Call me a cynic, but I usually roll my eyes at attempts to hold ‘cultural evenings,’ because they tend to reduce the culture at hand to a commodity, something to be consumed. However, the recent event at Waterstones Canterbury truly encapsulated Indian culture and served to celebrate it to the fullest. The programme of the evening highlighted the diversity of Indian entertainment with dancing, story-telling and music filling the room with an exceptional atmosphere.
Novelist Vayu Naidu headed up the storytelling segment with a tale about the Himalayas. It was evident that she was able to put her doctorate in storytelling to optimal use, she captivating the audience to the point that a pin could be heard dropping. Her exploration of voice and intonation drew attention to the story, with the raising and softening of volume emphasising her passion further. The audience’s response to Vayu was as heartwarming as the story itself, with a standing ovation even given by some people.
The calming, and almost lullaby-like, voice of Vayu created a warm and peaceful atmosphere amongst the audience. Yet this was not the case for long as the music of Kuljit Bhamra MBE soon sent a wave of excitement through the room. Known for composing music for The Far Pavilions, Kuljit performed a selection of Indian drumming pieces which caught the attention of everyone. From the tabla to the mridangam, he showcased the diversity of Indian drumming and its many variations. A particular highlight was his eagerness to allow the audience to sample the instruments for themselves and have a go at playing the drums after the performance.
Kuljit’s performance was followed by another, this time a selection of traditional Indian dances performed by Ash Mukherjee. The dance teacher blew everyone away with his performances, transforming the stage into his own arena. The amount of turns and spins he managed without dizzying was, quite frankly, astonishing. Wearing a saree embellished with bells, Ash was sure to captivate the audience by creating a jingle every time he moved.
Interestingly, the stand out moment for the Passage to India event was also initiated by Ash. The evening celebrated Indian culture; however it also integrated the audience into it as well. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of audience participation and strongly felt as though the evening managed to encapsulate the warmth of Indian culture by doing so. Ash was able to do this by encouraging the audience to join in with his mindful meditation. He taught a succession of moves which the audience then repeated back to him multiple times. In doing so, he explained that they would be able to centre themselves and clear their minds. The integration of culture continued with his insistence that everyone hugged their neighbours several times, something that he hoped would build relationships and communities in the future.
The evening’s continuation to integrate the audience was highlighted when aromatic smells erupted from beside the stage. The Great British Bake-Off’s very own Chetna Makan provided the audience with a taste of traditional Indian food, including homemade mini poppadoms. There were a plethora of flavours and spices that lingered on the tongue long enough to create an everlasting impact on the taste buds. It would be no exaggeration to say that it was the tastiest Indian food I have ever eaten!
Decorations emphasised this integration even further because the saffron, white and green of the Indian flag transformed the store into a hub for Indian culture. In addition, scarves were tied to each chair in the hopes that the audience would be encouraged to wear them during the performances. The dim lighting and use of fairy lights created an intimate, warm atmosphere which highlighted the community aspect of the evening. It was astounding to see how a few decorations could transcend cultural boundaries and have such an impact on the audience!
While the evening was primarily focused on raising awareness for the charity Khushi Feet, who do incredible work for street children in Kolkata, I believe that Passage to India did much more. Waterstones Canterbury celebrated Indian culture to its fullest, but also highlighted diversity and created an event in which the audience could be immersed into the culture too!
Images courtesy of Waterstones Canterbury