While you're horsing around at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival this week, here are some of the people sweating it out so you have a good time.
An estimated 1.5 lakh people will visit the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival this year. They'll shop, eat, take in performances, attend readings, participate in workshops, go on heritage tours and discuss new ideas. Few will realise that the 400 events offered up to them were put together by a team of volunteers, curators with regular day jobs and members of the non-profit Kala Ghoda Association.
I've never attended a full event in 15 years Of KGAF: festival director Brinda Miller
Nine days, 400 events. It must be stressful… people know we're not out to make money. When we started, we'd go on stage to ask for help and barely two hands would go up. Now people beg us to be part of it. I think the chairman, Maneck Davar probably has the most stressful job – he handles the BMC and licenses. As for the people backstage, it is almost like they don't sleep for nine days. My phone rings continuously. The first two days are the worst – we don't sleep at all! Then, things settle in and the volunteers start enjoying the programmes. Not me though. I'm in 15 places at once. Hop, hop, hop – every evening I'm hopping.
So you get to see everything.
No! I haven't seen anything fully ever at the festival. I haven't been on a single heritage walk! It's only when I'm watching the last concert on the last day that I take my first deep breath of the fortnight.
And yet you return next year.
Over the years I've learned how to deal with people. I think I've already earned an honorary MBA in people management! I have to thank the people of Mumbai because they are so, so disciplined and wonderful. When I walk down the street at the festival, people shake my hand. That's when I feel, "Ok this is not a thankless job."
– Rachel Lopez
No book launches: KGAF offers debates and discussions instead
At the literature events, Kaiwan Mehta and Ranjit Hoskote see themselves as curators, not booking clerks. They choose to focus on genres which don't get as much public attention.
This is your second year as curators. What makes you do it?
Kaiwan Mehta: The KGAF is now one of the largest city and art festivals in the world. But it didn't have to mean there is no scope of doing anything strong or good or creative or crucial. Ranjit [Hoskote] decided not to do book launches. We aren't booking clerks, slotting events into sessions.
Ranjit Hoskote: We were fairly definite about not including certain genres – popular literature, for instance. With no disrespect to bestsellers or people who do well in popular genres, we wanted to focus on what doesn't get as much public attention.
Doesn't this exclude some of the audience then?
Hoskote: Of the 52 panels this year, most are designed as discussions or debates or go fairly deep into a question that has public urgency. We discussed security of women in public space last year. We've consciously looked for people whose practice covers literature and other things – Nasreen Munni Kabir writes on cinema, Arun Khopkar is a filmmaker.
We were also keen to have a five-language model – Marathi, Hindi, English, Gujarati, Urdu – as it corresponds to the nature of the city. We have it this year.
Mehta: People have been pleasantly surprised. Last year, a couple of them told us they'd come every day at 5pm and leave at 10pm. Everything was of interest to them or they made themselves available to the interest of everything.
– Rachel Lopez
"Organising heritage walks 10 times more fun than participating"
For the gang behind the Heritage tours, showing people a different side of the city is worth the trouble. And as personal histories merge with the public one, the curators take back as much as they share.
What makes an Andheri resident curate heritage walks in Fort?
Kruti Garg (co-curator): As a conservation architect, my study is related to history and heritage. So even if I lived in Vashi, I'd be connected to this part of Bombay. This is the core, where the city's 200-year history begins. Our trails cover more than architectural styles. You can see Bombay through its stained glass, even its food. Yes, I call it Bombay.
What happens on a tour?
Garg: Much of our job involves giving the right information within the time we have. But people always want more. They're all over you. They don't want to miss a thing. So volunteers manage the crowd. We once had 100 people, so we split them into two groups, turning a 90-minute walk into a three-hour one. Still, no one moved, no one complained. They're wonderful!
Pervin Mistry (bus tour guide): Everyone's having fun! They love seeing the monuments from a different point of view and…
Apoorva Nanjangud (volunteer): …their eyes light up when they learn something new. One thing they all want is to stop for a photo op with the structures. We keep saying, "Ok. Two minutes".
Mohit Hirlekar (volunteer): Organising is 10 times more fun than attending! People look at you and go, "Oh, we have just one hour, but you see these beautiful places every day."
The hardest part of doing tours?
Anne Thomas P (volunteer): It can get overwhelming. If a tour is full we tell people they can still follow us if we're audible. They do and you see them strain to hear the guides. Hirlekar: Yeah, the worst thing is to say no to someone because a tour is full. Many come with kids and you see the disappointment on all their faces. I say "Come tomorrow"; they tell me they're on the train to their hometown that night. At that moment, I really want to pull out someone from the bus and give them a spot. Of course, we don't do that!
What's changed over the years?
Mistry: We've gone from 40 people to 100 on each tour. Garg: Often personal history mixes with city history when people tell you their own stories. So I take back as much as I give. It's the best feeling of all.
– Rachel Lopez
Just for kids: it's a vibrant mini-festival In Itself
Even 18-month-olds sign up for the events, says Kids events curator Nuriya Ranijiwala Rao. The most challenging part is to provide something for everyone in terms of age group, interests and abilities.
What's the best part about doing kids' events?
It's a 'mini KGAF' because you get all the arts here. The crowds have multiplied tremendously, and now, the most challenging thing is to provide enough activities, so that most children get a chance to participate in the workshop they choose. There should be something for everyone in terms of age group, interests and abilities. You also need to keep school timings in mind: so weekday workshops start after 3pm. Weekend activities are open to all age groups.
What goes on backstage?
From July onwards, the members juggle time with their day job to meet once a month. We get in touch with experts from various backgrounds, as well as organisations related to the education or welfare of children. KGAF's popularity means many organisations now offer to conduct workshops.
Your best memory at KGAF? I conducted a workshop called 'Do The Chhau' (a mask and dance event) last year. I showed the kids how to make large Chhau masks, and then they were shown a few Chhau steps by a dance teacher. Finally, we led our vibrant troupe on to the main street where they performed to the beats of a live dhol in the midst of the crowd. It was a spectacular sight! Also a group of four to five kids arrive on the first day and attend almost two workshops a day! I've seen them grow up over six years.
- Mignonne Dsouza
From HT Brunch, February 2
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