Most people celebrate Holi by applying gulal and pouring buckets of coloured water on each other. But students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) celebrate this vibrant festival with a dramatic twist.
On Saturday night, the eve of the festival, the university will host Chaat Sammelan — their annual cultural meet. “The sammelan starts around 8pm. A baraat procession starts from Tapti hostel to Jhelum hostel. A groom is chosen and then made to sit on a donkey or horse or even a camel at times.
The president of Tapti hostel is appointed the father of the groom. The chosen groom is then given the title of Chaat Samrat,” says Faiz Ashrafi, a student of JNU. Ashrafi will play the role of bride’s tau (paternal uncle) in the sammelan. Before the competition starts, participants take a pledge in the name of the ‘Chaat Maharaja’ that they will remain a chaat throughout their lives.
Earlier, the sammelan was held inside Jhelum hostel, but now, it takes place at the lawns. “The most ‘chaat’ person wins this event. A chaat person usually means someone who can bore people. But here, we refer to a person, who can entertain people intellectually. Vulgarity or sexist comments are not allowed in this sammelan,” informs Ashrafi.
Besides JNU students, the alumni also participate in the sammelan, though they are not a part of the competition. One such performer is Shahzad Ibrahim, popularly known as Mamu on campus. “I started this sammelan in early 90s and I go there to perform every year. Last year, I was dressed in red bandages and this year, I will be dressed as a dhongi baba (quack saint),” says Ibrahim, who now runs a dhaba on campus. “Mamu is the star chaat here. He is just unique and every year, comes dressed in one whacky outfit or the other. No one can be a bigger chaat than Mamu and no one is allowed to judge him, as he is a veteran. Mamu has won the maximum number of sammelans,” says a student of JNU, who didn’t want to be named. “The festival is a part of JNU tradition and is great fun. Decade-old stories of chaat sammelans are still doing the rounds,” says Sushant, a PhD student at JNU.
The winner gets whacky prizes. Sometimes, they get a box of ghujiya prepared at Mamu ka dhaba and sometimes, a box with an old shoe in it!