Fiona Fernandez: Black and white

Updated: Jan 29, 2018, 06:50 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Can festivals stay true to their essence or must all face the bane of going commercial?

Fiona Fernandez"If they were keen on placing a horse statue as the centrepiece of this historic sub-precinct, why not bring the original Kala Ghoda back from Rani Baug and install it at the very same spot? Why waste public money to create a new statue when we already have one that is steeped in history?" asked a historian and fellow heritage buff. We went quiet in the middle of a lively chat one morning in January over coffee at a cutesy café that was a stone's throw away from the location that was the focus of our conversation.

The area will be abuzz all over again. Starting this week, all roads will lead to a popular annual festival where city folk from all walks of life are expected to throng a mela-like setup, where wares from across India will be on sale, and where cultural and literary events will unfold across different venues. Overall, a celebratory air will take over many streets in this art district and its surroundings. This time, we hear, there is talk of it being a green themed festival, of it sporting bigger names and broader itineraries [higher prices and larger sponsor banners too, we suspect]. As we sipped on our steaming coffee and tucked into our BLT sandwich, we wondered how much bigger it could get and if the essence of it might get lost in the bustle.

Fresh in our minds was the example of the annual literary 'Kumbh Mela' that takes place in Jaipur. Gone were the times, when participants and members of the press could move conveniently from one venue within Diggi Palace to another without worrying about getting a seat. Nowadays, we are informed by a regular that let alone being able to grasp what the speaker was sharing with the audience, it's a miracle to even find a seat unless you don't leave your place from the earlier session in the same venue! While big names continue to grace the event, somehow, by the end of our second visit a few years ago, the high of reporting for a literary festival had fizzled out.

But we are digressing. Back to Bombay. What we are trying to outline is that amidst the melee, we wonder if the soul and ethos of this city can stay intact. Ask any diehard regular to the festival to recall the scene 15 years ago, and they will cite it as being a smaller, intimate affair that gave the city one of its and much-needed 'winter festival', like many of its urban counterparts in Delhi and Jaipur. In the same breath, while we are noticing an assembly line of smaller festivals across different suburbs, we'd love to see more inclusive, representative festivals spring up to celebrate Bombay's rich history and landmarks, our people and its literature as a whole, collective unit — for the city, of the city and by the city. A pure, undiluted space where quality reigns over commerce, and where the city reigns supreme. Too utopian, you might ask, but not out of reach. Else, it won't be too long before we have nothing but a Frankenstein staring back at us. Give us back the original Kala Ghoda any day, both festival and horse.

mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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