Five nights ago, about ten at night, I was hurtling down a country road to I truly know not where; north, south, east or west of Poshina to a place I’d never heard of, to a tribal mela I knew nothing about.
I thought it was a place called Gerassi – but that was the name of the tribe. Maybe I’ve got that wrong too. Who cares. My car had become a taxi – or a tank, dunno which. There were five of us heading to oblivion that night.
A deep voice boomed out from the back seat.
‘You are a lucky man, sir…’
This was Hari, a huge, strong, friendly brute of a man. He was big. That’s how I remembered his name. I was in a Big Hari…
‘Look around you,’ he said, ‘You have a driver,’ pointing to mini-Mukesh, peering thinly over the wheel, ‘you have a bodyguard,’ indicating himself, ‘and you have security,’ nudging Dinesh, drunkenly giggling beside him.
‘Who is the other guy?’ I asked, pointing to a tribal shadow wedged into the boot.
Chitra-Vichitra Mela is a purely tribal fair that takes place in the Gumbhakhari village, almost on the border of Rajasthan and Gujarat. The venue of the fair is near a temple overlooking the rivers Sabarmati, Aakar and Vakar. A large number of Bhils and Garasias from the surrounding areas reach the venue, for the celebration of the spring event on the eve of no moon day, just a fortnight after Holi. On this night, the tribal people gather on the banks of the river and mourn for their departed dear ones. They also sing sorrowful songs, offer sacrifices and finally bathe in the river.
But in the morning, the mood is completely transformed. The people are completely taken over by the festive mood. On an average, around 60,000 to 70,000 tribals participate in this fair. The Garasia women are usually dressed in bright blue, green and red saris or Ghaghras with heavy silver jewelry like ear rings, necklaces and anklets. To make themselves look further attractive they put kajal in their eyes and red color on their lips and cheeks. In contrast to this, the Bhils, though well dressed, are less ornately jeweled. Men beat drums which are accompanied by folk songs sung by the women. It is followed by dancing in merriment, till everyone is exhausted. After this, the stalls selling food, refreshment, drinks and sweets are surrounded by the mob of people.
We-e-e-ell, it wasn’t really like this enthusiastic copywriter would have us believe. More like a few thousand people in a dusty plain, surrounded by three dried up rivers, twelve Ferris-wheels, a Wall of Death and a line of ratty shops. Maybe I went to the Fringe Chitra Vichitra. A few old ladies wailing into a mud pool at midnight doesn’t tweak my imagination.
Dog sat in the dirt and watched the world go by. He was, most definitely, the only white guy at the Mela but, for once, wasn’t one of the sideshows – there was much more interesting stuff going on; a grizzled old tourist was of no importance at all.
The fair is also popular as a betrothal ground for the young tribal boys and girls. Young men and women attend this fair to find a suitable match. They even elope with each other to the forest adjacent to the river. After some days, they return to their community to get married. It is a common practice amongst the Bhils and the Garasias.
So I sat and sat and sat some more till I sank out of sight in the sea. Then I started taking pictures. This odd selection is one of my favorites – secret glimpses of unconscious grace.