This last Saturday afternoon was the अंतरराष्ट्रीय Khirkee festival, a day aimed at celebrating and bringing together the diverse communities and sub-cultures that make Khirkee so unique. Organized by long-time community activists Aastha Chauhan and Malini Kochupillai, the event managed to capture the multi-national, improvisational and innovative essence of Khirkee. Taking over the two-storied Triveni Kala Sangam commercial complex located in Sheikh Sarai (just walking distance from Khirkee),अंतरराष्ट्रीय Khirkee celebrated the sunny spring afternoon with photo exhibitions, b-boy battles, hip-hop jams, film screenings and food stalls. Earlier in the day, a series of football matches between a variety of local neighborhood teams had been played at a nearby location, with great support and encouragement from the Khoj Admin team – VP Manoj, Adil Akhtar and Manohar Bhengra.
Later in the afternoon, the crowd moved over to Triveni Complex- a perfectly inviting venue for the laid-back atmosphere of this event. When I first arrived with a group of Khoj artists and team members, I was pleasantly surprised to find that their was no ‘enclosed’ space that contained the festival, no barriers or gateways controlling who was invited and who wasn’t. In the true spirit of being an all-inclusive community festival, the space remained entirely open inviting public and passersby to float in and out and participate as they pleased.
The lower level of the complex had a few food tables and the improvised dance floor, strategically placed so that it was perfectly in view from the surrounding balconies on the floor above. As soon as the hip-hop jams and dance jams begun, the floor was immediately surrounded by a pulsating, energetic crowd of enthusiastic young men (sadly there is a visibly obvious deficit of female beat-boxers and hip-hop singers). I did however enjoy seeing a number of goggle-eyed Domino’s employees being dragged away by their collars, their disgruntled bosses unable to support their staffs’ fascination for dance battles.
As you walked up to the upper level, a series of photographs were installed on wall along the ramp, and on the walls of the structure on the upper level. The installation was simple, elegant and accessible, and featured the work of a variety of photographers from different ethnic backgrounds. A big part of the festival was to see the community members engaged with the work, and the programming. In this regard, an installation of photographs by Malini Kochupillai, a cardboard box with little cut-out windows that opened on to images of Khirkee residents, was really successful. The children in attendance quickly incorporated the work into their play, diving behind the box and glee-fully opening the windows and chattering about what stories could lay behind the shutters.
A big part of my day was to work with the resident artists from Khoj – Mona Gandhi and Leone Contini, who were each serving up a special, hand-made treat for the audience to enjoy. Mona, a raw-food and organic eating enthusiast, had prepared a delicious bhelpuri like snack, but made entirely of healthy, fresh and organic grains and vegetables. Gandhi’s work and life philosophy incorporates the notion of gift-culture and exchange. Rather than putting a price on her plates of food, she asked people to donate what they felt appropriate, or even take a plate for nothing at all, if they so wished. It was pleasing to see that soon enough, people came over to repay for the food in kind, offering to help Mona cut chillies and lime for dressing, or even to step behind the counter and serve while she enjoyed other parts of the festival or jammed out to the DJ’s tunes. The atmosphere of the afternoon was congenial and warm enough that within a few hours a relative stranger became a good friend, and this allowed the nature of exchange to be at its maximum.
On arriving in India from Italy, Leone Contini had been very pleased to discover that Indian culture has fondly adopted its own form of dumplings- the momo! Leone decided to prepare and serve momos with the assistance of any willing participants from the festival. The act of creating the momos together was so enjoyable as it resulted in excellent conversations as we all made our food to eat together, but also because we collectively created so many innovative shapes and sizes- quite different from your average street momo! Leone’s food was definitely extremely popular with the youngest boy from the street, and every time he produced a steaming new batch, they were almost immediately devoured. Its great to think that he may have gained quite a few momo-making enthusiasts and young amateur chefs through his process.
The day ended as the sun came down and the last morsels of food were wiped off our tables. The beat-boys and hip-hop battles kept going on in the distance, and as I walked away at the end of a long afternoon, energies were still going strong- a successful beginning to the first अंतरराष्ट्रीय Khirkee festival!