one. Conversely, it also felt as if our small family had grown much larger.  From now on it will not be just my mother or I who will be in charge of taking his legacy forward. It will be not just the two of  us who will decide how best to do honour to my father's wishes and to his memory -- we could not have hoped for anything better... and my very grateful to this band of enthusiastic and committed writers who have come forward and taken this on so willingly and with such a great sense of responsibility.  

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