Swinging with the flooded memories of Poush Mela, I was leafing through the images I captured at random from 2008 onwards, trying to fathom what this particular yearly event actually means.
In 2008, when Poush Mela was bifurcated to the old fair ground in front of the Upasana Mandir, I found Shyamali Khastagir & members of Karusangha vibrantly engaged. Some of them have left us forever. Along with them some distinct flavours of Santiniketan also evaporated. I do miss them, along with you. The same fate awaits many of us, and yet Poush Mela resurfaces with new vigour every year. That is the real spirit of life for us to cherish at Santiniketan, but, yes, at times with quite a few pangs.
The serene invoking of Poush Mela in an ever drooling ambiance of Santiniketan ultimately transforms into a very mobile congregation of people from all over, with their noise and dust and spillovers. School children, leaving their childhood, tentatively step on to the world of graduation.
Uncertainties would soon become realities to reckon with, characters will go for huge transformations, and eventually the future citizens of India will emerge. The new generation treads on this world graced with fair amount of exciting unpredictability with the essentials of Santiniketan embedded in them. All our best wishes to the Gen X of Santiniketan.
Personally, I remain steadfastly fond of the flower tucked ladies. This is naturally a heady concoction, first of all – a lady, then- along with flowers; so I think I have a legitimate photographic excuse here! But, I really lament that I did not have a camera in my college days, when I had quite a few lovely girl friends who would have gladly posed for me on such occasions. These days I have to go for stealth photography; and when noticed, the girls hardly appreciate the discerning photographer with plenty of white strands of hair. But still I sustain their frown and try to get the best angle of the flower tucked lady!
Images of Poush Mela do shift off from the beautiful ladies to a myriad of human activities. Much earlier there was some coherence between all images, Poush Mela being basically a rural fair those days. Today it is a hot bed of mixture of rural & urban, with many mixed matches, and mismatches. In short, along with symphony, there is fair amount of cacophony in Poush Mela.
We have learnt to accept Poush Mela within such mismatches; in fact such contrasts have now become the essence of almost all the rural fairs in India. India after all is a huge assembly of contrasts in all formats, spiritual and material. That’s how life really is around Santiniketan, full of contrasts, in living style, mindset and behaviour.
Infact in all such fairs, whether it is Joydev Mela at Kenduli or Maha Kumbh Mela at Prayag these contrasts genuinely baffle the spectators. What to seek within this mixture of textures remains a perpetual wonder! But, I reckon, that is the fun, India is. Among these wide permutation and combinations of mixtures we breathe the essence Indian life, that is!
Spiritual survival, once ever so dear to the Indian psyche, is still persistent among the younger generation, whether they can perceive it consciously or not. The psyche eventually gets into the Indian mind. Words also ultimately fail to adequately express the fine detachment that puts one on to the plateau of formless. The plateu offers enough space and peace for every individual of India. Spirituality essentially hovers around, only for us to recognize and cherish. Poush Mela always manages to pull a few strings of spirituality for the sensitive ones.
Otherwise visualizing Poush Mela is a complex phenomenon. In fact it is a big jigsaw puzzle which I fail to solve each time. The divergent interests that decide the commercial structure of the fair is truly amazing. One should not have any doubt, that in business terms, Poush Mela is a no nonsense commercial activity. By a thumb rule calculation the turnover should be at least 5 Crore INR by very conservative estimates. If the related activities of Hotel, Transport, food etc are taken into account, the total turnover could easily be at around 15 Crore INR. The actual figure, if anyone decides to go for a detailed estimate, can actually surprise many.
Silpa Sadana, Visva Bharati this year (2015AD) displayed a woven Tasar Silk Scroll which appeared beautiful. But it was not for commercial sale. The subtle and typical Visva Bharati taste made me an ardent fan of such a lovely craftworks, and I would have really liked to buy quite a few of them. Those could have been very selective gift items for me. On the other hand, the ceramic cup with the ‘Udayana’ imprinted with Visva Bharati logo, incidentally which looked more like a beer mug, baffled me to a great extent. Though the ‘beer mugs’ were for sale, I was in no mood to purchase any of those!
The world of craft, sometimes displayed with style, at times just too casually, is still a mesmerizing experience in Poush Mela. In fact each year I plan to photograph the craft items and give some dedicated time for that, but each year I get exhausted at the variety of items and the job remains unfinished till date! One of the problems is that there is no exclusive craft zone in Poush Mela; the craft works are dispersed all over, punctuated with all sorts of other kind of stalls. It would have been great if Visva Bharati could create an exclusive craft zone in Poush Mela to encourage some dedicated buyers.
In any case, Visva Bharati this year 2015 had a very tight control on use of mikes and sound boxes; resulting in a noise pollution free Poush Mela. It was a huge respite, and we could talk with our friends normally without a cracked voice chord! Kudos to Visva Bharati for this great effort.
There are some hallmark items in Poush Mela. The mind boggling number of these hard sweets was a part of Poush Mela at least for last 40 years in my own observed period. Certainly they were there in earlier decades too. The story remains same for the bangles too. Sweets and bangles do amply convey a combined sense of festivity; the males and kids would like the sweets and the ladies will go for the bangles- just as simple as that! Some trends hardly change in life.
But some things do change; and change rather drastically. We were so used to find the soap bubble blower pumping out air through mouth to create the bubbles; but in 2015 I find a pistol like plastic toy blowing out the soap bubbles at ease, that also of various shapes and sizes with ability to create complex multiple bubbles! So, like the hand driven Nagor Dola succumbing to the motor driven giant wheels, the manual soap bubble blower is on verge of extinction, naturally. We may not find them in next Poush Mela
Even 10 years back, that’s a decade only, both the mannequins and the ‘bohurupi’ were not to be found in Poush Mela. But now they have become a part and parcel of the fair, blending into the scene, creating contrasts in their own language. This fairly recent innovation, however, has managed to gel well with the general mood of the fair.
People and times have changed as well. Through the looking glass that we observed Poush Mela; the younger generation now does not belong to those co-ordinates.
The Santal families have changed perceptibly in recent decade. Sometimes I wonder if life has ever been stuck at the old flavour? Most probably not, life has always been in a transitory mode, ever changing, ever evolving to newer dimensions. But uncontrolled change generally creates a chaos. So, Poush Mela is bound to change over time, but the change needs to be directional. Here, the problem with large crowd gathering is tastes and preferences tend to get mixed up. Poush Mela at this point of time appears to be a mixed up event, a bit of everything put together, with the change so far being uncontrolled.
As a child who could avoid huge temptations to such absurd shows! Till date I remain steadfastly attracted to such crazy stuff like electric girls (as if girls are not electrifying otherwise!), headless fairies, the street smart magicians so on and so forth. The taste of absurdity is still present in Poush Mela, at the very last row- the weirdest row with crazy guys thronging the area. That part of the fair remains the most vibrant, as always.
Poush Mela is just the place to bump head on with old mates. Take for example Anadi and Nandini Mukherjee, at present hardcore scientists of Stanford University. I met them few years back after nearly 30 years and do not really know if I would ever meet them again! Nandini has ofcourse sent a slightly advanced 2016 best wishes by e-mail, to which still I have not responded! I reckon I would forward this article to her! It is really crazy to correspond with Ama (Nandini) over e-mail, when for nearly 10 long years we got back home from Patha Bhavana together almost every other day! And then Anadi, now with whitish beards, whom we all envied a lot in our college days, as he only, possessed the full Feynman Lectures Series on Quantum Physics presented to him by his father! What a lucky chap he was!
Then again, after her retirement from Patha Bhavana, I lost all touch with Urmiladi, though she lives in Santiniketan. Many times I wished to visit her home, but that never materialized. In Poush Mela 2015 I bumped into her, just to say ‘Urmiladi, bhalo achen?’ It was a wonderful relief and joy.
In this respect Poush Mela still remains a very interesting prospect for bumping onto old acquaintances.
Images are so varied that it is really difficult to compile. This is the last occasion when I am reporting on Poush Mela in general. From next year I would prefer to be subject specific, hoping that I get enough time to dig into that subject. The sub plots of a fair are always very intriguing.
The rural focus of Poush Mela is genuinely getting marginalized; but then strictly commercially speaking nothing exactly is ‘exclusively rural’ in India now. Products have free flowed from the urban to the rural and vice versa, the pattern of commerce changed dramatically, aluminum and plastic products have now hugely replaced the earthen products so on and so forth.
Craft has a different aspect altogether. Here the ideal equation should be rural sellers and the urban buyers. So, in no way Poush Mela can revert back to a rural extravaganza any more. It would be a welcome gesture from Visva Bharati if an exclusive craft zone can be created in Poush Mela.
So, after a long deliberation, with loads of stories left out, I am extremely thankful to you all for going through this rather longish article. Hope we meet again in next Poush Mela 2016.
Happy 2016 to all. It is now time for the Nolen Gur!