PROLOGUE TO POUSH MELA 2013
PROLOGUE TO POUSH MELA 2013
This year I feel compelled to write a prologue to Poush Mela, because this is most probably the last year Poush Mela is being organized in the current format. Poush Mela 2014 will be a greatly downsized affair as per Sri Anil Konar, Secretary, Santiniketan Trust (the nodal body which conducts the Poush Mela). The Purva Palli play ground, where the exhibition stalls and the Baul & Fakir Akhraras that we find now, will be converted into a full scale play ground under control of Sports Department, Visva Bharati. The remaining area, the area from where Senjuti erects their stall (say) to the area where giant wheels are set up- will be available for the Poush Mela purpose from 2014 December onwards. And in that available area the exhibition stalls, including the exhibition stall by Visva Bharati will be shifted. So, the Mela Ground will effectively be halved, exhibition stalls and Baul & Fakirs would shift there and the typical commercial stalls set up by small traders will find no place as a natural consequence of space crunch. That is the basic idea that would come into force from 2014 December Posuh Mela. Naturally then Poush Mela will be a much low key affair, than the big hustle and bustle it is now. I would leave the qualitative evaluation of this decision to you all, but would rather focus on what Poush Mela was in earlier years with its myriad of activities. That is the chief reason behind penning down this prologue.
I would also prefer to naturally assume that, Basanta Utsava will eventually be held on that very truncated ground that would be available for Poush Mela, just adjacent to Bhubandanga.
Ofcourse it can not be vouched for, but knowing the Bengali people’s affinity for the ‘Jelabi’, I hope we would still find the Jelabi-Wallah very much alive even in future formats of Poush Mela. The Jelabi-wallah may just manage survival, but in greatly reduced numbers, we might be completely missing several others who were regular features of Poush Mela, that is a distinct possibility. So, naturally, this year my photographic attention will be greatly focused on these kinds of sellers, entertainers and visitors which we might miss henceforth.
To be honest, it is anybody’s guess which kind of people, items on sale and what kind of human interactions we would miss forever from Poush Mela ground. Going through the previous years photographs, I am compelled to wish that all of them survive, but in reality that would not be possible—some people, some activities and some trends are bound to be extinct henceforth.
The prospect of extinction of an unknown dimension makes me rather heavy hearted. Perhaps that is inevitable, perhaps not- in any case the moot point is Visva Bharati has now made itself un-available to foster these kinds of human activities within its area. Some would definitely say that it is a draconian move, some would on the contrary like to see Poush Mela downsized and conducted in a more serene and focused manner; I really do not know on which side I would like to belong. Actually, Poush Mela at Purvapalli is what I am accustomed to right from my childhood. The previous Vice Chancellor tried to kind of segregate the Poush Mela in two areas in Purva Palli ground, with a few selected stalls at the old Mela ground. The present Vice Chancellor Prof Sushanta Dattagupta is steadfast in keeping the core Ashrama area undisturbed in any occasion, has already shifted the Basanta Utsava venue to Purva Palli and now he has taken a decision to selectively downsize the Poush Mela from next year.
What I can easily foresee is that the rural community around Santiniketan will be the most vulnerable ones in this policy change. Santiniketan, being essentially an elite and suave area at present compared to its surroundings, would create its own kind of style statements in Poush Mela catering chiefly to the tastes that suits the mood of this elite class. It would be the natural consequence, rather than a contrived maneuver. We may find Poush Mela to become like the craft fairs held at Pragati Maidan Delhi. Well, even that might become un-achievable if not handled properly. This kind of a down sizing to be initiated by Visva Bharati has to be a very well chalked out exercise; it would be rather difficult to asses what to keep and what to discard. To get to the point-the exercise of downsizing will have to be handled very carefully with a sensitive approach to uphold the spirit of Santiniketan. We, the ex-students would ofcourse hope for the better.
If downsizing of Poush Mela implies lesser footfall, in fact it should be a natural consequence; it would make a host of activities commercially unviable. Then a lot of products would naturally vanish from Poush Mela, including its sellers and buyers. Many, hitherto, usual characters of Poush Mela should also vanish altogether. In that case, to get the feeling of a rural fair, we shall have to visit the Joydev Mela nearby. I am a regular to Joydev Mela and have found the rural spirit deeply embedded in Joydev Mela, but ofcourse one can not find the Dokra or Pata Chitra sellers there. So, some kind of unique identity for Poush Mela should be chalked out, with just that right blend of rural flavor. In very early days of Santiniketan, my grandfather, Lt Kalimohan Ghosh used to regularly visit Joydev Mela and invited selected sellers of rural & folk items to Poush Mela to create the perfect blend. A documented study of earlier Poush Melas and the Joydev Mela can be useful to chalk out a good plan for the down-sized Poush Mela.
The earlier photographs of Poush Mela, suddenly become very precious for me, as I do not know what to expect in future Poush Melas. Poush Mela 2013 is perhaps the last time we can have a good look at the current diverse flavor and my mind has already become photographically alert even a week before Poush Mela 2013.
Memories also are flooding back, that also right from my school days, when a group of school boys, draped in shawls would try our hand to steal odd items from the Mela stalls just out of fun. The sellers at those days had a tough time tackling a group of 10 such shawl-clad boys, heckling the seller with all sorts of queries. If suspected of foul intentions, we were also equally expert to vanish from the scene altogether within a blink of an eye. Though the stealing exercise is nothing really to boast about; but those were the times we learnt to carefully watch the myriad of items on sale at Poush Mela. From then onwards each year we could spot the newer items on sale, in fact watching the items on sale just out of curiosity became our habit- still an obsessing habit for me even after passing out from school for more that three decades!
The allotment of space for erecting stalls had always been a vexing affair in Poush Mela. Many stalls were resold with huge premiums to the actual sellers. From last year a computerized stall allotment process had been initiated, though it reduced the malpractice to some extent, the malaise could not be completely eradicated. Furthermore we have always found the Dokra and Pata Chitra artists selling their items on ground, as a regular stall were either beyond their means or booking such stalls was too complicated for them to handle. In the truncated space, I really do not know what would be their fate.
Going by the trend for last five or six years, or last decade say, it appears that Visva Bharati is definitely on a mode of ‘change’. Successive administration felt that some kind of ‘change for betterment’ is a necessity for this University to survive. In consequence ‘change’ has become a reality in Santiniketan now, only the pace of change seems to have become faster in later years. So, it is perhaps time for all of us to accept that ‘change’ will be a permanent feature of Santiniketan now onwards. Every quarter decade or so, things would change in Santiniketan in perspective and physical appearance. Theoritically speaking, it is an accepted fact that today an organization can not survive if it doesn’t learn to change, and change fast. Perhaps the same wise reality has become effective in Visva Bharati too.
By the same theory, the majority of people will be averse to change, as the future of that change remains greatly unknown. For us the ex-students, nostalgia and fond memories, makes us quite uncomfortable with change. And hence the change in Poush Mela might affect us hard, as un-officially Poush Mela is a place for re-union for a whole lot of us, a chance to get into direct contact with our contemporaries in Visva Bharati. For us, the charm of Poush Mela is not exactly a matter of how many items are on sale, but rather how many ex-students manage to visit Poush Mela. If Poush Mela becomes a drab affair, our spirit will also sag.
There are many sellers who do not have a permanent establishment, but just hop on from one fair to another. That is their precise profession. Poush Mela may not be a place to touch on in their itinerary from next year. There are many such sellers who are attending this fair for decades. I know a earthen pot-seller, who comes from Jharkhand. Now a rather old man of 70, he attended Poush Mela with his grand-parent as a kid. It was amazing to talk with him about the olden days. These folks have an association with Poush Mela much beyond our association with Poush Mela. I would really feel very sorry if I can not locate him in Poush Mela hence-forth.
Are we becoming insensitive to such people? Or such associations are bound to snap as we have now become more sophisticated in our approach to perceive life in Santiniketan? Somehow, some where along, threads of life is getting continuously snapped. We, in Santiniketan, have already become fairly dislocated from the rural setting all around both in money power and in temperament. The only thread of interaction that still survives is the Poush Mela. A foot fall of around a lakh people in Santiniketan during these days have already become a suffocating pressure for the administration of Visva Bharati to handle with grace, hence the decision of down-sizing appears convenient for Visva Bharati. But in consequence many threads of human inter-relation will be snapped for ever- a very disturbing reality.
Perhaps the change will be for the better. From next time may be only the rural artisans and traders will be the focus of Visva Bharati, rather than the corporate stalls. In fact a very careful handling can give the Poush Mela the desired flavor of much yester years, when the Poush Mela was held in the smaller ground in front of Kanch Mandir. I am not too sure, but most probably in early sixties the Poush Mela got shifted to Purva Palli ground from the ground at the north of Kanch Mandir. Perhaps we would get back the flavor of 50s in POush Mela from 2014 onwards. Can that be possible? Well, its anybody’s guess.
Naturally, the move by Visva Bharati to down-size Poush Mela must be an well thought out exercise, probably suggested by none other than the High Level Committee headed by Sri Gopal Gandhi. In fact that is the basic document on which Visva Bharati suddenly started to initiate changes rather dramatically in the last half decade or so. As a result, so far, what we have got is a plethora of fences and walls to clearly specify the University area, a much cleaner and nice looking (a bit modernistic though) campus area, huge construction of new Bhavanas and hostels, creating some thrust areas like the Esraj initiative within Sangit Bhavana- or a thrust on Integrated Science and the composite language section and of course shifting of Basanta Utsava to Purva Palli ground. The effects of such changes are at this moment pretty drastic and at times confusing, as an example the new esraj initiative failed to attract a single student this year, where as a virtual mini fair gets staged near Siksha Bhavana on the day of admission test for Science. The exact effect of such changes will be apparent after a decade or so, at a time, when such changes can not be undone. So, like as always, Visva Bharati is perpetually on a tricky ground, and we do not know what exactly to expect in future.
In short, it is fairly apparent that ‘change’ is the mantra which a rather slow moving University like Visva Bharati has now embraced with fair degree of eagerness. We may soon find a futuristic Visva Bharati eager to move ahead from the legacy of the past. At least the trend suggests so, in spite of very good intentions of upholding the Tagorean Principles of the Philosophy of Education. In fact now, it has become extremely difficult to practically visualize the great Tagorean Principles for ordinary folks like us- just forget about the implementation. Every step by Visva Bharati is bound to be confronted with criticism, as the consequence of such steps vis-à-vis Tagore’s original vision can not be ascertained by mortals like us. So, the dilemma lingers. The only good (or bad?) thing that is visible these days is that Visva Bharati is willing to take a few steps into future for good (or worse?). At least the days of slumber is over under the present Vice Chancellor Professor Sushanta Dattgupta.
I hope the child here, amongst all of us, will be able to naturally traverse along with his innocence to probe into this world, just as we did. As kids, that was the greatest bliss we inherited in Santiniketan. Life- after all is always a very interesting phenomenon, be it in Santiniketan or elsewhere.