AS the curtain fell on the five-day-long Madhavpur fair in Porbandar Thursday, participants were divided about the nature of experience at the mela this year. While some local residents who flocked to the fair gave thumbs up to its spick-and-span quotient, others complained of increased costs of food items at its stalls. “It was a new experience this year. There was no usual pushing and shoving here and every corner was clean,” said Rambhi Keshwala (50), a homemaker from Atroli village of Mangrol taluka, who had come to the fair with her granddaughter, Vaishali.
The fair is organised by Madhavpur village panchayat and Madhavraiji temple committee every year. However, this year, the state and Central governments jointly pitched in and overtook the entire task of organising and managing the fair. Officers said the two governments “upscaled the fair to a national event, with an aim to highlight the ties of the Northeast with Gujarat as established by Lord Krishna’s marriage with Rukmini after kidnapping her from Arunachal Pradesh.”
To give a new look to the fair, the government hired a huge plot of private land near the original fair ground adjoining Madhavraiji temple. The organisers set up 200 stalls and also covered the entire ground with mat. There were separate toilets for men and women, water points, lighting arrangements and public announcement system on which music was played constantly. Besides, stages were set on the ground where children danced freely while their parents rested on mats. Dustbins were also placed on the ground. The revelry ground resembled a modern exhibition or an expo.
The fair was, participants said, much different from the usual desi mela where chaos reigned supreme. “I like the new look of the fair ground which is spacious and without a speck of usual uncleanliness. This form of the fair is much better than the previous one,” said Ashish Gosiya (19), a fisherman from Mangrol town of Junagadh, who had come to the fair with his nine other friends.
Jakhra Jadeja (28), a farmer from Kadachh, a village around 10 km from Madhavpur, also praised the fair’s cleanliness. “But I observed that there were less number of eateries this year. I am told the stalls have been auctioned at much higher prices this year as compared to the previous years which pushed up the prices of items available at the fair. The organisers will have to do something about this,” said Jadeja.
But many old-timers complained that the the fair in the new format lacked the “atmosphere” which they used to experience in its earlier avatars. “This has become the fair of the kind usually organised in cities. Small traders cannot afford to buy stalls which are costly this year,” said Vasa Rabari, a 70-year-old cattle-herder from Madhavpur.
Balu Kargatiya (68), a farmer from Madhavpur, said he preferred the traditional rural cultural mela that Madhavpur fair was until this year. “I like the desi mela (the village fair) that this fair used to be for the fact that there used to be lot of energy in the crowd. Since the fair ground used to be small, even a small crowd looked huge. But, here, given the size of the plot this year, it seems empty,” he says.
Another farmer from Madhavpur, Ramde Kargatiya (68), complained the fair had become costly. “Earlier, there would be lots of stalls selling pakoda, gathiya, jalebi at prices which everyone could afford. But this year, I am told stalls have cost Rs 7,000 each. So, these items have become costly too. In the desi mela, people would come pulling handcarts and would sell fruits. But this does not seem to be possible now. Basically, this is the fair of people from the village who don’t have much money. Therefore, things have to be cheap here,” he said, adding that a businessman used to set up a stall for free distribution of sharbat but couldn’t do this year due to restrictions on the use of space. However, Rabari, Balu and Ramde also praised the cleanliness on the revelry ground.
Vendors agreed the stalls had cost them much higher. “Earlier, a stall used to cost us anywhere between Rs 2,000-3,000. But, this year, two stalls have cost us Rs 16,000. On top of this, the business has been not as good. How to cover this increased cost? We cannot increase the prices of toys more than 25 per cent else people will not buy. We will have to weigh our options next time,” said Ashok Tejwani, a vendor from Junagadh, who had set up two stalls for selling toys.
Officers agreed the prices of stalls could be higher than the previous years. “We had fixed the base price of Rs 7,500 for smaller stalls and Rs 15,000 for bigger stalls. But this is our first year. We shall learn from this year’s experience and do the needful to ensure that the fair remains a place of enjoyment for everyone,” said KV Bati, sub-divisional magistrate of Porbandar, who was heading the stall-auction committee.