I stumbled upon this blog randomly yesterday and was pleasantly surprised by the treasure trove of anecdotes and snippets it carries from the 70s and 80s. The author, I reckon, was a journalist and activist back then, and I must say that she was quite the firebrand. Mirra’s blog includes details of India’s first sex survey, a feature on cabaret girls in the 70s, a feminist protest against a Rajesh Khanna film, her article on Rape laws in Blitz – everything reeking of retro, stylish, and that languid-cool quotient those years had. While the writing might not be top notch, I definitely enjoyed shuffling through her memories. The post I am including, in true Lazy Critic spirit, talks of the first youth festival of India – often referred to as the ‘Indian Woodstock’ by that generation. I searched through Flickr for some relevant photographs and also found a review of the best albums produced back then! The facet of India that this article and photographs show is surprisingly much more ‘modern’ than what we see around us today.
So here goes: My toast to a Lazy Critic from decades back! Mirra, I have been trying hard to reach you but in vain. If you or any of your friends and family come across this blog, let’s connect.
Note: I have reproduced the article from Mirra’s blog with minor proof-reading only. Almost no grammatical changes have been made. No factual changes have been made either. Quotes and statements are as in original.
The Sneha Yatra Youth Festival (Malavli) – The Indian Woodstock, 1971
It was the cold night breeze, the mountains all around, the green living trees, the feel of the earth and grass beneath cement weary feet. Like Dylan sings, ‘because the wind is high it blows my mind.’ And the wind was blowing even higher, even cooler, cleaner, and stronger at the Sneha Yatra at Malavli, the three-day youth festival that everyone had been waiting for.
Anyone who came looking for a Woodstock, a rock-beat whack-out and a pseudo imitation of the West were most disappointed. It was simply the first time in India that youth – mainly from Bombay, Poona, Delhi, Goa, Calcutta, Madras, Bangalore, Nagpur, Surat, and Hyderabad came together for the three-day youth festival at Sneha Yatra, Malavli – 80 miles into the Ghats from Bombay. They came mainly for the atmosphere – three days to be just what you feel like with thousands others like yourself. To be among 2,000 people of your own age is quite an experience.
It was holiday time and so everybody – working people and students – could make it there. It was the time for festivals – Diwali of lights, New Year of happiness, Bhai Tikka for brothers, and Ramzan Eid to start eating regularly again. Ramzan Eid – especially famous for the moon that night, an iota of a silver lining in a semi-circle curve. Everyone knew – it was just in the air – that it was a time to feel together.
Surprisingly, there were many girls, about 1,000 out of a total of 4,000 that came at some time or the other to Malavli. There was Anita, in bell bottoms who came blazing in behind a zooped up motorbike; there was a teacher of social work with three students, who had come to sleep on a blanket under a zillion stars.
The guys present were of all shapes and kinds – straight, squares, intellectuals, pseudos, movie makers, writers, advertising men (unavoidable), engineers, school dropouts, music bugs, and radicals. Foreigners were present in a larger dose than usual – for once, it was them adding colour and spice to a purely local happening.
Yes, there was music, music of all kinds, to immerse yourself, to forget oneself, to feel together.
First, the unforgettable cold. The days were warm, what with the sun out. At 5.30, the sun started its daily trip down behind the mountains, blazing red. With the skies becoming a deep blue and the first wishing star appearing, one started to feel the nip. Out came the sweaters, the blankets, and music was in the air. Twos and threes huddled under blankets to keep themselves warm.
There were the beat-rock-acid groups: Country Funk Revival, Atomic Forest, Twilight Zone and Brief Encounter. More people, Savages (all from Bombay), Windfall, Inventions of Mothers, Odyssey (from Poona), Human Bondage from Delhi (without lead Suresh who was sick), Mara from Bangalore, and High Noon, way up from Calcutta. Impromptu groups also sprang up.
As promised, there were other types of music. Soloists, mainly in the folk style were Ronnie Mistry (who will be on Polydor soon), Sharon Prabhakar (how deep and beautiful she sounded outdoors), Ajit Singh and Remo Fernandez (“Bye Bye Mr. American Pie” was great), Siddharth from Pondicherry, and Ganga Waters.
And there was the classical Indian music.
It was for the first time since the Delhi JS Musical that classical musicians played in an atmosphere like this. I’m sure the audience had been into classical music at some time or the other, but it was the first time it was being presented to them as part of “the scene.” Sure, there were two or three rowdy groups that shouted and made things embarrassing and annoying. But for most of the people it was the most enjoyable part of the show. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan (sarod) with Latif Ahmen on the tabla was the undisputed hits. Latif played a tabla solo, and then Amjad began Malkauns. When he put down his sarod to walk off-stage, there were waves of screams “We want Amjad!” Sighs of relief swept as he came back and got into a Bengali folk song – its galloping rhythm had everyone clapping to one of the most beautiful, lyrical tunes there is. Raga Bhairavi followed as the final touch.
Others in the classical scene were: Mohammad Rashid Khan and Mohammad Sayeed Khan who sang lyrics of Tansen. The lyrics were difficult to understand, but they were wonderful melodies. Panna Mehta played ragas on the guitar, Kumari Mangala (a student of Vilayat Khan) played the sitar, and there was Shri Shekhar (sarod) and Ashok Bellare (santoor) with Uday Raikar accompanying on the tabla. The highlight came when the person next to me could stay still any longer. The jugalbandi (duet) was getting faster and faster. He just had to get up, and start dancing. It was just great.
All musicians, for the love of music and youth, played free. There were discussions during the day, led by Prof. Raman from Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Prem Shankar Jha (assistant editor of Times), Kabir Bedi, and Vasant Deshmukh, (a noted Marathi writer). The apathy that exists among us today was a central theme in all discussions. This was not planned, it just happened.
“It just is, because we don’t care to do something for ourselves.”
“Why not?” Asked Jha.
Kabir was questioning the students, “why don’t you as individuals get involved…do something to change the wrongs that affect your own individual lives?”
The reasons were the usual ones – security, we won’t get jobs, no effect, we will be branded… The most vocal, most angry, most anxious to do something were those who had not been affluent in their lives. The wrongs of the system hit them harder and they were more engaged in the conversation. Editors of the Bombay University paper, ‘The Movement’, suggested that students send letters to them to gather strength around a particular issue, so that they can question the authorities. It is nothing more than a scratch, he said, but it is a start in the direction. Only when we begin to get a sense of identity, a sense of belonging to something that is here and now, a sense of what one is capable of, only then will we begin infusing social responsibility.
Here we were brought together by the music, by the atmosphere of feeling together. It was just a start in the search for an identity.