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Celebrating Delhi’s cultural diversity

The latest edition of “Words In The Garden” paid tribute to stalwarts who enriched Delhi’s art and culture over the years

March 06, 2020 04:55 pm | Updated 04:55 pm IST

Defining and describing a metropolis on the basis of its skyscrapers, multiplexes, malls, sports stadia is never complete. The city’s true character and uniqueness is reflected through its music, literature, visual arts, dance, poetry, performing arts, theatre, etc. This is what the fourth edition of Words In The Garden, held last week, brought to the fore. The annual festival was curated by noted Hindi poet-critic, Ashok Vajpeyi. “The objective was to honour the incredible creativity, imagination and ideas that Delhi, generates, sustains and embodies,” observed Vajpeyi.

Ashok Vajpeyi

Ashok Vajpeyi

The festival hit the right note as it started with an informative and insightful documentary “Ram Kumar: Nostalgic Longing” by Laurent Bregeat. Recalling how he was fascinated by art, artist Ram Kumar, narrates his initial classes under Sailoz Mukherjee, keeping his writing and painting in tandem and going to Paris to learn art from Fernand Leger and Andre Lhote. Later, he returned to India to start with figurative paintings and then moved to abstract. “Kumar, lived and worked in Delhi and being one of the leading lights of art in the Capital, we decided to feature this documentary,” said Vajpeyi.

The screening was followed by an invigorating session “The Many Layers – History and Culture”.

The panellists included Vajpeyi, Pavan K. Varma, Sohail Hashmi, S.Y. Quraishi and Rajiv Sethi. The discussion centred on how Delhi has emerged as India’s cultural hub with its own unique culture -- a delightful mix of the traditional and the contemporary and a true reflection of India as a whole. Quraishi, whose family has lived in Delhi for 500 years, said, for over thousands of years the city had welcomed people, and even made invaders, settle down here.

Reminiscing about the Capital, Sethi, a noted cultural impresario, fondly talked about Connaught Place’s green cover and Janmashtami celebrations at the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir. He said the city ingrained in him the love for art and theatre and also moulded his character. Lamenting the shrinking of Delhi’s cultural space, he remarked, “As compared to Delhi, Mexico City is teeming with more museums, thus ensuring its residents enjoy its culture and heritage.”

Making a pertinent observation, historian Hashmi said: “All cities are made by migrants. What makes Delhi special is that it never discriminates on the basis of language. It, rather, welcomes all.” He cited the examples of Mir Muhammad Taqi Mir and Mirza Ghalib, both from Agra, who made Delhi their home. He said the use of the word ‘bara’ as a prefix or suffix to name areas and monuments denotes the influence of Marathas. “Every city has layers, pertaining to its customs, food, language, which are added year after year. For example, the red chilli used in Mughlai food today was never part of the original cuisine.”

Varma, author and former diplomat, wondered, “Has the city got its own cultural vibrancy today?” Highlighting the people’s participation in culture, Varma said when Ghalib composed a couplet in the morning, the Old Delhi residents started reciting it by the evening. “In those days, culture was not elitist but popular with masses who enjoyed its finer nuances.” He added that unlike cities like London, Delhi didn’t patronise popular and classical arts equally. Varma asked for a change in the education system, to ensure rasikas are there to appreciate classical art and music. Hashmi added, that institutions needed to reinvent themselves, making them accessible to children.” “Museums should be made interactive, with lesser restrictions, in order to attract youngsters.”

Well known Kathak exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj, who joined the panel later, was honoured for his yeoman service to the dance form.

S. Ravi

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