New Delhi: As the November winter sun and daylight wore away on Friday, the soft light of the evening and culture of Northeast India descended arm in arm on the sprawling lawns of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) in New Delhi.
Looking at the surging beautiful crowds, a riot of colours and aroma of scores of delicacies being prepared on slow fires, one could be forgiven to assume that they were at a weekend market somewhere in Agartala, Imphal, Itanagar, Kohima, Aizawl, Shillong, Dispur or Gangtok.
This year, the national capital is once again playing host to the seventh edition of the North East Festival, which seeks to connect people and celebrate the joie de vivre of life. It is an attempt to showcase the diversity of the country’s Northeastern region, its people and resources. Beginning in 2013, in the immediate aftermath of some widely reported incidents that involved targeting people from the region across India, the event has over the years has successfully established itself as a leading cultural gala in the country.
It has also greatly succeeded in what the organisers originally set out to do – build bridges between the region and the rest of the country that was otherwise often derisively referred to as “mainland India” by Northeast people due to opportunistic policies practiced by certain political dispensations and lack of development in the past. Thanks to the festival, not only a greater number of people from the other parts of the country have since travelled to the Northeast for leisure but deserving artistes in fields as varied as music, handicrafts, avant-garde fashion and food have found a major platform to take their talents beyond the confines of their states.
Like in the routine conversations that this writer had with his friends and acquaintances during the course of the past week, he was informed that they eagerly looking forward to attending the festival with their friends or families in tow. The rapid development of infrastructure and recent speculation around the over 20-year old logjam on the Naga peace talks being finally resolved has further helped build excitement around the region.
Welcome to Northeast
So what if, on Day 1, the main event only got underway after an over two-hour delay? After all, isn’t Northeast about living life at a leisurely pace and doing one’s own thing?
What could have been more fitting than having the young minister of state (independent charge) of youth affairs and sports Kiren Rijiju doing the inauguration? In his very short speech, the Lok Sabha Member of Parliament from Arunachal said, “Whenever I meet anyone coming to India, I tell them that if they haven’t seen the Northeast, they haven’t seen India yet! All eight states are amazingly beautiful places with their character that is difficult to describe as you can only feel it.”
Emphasising the need for enhancing the number of visitors to the region, he added, “India is a huge nation of 1.3 billion people. So, even if 10% of the people visited northeast you can only imagine the size of the tourism we are going to get. Wherever the Northeast Festival is held, it helps create a buzz.”
Rijiju opined that as an industry without smokestacks tourism was the future industry of the Northeast and the students from the region staying in other parts of India were its best brand ambassadors.
Earlier, welcoming the dignitaries during the inauguration ceremony, founder & chief organiser of the event, Shyamkanu Mahanta informed, “The festival aims at creating awareness about the Northeast and this time around we have brought the tribal communities and languages of the Northeast, and we are also promoting the region as a destination.”
The first day of the festival concluded with a jam-packed performance by Darjeeling-born Bipul Chettri & The Travelling Band. Despite a majority comprising non-Nepali speakers, the audience swayed and sang along to Chettri’s musical compositions about the Himalayas, its rivers and its natural mysteries.
The current edition of the festival that is on from November 8-10, will play host to 15 designers, gigs by well-established singers like Zubeen Garg and Papon, and upcoming musical talents such as Mumbai’s Finest, Empirical Tribe, Frisky Pints, Island Warrior and Mc Heam & Friends. Besides, there is a competition to identify Delhi’s next best rock act, handloom, art and photography exhibitions, roadshows, buyer-seller meets and traditional dance performances.
As for meat lovers, 40 food stalls at the venue will serve the choicest cuisines from all over the region.