Art & Culture

Of bisons, rappers and Gujju boys: Tales from Arunachal's Ziro festival

Palash Krishna Mehrotra
Palash Krishna MehrotraOct 07, 2018 | 10:37

Of bisons, rappers and Gujju boys: Tales from Arunachal's Ziro festival

The music never stops, the rice beer—apong—flows like a river in spate

I am going to the Ziro Festival of Music in Arunachal Pradesh. It takes some doing to get there: a flight from Delhi to Guwahati, an overnight train to Naharlagun (Itanagar), and then six hours by road to the lush valley.

The trippy vibes kick in at Naharlagun station, which is swarming with festival goers. One can spot the groups from Bombay and Delhi, and the adarsh balaks and balikas who have followed the instructions on the festival website to a T. They are already clad in gumboots, headlamps and carrying walking staffs, none of which will have a role to play in a train compartment.


The landscape is dotted with gurgling brooks, placid lakes, tall white grass. (Photo: zirofestival.com)

Ziro, this year, has added a lit fest and I’m travelling with Wanphrang Diengdoh, a Shillong-based filmmaker and one-third of the politico punk band Tarik, and Mona Zote, a poet from Aizwal. On the train, the TT from East UP cannot pronounce Wanphrang’s name and sticks to ‘W’.

En route Ziro from Naharlagun we give a ride to a Gujju boy from Baroda, also headed to the festival. I’m half Jain-Gujju myself, so I can follow his phone conversations. He gives instructions to a flunky to transfer large amounts of money from one account to another.

The landscape is dotted with gurgling brooks, placid lakes, tall white grass. Yellow bisons and the odd Mithun graze leisurely in the pastures. One sees BJP flags fluttering on tops of houses, and every once in a while a sign that announces ‘Bismillah Beef Hotel’.

I tell Gujju boy that while he’s busy clinching deals, he’s missing out on the spectacular landscape outside. ‘What to do’, he says matter of factly, ‘money runs in my blood’. He unpacks his tiffin and digs into a thepla and red garlic chutney.


To go to Ziro is to fall off the map. The homestays have no broadband and the phone signal erratic. None of the local kids are glued to their phones, like their counterparts in cities. One enters the Ziro bubble for four days and forgets about the world. The venue is set in the middle of rolling hills and paddy fields as far as eye can see. The music never stops, the rice beer—apong—flows like a river in spate, there’s always pork on the barbecue grill. I try some smoked Mithun but find it too tough to bite into. Once the main festival shuts down by ten, the after-parties continue all night in the shack-bars in and around the Artist’s Village.

The music never stops, the rice beer—apong—flows like a river in spate. (Photo: ZiroFestival Facebook/Javed Parvesh)

There’s an interesting mix of musicians this year: Israeli band Malox, featuring a lead saxophonist who plays for two hours non-stop and leaves everyone marvelling at his ‘lung power.’ Sukkanya Ramgopal is India’s first woman ghatam artist, performing with her all-women instrumental ensemble, layaakriti. Sivamani, the ace percussionist, though not in the original line-up, drops in uninvited with a silver bucket, pots, pans and drums. This gatecrasher is welcomed with open arms.


Sukkanya Ramgopal is India’s first woman ghatam artist. (Photo: zirofestival.com) 

The highlights for me though were two rap acts: Cryptographic Street Poets from Shillong, whose lyrical content is influenced by comic books, cyberpunk fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction and raw cypher bars.

The big local star is K4Kekho. The moment he came on, both at the litfest as well as the sound stage, the girls went ballistic. Winner of the Arunachal Rap Riot, this is one rapper who has internalised the art form and made it wholly his own. He has a huge local following that connects with his words instantly. There is nothing derivative about his rapping; it’s 100 per cent organic, like the local Kiwi wine.

K4Kekho's rapping is 100 per cent organic. (Photo: Youtube screenshot)

On his big hit ‘I’m an Indian’, he raps: Deko muje deko tora/ Chinese jesa dikta hu/Itna lamba nai lekin tora naata dikta hu/Andar se hu Indian. Paiso ke liya jeeta hu/ Election ka time mein hazaaro me bikta hu.

On another track, he gives his back-story: ‘Ollo. I was born in a village called Lower Chinghan/ located in the border of Indo-Myanmar/ where one cannot speak for the rights he deserves/ afraid of AK-47 loaded real guns.’ 

Hanging out with the NE kids, one realises how much fun they have with each other’s identities. There are enough in-jokes dissing each other tribes, or making fun of accents, there are Naga jokes and Khasi ones, all in good humour.

The anti-China sentiment is strong here; at one point there were three thousand people standing in a field, all shouting ‘F--- you, China’ in unison. The festival ends with cries of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’

On the way out I bump into a Delhi girl who informs me that she has been carrying pepper spray all this while but it hasn’t come in handy. She is pleasantly surprised, albeit a little disappointed.

I turn around and it’s my Gujju friend again. He says: ‘After this I’m going to another fest. Guess?’

I say I have no idea.

‘Navratri!’ says the Gujju boy, rubbing his hands.

He fills me in: ‘The going rate for parking spots during Navratri is Rs 35,000. Viewing tickets for two (no dancing) come at one lakh, including parking.’

I make my long way back to Delhi, armed with this vital piece of information.

Last updated: October 08, 2018 | 13:13
Please log in
I agree with DailyO's privacy policy