Armed with a DSLR camera, Yash Chavan, 19, is photographing a bunch of boisterous youngsters posing with installations at the HT Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. All is good, until one of them leans against the art work, causing it to sway slightly.
Like a cop in an action film, Chavan flashes his ‘volunteer’ ID and asks them politely but sternly not to manhandle the installation.
“It’s my job. But, most importantly, it’s disrespect to the days of hard work that has gone into making this piece of art,” he says. “I love being a volunteer at this festival because it gives me this sense of responsibility towards organising something so magnificent,” adds the law student from ILS Law College, Pune.
Each September, festival director Brinda Miller begins the momentous task of going through all the e-mail applications she receives from enthusiastic people who want to be associated with the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival.
“We usually shortlist a few after talking to them over the phone or through Facebook and then invite them for our meetings. That is when we realise how invested they really are in this and finalise the ones who will stay,” says Miller. This year, a total of just 48 volunteers are making it all happen across the 15 sections of the fest, and they range in age from 19 to 56.
The oldest member of the team of volunteers is Malathi Khembhavi, 56, who walked up to Miller in 2006, during the festival, and asked if she could be a part of it. “Those days it was just a small group of folk artistes who performed at Rampart Row with a handful of stalls and no chairs to even sit. But even back then it had a charm of its own and I knew I had to be a part of it,” Khembhavi says. Since then, Khembhavi who works with the NGO Concern India Foundation, makes it a point to take all nine days off to be a part of the festival. “I’ve rescheduled vacations several times and even told my kids that they better not get married in February,” she laughs.
Nikita Shrawagi, 23, who has just graduated in architecture from Mumbai’sLS Raheja College, feels this is the ideal way for her to combine her love for liberal arts and her skills in managing people. “The coordination calls begin at 10.30 am and go on till 11 pm and I really have never seen myself multitasking this way before. But I’ve just met so many people and made so many friends along the way, that I feel I have discovered a newer, more confident me,” she says.
This is the first time Pune college student Aakash More, 23, is volunteering at the festival and he is loving every moment, although he has had to make a few sacrifices. “From travelling for almost two hours to get to the venue from Thane, where I’m staying, to being on my feet all day, handling last minute schedule changes, a phone battery that is always threatening to die on me and battling extreme exhaustion by the end of the day, I’ve realised being a KGAF volunteer is not a cake walk. But I am also taking home the experience of a lifetime,” he says. “Telling people that I have been associated with the festival, is a matter of prestige not just in Mumbai but in Pune too.”