More festivals, please

Updated: Feb 17, 2020, 11:39 IST | Fiona Fernandez | Mumbai

Bombaywallahs desperately need more enriching doses of culture and the arts in the form of well programmed annual festivals

File pic
File pic

pic"Madam, Kalaghoda ke paas nahi jayenge" the kaali-peeli taxiwallah flatly refused my consistent pleas, adding that it was next to impossible to get anywhere close to the landmark, thanks to endless queues and inexplicably longer traffic jams made worse by the ongoing Metro work and the Esplanade Mansion barricade.

The taxiwallah was right. I made my way to catch a bit of the action on the penultimate day of the festival only to be appalled by what I saw as I negotiated my way on foot via the backlanes en route to the David Sassoon Library for a session. Crowds that extended into the gullies off MG Road were growing longer by the minute, and mind you, this was just to enter the main section that led into the stalls and installations. The sight was something I hadn't seen before at the festival.

Some deft tackling of those numbers and smooth road-crossing moves later, I had managed to reach my Everest. Inside, and thank god for that, proceedings seemed like an oasis of calm. When I stepped out later, it seemed to have gotten worse. It was a far, far cry from the early days when one could 'loaf' around the quaint, shady surroundings that made up Kalaghoda. But, with each passing year, the festival numbers seem to have burgeoned. While there is no data to break down why and who comprise of these numbers and what events draw the most footfalls, one thing is obviously clear.

Our city falls woefully short when it comes to hosting more cultural festivals. In the 1980s, 90s and even into the 2000s, Bombay boasted of several annual festivals — at Elephanta, Banganga, Horniman circle gardens, to name the prominent ones — that became must-visits on our calendars. The country's top performers would make it a point to schedule their time around these fests. International music (especially rock) buffs had the cult-like Independence Rock to look forward to. It's where several music bands spring-boarded to pan Indian success.

But somehow, the last decade has seen these phase away with not sufficiently competent additions taking their place. One might argue that the rise of malls has led to the introduction of an eclectic list of alternative options like pop-ups and daylong fests. But, honestly, do these really have the fuel to go the whole hog? So often in this last decade we've done a little jig at news of a new, exciting festival only to learn that it had to be shelved the following year due to lack of sponsors, or a suitable venue. Bombay saw too much struggle on this count and continues to be handicapped by this gaping vacuum. Even some of the big daddies in the market had to call off their own festivals due to lack of funds. Who ends up being the loser here? The Bombaywallah.

It was easy then to join the dots as I tried to elbow my way around the crowded pavements of Kalaghoda. The city is starved of walk-in festivals. It isn't the most promising thought as I type out this column. But the writing is truly on the wall. Unless the state government and the civic gods, along with corporates, wake up to this scenario and step in to play a solid supporting role to salvage these precious showcases on our city's cultural calendar, it will always be a case of swimming against the tide for the organisers of these handful of festivals.

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

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