it was not about Modi Ji. It was not about The Art Of Living Foundation. Neither it was about the damage to river Yamuna. Those topics can be left for the news channel debates.
The World Cultural Festival was all about the experience.
8500 musicians and many more dancers took their positions on the stage, majestic in its grandeur and beauty. Wearing kurta-pyjamas, we were drenched in sweat as the sun shone brightly, wishing that it would get cooler soon.
Our wishes were answered soon enough.
There was panic all around as the first showers came around 4:30 pm. The winds slowly became stronger. Volunteers ran back and forth providing everyone with plastic sheets to cover themselves with. But we were already soaked to the core. And then came the hailstones (Hindi: ole).
A thought crossed my mind. Never before had it happened that people from 160 countries (as Art Of Living advertised continuously) came together on a single stage to be pelted by hailstones. Go figure.
So there we sat, being pelted with hailstones, shivering in the open and cursing our luck (I pitied the poor aunties whose makeup was getting washed off). But then something amazing happened.
500 dholak players stood up and gave a performance I will remember for years. As it poured, they played on, and the crowd roared behind them. Maybe Venky should have called them instead of Sunidhi Chauhan. They were twice the fun and would have cost half as much.
The rains finally subsided after an hour, and the sun shone again, forming a rainbow at the far end of the stage.
And then the performances finally started. Bharatnatyam was a spectacle to watch, and Mohiniattam was a sight for sore eyes. The Russian dancers were simply flawless, and it was fun to watch the South Africans just enjoy themselves on stage.
The dances were interspersed with speeches from the delegates in attendance, especially Modi Ji. But by that time, I was just too tired to listen, shivering in the cold and dreaming of my bed back home.
The day’s events finally ended at 10:30 pm and we trudged back to the greenroom, had dinner and walked to the parking lot to sit in the bus.
But there was another surprise waiting for us there. Our bus was not allowed to enter due to “security reasons”. And so we walked down to the nearest entry gate, 2.5 km away with our instruments on our shoulders and the rain pouring again.
I reached home at 2:30 that day.
Woke up with a blocked nose, bad throat and severe backache. Needless to say, I spent day 2 of the WCF on my bed.
If day 1 was hell, day 3 was as close to heaven as it gets. The weather couldn’t have been better, and the organisation was efficient too. Most of the BJP high command – including Venkaiah Naidu, Arun Jaitley and Amit Shah – was present, and Arvind Kejriwal too.
I wish the delegates could have been a little less verbose though. But that is a wish I don’t think will be granted in my life.
This day’s performances included Kuchipudi, traditional dances of various countries and a few songs performed by singers from across India.
Bhangra was literally a crowd puller, with even the orchestra players and other dancers rushing onstage to do a little jig. But it was not bhangra which received the largest applause. Not even Modi.
It was Pakistan.
As the Sufi singers lent their voice to a soulful rendition of “Jugni”, all of us – the spectators and the orchestra players – just stood up and clapped along. My friend later said, “It just showed our affection for each other. All the hatred is just limited to the political groups.”
On my way back there were a lot of things going on in my mind. It was not easy to orchestrate such a huge event. Things could have easily gone south on the first day itself, or even before that if the National Green Tribunal had not given a clean chit for the WCF. But the event took place successfully. And in the end, it was magical.
The World Cultural Festival was an experience I will remember throughout my life.
And this is how I had liv’ED it.