I took a party of photographers from Lymington Camera Club to Southampton Mela 2019. To all those who came along, I am very sorry.
When you think of India and you think of colour, noise and vibrancy. Sadly Southampton Mela had none of these. I was hoping to be transported to the Indian subcontinent but instead, you had a motley collection of Indian attractions jostling for space with stalls from Southampton City Council and St Johns Ambulance.
The music when we arrived was a Yorkshire brass band drowning out a classical Sitar performance on a stage well away from the action. Sweaty, fat men playing colliery tunes didn’t scream Ragistan to me.
We strolled over to look at the clothes stalls which looked like a ram raid on an Oxfam shop. You could have bought this tat for a quarter of the price on eBay or Alibaba.
So where was the Indian culture?
Hard to find I’m afraid. We saw numerous Mr Whippy ice cream vans and a rather pathetic funfair ride or two. The photographic highlight was a graffiti-strewn public lavatory – enough said.
But then I smelled the hint of spice on the breeze and thought, at last some Indian food which, lest we forget, is always touted as the nation’s favourite. There were two, maybe two and a half authentic Indian food sellers sandwiched between endless burger vans and Mexican churros stands. Most of the burger stalls looked like they had been refused admission to the local football grounds for hygiene reasons. Seriously, people, Southampton is filled with coronary inducing food so why bring it to an Indian festival. The only saving grace was that the burger vans had no customers and the Indian street food stalls were packed.
On the main stage, two young women danced traditional Indian dancing to the Game of Thrones theme tune. Why in the name of all that is Holi (sorry bad Indian pun there) would you do that? Do they think we can’t appreciate Indian music or is that the perfect pairing is Filth Burger and Game of Thrones? I very nearly left at that point. This wasn’t cultural appropriation this was cultural dilution of the most revolting kind. It did get better later when they danced to Indian music.
Can you imagine Scottish dancing to the Spice Girls or the band of the Coldstream Guards playing Andrew Lloyd Webber (actually they do at Buckingham Palace but that is another story)
I began by blaming the council for letting so much non-Asian crap into the event but then I spotted ArtAsia, who were the organisers, and I blame them. If you don’t have enough Indian stall holders the answer is to make the event physically smaller not fill it up with ice cream vans and random charity pitches. It was truly dreadful. What in the name of the Great Zarkwan was the Southdown Way Association doing at an Indian Festival? Seriously people.
As we walked out I spotted St John’s Ambulance CPR training dummies lying on the grounds. I was offered a chance to practice but declined with the words
“That would be the perfect end to this festival. You would like me to get on my knees and perform mouth to mouth to a plastic man”………I’d prefer to risk a dirty burger from the dysentery van.
I hope this shambles is canceled next year to be replaced with a smaller event with cookery demonstrations, Ayurvedic massage, more Indian classical music, more food and true Indian dancing. In other words less ‘bollies’ and more Bollywood.
To get the taste from my mouth Elly and I then went to the Milford on Sea Arts Festival and sat in the sun drinking Pimms while some very decent bands played 70’s and 80’s classics. Glorious.
This event is worse than my other hate the New Forest Show (follow the link)