She is everywhere. He is there too. The lights are bright. The clothes are too. The talk is frothy. The music is too. The circle goes round and around. And they do too. It’s all very beautiful. The city is too. It’s Chandigarh, you know. With a soft ‘d’. Listen in.
“Are you going to be there?” she asks. He does not know about the ‘there’ that she is talking about. But he does, he pretends. “Of course, I am going to be there!” he says. She leaves. He dives back into his phone. Her Facebook posts help him know what she’s talking about. A fair, somewhere. He digs some more. It’s going to have ware stalls, food, booze, music, and the works. He ‘likes’ it, then presses ‘going’ on the ‘event’ page. He is in!
What about the fair, are you wondering? It’s that same place where milkshakes sell at the price of single malt, and single malt sells at the price of gold; where shorts are seriously short, long dresses are longer than long, tight T-shirts are seriously tight, and beards are beards, seriously. Where women look like fairies or hippies, and men look like bouncers or hippies. Yes, it does have some of those who look like neither, the Invisible People who ensure that Island Beautiful remains an island and beautiful.
The newest island — or fair — is close to the city’s lake. Behind the lake, actually, where you’ll otherwise find fitness junkies, or real junkies, doing their thing. Other such islands have been floated in hotels, and some in sprawling resorts at the city periphery. There used to be only one such fair, once upon a time. Now there so many fairs, it seems unfair.
Not as unfair, though, as buying an allegedly interesting table-lamp made with an empty bird cage, a foot-long steel pipe, and a stack of books — for a five-figure price. Competition is supposed to bring down prices, or so said Suhel Seth at the Kasauli lit fest once. He is supposed to be smart. But, here, competition seems to be over who can be more expensive.
But, well, what do philistines know of art and its many facets? They have more immediate concerns.
Back in the old times, when there used to be just one such fair, life was easier. All you had to do was, fall sick for the office, wear your best-yet-causal-yet-effortless-yet-chic clothes, carry out a couple of hours of sauntering, with a water bottle bought for the price of an Old Monk bottle, exchange smiles and talk about traffic and rains, and then walk out quietly, having marked your attendance among the Beautiful People.
Now, multiple fairs have brought in multiple problems for us, the wanna-be-seens. We cannot possibly fall sick every second weekend, nor can we quit our jobs and do this fulltime, like some blessed people do. The lesser mortals are mostly wondering whether repeating an outfit, or even shoes, will cast us out. Do you know what’s harder? Talking about books without reading them; talking about trips to places where you’ve never been; talking about the weather in five different ways; and talking about who is talking about whom and what these days. Added effort: Pouting without seeming like pouting in those photos for Instagram. (Tell me, seriously, how does Kareena Kapoor do it?)
That’s the real art here, perhaps even artier than the art pieces on display.
But it’s not all fake, even though I may have made it sound like that. There are moments that are genuinely interesting. For instance, that man who told me he has to keep his furniture prices higher than usual here, so that he gets the “customers who matter”. Also, I would’ve paid anything for that conversation with that woman who was selling that lamp, about the ridiculous prices of the Coldplay concert. And another chat with an old friend about how some of the junk jewellery on offer looks better than diamonds. Here’s the best one of all: Watching a worker laugh at himself after repeatedly failing to pitch a patio umbrella; gracious in his own, unpretentious world of hits and misses. He must also be enjoying himself. After all, it’s a fair!