Panoramic view of the massive stage created for the World Culture Festival 2016 on the banks on river Yamuna in New Delhi (All pics: Raza Hasnain Naqvi)
It started as a call that I could not ignore. It was in Lucknow that I came to know about the World Culture Festival happening in Delhi from March 11.
I had initially planned to come to Delhi on March 12 to attend a business meeting on March 13. But then I decided that I wanted to be there for the inauguration of this World Culture Festival.
On March 11, I started from my place in Delhi at around 3.15 pm, took an auto till the Green Park metro station. From there, I took the ticket to Mayur Vihar Phase I metro station. After checking the route, I found that from Green Park, I would take the first metro train till Central Secretariat metro station. From there I would need to take the second metro train till Mandi House metro station. After getting down at Mandi House metro, I would need to take the third metro train that would take me to Mayur Vihar Phase I metro station.
After stepping on all the three trains, I reached Mayur Vihar Phase I metro by about 4.30 pm. The inaugural programme of World Cultural Festival #WCF2016 was supposed to start by 5 pm. After leaving the metro station and coming down to the road outside the station, myself and many other passengers who were going for WCF were accosted by pedal rickshaws. They knew we were there for WCF. They said they would take me to Gate No. 12 for Rs 50/-. I ignored them till I came across a guy who said he would take me there for Rs 40/-.
By the time, I climbed this rickshaw drops of rain had started making their presence felt. In 10 mins the rickshaw-wallah dropped me near the overhead walkway to cross the road bearing heavy traffic. While on the walkway, I saw 3-4 TV channel teams there in the small canopy on the walkway saving their equipment from the drizzle that was turning into bigger drops of rain.
End of metro travel
I climbed down from the walkway and reached Gate No.12 that would take us to the venue. The rain drops were falling harder now, so I took out my handkerchief and tied it on my head. I quickened my steps. There were quite a few other visitors who were coming for WCF dressed in their best. I shook my head in disbelief as I imagined what was going to happen to their clothes on the mud that was getting wet.
The rain began getting stronger now and the muddy path that had been carved out of ready cauliflower fields was getting slippery. All of us who were on the path, we could not run or move faster for fear of slipping. Soon, some entrepreneurs came to our attention on the sides of this path. They were shouting and selling plastic sheets for Rs 30/-. Many of us immediately bought these sheets. I bought mine, wrapped it around myself and continued walking.
When the rain got harder, some of us took a shelter near a low-roof thatched hut next to a tree. We waited 15 minutes for the rain to lose its intensity and become a drizzle. I saw a few people slipping in the mud. After the rain turned to a light drizzle, I continued walking towards the venue. I wondered where was the venue as it wasn’t visible anywhere. Then after one security check, the raindrops became stronger again for the second time. However, by the time, I reached the temporary pontoon bridge built by the army to cross the Yamuna River, the sun had come out. While crossing the bridge, I saw a nice rainbow too that seemed to be welcoming us to the World Culture Festival.
The venue is close
After stepping off the bridge on to the other side, we came across a big slush of mud on the path close to the venue, which was now close by. Carefully navigating it, I continued moving forward till the next black slippery muddy path came in front of us. I saw many elderly people eyeing all this with a lot of discomfort. I felt bad that all of them had to walk such a distance of almost four kilometers to the venue from the nearest metro station, in such trying conditions. Vehicles had to be parked about two kilometers away in the mud.
On the venue, many people had taken their rain-soaked seats. I kept walking on in puddles of water which were there on the red and green carpets that were laid on the venue. Finally I entered one enclosure and found a seat for myself. Immediately I spread my plastic sheet on it and sat down on it with satisfaction.
The programme began around 6 pm. Guruji Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and the Prime Minister of India along with other dignitaries were in attendance.
The majestic, long stage was not clearly visible from where I sat. Most of the seating was almost 100-300 metres away from the stage. When I saw the programme of Kathak that was presented by hundreds of dancers on stage, there was excitement all right from the visitors. But the dancers were hardly visible. Many among the audience climbed on their chairs to see better, but it didn’t really improve the view much. I refused to stand on the chairs.
After sitting there on the chair and clicking photographs and selfies with my mobile phone for around 30 minutes, I checked the time. It was 6.30 pm. The evening light was going away. My mind did some mental calculations and quickly made me travel back to the overhead walkway on the road near the metro station. My mind just kept insisting one thing. ‘Move out now…move out now.’ It kept telling me that it would become more difficult to walk back in the darker evening on the slippery muddy path.
Even as the audience kept clapping as the programme continued on stage, I kept walking back at a quicker pace. At this point, I came across something interesting. Now, I saw a big crowd of people coming to the venue from the same path. The visitors crowded the pontoon bridge as they walked to the venue. Some people like me walked in one file leaving the venue pressing against this wave of visitors and making our way in the crowd.
I was thankful as I walked back. I tried to imagine how it would be once the programme would be over around 8-9 pm. What a crowd it would be and how people were going to handle this muddy slippery slush. Though lights were there but it was not enough to light up the mud clearly.
After walking for about 30 mins, I reached a place where the organizers had installed a big LED screen that was relaying the programme Live. Chairs were placed here. I took a seat and I saw on the TV Sri Sri Ravishankar encouraging everyone and thanking people for coming despite the rain and adverse conditions. I sat there for 15 mins and then decided that it was time to go. Walking back, I saw that there were many buses parked in the slippery mud. I wondered how the buses would move out from the venue and how people would reach the buses and what chaos it was going to be.
After about 20 mins of walking I found just a handful of people walking with me. One biker tried his best to move forward with the help of his friend, but it was a difficult slippery task. I couldn’t find Gate No. 12 anywhere and I realized that I had missed it. But since the path was there in front of me and a row of light too was there, it meant that I could keep on walking and I would reach the main road. More mud followed.
On the road again
Slowly but surely and after a walk of almost one hour and about 5 kms in mud and slush, I reached the main road. After crossing it, I was there right in front of the Mayur Vihar Phase 1 metro station. It was a big relief all right. I stamped my foot a number of times on the road to get the chunks of mud off my shoes. By 7.50 pm, almost one-and-a-half hours after leaving the venue, I was there inside the metro station. Just one thought now started nagging me. How would all the hundreds of people who were still there at the venue come back to the road from the venue? How would so many old and senior citizens manage this hour-long walk back in the half-lit slippery darkness? I just shook my head in disbelief.
But, despite the problems and controversies, I would still appreciate the Art of Living Foundation for organizing such a programme that brought alive the diversity of cultures in front of so many Indians and non-Indians who had gathered at the venue. It is also worth appreciating that despite such trying conditions, so many turned up for the programme eagerly. I guess this was possible only due to Guruji’s power and magnetic hold over the psyche of so many people and the impact of the Art of Living Foundation.
I guess another big reason for this internal power and enthusiasm was the one mantra that the majority of the visitors kept repeating to themselves in their heart. This mantra was: ‘Jai Gurudev’.
People attending World Culture Festival on March 11
I am draped in a plastic sheet to save myself from the rain. A fellow traveller on this muddy road decides to have a photograph with me