At a conversation on Media and Northeast India held as a precursor to the Shillong CALM Festival 2013, author Jerry Pinto asked a young media student, “What do you want to do in future?” He said, “I want to make films.” Then Pinto asked him, “Where?” The student promptly blurted out, “Hollywood”. Another student said, “I want to be an actor. I am interested in acting.” And when Pinto asked him again, “Where do you want to act?” He replied, “Hollywood”. Well, one Shillong lad did make it to Hollywood! Yes, actor Victor Banerjee swayed the Western audience with his role as Dr. Aziz Ahmed in David Lean’s film, “A Passage to India”.
In what could be called a rather pleasant co-incidence, Shillong was host to all these big names at the recently held Creative Arts Literature and Music Festival organized by Sahaki Society. From book releases to heated panel discussions to Spelling Bee for senior members of the society, to a hilarious stand-up comedy show to the soul-stirring music of the 60s and 70s by energetic octogenarian singers, the second Shillong CALM Festival 2013 truly lived up to its promise of dedicating this year’s festival to the senior citizens of society.
There was food for thought in the panel discussions on varied topics like Khasi rites and customs, Publish or Perish, Old Age Homes, Does Poetry Sell?, The serious side of Humour and Shillong Now and Then. There was a brilliant discussion on mental health under the topic Enriching Life, Positive Living. Those willing to hone their skills could enroll in the poetry workshop with Jerry Pinto or photography workshop with Chirodeep Chaudhuri or creative writing by Akriti Macker or painting by Benedict Hynniewta.
The Festival in a way also opened its doors to South Asia paving the way for a pan-South Asia readership and publishing. Prolific writer from Bangladesh Farah Ghuznavi who attended the festival said, “The CALM Festival 2013 offered participants not only an extensive and thought-provoking programme, but also stimulating discussions that planted ideas to linger on in the mind well after the sessions were over. Add to that the stunning vistas and plunging gorges of the surrounding area, the musical and culinary riches of the region, and the genuine warmth of the North-Eastern welcome, and you had the recipe for an unforgettable literary experience. It was a pleasure to be part of it!”
Passionate Shillongite, Ananya S Guha who is also an academician added, “The CALM Festival is perhaps one of the best things that has happened to Meghalayans in particular and the people of North East India in general. It has also provided the youth of the state with a platform of opportunities to create, recreate and interact in the areas of creative writing, music and other art forms. CALM 2013 was an outstanding success with writers and creative artists of national repute holding dialogue with local talent. Also, the book launches by regional authors was the nerve centre of CALM 2013. Stand-up comedy shows and musical nights added rich and exciting flavour to this festival. One prays more for such a friendly festival of calm and equanimity.”
Interestingly, the Festival was also a forum where local writers could get their books released by big authors and known names in the publishing industry. Bureaucrat Peter W Ingty’s historical fiction, Bhaskara: The last of the Varmans was released by Ravi Singh, co-publisher with Aleph Book Company. The Broken Arrow by another bureaucrat P S Thangkiew was released by actor Victor Banerjee, Engineer Malcolm Roy’s book David Roy: A Khasi Remembered was released by noted publisher and author David Davidar, R J Lyngdoh’s A Point of View was released by author Jerry Pinto and Temsula Ao’s The Ao-Naga-Oral Traditions was released by noted columnist Jug Suraiya.
Wonderful organizational abilities, melded with a true understanding of the creative arts, warm hospitality along with serious sessions was the USP of Shillong CALM Festival 2013. Working hard behind the scenes was the prolific organizer Sambha Lamarr who runs a book shop in Shillong. Mitra Phukan, writer and columnist said, “No hassles, no egos. Amazing, amazing food that I tucked into quite shamelessly. Lovely mix of people. And thank you, thank you for deciding not to have parallel sessions. That always stresses me out so much!”
Noted columnist and author Sanjoy Hazarika wrote in his column: “That some of the best musical, sports and writing talent exist in the northeast does not need any elaboration. A recent meeting of CALM festival, in Shillong was a fine example with a three-day gathering of musicians, writers, publishers, poets and writers from Meghalayaand across the region (alas I could not be there). People, including publishing friends such as David Davidar, Ravi Singh and others such as the actor Victor Banerjee (ex-St.Edmund’s) are still raving about it on Facebook and the net. “
Hazarika writes, “One is often fed up when many — including our own — speak ceaselessly of ‘opportunities’ before the Northeast and its ‘unlocked potential’. The problem is that we’ve been hearing these cliches for decades and while there is something to show on the ground for this, it is very patchy and barely inspiring. However, truly, these two phrases resonate when we heard of these community-driven energetic initiatives such as Nagaland’s Music Task Force, CALM and a place called Dream Cafe, also in Kohima. It is good to dream, to listen to the sound of music and to bring together performance, tradition and the modern in an effort that generates jobs, captures talent and expands the qualities and space of peace, enjoyment and calm.”
With lit fests happening all over the country, the Shillong CALM Festival was a brave venture which had managed to place Northeast India on the books and publishing map of the country.