It was informative, educational, entertaining, and most of all, thought-provoking. The 3rd Comilla Cultural Festival came to a rapturous close last Thursday evening at the Comilla Town Hall with the staging of “Teen Konya”, an adaptation of British Asian writer Farrukh Dhondy's play on Shakespeare's three heroines.
The festival was the brainchild of an expatriate from Comilla, Manjurul Azim Palash, who after a decade in the UK, returned to his hometown. He was joined by an enthusiastic group of young volunteers.
With a slight delay, the festival began on January 29 with group renditions of songs by the artistes of Rabindra Sangeet Shammilan Parishad (RSSP), Comilla, which was followed by a seminar on 'Liberation War: National Reawakening'. The Vice-chancellor of Jahangirnagar University, Professor Anwar Hussain, was the chief guest with a host of speakers present from Comilla and outside.
The speakers emphasised the necessity of national reawakening, so that the youth of 1971 who fought for the independence of the country could hand over the baton of their thoughts and ideas to the younger generation to take the country forward and achieve the goals for which the country was liberated. Professor Hussain said reawakening in the present scenario of Bangladesh is not only necessary, but is also inevitable. He urged upon all to kick-start this idea of reawakening from the town of Comilla that has been the path-provider of many historical events.
The second day of the festival saw a daylong workshop being held on 'Journalism: Preparation and Commitment', attended by more than 40 young journalists, mostly from the print media, and working in Comilla. Well-known columnist and media personality Md. Jahangir inaugurated the workshop and elucidated the situation prevailing in the media of Bangladesh. The workshop was conducted by a number of experienced journalists -- both from the print and electronic media. In order to give a bit of an international flavour, some personalities with experience of working in radio and TV in the UK and the USA were also present.
A seminar was organised in the afternoon of the second day where a keynote paper on the evolution of Bangla poetry was read by a local journalist, Arshad Siddiqui. The paper received rave appreciation and it was proposed to incorporate this paper with some amendments in the festival brochure in future.
The third and final seminar was held on the last day of the festival, the title being 'State, Globalisation and Self-identity of the Adivasis'. The keynote paper was presented by researcher and development worker Farhat Jahan.
The cultural programmes that were lined up for this festival caught the imagination of the people of Comilla. The programmes included flute recital, rendition of thumri, Bangla poetry recitation, traditional folk songs, and to roundup the festival -- a play on Shakespeare's three heroines with a Bangladeshi perspective.
Veteran flute player Ustad Azizul Islam, who hails from greater Comilla region, gave an extraordinarily absorbing recital on the opening night, playing the Raag Jhinjhoti, which has a tinge of Bhawaiya in it. He concluded his recital with a short dhoon on Raag Mishra Khamaj.
One of the highlights of the second day's cultural programme was a session on Bengali poetry recitation by the local elocutionists, where 'yours truly' was invited as the chief guest. The chief guest also recited a few poems written by poets of Bangladesh and West Bengal (India).
The second evening rounded up with a performance by vocalist Chandra Chakraborty who came from London. Although renowned for thumri, she demonstrated that she had kajri, ghazal and also Nazrul Sangeet, to name a few, in her repertoire.
The organisers should be lauded for not forgetting our age-old heritage and traditional folk songs. Before the staging of the play, “Teen Konya”, noted folk song exponent Mahbub Piyal gave a unique presentation of different forms of the genre with narration.
A documentary film on the role and work of cultural activists during the Liberation War, mainly those who worked with Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra, was screened on the final day. Director Shajal Khaled answered questions from the audience at the end of the show.
About the play, “Teen Konya”, Mukul Ahmed, a Britain-Bangladeshi theatre director, said that with changes worldwide, in the male dominated society in Bangladesh, women are raising their voices in asserting their rights.
All in all, the cultural activists in particular and the inhabitants of Comilla, a town which has always played a significant role in the sub-continent's socio-cultural progress, have taken a pioneering responsibility in reawakening the cultural heritage of their town. Guests from other districts have expressed their willingness to replicate such festivals in their hometowns, so that not only are the local talents given an opportunity to flourish, but also as the organisers have said, they could move away from 'Dhaka-centric' cultural activities.
The writer is a freelance journalist from Chittagong.