HAPPENING The Indo-German Urban Mela through games, cultural events and theatrical pavilions looks at solutions for crowded cities

It isn’t all fun and games. But there are enough games to make it fun. The German clown, for instance, with his ridiculously red nose, peppermint cravat and jaunty guitar, urging squealing children to join in his songs. In the background, electric guitars wail, as bands tune up for the launch of ‘Mela Rocks’ bringing together metal and Tamil rock. And on a field nearby, the Germans take on the Indians in yet another friendly game of cricket.

Director of Goethe Institut, Chennai, Karl Pechatscheck limps into the Indo-German Urban Mela triumphantly, immensely satisfied with his cricket win, despite a niggling pulled muscle. “The significance of this mela is to point out that we should do a lot more to developing our cities, not just making them better, but also turning them into lovely places to live,” he says.

All around us, there are theatrical pavilions, conceptualised by German installation artist Markus Heinsdorff. Combining Indian textile with German technology, these structures are inspired by Indian gems. Inside each one, there are innovative solutions for crowded cities, and lessons for responsible citizens. One pavilion features lessons on segregating waste, another displays a hydroponic system to grow food. There are ideas for cooling buildings and harvesting rainwater. Solar-powered lanterns and dream trees.

Admittedly, it’s more like a science fair than a conventional ‘mela’, which conjures up images of unrestrained festivity, boisterous food stalls and shopping. Over here, you need to be fairly focussed to get into the swing of things, since events run on schedules and displays are demurely tucked away into pavilions. It helps that there are young volunteers to concepts: Even if many of them seem faintly bored. To keep things interesting, there are interactive displays. In the ‘Kid’s Lab’ children in white coats solemnly conduct simple experiments. At a computer featuring a ‘hairstyle generator,’ a portly woman in a sari, egged on by her husband, tries a succession of blonde wigs. The BMI calculator is mobbed by a large family, who take turns hopping on and off the weighing scale. The best way to benefit from this event is by doing some homework: study the programme, and decide what you want to participate in, watch or learn. There’s plenty of cultural fare on offer over the next ten days, courtesy the Goethe-Institut/ Max Mueller Bhavan. Pechatscheck says this is a place where “People can come together, sit together, have a good time…” Their café, catered by Taj Connemara, contributes to the atmosphere by offering dosas and pretzels, in addition to traditional German sausage, meatloaf and apple pie.

“Cultural events to me, mean something people enjoy by not just seeing and hearing, but also by doing. We want to teach people how to play an instrument, make them read, encourage them to talk.” Pechatscheck adds, “What I miss in Indian cities are public spaces for art. Over here you need to go to halls, pay money for tickets…” He says this is their attempt to create a public space for dialogue that’s free and open to everybody.

Hem Mahesh of the Goethe Institut, one of the organisers, explains that this is a part of a collaborative celebration to mark the completion of 60 years of Indo-German diplomatic relations. Titled “Germany and India 2011-2012: Infinite Opportunities”, its thematic focus is City Spaces, dealing with the urbanisation and its challenges. “It’s a vision of the future of the city, and the city of the future,” says Hem, adding that they’ve made an effort to include a spectrum of urban phenomena: art installations, graffiti workshops and even a B-Boy dance battle.

More than 20,000 people visited the mela over the weekend, and Pechatscheck estimates that about 80,000 will have visited by the time they say Auf Wiedersehen with a 70-member choir from the Madras Musical Association on Sunday, September 2. Meanwhile, “don’t forget the beach volleyball match,” he laughs. “The Indian National champions versus the German Champions from Bavaria.” He then excuses himself for a game of football.

In the mood for some friendly Indo-German competition? Take him on at the YMCA grounds.