This article has attempted to provide an overview of our Bengalee community activities in the Greater Chicago area prior to the formation of BAGC and pass on this to our generation in the new millennium. This article is prepared in a very short time based on the memories of few old timers and may contain inaccurate information. However this should be viewed as a starting document and should be updated as more accurate input from the community becomes available.
As far as we know, the Bengalees started settling in Chicago area from early 1960's. There were only a handful of families and most of them were students. We arrived in Chicago on 19th of July 1969 and soon after we came across a few families and we all became good friends. In October 1969, a Bijoya Sanmelan was arranged in our one bedroom apartment at 6335 North Winthrop, Chicago. This was attended by several families, some of whom we met for the first time on that occasion. We still remember names of most of them: Prabir/Mira Acharya, Shanti/Mamata Bhattacharya, Subrata/Semanti Bhattacharya, Gurupada/Sashi Das, Surya/Tiki Misra, Mono /Pratima Mazumdar, Prabhas/Ila Nag, Satya/Hiru Pati, Girin/Gauri Roy, Sumit/Bithi Roy, Supriya/Shila Roy, Nikhil/Jayasree Sarkar, Pabitra/Maitreye Sarkar, Asoke/Gauri Sen. This Bijoya Sanmelan gave us inspiration to organize more events like Saraswati Puja & Durga Puja in 1970.
Saraswati Puja in 1970 was held at Supriya Roy's apartment in Westmont. It was a one day event. All the known Bengalee families were invited by phone and about 60 people attended the Puja. Khichuri, Mixed vegetable, Beguni and Chatni were prepared in their small apartment and sweets came from individual homes. The program ended with a short cultural show.
Soon Durga Puja approached. A church at Hinsdale was arranged. Girin Roy made the Durga idol ( Durga, Singha, Ashur ) using clay and paper straws; Dipak Dutta brought all decoration items and Durga's astras from India; Supriya Roy organized an exhibition of Indian arts & crafts, and Pabitra Sarkar organized a hilarious drama. To our knowledge this was the first large scale Durga Puja in North America in 1970. Several Bengalee families from the neighboring states also visited Chicago on that occasion. We used to arrange host families for the outside guests who planned to stay overnight in Chicago.
The First BAGC Saraswati Idol Artist: Subrota Mukherjee Made of: Plaster-of-Paris The tradition of Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja continued thereafter every year organized by the Bengalee families in Chicago without a formalized BAGC. Rabindra/Nazrul Jayanti and picnic for Bengalees were added to our events. Mono Mazumdar reconditioned the clay Durga idol for 1971 puja. In subsequent years Ajoy Das made both Durga and Saraswati using molded paper. Subrata Mukherjee made a Saraswati Murti using Plaster-of-Paris and a full size Durga by painting in 1974 & 1977 respectively.
First Bengalee Magazine " BIDESH" was published in 1974 under the editorship of Subrata Mukherjee and Jahar Nandi. Ajoy Das was the architect of our logo for the magazine which is still used for "Samaj Sangbad".
In 1975, a Bengalee library was formed utilizing books from the individual families and discarded books from the University of Chicago. The library centers were located geographically on North, South and West suburbs of Chicago to serve the community better.
During pre -BAGC era, Nimai Bhattacharya, Sib Mukherjee and Sudhir Jha were our main priests for all Pujas. All cooked foods were prepared at the Puja premises except the sweets used to come from almost every households. Maitreye Sarkar, Gauri Roy, Jayshree Sarkar, Joyeta Mukherjee, Hena Banerjee, Mitra Sinha, Subhra Nandi, Biswanath Sinha,Chitta Bhattacharya, Samir Datta, Durga Banerji, Subrata Mukherjee and many others spent tired-less hours in the kitchen in preparing Khichuri, Pollao, Vegetable curry, Bhaja etc.
The Puja subscription was $2.00 per person in 1970. Bengalee drama, dance drama, songs etc, were typical events of the evening cultural shows during the Pujas. The performers in dramas were Matreye Sarkar, Sita Sengupta, Mita Bose, Mitra Sinha, Debipriya Roy, Subhra Nandi and many others amongst female artists. Pabitra Sarkar, Guru Sengupta, Ashim Roy Chowdhuri, Jahar Nandi, Subrata Mukherjee, Aditya Sarkar, Samir Datta, Mohitosh Mukherjee, Pratik Moulik, Girin Roy and many others were the male artists. Joyita Mukherjee was prompter for most of the dramas during pre-BAGC days.
The performers in dance programs were China Datta, Tanushri Sarkar, Pradipta Roy, Anulekha Banerjee, Jhunu Lahiri, Ratna Talukdar,Atasi Mazumdar(Basu),GauriRoy,Bhramar Datta,Purabi Mazumder and many others. The child performers were Anindita Sengupta (Mukherjee), Bubuli Chatterjee and Beauty Mazumdar ( Jarvis).
The performers in singing were Aparna Mukherjee, Ena Mukherjee, Sovona Chatterjee, Sunanda Chatterjee, Kusal Basu, Gurupada Das, Ajit Tan, Subrata Mukherjee, Girin Roy and many others. The performers in instrumental music were Mono Mohan Mazumdar,Gurupada Das, Dhritiman Chatterjee, Partha Ganguli, Biswanath Sinha and many others.
With a growing number of Bengalee families in the Greater Chicago area the need for a formal Committee was felt by many and a constructive discussion took place during a weekend party at Bankim Saha's house in 1976. Amongst those present in that party were Dipak Datta, Bankim Saha, Sukomal Talukdar, Mahitosh Mukherjee, Swapan Banerjee etc. Subsequently a formal meeting was held at a Bensonville club house in 1976. This meeting was attended by most of the Bengalee families in Greater Chicago to discuss " FORMAL" versus " INFORMAL" Bengalee Committee. The majority voted in favor of "FORMAL" Bengalee Committee. Sumit Roy was requested to coordinate the preparation of the BAGC constitution and the BAGC was formed by end of 1976. Sukomal Talukdar was selected the first BAGC President in 1977.
We all feel that BAGC has a very strong bond and is very unique from other communities and will continue the services in an exemplary manner. Long live this spirit through the new millennium.
This article was created based purely on recollection of events almost thirty years ago and therefore the authors may have inadvertently left out a name or two here and there, a date might be mistakenly put where it shouldn't have. Please bear with us and should you be able to throw some light on any of the dates or events, please feel free to do so by contacting the Webmaster.