The joys of being a festival flaneur

Every Serendipity space is a little art bubble, insulated from the banality of ‘season time’ Goa life

The joys of being a festival flaneur

Rochelle D'Silva

Every year I wait for December, for Christmas of course, but also for the Serendipity Arts Festival—a gathering of grand gestures, huge productions, as well as artists you may have never heard of before. A magnet for the informed, the curious and yes, the clueless, Serendipity takes over Panjim, so that all the old familiar buildings, lanes and parks seem new. This year, however, many much-loved venues like the Adil Shah Palace and the Old Goa Institute of Management in Ribandar weren’t on the map, replaced instead by the Post Office Museum, the Excise Building and The Arena in Nagali Hills.

It took me two days to summon up the gumption to go through the dizzying schedule and mark out events or exhibitions that seemed interesting. The reality was that I wasn’t going to be able to make it to all. (Would I make it to any?!) I overheard people saying how the festival put them in a constant state of FOMO and I could relate to that all too well. And while I could see the merit in having a plan of action when it comes to a festival that spans 14 venues, I felt there could be no greater joy than wandering about aimlessly and coming across an exhibition or a performance that spoke to you, out of the blue.

One such chance encounter was with Sridhar Balasubramaniyam, the creator of ‘Chameleon Land’, an exhibition at the Old GMC (Goa Medical College) complex. Sridhar very politely (and patiently) explained the inspiration behind each photograph and how it documented key moments in the production of the play Puzhuthimarap Paravaigal by the Manal Magudi theatre troupe that he is a part of. Each photograph evoked different reactions—curiosity, a sense of wonder, a sense of kinship with its subjects.

Another session I serendipitously chanced upon, thanks to a friend, was at The Food Lab by Dr. Tanvi Bambolkar and Sid Mewara. An eye-opener into the cuisines of the Kunbi and Velip tribes of Goa, where we got to watch the food being prepared, sampled some tea and bhakri made from local ingredients, and had a lively discussion about traditions and rituals that revealed a side of Goan cuisine that isn’t accessible to the mainstream, and was new even to me.

I crossed the road, looking for the Art Park but it was the generators on the footpath that told me where to go. The Art Park did not have any typical signage outside, but the inside was well set-up. As I entered, I was surrounded by the (slightly jarring) sounds emanating from the Pneumatic Sound Field—a large installation that used pneumatic valves to produce sound. Moving on to the Sound Garden, I discovered an interactive installation of larger-than-life musical instruments that anyone could, if they liked, create rhythms with.

And this led me to the Mercado, the green community market nestled within the Art Park. A walkway of stalls that opened into a performance space where bands played in the afternoon and DJs took over in the evening. I was charmed by the warm community of the Mercado— as I drifted through, I thrifted a dress with pockets from the Good Karma Treasure Shop, consumed healthy (and delicious) lunches by Zeroposro and The Tribal Kitchen, stocked up on berries and squash from Vnya and spent more than one sunny afternoon with live music that made my heart smile. The compact stalls of the Mercado were beautifully designed by Aaquib Wani to fold into a square box when they’re closed. I noticed this creativity and purposeful design all across the festival spaces.

Spurred by my love for trees, I braved the afternoon heat and humidity to go on a walk led by Miguel Braganza, along and about the avenue trees of Panjim. Miguel is a walking repository of knowledge and I learned so many new things not only about the trees, but also the people who planted them and—most importantly— the people who saved them from being cut down. What made my day was seeing my first baobab tree and learning that it can live for 3,000 years!

One evening, when the temperature had cooled a bit, I took in the splendid performance of Sari: The Unstitched by Daksha Sheth and company at The Arena in Nagali Hills. The Arena is a massive venue that can accommodate thousands of people and holds performances in the evenings. While a bit cut off from the other venues, it was still worth the trudge, to see the sari being celebrated from creation to finished product—the dancers embodied the different stages through ‘acro-dance’, while hanging from the threads or weaving them into cloth. The stage came to life when the saris were used as ribbons and screens as the dancers floated behind them. What a way to narrate the story of the sari!

But perhaps the icing on the cake for me was a viewing of Rumiyana, a musical puppet theatrical performance based on the works of Rumi, performed by Ishara Puppet Theatre. The performances, music, production and lights all came together so beautifully the entire audience, me included, gave it a standing ovation. I am probably still processing it and it’s a pity that I can’t watch it again.

As I walked through the streets of Panjim going from one venue to the next, I realised every Serendipity space is a little art bubble. When you step out, it’s business as usual—parking issues, grocery shopping, and the lives of Goans navigating ‘season time’ in Goa. It seems that large sections of the local populace are still unaware of what Serendipity is, and are hesitant to engage with it. I wonder what it would take for them to see it as a festival of their own?

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