While the euphoria of the twenty-fifth anniversary annual KOA Camp is waning, its memories are still reverberating in the minds of its attendees and will remain lodged in them for a while. More than five hundred and more than one hundred forty families participated. It certainly was one of the most attended camps.
The specialness of this camp was its contents and the way they were organized. To begin with it had the luminaries: Nirja Pandit, a renowned professional singer, who sings in Kashmiri: her husband, Ashok Pandit, who is a film director and a producer, besides being a cultural activist and KP’s cause fighter; Ashwani Chrungoo, President of Panun Kashmir Movement: Bhajan and Abhay Sopori, former a preeminent exponent of Kashmiri music, including the instrument santoor, later a rising santoor player. Studded with this galaxy of artistes the camp took a higher plane than the previous ones. Also, there were about seven past KOA Presidents present and about ten families who participated in the first KOA Camp in 1984. That was a powerful symbol of the long and shining history of KOA. The programs were professionally organized with each artiste giving a stellar performance. The food was overall good and served on schedule. Considering the largeness of the attendees and the inherent loose nature of a camp, its management was excellent. It should serve as a model to the future camps.
On day one, where most of the people came in the afternoon and later, there was a special DVD presentation of the previous camps given by Inder Bhat. He must have incurred umpteen hours joining various video and still clips in making them into one continuous piece. It was nostalgic as well as thrilling how KOA and KPs have come a long way in the last twenty-five years in this country. Each attendant was presented with a DVD of this presentation. It was superb piece of the memorabilia of KOA history – something to be prized for generations to come. Later general-purpose entertainment was conducted. A new, young artist Rahul Ganju sang melodiously and in style Kashmiri songs and ghazals. Rahul should become a permanent fixture of the camps. In the second day morning there was a program called Information, in which Vijay Kuchroo, Ashwani Chrungoo, Maharaj Kaul, Ashok Pandit, and Bhajhan Sopori participated. Vijay presented the infections that KP children can get easily in the clean environment in this country. Ironically, one of the remedies to that is to expose them to the bacteriologically harsh environment of India, which prepares them to the milder environment of US. Vijay’s presentation was based on a paper he has published on the subject. Next came Ashwani, who spoke about the past KP heroes and the sacrifices they made to help KPs. He talked about the goals of his Panun Kashmir Movement and how it is going to one day bring KPs back to Kashmir. Maharaj talked about the future of KPs and expressed what they should do to make their community stable. He said beating our chests on losing Kashmir was not the right way to live creatively for the perpetuation of KP ethos and culture. Ashok spoke about how the KPs should not spend lavishly on their weddings as it sends a wrong massage to other people and also does not fit right with their community at this juncture in their struggle to regain what they have lost. Bhajan gave a stirring recital of Kashmiri music’s change with time and circumstance. It was soul uplifting to hear the variations of Kashmiri music. It became perhaps the most popular item of the camp. He was assisted in his presentation by Arti Tikoo and Nirja Pandit. The collaboration of these three artistes was the first in their history. Later in the evening we had the General Body Meeting, conducted by the KOA President Sunil Fotedar. He presented a detailed account of the state of KOA, its programs, other activities, and its financial affairs. He also presented plaques to the members who had done exceptional work for the organization. After this the father and the son duo of Bhajan and Abhiya Sopori gave an excellent performance on the soul-stirring instrument Santoor.
The epitome of the camp is the third day when the very best of the artistic and entertainmental items are presented. In the morning we had the hawan, conducted by an able priest from Connecticut Valley temple, Hartford. It is a very revered item in any camp and we had a large audience for it. It lasted for two hours. In the early evening we had an excellent solo performance by Abhay Sopori on santoor followed by a long, enriching recital of some of the great melodies of Kashmir by Nirja Pandit. She is a dynamic and a flawless singer. It was followed by an unscheduled performance by Bhajan Sopori, accompanied by Arti Tikoo and Nirja Pandit. It turned out to be spectacular. Bhajanji is a superb artiste and anything he does turns to gold.
There were other standard programs which are held at every camp, although that does not diminish their importance or means lesser amount of work that goes in their preparation like in the sterling items indicated above: children’s dancing and art competition, Children’s Fun Day, Boston Group Skit, etc.
Why did this camp succeed so well. One reason is the campsite itself? The site is an excellent resort with sprawling grounds, perhaps five-hundred acres big, studded with amenities like an “Olympic” size pool, tennis and basketball courts, walking trails, open fields, cottages, and motels, etc. KOA is given a corner of the facility where it can conduct its programs freely and in privacy. The sound of the musical programs does not bother the facility. The owner of the resort, Bob Johnson, is very friendly to us. Members can pitch tents or stay in cottages or motels. Boating can be indulged in the river fringing the facility. The serenity and the opulence of the facility creates the mood of enjoyment in the camp participants. No wonder eight camps have been held here. Other sites have been tried but nothing comes close to Moodus’s Sunrise Resort.
No camp can be perfect as it is in the nature of a camp of the magnitude KOA organizes to be messy. However, certain things can be improved upon. General Body Meeting can be cut to forty-five minutes, instead of its standard duration of two hours. Comedy skits should be conducted during non-prime time, that is, during late afternoon or early evening hours. We should ask the food caterer to provide extra personnel, for which we will reimburse them, to clean the trash people inevitably create, instead of often berating the people from the podium to clean up after themselves. The camp tent should be larger than is, as a lot of people have to sit out of its protection in rain. The electrical lighting has to be more than it is provided. The stage should be more professional than it is provided. When we call professional artistes from India they should be provided with a professional quality stage. There should be a few volunteer discipline enforcers who will see that the spectators to the shows performed on the stage sit in a proper manner without obstructing the view of the others. They will also mind other indiscretions attendees create. Let us call them Camp Police. The tables and the benches provided are not suitable for our use. They need to be substituted by more useful ones.
Another reason for the high success of the camp was its management. Sanjay Kaul, twice the president of KOA, did a super job of organizing and managing the camp with help from a number of experienced members who had been involved in the management of seven previous camps. Sanjay himself has been the camp commander for the last camp of the last millennium. Originally, Sanjay and Inder Bhat were going to have a private camp this year, as it was a special twenty-fifth anniversary of KOA camp, since they had heard that KOA was going to have its camp somewhere other than northeast. But after it was clarified that the camp will be held in the north-east, KOA President Sunil Fotedar requested Sanjay to be the camp commander of the camp. Sanjay’s experience, vision, and the ability to get along with people provided the spark and the fire that made the entire camp management team give their best.
Why do KPs come to the camps? It is because they want to see and meet their kind. Any number of telephone calls and emails cannot provide the satisfaction that face to face meeting with the friends and relatives provides. Add to it the mood of festivity that the camps provide. The camps are like a Kashmiri wedding and therefore have nostalgia, gaiety, and warmth in them unlike any other KOA functions. People come from long distances as the camps are irresistible. With Kashmiri diaspora in full force people feel their culture may be on the way to extinction. We should keep on improving them. It is good that we had also a west-coast camp this year. We should provide other camps also if logistics justify that.