India has a long tradition of fairs. In some areas of India, these traditional fairs have been going on for more than a century. Examples are aplenty – The Cattle Fairs at Pushkar, Nagaur, Jhalwar, Kolayat, Gangapur in Rajasthan, Sonepur in Bihar, Bateshwar (Agra) in Uttar Pradesh; The religious fairs like Kumbh Mela, Hemis Gompa Fair (Laddakh), Ambubasi Fair, Kamakhya, Guwhati Assam, Baneshwar Fair on Rajasthan Madhya Pradesh border.
These are the bigger fairs or the larger fairs which today are commercially marketed by our tourism department. They are glamourised and every effort is made to keep them looking the way they were traditionally – idea is international tourist would be interested in that aspect only.
Apart from these bigger fairs, each city in the country had its sets of traditional fairs – these were not the commercial exhibitions or the midnight, mid evening, mid noon bazaars. They were fairs for the Common people – which comprise of the majority of Indian population. Fairs which catered to the daily need items of these common people, fairs which meant eating out the traditional delights and enjoying those rides and swings, magic shows, puppet shows, freak shows with family and friends. The real idea behind these traditional fairs or ‘Melas’ as we call them in these parts of Northern India was to keep alive the traditions and traditional artisans, promote local or let say “Make In India’ items. During the time of freedom struggle too these ‘Melas’ played an important role – igniting the feeling of nationalism in all India through puppet shows, magic shows, various acts, promoting the feeling of Indianness and everything that was Indian.
Somewhere down the years, these fairs have lost their importance. Most of them have even died out, out of the surviving fairs, some have been degraded to being down market – fairs only fit for lower class or lower middle class, others have been turned into heavy commercial ventures – loosing out on their traditional flavour.
Most of us in our childhood would have some time or the other visited these ‘Melas’ irrespective of the cities we would have stayed. I was born and brought up in the Metropolis of Delhi, but still remember those Melas during Navratras which used to be accompanied by Ram Leela at night. I can never forget the delight we used to get out of eating out – all things generally forbidden in a normal middle class family because of health reasons. That feeling of being independent at a small age – parents allowing us to roam around on our own and buying toys on our own. Those moments of fear when trying out a new ride and those moments of joy while watching a magician bring out a pigeon from his hat.
Unfortunately all this is lost somewhere. Yes we do go out now – to those famed midnight bazaars and others, but where is the joy which one used to get from the simple pleasures of life. The food which we get now is the same which we generally eat on a daily basis. For the kids also there is nothing left – no excitement in food, no excitement in rides, magic shows are virtually nil – even if they are there, they have seen better acts on the virtual world – television. Traditions – what are traditions?
In the city of Lucknow, where I am currently residing we have an annual fair which has been surviving for the last 500 years. Sadly, though today it is treated as one of the downmarket events – so much so that the local English dailies would not even like to talk about it. I am talking about the “Kartik Mela” or the “Katki Mela”. I was surprised when most of my colleagues whose forefathers have also been residents of Lucknow (especially old Lucknow) didn’t know about it – probably they thought it was below their standards to acknowledge that they knew about this fair or probably are a regular at the fair.
I had been reading about this fair in the Hindi dailies for the last couple of years (they too write about it for a few days and then get busy with the Lucknow Mahotsava – I would talk about it some other time) and wanted to visit it. Thankfully, got an opportunity to visit it last year and got hooked to it. This time again, I was there and would probably be there till the time I am here.
“अकबर के समय से ही इसका जिक्र सूरजकुंड मेले के नाम से पाया जाता है। ये शहर के तीन ऐतिहासिक मेलों में से एक है। कार्तिक पूर्णिमा के नहान के बाद यहां श्रद्धालु जायकों के साथ खरीददारी भी करते हैं।”
This a month long fair which focuses on daily needs items, which starts on Kartik Poornima. Unlike the famed and hyped Lucknow Mahotsava – there is no hype about this fair in the local press. Yes our Hindi papers do talk about it in small paragraphs -and hope fully they would continue to do so.
Anyway it is easy to visit this fair. Its location is very simple – it is on the road which houses the planetarium (Nabi Ullah Road, Suraj Kund Park, Near Dali Ganj Bridge). Parking can be done on the Riverbank Colony Road- but not many are in the need of parking. (We have been using that area for parking, sometimes for free and sometimes it became a government authorised parking for the fair with a fees of Rs. 10.00).
Visit to this fair was like back to your childhood. You have different rides (mostly mechanical now with fancy names like Mary Go Round, Columbus, Titanic and so on), shooting games etc. for nominal pricing of Rs. 5.00-50.00. A sure shot winner with children and adults.
People today run after creating the traditional photo booths at weddings and parties, but here we witnessed the live traditional photo booth – at a nominal price of Rs. 40 you could get yourself clicked on an Enfield, Bullock Cart or even an aircraft with hand painted scenery in the background. If you had a mobile you could get the click in just Rs. 5.00 (probably a payment for using the premises). I was reminded of the time when I used to visit such fairs with a relative who was just 4 years older to me – getting yourself clicked in one of such studios used to give us a great high. (Though my father is renowned and trained photographer who even at that point of time had state of art photographic equipments).
The shopping part was the one which thrilled me the most. There one can get hold of pottery ware from Khurja. An item from Khurja pottery at one point of time used to be a prized possession in every household in Northern India. Lucknow also had its style of pottery – Chinhat pottery (named after the village Chinhat), though nothing much is left of it now. (It was very much alive at the time we shifted to Lucknow – year 2000, but gradually commercialisation took over and now people are happy selling land instead of engaging themselves in fine work). In bigger cities and in cities where the Mall culture has taken over such pottery ware would be available for thousands of rupees and happily the yuppies would buy it. But in this fair – yuppies would not even come. There were Bone China items – a dinner set starting from Rs. 1100 (for 27 pieces) and the finer versions with such exquisite piece of artistry with delicate gold and silver borders for just Rs. 7500.00 (similar stuff at Home Store or any such designer store would be for around Rs. 30,000), Milk jugs, coffee and tea mugs, Martbans, Ceramic Acharis and planters, all priced in the range of Rs. 50-300.
Glassware from Firozbad, those delicate dainty items which had the finesse of crystal ware – lovely glasses in all shapes, dinner sets, decorative pieces and so on.
Wooden items (traditional ones) – low moodas (seats) all for Rs. 50.00 per piece, cutlery and cookware ( price range – Rs. 5-Rs. 100) and yes items for kids like Flute in different shapes, sizes and colours. Mortar and pestle in sizes, grinding stones, aata chakki and whole lot of such stone, marble items.
Then there are these hand woven mats (door mats and chatais) in colourful options and variants, Plastic items (yes I think that’s where modernisation has come in), Toys, and what every girl would like jewellery and accessories – hair accessories starting from Rs. 5.00,
It’s difficult to decide what to pick and what to leave. The only logic which in the end works for us is – where would we keep the stuff, do we have storage space for the same?
Still, shopping is one the most important aspect – Last year we had picked up sets of handis (which could be used as serving dishes), all for Rs. 280.00. Ceramic soup cups-Each priced at Rs. 15, breakfast serving dishes – Rs. 10 each (these were made for Indian Airlines – but probably after the merger the consignment became useless for the organisation), Bowls for Rs. 20-30 each. We have been using them for a whole year without any issue – even in the microwave.
This year we did more organised purchases as we knew what is available in this fair – so we ended up picking up stuff below all for Rs. 1500.00
- Set of planters beautifully carved and painted (a set of 3) (Khurja pottery item)
- A 1 litre milk jug (Khurja pottery item)
- 6 dinner plates (Khurja pottery item)
- 6 small bowls (Khurja pottery item)
- 2 serving bowls (Khurja pottery item)
- 1 large serving bowl (Khurja pottery item)
- 1 ready to serve kadai (this can be easily used on induction and gas stove and is similar to the high priced brand Antiquity)
- Small Martbaans for pickles – these can be kept on your dining table too (Khurja pottery item)
- Small covered bowls which can be used to serve chutneys, dips and so many other options. (Khurja pottery item)
- Kadas (bangles) made out of Lac (whole lot of them – gotta refurbish my bangle box ….) and Earrings (again whole lot of them) – after all these are my favourite pieces since college days.
Apart from shopping the other thing which probably attracts me, my spouse and kid is that this fair is a virtual foodie’s paradise. Some things which you generally don’t get to see or eat on a daily basis are available here. Our favourites are: the famed parantha with sooji halwa (with colourful tooti-frooti) – the speciality of this parantha is its size – 1 meter in diameter, one portion is 1/16 of this parantha along with 100 gms of the halwa. Trust me no one, no one in his senses would eat it whole. Chaat items – not the regular one’s- Suhaal – flaky pastry like served with boiled white peas (matar), curd and sonth, Palak Chat –spinach leaves coated with spiced besan (gram flour) batter, deep fried served with curd, sonth and sprinkling of radish and dahi badas. Last but not the least – the Desi burger – boiled mashed potatoes shallow fried on a tawa (girdle) in a bun which is sliced and shallow fried on the same tawa from the inner side, sprinkled with salt and the magic masala (mix of amchoor, dried ber in powdered form, heeng), a slice of tomato and onion each, sprinkling of radish, served with sonth and green chilly chutney.
Apart from these you have the regular Indian version of Chinese – the Chowmein popular among kids, freshly made cotton candies and many more such stuff.
I end my trail in this mela by buying at least a week’s quantity of Katare (raw imli/tamrind), Amrakh/Kamrakh (Star Fruit) and Kaitha – all with those special salt mixes. Back to the school and college days.
The government apathy towards this fair though pains, the mela organisers have been for several years asking for the location to be changed to one of the ghats (banks) of Gomti and also support in improving the facilities but nothing has happened. We on our part are also forgetting this fair – why should an English speaking, yuppie be seen in such a low class event. Why should a fair which is deep rooted in the history of the city be treated like this? A fair that is full of warmth and camaraderie, a fair where we can see the real India which is not intolerant be treated in such a manner.
“Katki Mela” – hoping you would be still come around next year with the same flavour, to remind me of our roots, my desiness and yes, yes, yes lot’s and lot’s of Shopping.