POUSH MELA 2013
POUSH MELA 2013
Honestly speaking I was not in the right frame of mind to absorb Poush Mela 2013, for several reasons. First of all I was a bit frustrated as the Lalbandh Butterfly Project remains an uncertain reality right now due to fencing issues. The dhobis need to be relocated from there and people barred from using the place as public latrine or a place to go for clandestine boozing parties after dusk. Vice Chancellor has assured me of some action, but time, the scarcest commodity, in the meanwhile is fleeting fast.
In between I was mildly rebuked by Professor Sushanta Dattgupta for posting an unqualified blog regarding downsizing of Poush Mela and specifically about the Esraj Initiative ( link-http://muktodhara.org/?p=2987) in this website only. Personally the rebuke appeared mild to me, but professionally speaking it can be a stiff warning. The source of information gleaned by me was from those very persons involved with those specific tasks, and I was a bit taken aback at the information being un-qualified. I really do not know if I was irresponsible or the men who supplied me the information were too casual; or if this is the official procedure through which a large organization works. Suddenly I realize that this website ‘Muktodhara’ is not actually a personal blog; but a kind of e-publication which can get seriously noticed. For example, Sri Anil Konar, Secretary Santiniketan Trust (the nodal body conducting Poush Mela) got promptly contacted by Times of India for clarifying the downsizing of Poush Mela issue.
All these made my mind rather hazy even before stepping on the fair ground. Furthermore 22 of the 51 classmates of 1975 Patha Bhavan batch of mine were at their lively best. They came to attend the Patha Bhavana Reunion 2013 held on 22 December. The terrific propulsion to gel again with old friends and old flames made Poush Mela almost a secondary event. I just tried to squeeze out every iota of time and enjoy.
In course of the article it will be amply evident that the exquisite elements of Poush Mela are essentially folk in nature. Apart from folk the plenty of surplus that is a part of Poush Mela is non-descript items at best. Purely photographically speaking, the search for element of ‘character’ in Poush Mela ground would be a fairly confining experience around the performing stage for Bauls, Manasamangal etc and the craftsmen spread all over the ground. I wonder if craftsmen from Bengal and from other states can be invited by Poush Mela Committee to set up stalls, rather than lying scattered all over the ground amid the dust of lakhs of footfall. They certainly deserve better treatment by a university like Visva Bharati. It will not be a bad idea if corporate houses sponsor such stalls. Many ex-students working in several corporate houses can easily be requested to streamline such activity. Personally, I feel, the craftsmen in Poush Mela certainly deserve a better treatment from an art & craft elite university like Visva Bharati.
It is also interesting to note that all the items on photograph in this article are essentially time tested items. They were part of Poush Mela from old bygone days. Few rare expressions of craft of recent times can match the aesthetic charm of earlier days. In short it is essentially the old flavor which still manages to create some sort of an exclusive and exquisite parameter for Poush Mela. Newer expression of artifacts or commercial ventures hardly added anything to the ‘character’ factor of Poush Mela. In fact the newer expressions just added to the confusion, a true representation of the confused society in which we live these days.
The overall aesthetic sense of the photographs posted here appears to be a very finely poised in time. Hovering in an unknown direction between the past and present it is for us to decide the aesthetic statement of society and culture we want to embrace in Poush Mela. Either such activities need to be promoted, or the confusing modernization of Poush Mela curbed, to add some definite attitude to the character of Poush Mela. This has been said before too, perhaps umpteen times, by almost all and sundry. It is surprising that Poush Mela Committee, Santiniketan Trust or for that matter Visva Bharati hardly did anything conclusive about this.
Though Vice Chancellor Professor Sushanta Dattgupta might not like to be explicit on the issue of downsizing or re-structuring of Poush Mela in a selective manner, the idea however remains very much relevant. In course of time it will be in-evitable, but we do not know how and when it will be acted upon.
I would like to put up a definite note here that I visited Maha Kumbh Mela 2013 at Prayag on a day where footfall was as high as three crore, but Kumbh Mela was still much cleaner than Poush Mela. One of the key reason of Kumbh Mela being cleaner was that the food stalls, the chief perpetrators of waste of all dimensions, were strictly confined to selected pockets and not allowed to spread all over the Mela ground. No roaming seller of food items, including coffee and tea was allowed. The idea can be seriously pursued by Poush Mela authorities to keep the fair ground easy to clean up. Incidentally, in last few years Visva Bharati has taken up a commendable drive to keep the fair ground clean; but it can be made even better if food stalls can be restricted to a definite area.
I managed some photographs, while the photographer was pretty pre-occupied with other thoughts as discussed right at the start, the frame of mind was not too clear about the frames. Still I tried to record the glimpses of Poush Mela which I felt interesting and worthwhile to record; and simply avoided or rather deleted photographs which appeared devoid of any ‘character’ to me. ‘Character’ – well, that is a desperately sought out quality in society today, whether consciously or sub-consciously. The definition of ‘character’ may differ from mindsets to mindsets; but still we remain fond of uniqueness and character in all spheres of life. Poush Mela should not be an exception too. You may call this photographic journey a search for defining some sort of ‘character’ for Poush Mela- well only as far as I could decipher!
This year I was intrigued much by the Krishnanagar earthen dolls, many of them depicting daily chores of life in rural Bengal. Though a number of stalls were selling earthen dolls, mostly of deities, only two of them had these rural flavors at offer. Costing at about Rs120/- per piece at the peak fair days, the intricately crafted items were real beauties. This is an interesting topic which can be developed with almost unlimited possibilities. I was wondering if these craftsmen could be invited to Patha Bhavana or Siksha Satra to conduct workshops as in this case the craftsmen belonged to a nearby place.
Bauls and Fakirs were always at their colourful abundance in Poush Mela. With permission to sing one song on stage, the performances naturally were of varied standard. The huge influence of Tabla, the all pervasive percussion instrument, however transformed the rhythm of their music to something slightly different; the sparingly used harmonium too tried to make the songs melodious at all costs. Strictly musically speaking it is the percussion instrument which maintains the distinct character of folk music; any manipulation is bound to result in a shift of character. Though Tabla is used now in Fakir & Baul music for more than a decade now, to us the old timers, used to listen to Purna Das & Sanatan Das Baul in Baul akharas for hours the shift in musical character remains fairly discernible. The odd thing is couple of years back there was a great furor over the violin being used by the Fakirs’ while no body raised any voice about Tabla & Harmonium. As far as I can remember from my cognizable childhood from mid 60s I have always found the fakirs using the violin in their own inimitable form. How suddenly violin became a debarred instrument was incomprehensible. Thankfully such idiotic ban was lifted soon. In the 60s Tabla & Harmonium was unheard of in Baul & Fakir renditions.
This is a snap of the Mansamangal rendition. The chief musical story teller was weaving a story of the six widowed daughter in laws of Chand Saudagar, who were manipulated to offer their prayers to Ma Manasa to get their husbands back alive. The story teller quickly transformed him into the widowed ladies dressed as married ones and went for lady like jigs along with heart rendering songs on the pangs of widowhood. It was a mesmerizing act. No doubt Chand Saudagar had to compromise his strong Saivaite stance and incorporate Ma Manasa as a deity under sever pressure from his six widowed daughter-in-laws. He was ultimately happy to get his sons back alive.
Incidentally, I have read & heard many interviews by eminent personalities and ex-students of Santiniketan about the Poush Mela turning into a corporate affair, rather than an art & craft fair. This year also similar statements were crammed into media. The interesting part is that none of these statement makers could be found near Baul, Fakir or Kirtan rendition stage, as in all other years, only a scarce few like us will loiter around the place for hours. The Vice Chancellor ofcourse attended such programs on fair ground sporadically for about an hour each with university dignitaries accompanying him
The snap above is of a blind Kirtan singer. Being a blind, he definitely had to literally learn performing by heart. The tremendous ability to remember and perform Kirtan with plenty of on the spot innovation always amazed me. In modern terms Rap Music seems to me just a less refined version of the story telling abilities of these Kirtanias- well, may be it is a wild musical observation, and at the same time can be a fairly relevant musical observation too. I was truly amazed by the background musician creating fascinating sounds similar to Sehnai using a comb only! As Kirtans melodies have some foundation in classical Ragas, it was incredible to find a mere vibration in a comb covered by ordinary piece of paper creating music in near classical texture!
Many such stories can be etched out of Poush Mela. As explained previously, I was not in the right frame of mind to capture Poush Mela which I wished to, yet images kept flooding in. The images I cherished form the spine of this article; other kind of images just did not suit the blend and was discarded. The number of discards however outweighed the number of selected ones. So, this is a rather choosy depiction of Poush Mela. To the general reader Poush Mela is not exactly this, but a huge mixture of many other colours not consonant with the colour portrayed here. Maybe sometime in future we shall deliberate on the discordant colours too.
Among the new entrants this year the girl with skipping ropes was a great creation. The dynamics were really praise worthy. I was quite piqued by the ‘Santiniketan Alur Dom’. If transcribed into Bengali ‘Alu’, ‘Santiniketan’ & ‘Dom’ all can concoct into all sorts of significant expressions! The phrase ‘Santiniketan Alur Dom’ appeared pretty interesting to me! Accordingly ‘Ganesh Baul’ or more appropriately Ganesh Das Baul was a fresh idea this year. Ganesh has been manifest in so many avatars that one (perhaps Lord Ganesha himself too) is bound to lose all counts; even then Ganesh Dada Baul was certainly a new entrant, at least in Poush Mela.
Poush Mela certainly has its own grace- a facet very close to our heart. The charm can be infectious enough to draw the spectators year after year. The intricate human interaction invariably create a maze of beauty lovely to traverse. In spite of everything what-so-ever, Visva Bharati must be profoundly thanked to keep the spirit of congregation alive at 119th year of Poush Mela.