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The economics of a pink heritage

January 08, 2005 14:17 IST

The Jaipur Heritage International Festival is back in town. After a shaky start last year, Faith Singh, the director of Jaipur Virasat Foundation, the organisational body behind the festival, has apparently recognised the need for a greater support network --  this year she is armed with a board of trustees, a large marketing initiative and the backing of a major international corporation.

Lasting from January 14 - 23, the festival this year will not only include traditional Rajasthani folk artists, but performance artists from all across the country, and even a couple of international troupes, some from as far abroad as Spain.

Thanks to the association of some of the people behind the Prithvi Theatre Festival in Mumbai (launched successfully this year in Delhi too), Divya Bhatia in particular, who is the consultant director of the festival, there will also be some avant garde theatre on show, for instance Brhannala, a play from Pondicherry which explores the male/female dichotomy and has found renown in Mumbai, Berlin and at the famous drama festival in Edinburgh.

Singh and Bhatia are both bubbling over with enthusiasm about their pet project.

"While this is mainly about a need for conservation," says Singh, "We realise that it's unrealistic to ask for it without providing a link to some kind of economic benefit. Because if people don't know where their next meal is coming from, they're not going to be interested in cultural issues. You have to give them an economic incentive."

Bhatia agrees, "We're trying to promote sustainable development. It's not about the actual products being made -- it's about skill. And these skills are not just useless relics of an old picturesque way of life. They can be translated into very practical work skills that can give Rajasthan the development that seems to have escaped it."

This link with the economics of development could prove crucial if the festival is to make an impression.

The organisers are the first to point out that some of the crafts showcased are  linked with caste, and if they are to help the poor of Rajasthan, they must take these skills out of context. "We need an economic stability," says Singh, "if we're going to move these crafts and skills into other circles."

However, these are cultural norms that have been set in stone for centuries, and it is not clear how they will be uprooted. The organisers, however, feel that the festival could be a starting point.

The arrival of Hutch must have given the organisers heart, given their large ambitions. Sridhar Rao, chief operating officer, Hutch, sounds as enthusiastic about the project as the organisers themselves.

"Events like this have long-term consequences, and that's important," he says. "Local artists will have a common platform with artists from across the country and the globe. This gives them an opportunity to not only keep their own art alive but a chance to learn from what others have achieved."

The festival, then, aims to not just showcase folk arts and a rich heritage, but to create a way for traditional artists to continue to practice and teach their craft and to link it with economic viability.

Given that last year, the festival was beset by organisational glitches and event mismanagement, it would be interesting to see how this year's festival, more ambitious than the last, will go.

But now there seems to be more experience and practicality at the table, so to break the winter blues, why not head down to Jaipur and see what Rajasthan has to offer?
Samyukta Bhowmick in New Delhi
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