Monday, February 18, 2013

A Fair Weekend (aka I Was a Minor Child Celebrity)

I spent last weekend with my three loves. My mother, a zoom lens and lots of sunshine. What a beautiful way to spend a weekend!

On Saturday, we went to the Australian High Commission's spring fair, which was a lot of sparkle and shine, and where we picked up some wonderful homemade strawberry jam.

Check out the detailing on the salt and pepper shakers!

We found this butterfly at the Surajkund Crafts Mela, where we went on Sunday. Decades ago, my grandfather, then working for the Government of India, envisioned this annual confluence of craftsmen from all over India and brought it to fruition. He had a few basic ideas: there would be a theme state each year in whose honour a gate would be permanently erected. And each crafstman could come once and once only, so that the craft would continue to be represented without monopolising or overrunning the market. Today, these ideas are at the core of Crafts Mela's unique pull, and it is the largest fair of its kind in the country. I am more than proud of him.

But that's not how I remember the Surajkund Mela. To me, it is the place I was - for two days - a minor celebrity. At the opening ceremony of the mela when I was all of two and a half years old, I fell into the hotel pool. My entire (extended) family had let me out of their sight for an instant, and I used my precious freedom to walk straight into the inviting azure of the pool. Needless to say, I didn't know how to swim then. All I remember is the feeling of flailing in slow-motion in one corner of the pool, and dancing witches in pointy black hats at the other end. Someone pulled me out, and I don't ever remember being free from the eyes and ties of family ever since.

The next day wasn't quite as bad. Apparently, I just wandered off on my own, giving everyone their second panic attack in as many days and finding my way to an announcement booth, where the nice lady made an announcement and everyone found me again. I was the most wanted child there that year, and though family outings are still very much the same (with me slipping off to take a picture or three), we have mobile phones now.

(Strangely enough, as we were leaving on Sunday, the PA system piped up: "The parents of Manya, please come to the announcement booth. She is two and a half years old and has just gotten lost. The parents of Manya..."

I swear, my parents paled a bit when they heard that.)

Moving on, though. While this is an exhibition of the entire country's handicrafts, my favourite pavilion was by far the international one. It displayed some of the prettiest craft forms of the world. See for example, the thread-perfect needlework of these Pakistani hand-embroidered cases and covers on the left. Or the careful symmetry of the thin bronze sheets used in Egyptian lamps.

(Click the pictures to enlarge!)

Did I say the handicrafts had my attention? Well, that was before I saw this lady from Turkmenistan. Now, if you were to put me up on display for fourteen days, I would be pretty grumpy by the end of it, or even by the end of the first day. But despite the countless number of photos she must have posed for, this woman's smile felt so genuine, you couldn't imagine her being anything but happy to be there. I suppose if your job is just to come to India and smile at strangers for a bit, maybe it's not too bad.

[In the bottom right corner, you'll see some Turkmenistani dolls. They're tobacco-carriers made out of gourds (yes, really), and if you rattle them, you can hear the seeds inside.]

After a brief tour with enough pauses to nibble, window-shop and click pictures of beautiful women, we were whisked towards the amphitheatre, where some of the happiest and most colourful people we'd seen all morning came on, a string of rhythmic rivulets.

These kids from Namibia did a dance to show us what they meant by 'community'.

Each girl and boy in a circle took turns to come to the centre and tap dance to their own rhythm, and everyone on the outside had to pick up on this rhythm and clap along with it. If you looked carefully enough, you could tell when the person was slowing down, pacing up, or changing the time signature completely, and change your clapping pace accordingly. This way, each one of them got their own space and time to shine. Each one got encouragement. And each one got to give it to everyone else.

To me, this seems a beautiful way to express what it really means to be in a community. You are surrounded by a circle of people who both give you the space to dance to your own tune and by clapping alongside, inspire the courage in you to be your own person. Coming from a culture where individuality is traditionally suppressed (You want to be a writer, what!), it was so refreshingly heart-warming to see such a wholesome endorsement of each person's uniqueness and its contribution is to the community.

Did I say uniqueness? Check out this girl from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Then, this uncle came on and sang to us about being happy with whatever we had. Even if it was just a jute bag and a bunch of reeds like his own.

And then, oh my god, there were these dancers from Tajikistan. What can I possibly say?

And finally, these men monkeying around. Though they may look African -- save for the peacock feathers -- they're actually tribals from deep within the forests of Gujarat! Decades ago, their ancestors came over from Africa and settled here, though my dad was convinced we were joking when we told him that.

They entertained us for fifteen whole minutes. Kicking, pulling faces, breaking coconuts with their heads (yes, really). By the end of it, we were all ready to stick our butts out and be silly little frogs or kangaroos or whatever they were doing on stage.

After ALL this, I went to the Delhi Comic Con.

Since it was the last day, everything was either sold out or on its way, but there were still so many people there! I met a lot of old friends, and made some new ones. Like Poison Ivy here. (She still had her hair tied up and a ninjacket on at this point, obviously.)

Finally, I caught the sunset from behind some trees, and headed home.

What a weekend.


  1. Dayng looks fabulous, can send me them salt shakers please?