Hi, I’m from the Committee for a Hi-Fi
What would you do if someone started a conversation like this with you?
At one time, this was the reason
for the fair: to bask in the beauty of the earth and enjoy the company of
others. Now, it has become almost as commercialized as Christmas or Diwali. Everything from plastic toys made in
To draw attention to this paradox,
the team at Shikshantar decided to stage a little satire play. Teams of about 4
or 5 people would interact with festival attendees. They would claim that they were involved in a
committee that was looking to change the name of Hariali Amavas, and would
offer several choices: Plastic Amavas, Four-Lane Amavas, Chinese Amavas, etc. or the person could give their
own suggestion. The reason given for changing the name? So
The teams were made to look fairly
professional, holding clipboards and wearing nametags. We also used creative strategies,
like ‘implanting’. For example, two of
us would walk up to a group of people, and begin the drama that we were from
the Committee for a Hi-Fi Udaipur. Once things got rolling, two other people
from the team, pretending they were just there to enjoy the fair, would enter
asking, “What’s going on? What are they
talking about?” These ‘implants’ would
start dialoguing with the Committee members, questioning the logic of a hi-fi
The other strategy was ‘follow-up’. Once the Committee members had finished talking and left, and the festival attendees were shaking their heads about the crazy people they had just encountered, another member of the team would come up and say something like, “What was going on over there? I just saw those people trying to get you to sign something. What was it?” In this ‘follow-up’, the festival attendees would then launch into what had just happened. After first agreeing, our team member would say, “Sure, but what they were saying kind of makes sense, huh?” and then get into a conversation with them about it. Both of these ways proved to be very effective to gauge responses.
At first, I had a hard time getting into the play because I felt like an idiot. Almost everyone looked at us like we were lepers, and I felt like any response they gave was just so they could be rid of us. It was also hard for some of our team members to remember to stay in character because saying things like, “Yeah, plastic trees are great!” or “Let’s make everything Chinese!” does not roll easily off our tongues — especially given Shikshantar’s commitment to organic farming and the local.
But once we got into the drama, we had some surprising reactions.
Many people did agree with the Committee, especially young people who would say, “Definitely. There should be changes.” I kept thinking, “What’s going on!? Why are people agreeing?” They made the Committee’s job too easy, so in order to get a rise out of them, we would invent even more ridiculous lines. At times, it occurred to people, when we took their point to the extreme, that what they were suggesting was really crazy. When they started out saying things like, “Yea, change the name to Four-Lane Amavas…”, we would respond by saying, “Ok, but in order to do that we would have to cut down all the trees, but don’t worry we’ll put up fake ones and then we’ll give everyone an oxygen tank to wear on their backs…” At this point, they would look at us and say that would never happen, what you’re saying doesn’t make sense. The thing is, many things have sounded crazy at one point, but as time has gone on, they have become ‘normal’. For example, ten years ago, who would have thought that a small portable telephone would become a so-called necessity of life? Plastic trees might just be the next big thing. They were already selling plastic roses at the fair.
When some people disagreed with us, they would get really involved in the discussion and some became very impassioned about saving Indian culture and heritage. They did not want foreign goods or foreign ways. Others were at a loss for an argument, because they had only skimmed the surface.
Hariali Amavas is a two day fair, and the second day of the fair is reserved for women only. I saw that on the second day, the women were much more outspoken than on the first day we talked to them. It seemed that without the men around, they tended to speak their minds to the full extent. They would get very fierce about keeping traditions alive and keeping Indian values, and they would spend time talking to us, not seeming to be in a hurry to catch up to their fathers, brothers, or husbands.
A unique aspect of my own personal experience
is the fact that I look like a foreigner. My skin is lighter than most Indians,
so it was easy for me to tell everyone that I was a consultant for the Asian
Development Bank. I said that if the
name of the mela changed, then I would be able to bring a lot more foreign
investors to Udapuir. It seemed that people were much more likely to listen to
me; they thought I knew what I was talking about. Why is that? Why did people
think I cared about them or their city? Because I looked official? Because of
my skin color? Not that this is the
first time this has happened in
Actually, the whole natak (drama) was
alarming. I learned as much about myself as I did about others. I did not
realize how much young people were aching to become ‘hi-fi’. Or maybe I had, but this way of thinking in