Two unrelated yet politically significant developments marred the otherwise well-organised and relatively complaint-free conduct of the 61 st State School Arts Festival in Kozhikode.
As a result, chef Pazhayidom Mohanan Namboodiri, who has run the food pavilion of the event for over one-and-a-half decades, has declared that he will no longer bid for the job, a day after the festival drew to a close on Saturday. Minister for Public Works P.A. Mohamed Riyas, who was the organising committee chairperson, meanwhile, has sought a probe into the alleged anti-Muslim representation during the welcome song presented at the inaugural ceremony too.
Mr. Namboodiri told a section of the media on Sunday that he was in the grip of fear and it would be difficult to run the kitchen any more. His comments follow the debate over serving non-vegetarian menu at the food pavilion and a cross section of society airing its opinion both in favour of and against the proposal in the social media. Even General Education Minister V. Sivankutty had to declare that the matter would be discussed. Though Mr. Namboodiri had earlier said that it was up to the government to take a call on the issue, he seems to have changed his mind now.
Mr. Namboodiri claimed he was disturbed over the alleged bid to invoke caste and religion in the food served to teenage talents. “I have held the food pavilion close to my heart. But I can no longer handle it as new-age flatterers have come up with new-found allegations,” he said.
Thousands of students, teachers, and others are served vegetarian ‘sadya’ four times a day at the pavilion throughout the festival. This year, according to reports, over 26,000 people ate the lunch alone on one of these days. However, public opinion is divided over Mr. Namboodiri calling it a day too with many seeing a business motive behind it and others welcoming new varieties of food at the festival.
Mr. Riyas, meanwhile, said that efforts to portray one community as terrorists would not be encouraged. The theme song showed one Muslim man dubbed as terrorist being arrested by Army personnel. The Indian Union Muslim League and allied outfits had objected to it.