PEOPLESCAPE-POUSH MELA 2013
PEOPLESCAPE-POUSH MELA 2013
The trust of 1888 by Devendranath Tagore, among other important facets, had a provision for holding a fair on 7th Poush basically to enlighten the rural folk around Santiniketan about the ways and means of Bramhaism, and also to give a chance for the Bramhaism embraced elite of Kolkata to have a feel about the rural society around Santiniketan. It was a two way gesture of ‘Milan’, meaning embracing each other in the form of Poush Mela. Gradually the impact of Bramhaism petered out; the philosophy of Rabindranath to conceive Santiniketan however remains alive with the educational institute- VIsva Bharati University that Rabindranath set up. Now, it is the people who determine and construct the spirit of Poush Mela. The fair has been allowed to evolve on its own with partial intervention by Visva Bharati. Some opine stronger intervention of Visva Bharati to impart a certain distinct character to the fair; on the other hand the economics of scale and commercial viability dictates the natural evolution of a fair. From an impartial point of view, like all other fairs in India, Poush Mela is also a crazy concoction of many things put together. Personally, I was always intrigued by the people-scape at such fairs.
The present day concoction of Poush Mela is well highlighted in the snap above. Raj Baul, having his arm on my shoulder, is actually a post graduate ex-student of Botany Department of Visva Bharati, now a lecturer in a Government College. Make no mistake, he is a good singer, and a well versed one in Baul way of thinking and is back from a recent tour of Switzerland with his troupe. To my left is Sushanta Rai from the administration of Visva Bharati. So, that’s the way life moves about in Santiniketan, and that is exactly where time is poised now.
Peoplescape can be truly fascinating to watch, whether supplemented by photography or not. It is an endlessly intriguing subject and if probed photographically creates brilliant images. In consequence I am at a loss to select suitable photographs for this article, as each has its own story to be told.
The needle work man is now flanked from all over by interested ladies. He survives in spite of the great thread posed by the sewing machine. His popularity suggests that his craft is actually a fairly thriving one. On a closer look the variety of needles he carries and the crafty way he demonstrates several type of stitches is fairly amazing.
For people like us, fairly secluded either by city life or by the elite composition in Santiniketan, to meet these folks is a sweet breather into open air of greater India. These snaps are actually a way of saying ‘hello’ to these people; perhaps you all would like to share this ‘hello’ for all these lovely people who live at the core of our country’s heart, which essentially means at the core of our heart too! On a very personal note, years have passed, still I feel invariably drawn to these people- perhaps you also feel the same! It is a very intricate sort of bonding impossible to shake off. I really do not know how the present generation of Santiniketan feels about them; perhaps they would feel the same- as on a macro level things have hardly changed much in rural India.
Kids, naturally, compose a very interesting collage to Poush Mela. I do not know as kids, if we looked this much over awed by the situation. Hmmm…I remember most of the elderly ones, terribly absorbed with their friends in Poush Mela, thought us to be incredible nuisances around; except of course our grand parents! They were real angels, who easily succumbed to our tantrums!
There was a stall at Poush Mela this year selling all items at Rs20, nothing new about this, except that all items were Chinese made. These dolls were also Chinese made, the groom with a ‘Topor’and the bride in a colourful Ghaghra- a rather unlikely combination in a traditional Bengali marriage. In any case the Chinese made dolls looked interesting, with very interesting eye liners. I have hardly ever seen any dolls of this type with such interesting eyes!
Compared to the Chinese dolls, the dolls from Krishnanagar look more individualistic and it can be gauged easily that Krishnanagar dolls were not the modern manifestation of mass production. Each item here appears to be crafted separately making these dols fairly exclusive. Compared to Rs 20 for the Chinese dolls, each plate/pair of these Krishnanagar dolls costs Rs 120.
People-scape can be a very interesting phenomenon, both to observe and to record photographically. Watching the old man trying to bargain hard to purchase toy cars appears to be a flimsy juxtaposition with ‘the kid’ nowhere in sight. Probably he was looking for a surprise gift for his grand child, with whom he would be equally engrossed to play around with the toy car.
Fleeting past images after images of Poush Mela is an absorbing experience for many. The relatively sedate afternoons are just the right time to loiter around the Mela Ground in search of myriad of exchanges that take place in a fair. Till date Poush Mela is still very much a village fair with plenty of common people setting foot on fair ground. This year the rush was more than previous years, with 1 to 1.5 Lakh people thronging the Mela ground each evening. The management of Poush Mela was reasonably nice, there seemed to some kind of order present amidst fair amount of chaos.
The flavor of this fair is difficult to fathom. That is ofcourse the main attraction of any large fair in India. The diverse characteristic traits make these fairs fairly mysterious, always hovering in the unpredictable territory. Over the years, visually speaking, the people coming to the Mela including the village folks have become a bit well dressed at the most, with few mobile companies or white goods sellers finding a place in Poush Mela- which can be the change within last decade or so. The hand driven ‘Nagor Dola’ has become obsolete decades back, with the potters at Bhanga Mela thinning each year- so that might become another casualty soon within half a decade or in fact even earlier. This year the potters presence at Bhanga Mela was dangerously low, the position is such that we might not find them from next year. Their problem has been compounded by official (and justified) shortening of the Bhanga Mela period.
The collage of expressions can be varied. To be exact all these images were captured on 25th or 9th Poush afternoon in an after lunch session. I just clicked at random, with ofcourse the ‘people-scape’ in mind, and honestly speaking did not have to try very hard. These images were spilled all over the place.
The down-to-earth plight of artisans is always a sorry state of affair in Poush Mela. Year after year the same indifferent attitude of Poush Mela Committee has remained a big eyesore to several others along with me. In spite of all these their creations are invariably mesmerizing.
Somewhere deep down I feel one among them, though practically I have very little common with these folk. Where as all of them are out to purchase something, with a few just for moving around, I am here just to watch them. I have often felt that I am in search of something that I have been missing all along; but have no idea about what it is. There must be some intrinsic beauty in large gatherings in a fair, some inexplicable urge to be a part of crowd, maybe something else!
These kinds of images of Poush Mela are not often portrayed. Even very few scanty photographers attempt this. On this particular day of 9th Poush evening I find myself alone in this venture. Our ex-student Sudipta Mukherjee of Institute of Physics, Bhubaneswar might be at some other corner of Poush Mela, as he is also interested in capturing some very candid moments of random Poush Mela. Next time, I shall bring my son along with me; it is actually a good study about the people around us- a topic we generally avoid to be aware of in any kind of circumstances, whether it is a political agitation or a seasonal fair.
So, what actually is people-scape. There is no such word in dictionary though; the expression might be grammatically weird too. But it is this precise people-scape which makes Poush Mela a vibrant affair till date. Do these people have anything in common with Santiniketan- say with a Sahitya Sabha at Patha Bhavana, or with a seminar in Lipika Auditorium or even the Hala Karshana at Sriniketan? Nay- to be precise. It is incredible to find Visva Bharati still catering to the wish of Maharshi Devendranath Tagore to align with common folk, which Rabindranath Tagore tried to propagate in Santiniketan even though Santiniketan in itself is a pretty elite philosophical concept, which turned into a fairly sophisticated concept in the present time. Obviously Poush Mela is a contradiction to Santiniketan now, perhaps a welcome contradiction! It is good to find some kind of a bridge still to exist between Visva Bharati and the people around.