The other Cherries behind the Festival

By Kit Shangpliang

Thanks to the half-baked politicization of things, a section of Meghalaya has developed an allergy to the word ‘Festival’, so much so, that we are now incapable of thinking of celebratory events as opportunities to build our economy holistically. Activists have knowingly or unknowingly taken advantage of this lack of public awareness and have been romanticizing the notion that cherry blossoms are not as indigenous as local pears or plums, or by those standards, we are not supposed to celebrate our naras, our jainspong, even our duitara – because they come from across the border. Some of them have joined the band wagon of bringing the non-payment of salaries to a section of teachers, as if they themselves don’t have the mind to understand proper budget allocation that need to be spent for a certain government department under a certain budget head.
This expression of opinion here is not to defend the government apparatus, because there is nothing to defend, since Meghalaya has been in shambles already for many years. This opinion is simply that of the the artiste community and for public understanding on how such events need to be properly managed and promoted, so that they bring sustenance to the stake-holders connected to the arts and tourism (though we can’t officially speak for the latter).
If we were to believe in numbers, the footfalls in the recently concluded Cherry Blossom Festival 2021 were impressive. Blame it on how the pandemic has locked down people in their homes, resulting in authorities restraining entrance in keeping with Covid protocols; all said and done, the numbers have spoken for themselves.
The attempt by a section of the youth to break into the Polo venue at Shillong was a sorry reaction yet its one minor glitch out of the many things that had happened in the three days. Nevertheless, social and mainstream media amplification was doing the rounds to add to bad press. It is evident, that there may be Covid protocol issues and social concerns brought up by the moral policemen on social media, besides, there is no denying that the event is far from perfect, but it is fair to say that the effort has been focused and many stakeholders who are members of the public, some of them local artistes, local artisans, local entrepreneurs, local tourism specialists have benefited from this.

What do events like these mean for the artistes?
It’s almost two years since Covid had arrested all arts and music activities here and everywhere around the world. The artistes have been left alone high and dry – no gigs, no earnings, and no motivation whatsoever, with struggles to put food on the table. While thousands of artistes in the state whose livelihoods depend on arts and music struggle because of Covid, no one talked about their well-being. The hosting of any event now is therefore, not only a livelihood opportunity but also a morale-booster to say that it is time for artistes to bounce back.
If an organization is lethargic to address the unemployment problems among the youth – it is targeted for not doing so; if it tries to address the same by exposing our youth to global experiences, it is accused of something else and other parallel livelihood verticals and social issues get dragged into the vortex of NGO-government politics and what not. In either case, the artiste remains the loser.
On the hand, events at home prepare our young artistes for bigger stages here and elsewhere and the more they do it, the better they get. Strategically, these events are not just a tamasha as they are perceived to be, they are a Creative and Capital Investment that need strategic public-private collaboration and cross-accountability not animosity. When it comes to arts and entertainment, the climate in Meghalaya has been gloomy, hence, the need for all the stake-holders mentioned above to look at pragmatic solutions for the sake of the artistes.
Artistes are supposed to be smart and the young artistes of today are nimble and quick. They can be anyone they chose to be, but they also want to break away from limitations as they discern their calling. Their job choice could be a clerk in a government office or an assistant somewhere, where monthly salary is guaranteed, yet they do not chose that; they choose music and other art forms for a specific purpose, they are the custodians of our traditional and evolving culture and they are the equal foretellers of what it is to become of our society. A society on the move is the one that learns to value the role of such forerunners and understand to invest in their conviction and commitment to keep the cultural and creative sanity intact. On that note, the efforts of the concerned departments, their collaborators, partners and undertakings are commendable, if not perfect.
Reasoning together:
Lastly, artistes are not the ones without feelings or else they can’t write and play their songs. We feel for the teachers at the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) who have not got their dues, in fact, we feel, therefore, we think we must do something about it as members of the creative society and members of the public. On the other hand, to think that the artiste’s economic opportunities may be derailed, because of unreasonable public debate on a very clearly laid-down fiscal allocation is unfortunate, and here, the artiste community is a mere panda caught in the fight between two elephants.
In case we got it wrong, this write-up does not intend to discourage citizens to be watchdogs and whistle-blowers – it is intended to call people to exercise the freedom to critique, but not necessarily to crucify the public role of those who are critiqued, because if we do it, the people (in this case the artistes) lose big time. The other reality is that every other government department has its own challenges and discrepancies as a consequence of systemic displacement. All this leaves it to the members of the public to engage without compromise or attack without weighing and history tells that the former is more effective.
It may be right to suggest that organisations (government and non-government alike) leave their organizational egos at bay and start thinking of their sons and daughters who are called to speak the truth and become artistes for whatever it may fetch them. They are natural ambassadors of the indigenous and evolving culture of the hills and society cannot leave them high and dry as it cannot leave the citizens working in the tourism sector or even our valued teachers high and dry. We have no choice but to be inclusive, unless, we are anti-something. All said and done, Meghalaya cannot ignore its blessings in the form of tens of thousands of talents and young artistes who are the other cherries blossoming before, during and after festivals.
(The writer is an artiste and social communicator. He was not part of the recently concluded Cherry Blossom Festival 2021)

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