How Sri Sri forced me to quit World Culture Festival midway

What was appalling was the preferential treatment given to our foreign counterparts.

 |  4-minute read |   20-03-2016
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The world has seen what the World Culture Festival (WCF) tried to show. But here is a behind the scenes story straight from the WCF venue, where I was a volunteer and had such a tough time dealing with the organisers that I quit the event midway.

The WCF had been projected as the "mahakumbh" of music, prompting thousands of music lovers from all over the world to converge on Delhi. We were all hoping for it to be one mega cultural fest, surely at par with an international event, and had high hopes since it had been organised by a well-established organisation like the Art of Living (AOL).

I am not a member of AOL, nor a follower of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. So at first, I thought I will not be allowed to participate. It was a surprise when my case was approved by the organising team in my city, apparently to fulfil some "target" set by guruji.

Also read - World Culture Festival: Babas and the sheep, State beep beep

However, as much as I may have pressed the organisers, they did not disclose anything about the arrangements for the participants until the very night we reached Delhi on board the Jan Shatabdi, carrying all the boxes of our musical instruments (I had a huge box of sitar).

Just as we got down at the station on March 9, we were told to check into a hotel in Paharganj (now you can guess the situation very well).

Never mind the dark narrow lanes full of guest houses, at least the rooms would be clean, we all hoped. I am not saying any of us demanded luxury, but after a day's travel with heavy boxes, the least we expected a comfortable bed and clean toilets.

Also read: Sri Sri, India needs security for women, not building your stage

The receptionist informed us that our booking was not supposed to start until the next day (March 10), and therefore we will have to accommodate ourselves in the three rooms they were providing or else go and make our own arrangements. In a group of 16, that meant adjusting five girls/women in one room.

We couldn't have possibly gone anywhere carrying our load of instruments, so we decided to stick around in those filthy, dingy rooms with bathrooms that had the most unbearable stench. Apparently, our nightmare had only just begun.

Also read: 5 reasons urban middle class goes 'Sri Sri' for Ravi Shankar 

In spite of our complaints and requests, the organisers did nothing to help us, making us false promises of help when there was none to come. At one time, when matters went out of hand, we were introduced to a new team of volunteers who we were told would "look after our needs".

Surprisingly, these volunteers seemed more confused than us and clearly, were hardly of help. "We have been running around all day, sleeping on the floor and have hardly had the time to eat," many of them said.

If we weren't already rattled by the situation at the hotel, the five-hour to and fro ride in the private buses with our musical instruments tested our patience to the hilt. There was a lot of walking involved, too, because the buses got stuck in those swampy paths that led up to the main venue.

While a few of us braved the walk along those dust-laden paths, many started to fall sick, and it was at this moment that the complete lack of empathy from the organisers shocked us. Many of us who requested clean rooms and proper conveyance to the venue were branded as "mean" and "demanding".

"Our guruji is already doing a lot for us and we should not demand more and learn to adjust," we were told by yet another group of volunteers.

There were many participants who tried to voice their requests, but these voices fell on deaf ears. Disappointed, some of them stuck around for the sheer opportunity of demonstrating their talent at an international platform like the WCF (or perhaps, the certificate of participation that was on offer) while many others like me quit midway.

Neither the love of music, nor the opportunity of performing in front of a large audience, not even the fear of a penalty for quitting midway could keep us there one moment.

But what was even more appalling was the preferential treatment given to our foreign counterparts who were given accomodation in five-star hotels and given proper conveyance to travel to the venue. Sad, we thought. We are supposed to be guided by the ideal of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (the world is a family). But doesn't a family treat all its members as equals?

As I took the train for my city, there was only one thought ringing in my mind: no doubt the idea of a World Culture Festival was to bring people together and bind them with music but at what cost has it been achieved? And I haven't even started talking about the environmental damage.


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Ritu Beri

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