We have become a jamboree nation, a compendium of carnivals, Planet Festival.
No sooner has the magic dust settled on Sunburn and the last sparks of genius sizzled out at the Goa Thinkfest than the happy shiny crowd began stuffing its Louis Vuitton suitcases and its Hidesign overnighters to jet down to the World Economic Summit in Davos or the Jaipur Literature Festival for its next weekend fix of high jinx and high brow.
You know the regimen don’t you? Davos: Your armoury of Zegna (check), your Tom Ford overcoat (check), your Montblanc folder stuffed with your power point presentation on reversing global warming (check) and your Blackberry with India’s cabinet on speed dial (cheque!).
Jaipur: your Anokhi scarves (check), your Fabindia jacket (check), your battered copy of Chugtai (check), your brief and hastily-scribbled notes for your impending novel (check) and a downloaded hazy picture of David Godwin (Cheque!)
And after that onward to the India Art Fair, where depending on whether you present yourself as a collector or an artist, you can recycle either the Davos or the Jaipur ensembles.
Of course, for that charmed circle of professional schmoozers whose greatest gift is being at the right place at the right time, there’s more of the hurrahs: Delhi’s Sufi festival, the music fest in Jodhpur, the Kumbh mela, IPL, the Grand Prix, the Hay and all the way back to Sunburn in Goa.
And no one’s complaining either; why should they? Tourism gets a fillip, event managers make a pretty penny, media companies get free content, airlines can charge more and the entitled get one more opportunity to exult in each other’s company and — how to put it gently — make friends and influence people.
What did we do before the arrival of entertainment tourism? Way before the days when to declare your love for books didn’t mean booking a flight, the few places where the turbo-prop set gathered ritually were Kashmir in the summer and a handful of Southern and Central hill stations in winter.
Talk to the progeny of those brought up in homes where custard and gulab jamuns followed baked fish and dal gosht and you will hear the inevitable references to how Ronny Uncle and Kawal Aunty danced all night at Nedous and when Sher Singh got lost in the Ooty hills.
That was the extent of the PLU gang’s opportunities for mergers and acquisitions. That, and — for the creamiest slice that curdled at the very top — London during the high season, when every Indian worth his MSG beat his way through the thronging crowds to corner his year’s supply of Marks & Spencer inner wear.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The point of all this frantic festivalgiri is that it reveals a newly-minted society’s yearning to connect and belong. Zeitgeist communities are just another symptom of post-reform India’s search for meaning and enhancement.
These days it is not enough to read a book, bop to trance, spin to Sufi, appreciate art or have an opinion. You have to prove your colours by enlisting, enrolling, buying a ticket, signing up, flying the colours, showing your face and showing up — at the right place, with the right crowd, at the right time. To fit in, be classified as a member of, affiliated with, allied to, whatever it is you claim to love.
What it reminds me most of is young Narcissus gazing adoringly at his face in the pond.
Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer