How many volunteers would you say are behind the grand event that is the HT Kala Ghoda Arts Festival? Go ahead, venture a guess… It’s 18. That’s right, there are less than one score people running around helter-skelter making it all happen.
“Every day, you go to sleep tired but wake up happy,” as literature volunteer Hena Kapadia, 26, puts it.
Volunteer Joel Roy sets up the stage for a workshop at the Darbar Hall, Asiatic Library. (Vidya Subramanian/HT photo)
“What makes it fun is that there is so much colour here. You don’t see that every day,” says children’s workshops volunteer Aarti Gambhir, 30, who is training to be a teacher. “And you meet so many interesting people every day of the fest, people from such different walks of life.”
It is this opportunity to take a break from the humdrum and the everyday, and meet people one would otherwise not encounter, that draws most of the festival’s army of volunteers back to the art district every year.
That, and the promise of adventure. After all, the volunteers get a ringside view of the festival that few others experience, and take home stories of backstage shenanigans that keep them and their friends envious and entertained until the next edition rolls around.
At a children’s event over the weekend, for instance, one volunteer panicked because it seemed like they had not enough food to give the kids.
“What do we do?” she shrieked. “Oh, don’t worry,” added a zen-like colleague, “I set some boxes of sandwiches aside for just such an emergency.” It turned out the boxes she had set aside had caused the shortfall, and it made for much laughter — once the situation was resolved.
“Working here gives you a great sense of community and that’s why I plan to keep coming back,” said Kapadia. “Backstage, we do everything, right from dealing with late arrivals and keeping the crowds calm to stuffing bags with gifts to meeting and greeting important accomplished speakers. There is no hierarchy.”
Prep for the Hindustan Times Kala Ghoda Arts Festival starts in July the previous year; by October, all volunteers had been assigned to their sections. By December, preparations are in full swing. “We are constantly attending meetings and coordinating on SMS and email,” says Rhea Bhambani, 19, a first-time volunteer assigned to the food section.
This year, the volunteers range in age from 19 to 55, each one as enthusiastic as the next. Most of the volunteers are students and young professionals, taking leave from college and work to gain some ‘life experience’.
“I’ve realised that the main thing is to handle everyone with diplomacy,” says engineering student Omkar Kashikar, 21. “I’ve learnt to do it all with a smile and a nod.”
Another thing you learn, adds Joel Roy, 29, a volunteer with the urban design and architecture section, is that nothing goes according to plan.