Vigilance and Anti-Corruption Bureau setting up its office next to the stage, squads of undercover cops monitoring the proceedings, and judges having their mobile phones checked by law enforces! The State School Arts Festival, the 58th edition of which concluded in Thrissur the other day, was a nightmarish experience for a true lover of arts.
How can a cultural event conducted in such an atmosphere inspire and influence children? If this disturbing trend continues, it will be a great cause for concern for people who are passionate about arts and literature.
Definitely, there is no point in moving in this direction. But to bring about a change, the basic mindset and attitude of the people from top to bottom of the hierarchy needs to be changed.
People, who were part of the state school arts festivals in the past when they were comparatively low-key affairs, would certainly wax eloquence about their sheer class and elegance. Remember, the objective of this fete was to take children beyond books and expose them to different perspectives by broadening their skill set. The downfall started when they were encouraged to indulge in cut-throat competition. Competition is what spoiled the core and essence of the festival, I would say.
All the other key objectives of the event– such as kindling a spirit of companionship and the importance of participating – are still intact. However, despite growing in size and stature over the last six decades, the main purpose of the festival has been lost along the way.
School youth festival venues have become battlegrounds since quite some time. I feel it is ideal to have arts festivals without competitions. It should serve as a platform for the confluence of different art forms. Those who are not interested to be a part of such a celebration of diversity should be asked to stay away. I’m certain that children with innate artistic talents will be keen to grab such a huge opportunity. An artist should be provided with a stage, not a battleground.
Apart from providing the children with a platform to showcase their talent, the festival should also be a place to meet like-minded people and interact with experts in their chosen field. Unfortunately, such things are not happening here anymore.
Sleep-deprived, starving children wearing heavy make-up and costumes were seen waiting for over 10 hours for their turn to perform. With tension writ large on their faces, they were forced to run from one venue to another. Every child waiting in the backstage is the enemy of the one who is performing on the stage! The stress and anxiety of parents, teachers and their trainers is passed on to the kids. It can severely affect children's behavior.
Then there are media that use terms like ‘neck-and-neck fight’. How can arts and literature competitions be a neck-neck-fight? Probably they use such terms to give a real account of the things they have witnessed. Such battles should never happen among artists. They should be ‘fighting’ to strike up friendships and mutual affection.
The background score of the event should evoke a festival ambiance. It should be a celebration of rhythm, music, dance as well as companionship, warmth and tenderness.
Unfortunately, such an atmosphere no longer remains. The obsession with winning at any cost is anti-democratic. The slogans heard at today’s festival venues sound like that of dictators and autocrats.
They should be turned into music to create order out of chaos.
If that does not happen and the festivals continue to be organized in a similar fashion, it is equal to injecting poison into the minds of children. Arts festival should not be devoid of arts.
(The writer is a poet and a former secretary of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi)