Do you have a space where you can talk about your cat, the politics of this country, unravel your traumas, and yet, learn something fruitful at the same time?
My leadership journey with Pravah offered me a space like that and taught me how to build one for others too. The words like ‘ownership’, ‘leadership’, and ‘empathy’ had textbook definitions for me, till I learned how to take ownership of spaces because if I would not, who will? Is there going to be a Godot coming? I reckon not. I was of the opinion to treat society and self as two different components, but Pravah told me and taught me otherwise, self and society are two sides of the same coin. Society is merely a reflection of who we are and sometimes, it can be difficult to acknowledge that when the situation is not conducive.
In 2002 when brutal riots broke in Gujarat, a wave of hatred polarised the nation. Distressed by the turn of events, the volunteers of Pravah felt the need to reunite against hate and gathered at Dilli Haat to light up candles and sing songs of harmony. Music for Harmony was born. Since then, this small act of hope subsumed into a festival whose message of harmony remains intact to date. Just like Faiz Sahab, Music for Harmony remains relevant. For the first time in 19 years, we are having this festival virtually.
The first adda for the organisation, vision and plan of the festival was sometime in early January this year. We were asked to decide upon a theme. Some talked about polarisation, some reviewed 2020 and recounted the sorrows, some talked about the people we lost. We all agreed upon one theme, ultimately. We have had our individual share of sorrows and loss, that we are still trying to overcome. Now is the time to celebrate what we are left with, to express gratitude from the deepest nooks of our hearts, and acknowledge our resilience. Resilience. We are celebrating resilience through art this year on February 27, 2021.
I joined the team because the idea of a youth-led art and music festival intrigued me, I was only looking for some new connections and a good time, which I undeniably had. What I did not anticipate was learning a lesson so valuable when I was least expecting it. The value of collaboration. What they do not teach in schools is how to collaborate with different people and prioritise teamwork over individual success.
Coming from a place where doing things alone is perceived as empowering, executing a task with polar opposite people was a challenge for me. I loved the comfort of working with similar-minded people, with the same work ethics, same passion, and the same methods. I realised how badly I was trapped in my own echo chamber, and I learned gradually how to break it. We collaborated with the University of Washington, Bothell to organise the festival in India and the US. I wondered how on earth was I going to work with people whose culture dominates the world but have no understanding of my own? I was solemnly proven wrong as we started interacting and planning the festival together.
A glimpse into a Connection Adda Collaborating with them brought me more joy than I imagined. I would be honest, the idea of a virtual festival did not really sweep me off my feet first, but it was gradually that I realised the merit of one. There was no way we could have had an offline festival on a scale as large. The spirit of the festival is all about harmony and inclusivity. The spaces Music for Harmony created for us helped in cross-cultural exchange so effortlessly. I remember a discussion on the statement ‘Violence for the right causes is justified’. The polarisation in the group was note-worthy.
After heated discussions, rebuttals and defensive unmuting, we experienced what we did not anticipate. We were put into breakout rooms with the one we disagreed with and asked, ‘why do you believe what you believe in’ I felt as if someone asked me, tell me who hurt you so bad? It was an intimate realisation that our opinions are merely the tip of the iceberg.
I am reminded of a quote, “I can disagree with your opinion, it turns out, but I can’t disagree with your experience.” We have our own experiences, and no matter how difficult or bizarre it may sound, but there is always a common ground. The trick is to dig deeper and probe with empathy, to understand, to care. That is what the world needs the most right now. That is exactly what the festival endorses, the commonality in the diverse terrain that we are celebrating through art.
What I consider profound is the continuity and the evergreen nature of the message the festival upholds. Remember when Faiz said,
Jab zulmo sitam ke kohe garaan
Rui ki tarha udd jayenge, Hum dekhenge
(When the mountains of cruelty and oppression
Will float away like carded wool, we will see)
I just wondered, wouldn’t Faiz be grieving if he knew that his poem is still so relevant in the socio-political context of a different culture and nation after more than 70 years? Or maybe the poet knew that the ‘zulmo sitam’ (cruelty and oppression) is universal and transcending and shall hover over us for time immemorial. Perhaps, he knew. I have made peace with the fact that those mountains are still here, and if there is any chance of them floating away, then it is when we decide to break our echo chambers and with a bit of compassion and a bit of hope, join hands.
You know when you find something so good, you feel like sharing it with people, there is a sense of urgency to tell the world and whisper, “Hey, this makes my heart feel at ease, I want the same for you.” It is the same with this festival. I am sharing it with you, do come!