haaट/ samaaन: Photographs from an afternoon in Kala Ghoda Festival 2020.
Haat means a market. Haats and Melas are so nostalgic and so rooted in culture, community, and craftsmanship. It mostly happens in the rural parts of the country and it's so joyous, celebratory, and pompous. Local artisans come to exhibit their work and it becomes the hub for all sorts of cultural activities for whatever period it stays in the area. With and around Haat come opportunities for the regular sellers to earn that extra penny. Be it the jhumka walas or kachhi keri wali aunties or the cotton candy, vendors. these things remind me of the time I visited some of these local fairs with my friends and family. If you are wondering why all the pictures are so cluttered and tight, it's because that's what a Haat is. It doesn't usually give you the space to walk or even breathe but you still want to absorb all parts of it. This is haat//saaman, a photo series shot in Kala Ghoda fest, 2020.
I remember it being a particularly sunny day. My friend and I were volunteering for KGAF for the first time so we decided to take a stroll during the lunch break and check out all the stalls that were now spread over the heart of South Bombay.
It is quite interesting what cultural events can do for you, isn't it? I have been to many live events and art fests but nothing quite like KGAF. There is so much history, warmth and love in this place. Working for it made me love it even more. It opens its arms and tells everyone that they are welcome here. It has been the melting pot of culture, art and people for 20 long years.
When Indians talk about culture, it is almost impossible to not mention granmothers. This old lady reminded me of stories by my grandmother that seemed incoherent when younger, but looking back, there was so much to imbibe, so much to learn from. The fine cutlery below is this old lady's baby project and she was ever so proud of it.
It was 2pm and we wanted to get out of the main street from where the fest was happening. We wanted to get some fresh air. But when it is a street festival, there are only a few places you can go to catch a breath. So we decided to not go far away. We walked outside and saw a queue of hundreds of people waiting to get inside in the scorching heat. Where there is a queue, there is an opportunity. Tens of local vendors were selling all kinds of things and amidst all that we found these balloons. In that moment, we were only playing with the balloon and seeing who would pop it first.
For anyone who knows the geography of South Bombay, you would know exactly the place this is. The famous Westside building, B.E.S.T busses filled to capacity, traffic that refuses to move for hours, and a festival that the city waits aredently for all through the year.
Ever since I was a child, colours have intrigued me. For me, black and white is melancholy. Colours give identity. Colours give joy. Colours can be the definition of some objects and feelings. This bright stall brought me unbridled joy and excitement.
If you see an artefact like this, your first instinct should be to take a picture. I mean it is adorable AND artsy. I love local artisans and their craftsmanship. There is something so honest and heartwarming about their work. They create every piece with so much care and precision that you cannot help but admire it. KGAF is the only place I have seen that curates its stalls so mindfully.
Remember those days when you excitedly woke up at 6am for a field trip and didn't care where you are going because it was with your friends and you are frenzied at the thought of playing games in the bus ride that is taking you away from school for one entire day? My reporting time for this fest was 8am everyday. I came, had a coffee, set up my desk every day and would see flocks of students in their colorful uniforms jumping around the installations like little chickens. I would see their bewildered teachers trying to control the mayhem. It would remind me of the simpler days.
My favorite sitcom character would describe this stall as "Fluffy Town." The guy who sold these toys told me how much he loved making toys. He has been making small and unique stuffed toys like these for years. I was so amazed and filled with desire to buy them. I had never seen such novel stuffed toys.
I took this photo very impulsively but soon it became one of my favourites. Was your visit to a mela or a haat even complete if you didn't have one of these wrapped in a small piece of newspaper with their special masala? It truly brings back so many memories.
You would be as surprised as me when I tell you that this is all papier-mâché. Yes, this is all made from paper. I was shocked too. And this is just a fraction of all the pieces in the picture. They had a whole range of artefacts made from paper. I truly admire artists. They can make even the most obscure of things beautiful.
The illustrator who made these fridge magnets had been putting up a stall at KGAF for three years and wished to continue doing so. He loves the energy of KGAF. He told me all about his art and what he wants to achieve through it. His work was both admirable and unique. The passion with which this 50-something man talked to me was inspiring. Made me think if I will ever have something as worthy and fulfilling to talk about.
One of the many things I was obsessed with at this fest was mirrors. There was a small or big mirror outside most stalls and I would have the time of my life hurriedly taking a mirror selfie before someone caught me lurking around. I simply couldn't resist the urge to do this absolutely silly thing of taking mirror selfies.
This picture is an homage to all the hair ties women have lost and never found.
The thing about me is that I am boring. I am boring in the sense that I enjoy the most mundane things like folding sheets and grocery shopping. I like to photograph things that are odd. This is a box of items of some vendor that lay between two stalls. I stumbled upon it while running to pick up leaflets from the registration desk and the symmetry of it really fascinated me. I took a picture of it.
This jute bag business is run by two women. I love jute for it looks so rustic and exquisite. Jute items remind me of picnic baskets on lush green grass. It reminds me of handwritten letters and evenings on a dainty beach. Jute reminds me of a gift from my best friend when I left for college.
You know that feeling when you walk out of a fancy restaurant and your stomach is somewhat full but your heart definitely isn't. In times like those you look for comfort and familiarity. For me and my family, that comfort was ice-cream. We used to have a nice dinner in restaurants but our hearts knew peace only when we had ice-cream from the nukkad wali dukaan. This stack of butter popcorn reminded me of that comfort and familiarity. This pack of popcorn which cost 50 rs. was a moment of relish amidst the chaos.
I am not fond of minimalism. It gives me an eerie sense of emptiness. I like brightness and cluster. I like keeping things close to one another because why should anyone feel alone, right? I also have a very personal connection with each object I possess. I am a hoarder. Even the most absurd things from years I cannot fully recall reside in my many shelves. I took this picture of little trinkets because it made me think how every object when possessed by a human, becomes a fragment of their memory and heart.
I recently discovered that indigo is one my favorite colors. Indigo sarees made entirely of cotton are even more exciting to me. I love the whole Indo-western aesthetic. I am very rooted in desi-ness. I love my Indian fabrics and patterns and colors and jewellery and dupattas. I love pairing up jhumkas with a short kurta and jeans. This stall was particularly exciting for me because they sold handwoven blankets, sarees, dupattas and duvets. All of them indigo in color.
My mom grew up as a tom-boy. She had short hair and played sports. She didn't own many quintessentially feminine pieces. My childhood was spent rummaging through her wardrobe looking for the perfect dupatta to drape as a saree. I grew up thinking displaying femininity is weak. It was only in college I realized how liberating it is to embrace it. How liberating it is to look at a woman in saree and desire to achieve that grace and poise. This stall was all shades of yellow. I went inside, chatted with the lady who was the owner for several minutes and clicked lots of pictures with the dupattas.
I do not need to tell you that this stall was a Kashmiri one. Kashmir's art speaks for itself. They were selling all kinds of clothes and shawls from Kashmir. I don't have the heart and words to describe Kashmir. The stall was beautiful.
Personification is a figure of speech. It means to give human qualities to inanimate objects and non-living things. I believe humans have the innate capacity to connect with anything. If I spend enough time with a rock, I am likely to name it, dedicate a little space on my table to it, and talk to it unironically once in a while. That is what we humans do. We have this incredible capacity to extend love and empathy to anyone and anything.
Here's my deal with chai. I don't like it. I know I have single-handedly offended so many people reading this but I have no intention of dissing it. I am not a beverage person in general. But what I do love is the little ritual which most Indians have of making chai at 4pm and having a little snack with it. Working for an event means multiple short breaks which normally entails having chai at a small tapri nearby. This tapri becomes "the spot." Every commercial area, college, and event venues have one of these. Those quick 10 min conversations and hearty laughs refresh you for another hour or two or, until your next break. I don't drink chai but I do indulge in the chai-breaks during work.
All of these photographs were taken on 6th Feb, 2020. I remember because I made a journal entry on this day about how much fun I had. I wrote how I bought two extremely pretty rings and had samosa-usal as the 4pm snack. I remember being happy and grateful to work at Kala Ghoda Fest. I remember thousands of people showing up every single day and enjoying. I remember it being crowded and noisy and full at all times. I wish I could go back to live it a little more.
- Manal Doshi
A picture of Manal Doshi in the back alley of Kala Ghoda, clicking a dozen self-indulgent photos of herself in the lunch hour.