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A musical sojourn in the great outdoors

The first thing you see at Ziro is the bamboo. It is everywhere. It is the lampshade above your head and the bridge beneath your feet. It is the glass in every second person’s hand and the floor of the makeshift bathroom. It gives structure to the stage and it is on the signpost that points you in the right direction. The minute you step onto the festival site, you are assaulted by bamboo. And that is when you know you are far away from home.

For the uninitiated, the Ziro Festival of Music is, according to Vogue, “the most famous music festival you have never heard of”. For everyone else, it is the perfect escape plan, offering delightful music, a riot of fellow music lovers, and for many, the opportunity to travel far. As if this wasn’t tempting enough, it’s set in the great outdoors, against a backdrop of rolling hills that are ever-so-green and rustling paddy that keeps you company at every corner. It is everything that our quotidian urban existence is not, a fact that a fellow traveller perfectly summed up when he announced he was going to get rid of his watch. “What is the point?” he asked. “If I am hungry, I will eat. If I am tired, I will sleep. If I hear music, I will walk towards it. That is the schedule for these four days.” In that series of simple sentences lay the rhythm of Ziro.

This year’s festival was held from September 22-25, and hosted a dizzying range of musicians. From the Chennai band Skrat to Shye Ben Tzur and the Rajasthan Express, festival goers spent four days soaking in a wide plethora of sounds and beats. There seemed to be something for everyone, deep in the hills at Ziro. Whether lolling on the hills at the Danyii (day) stage or dancing till everyone’s feet hurt on the Piilo (night) stage, whether Mr. India’s political satire or Divine’s adrenaline-inducing tunes, every performer was greeted with the hunger of an audience waiting to lap up every note. My favourite moment of it all? Lying on the grass one sunny afternoon with a bunch of new-found friends, I looked around me. People were clapping and jiving and nodding to the rhythm, smiling at the tune, asking around for a rough translation of the music. As Chennaiite Sofia Ashraf sang along to Suren Vikhash’s guitar about malli poo, kuppa lorry and filter coffee, I felt like a piece of home had come to visit, and so many strangers with no context or understanding of Tamil were just as excited to usher her in.

Yet, the story of Ziro is not just the story of its music. It is the story of the outdoors, the camping, the perpetual hunt for restrooms, and the interesting culinary experiments that will pepper any attempts at a travelogue. The story of Ziro is one of learning to treasure every drop of water, value a working tap above most other worldly luxuries, and not panic at switched off phones and lost signal. At Ziro, we complained about connectivity. “Who wants 3G here,” we whined. And then some of us mustered the courage to walk away from technology. At Ziro, we formulated a new metric for social hierarchy. People with access to showers and plug points were the top of the order that ended with us campers, those of us who chose to live the tough life. We slept in sleeping bags, counted a washed face on a par with a shower, and cheered when we bought gum boots and realised we were immune to mud and grime. With a little acclimatisation time and a lot of zest for adventure, we embraced every slushy pothole and dripping tap with a vengeance. At the end of four days, we were a mess of questionable personal hygiene, riding high on a wave of new friends, stories, and playlists. And we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

What did I take away from Ziro? The memory of when our drivers from Naharlagun to Ziro decided to take a pitstop on the way at a waterfall that flowed across the street, offering us the chance to fill bottles, wash our faces or just stand and gaze. The happy exchange of interests and tastes, independent of what we did from nine-to-five in the “real world” or even what our last names were. Dancing to the music one night, only to turn around and realise that today’s audience is yesterday’s performers.

But most of all, I bear witness to the travails of vegetarianism and the sin of eating Maggi for Rs. 100. Habituated to watching chicken and fish grace the dining table, I pushed my own boundaries as I watched friends try their hand at grasshoppers, snails and, if I remember right, silkworms. “Not really different,” they commented, while I sat by wondering where my next meal was coming from.

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Printable version | Apr 15, 2021 11:23:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/A-musical-sojourn-in-the-great-outdoors/article16077754.ece

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