For three days and nights, the sights and sounds of bustling Bengal came alive in the American state of Maryland as around 8,000 men and women clad in dhotis and saris gathered for a meet.
Gariahat and Chowringhee in Kolkata seemed to have moved to Harbor Place and Conway Street in Baltimore as women in Murshidabad silk and Dhakai saris and men in traditional Bengali attire converged for the 24th annual North American Bengali Conference (NABC).
Begun by New York group, Cultural Association of Bengal (CAB), in 1980 as a celebration of the cultural gifts that immigrants of the Bengali speaking region of India have brought to America, the convention is hosted by a different city each year. In 2005 the convention returns to New York City.
This year the event was hosted by Sanskriti of Greater Washington and
co-sponsored by Prantik of Baltimore.
Asok Motayed, a Potomac, Maryland resident and owner of a Maryland-based IT company, headed the organising committee for NABC 2004 as chairman.
This year's conference brought together approximately 8,000 Bengalis, a
significant increase from the 1,500 at the previous Maryland-based NABC 15 years ago. Attendees hailed from 38 states, as well as from Europe, India, Bangladesh and Canada.
From an occasion for socialising and showcasing artistic talent, the
convention has become a serious forum for business and technology.
Speakers at the business forum included Rajat Gupta of McKinsey and Purnendu Chatterjee of the Chatterjee Group.
A career fair was also held, with Shankar Bhattacharya of PG&E; Somshankar Das of Walden Investment; Vinod Dham of Silicon Spice; Rahul Roy of Mirror Plus; and Arjun Malhotra of HCL, America, speaking of career opportunities.
But true to the Bengali's fascination for the arts, the most popular events were the cultural ones, many featuring artistes and groups from Kolkata. Among the notable visitors were filmmaker Goutam Ghosh, theatre director Rudraprasad Sengupta, singers Shreya Ghoshal and Usha Uthup, sitarist Budhaditya Mukherjee and actress Rupa Ganguly.
"The theme of our conference this year was 'Beyond Boundaries,'" Motayed said. "We wanted to examine various aspects of the culture from the land of our birth, and see how that culture has impacted the culture of our adopted land and vice versa."
Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates Kumar Barve participated in a panel on South Asian Politics. Other attendees included the Mayor of Baltimore, Martin O'Malley, Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen, and the acting Indian Ambassador Rakesh Sood.
Second generation Bengali Americans also had an active role in NABC through a youth programmes committee.
Debjani Bhaumik, a 2002 Cornell graduate who now works as a health care consultant in Falls Church, Virginia, was one of the leaders of this committee.
Bhaumik said: "We have an online presence now, and we never had that growing up. We all would see each other once a year at the conference."
"One of the things we were trying to show through our conference is that we're proud of being Bengali, and also proud of being American. The beauty of our community is that we can balance the two," Bhaumik said.
"I think being Bengali is inherent in being American for us. We consider ourselves Bengali Americans - we are not one more than the other."