The Calm of the CALM Festival

Picturesque Shillong gears up to celebrate creativity in the arts, music and literature writes Ananya S Guha

The  first Shillong Creative Arts, Literary And Music (CALM)  Festival held from October 31 to November 3, 2012 was notable for its fusion of literary expressions, art and wood work displays, photographs, indigenous pottery of  the Jaintia Hills, a fast vanishing art, musical and comedy shows, talks by Indrajeet Hazra, Chetan Bhagat and the doyen of  journalism M. J. Akbar. Chetan Bhagat gave the youth, tips to be succesful, to which a young one counterposed; “Why is success so important? Indrajeet Hazra, journalist and writer spoke to school children on the processes of   creativity, and of course the inimitable M. J. Akbar captivated the audience with his sense of Indian history, polity, society and secularist and democratic ideals embedded firmly in the concept that is: “India”.

In between there were book launches, meets with artists, sculptors and photographers. Also, parallel sessions on counselling for students, expressions of drawing and painting by children, choral recitation, were conducted. In one of the evenings the audience was treated to musical expositions by the local Aroha Choir, and comedy shows by Neville Shah and company. There was also a book fair, where books by authors participating in the meet were available for sale.

Books were launched by photo journalist Chirodeep Choudhuri, NDTV journalist Kishalay Bhattacharjee, the brilliant author originally from Sikkim Prajwal Parajuly, young local poet Jerry Lucius Pyrtuh, and veteran teacher of  Shillong Cassandra Syiemlieh who has published a book showing the connect between poetry and popular Western songs. There is a compact relationship that exists between poetry and song, countenancing Gerard Manley Hopkins’ contention that all art aspires towards the condition of music. The photojournalist Chirodeep Choudhuri spoke on photography and story-telling with reference to his book, and Prajwal Parajuly spoke on his forthcoming collection of short stories, The Gurkha's Daughter which has got rave prereviews and is on the Amazon’s best book sellers list already, in the pre-booking lists. Parajuly originally from Sikkim is a brilliant speaker and he has already been hailed as a writer to watch out for in the English speaking world.

The CALM Festival is an interesting fusion of local talent and that from ‘mainland’ India. It has brought diverse aesthetic realities on a common platform: creative writing, painting, sculpture, pottery, photography, the oral word (recitation), music, comedy etc with focus on the youth. It was not meant to be a literary festival, but one on the creative arts in an inclusive manner. The interactions with school children was its highlight, so were counselling sessions, to give the right kind of advice to impressionable minds. It was delightful to see children sprawled on the floor, faces intent in painting and drawing.

CALM 2013 once again to be held this year from May 9 to 11 promises to be even more exciting. Once again, it will be held under the aegis of the Sahaki Arts and Literary Society, led and master minded by its ‘chief whip’ Sambha Lamarr. Says Lamarr, “You watch the rapt attention of the audience in a panel discussion, the hysterical laughter in a comedy show, the pride in the face of a budding author’s book launch, the plea of a child for more time at the craft section, the camaraderie among the crew members, the eternal friendships made and cemented… this to me is the sweet smell of success…”

This year too CALM promises a bewildering array of book launches, panel discussions and talks, interspersed with workshops on creative writing, writing poetry and photography. And who can forget music, which is the food of love? There will be two major musical sessions, one led by a local group with its indigenous music – Na Rympei, and the other will be “Yesterday Once More”, where the past will be relived through a musical world by veterant artistes. Some of the special invitees are: actor Victor Banerjee, novelist Stephen Alter, publisher and writer David Davidar, columnist Jug Suraiya who has regaled the intelligensia with his wisdom and comments for over three decades. Old timers, do you remember the Junior Statesman, popularly then known as the JS? In addition, we will have poets and writers such as Jerry Pinto, Indrajit Hazra and Northeast India’s very own Patricia Mukhim, Temsula Ao and Mamang Dai. There will also be stand up comedy shows by experienced artists but an important focus would be a debate on Old Age Homes, a very pertinent subject in the context of familial realities not only in India but in the entire world.  Last year the focus was on the youth, the school child and the young adult to propel him or her into a world of creativity and curiousity.

This year the emphasis does not shift gears but there is an important addition – this years festival will also honour the senior citizens, giving them a rightful place in the world of arts, music and literature where he or she will be rubbing shoulders with the younger ones in not only facilitating the programmes but also participating in them. The uniqueness of CALM is that it promotes the entire order of creativity, the arts, music and literature in a celebratory manner and not with hierarchy.

Sambha Lamarr says, “There will be synergy amidst diversity”. This is the cornerstone of CALM. She further goes on to say, “The moment I said CALM, I calmed down and the rest was history as they say”. What could be a better platform to give local talent a filip, as well as to expose them to the world of writers and artistes who have brought fame to the country? In fact, it is this cultural dialogue that CALM seeks to establish. The entourage of CALM is the trail it leaves behind both after and ahead – the trail of music, art, performance and literature all blended into one. The segregation of the creative arts is a myth; they are interwoven and deeply interelated. CALM is a celebration of this fact, hence out of diverse strands a synergy is created. It is this synergy we look forward to and it is this synergy which has been a concrete reality, putting precept into practice by the Sahaki Arts Society.

This is the calm of CALM Festival…young and old commingle in pursuits of the mind and the heart.

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Ananya.S. Guha works in the Indira Gandhi National Open University, Shillong (Meghalaya) as an Academic Administrator. He has over 30 years of teaching and administrative experience. He has six collections of poetry and his forms have been published world wide. Some of his poems are due to appear soon in an Anthology of Indian Poetry in English to be published by Harper Collins.

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