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Bonn's bonanza for India

The city of Bonn welcomed the summer with celebration of India at the annual cultural fest, writes Varupi Jain.

india Updated: Jun 27, 2006 18:43 IST

The city of Bonn welcomed the summer with the celebration of India at the annual cultural fest "Biennale Bonn".  

The festival was started eight years ago with various cultural events being packed around a central theme.

However, later the Director of the Bonn Opera and father of the new concept of Biennale Bonn, Klaus Weise switched over to a country or a city theme.

While it was New York in 2004, India was chosen as the focus country for 2006 -- only to add to the fizz which has already been created by many other events focusing on India like the Leipzig Book Fair and the Hannover Fair earlier this year. 
"The ground work for the Biennale was done by a group of Germans visiting different parts of India over a period of time," says Sudhanshu Pandey, Counsellor for Press, Information, Education and Culture at the Embassy of India in Berlin. 

On the opening day, Rajasthan was the popular flavour. The Kawa Brass Band, Jaipur which had come for playing with a local Jazz band, started a typical Indian procession from the Bonn Opera towards the City Town Hall in Bonn.

Dressed in colourful Rajasthani costumes, the band played popular Bollywood tunes and on its way, stopped at several places while its star artists charmed the enthusiastic audience with their jugglery skills.

Thirteen groups participated in the theatre category, including one Opera: Uttar Priyadarshi by Rttam Thiyam (Manipuri), The Alien by Matti Braun (in German), Midnight's Children by National School of Drama (in Hindi), Satyagraha by Philip Glass (Sanskrit), Pune Highway by Rahul da Cunha (in English), Centaurs directed by Anuradha Kapur (in Hindistani), Chokh Gyalo directed by Goutam Halder (in Bengali), the Mahabharata Project directed by Zuleikha Chaudhury (in English and Hindi), 16 Millimeter directed by Sangram Guha (in Bengali), Brahnalla by Veenapani Chawla (in English), Othello: A play in Black and White by Royten Abel (in English, Hindi and Assamese), Agra Bazaar by Habib Tanvir (in Urdu) and Ismat Aapa Ke Naam by Naseeruddin Shah (in Urdu).

Pandey narrates an interesting anecdote. Before the performance, in a chance meeting over breakfast with Naseeruddin Shah, Shah remarked to Pandey that "please do come to watch the performance and make sure that at least 10-15 people are there".

Finally, Shah performed to an over-packed hall of over 200 people and the audience engaged him in discussion for nearly an hour after the play.

Shah confessed that that he had only heard about the German curiosity and attention to details but this interaction evidenced how well informed and prepared the audience were and only confirmed this popular impression.

As for music and dance, the Sound of Silence by the Samudra Performing Arts (directed by Madhu Gopinath and Vakkom Sanjeev) from Kerala brought glimpses of contemporary Indian choreography while Bhakti by Angika brought along classical and popular trends in Spiritual Indian musica. On the folk side, the Bauls of Bengal enthralled the audience with their music and dance. 

The audience had a problem of plenty with so many performances and shows running simultaneously. "What is India" -- the podium discussion drew many more than the large hall could accommodate and many people were happy to simply stand and enjoy the debate with Pankaj Mishra and the German scholar Peter Pannke, a Dhrupad singer.

Among the reading events that were organized during Biennale Bonn, Vikram Seth received unprecedented response for his book "Two Lives" which is set in the Second World War period in Germany.

Seth's initial apprehension was relieved to see the audience's enthusiastic and even emotional response to reflections from an Indian author on this ever-sensitive topic in Germany.

Of course, what is fun without food? The spectators had the stalls of the Indian and German vegetarian and non-vegetarian food and drink running until midnight.


Every time I visit such multicultural performances especially outside India, I come back with a lingering thought. Come to think of it, what binds us? What brings us together? Do people from the most diverse backgrounds ever celebrate a rise in the Sensex?

Do we dance in the arms of people from the other half of the globe when geneticists in a remote lab locate a new gene? Or when semblances of life are discovered on another planet?

This is not to undermine the immense importance of these events for us. This is simply to say that everything notwithstanding, that which has the greatest power to bring humans together are still the basics of music, dance and food.

Things which separate us are sophisticated but those that bind us are disarmingly simple. Thousands of languages create little kingdoms of differences, but a smile is understood everywhere. We have a lot in common with the people we do not know -- we have our common baggage of emotions, our curiosity for others, our spirit to simply have a good time. 

Of course, what's binding millions across the planet right now -- from the Buddhist monks in Thailand to the scientists at NASA -- is the action, achievement and human excellence that soccer stands for. And we're all a part of this global party as we excitedly wait for the grand finale on July 9.

Surely the best will win.