How this year’s virtual Kala Ghoda festival addressed corona anxiety

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February 14, 2021 1:45 AM

Mumbai’s much-admired Kala Ghoda Festival concludes today after a virtual edition of music, art, literature and a workshop on anxiety

The Bomanjee Hormarjee Clock Tower is among the several south Mumbai heritage buildings restored by the Kala Ghoda Association; and the bronze statue of a black horse in the south Mumbai arts district symbolises the Kala Ghoda FestivalThe Bomanjee Hormarjee Clock Tower is among the several south Mumbai heritage buildings restored by the Kala Ghoda Association; and the bronze statue of a black horse in the south Mumbai arts district symbolises the Kala Ghoda Festival

When Brinda Miller, the honorary chairperson of the Kala Ghoda Association in Mumbai, launched the preparations for its eponymous arts festival this year, one of the first calls she placed was to a leading therapist in the city. “We wanted to have a session to help people deal with their anxiety,” says Miller, an artist and a champion of public art in Mumbai.

With the megacity witnessing over three lakh Covid-19 cases and more than 11,000 deaths, the Kala Ghoda Association has stuck to the safety protocols for coronavirus this year by organising a virtual festival (viewed on and during February 6-14. Along with artists, musicians, writers and craftspeople, the festival programmers added a therapist to address the concerns of a community living under the shadow of a disaster for over a year.

“The association reached out to me asking if I would be interested in hosting a workshop on anxiety as part of the Kala Ghoda Festival,” says Sonali Gupta, who practices clinical psychology in Mumbai. On the fifth day of the festival, which concludes today, Gupta was the host of an online workshop, titled Unlocking Anxiety that stretched to an hour.

“I am glad that a session on mental health is included in a mainstream event. The Kala Ghoda Festival is a big part of the city of Mumbai,” adds Gupta, whose debut book, Anxiety: Overcome It and Live Without Fear, was published during the lockdown last year. In the well-attended workshop, Gupta talked to the participants from across the country about the experience during the pandemic, what anxiety looks like and how it manifests, and handled the myths around anxiety.

“In my personal work as a therapist, anxiety has topped the list during the pandemic,” says Gupta, a therapist for over a decade-and-a-half. “People have been anxious about contracting the virus, losing jobs and their dear ones. Working from home is also a subject of anxiety for many. Even if you are living safely, we still have anxiety,” adds Gupta. “Technology has also contributed to our anxiety. The last one year has also seen technology fatigue happening. Our phone is constantly buzzing,” adds Gupta, who detailed research-based techniques about what people can do at an individual level to manage anxiety and shared with them a crowd-sourced list of therapists across the country created by her.

First held in 1999, the Kala Ghoda Festival is inspired by the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, considered the world’s largest arts festival. “We got the idea for an arts festival in Mumbai from the Edinburgh festival. While the visitors have to pay in Edinburgh, ours is a free festival,” says Miller. Through its popular festival, the Kala Ghoda Association has been able to raise funds over the years for preserving south Mumbai art district’s rich architectural heritage. Among heritage structures the association has helped preserve are the Bomonjee Hormusjee Wadia Clock Tower on Perin Nariman Street, and the Ruttonsee Muljee Jetha water fountain and Elphinstone College in Fort Mumbai.

Both the association and the festival derive their names from a statue erected in honour of King Edward VII, the Prince of Wales who visited Mumbai in 1875. “It was the statue of King Edward on a black horse. The statue became a landmark and the name Kala Ghoda stuck,” says heritage evangelist Vinayak Talwar, who conducted a virtual walk around the Kala Ghoda precinct during the festival.

While the Edwardian statue was removed during the nationalist movement in Mumbai in the 1960s, the Kala Ghoda Association ensured a new bronze statue of a black horse (without King Edward this time) came up some 3 km from the original site two years ago. “Several statues of British princes were vandalised during the nationalist movement,” says Talwar, whose virtual heritage walk was attended by nearly 400 people. The recently restored original statue is found today at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla.

The origins of south Mumbai art district date back to the foundation of the Bombay Arts Society in 1888 for promoting local artists. In 1939, the society opened a salon at the Ador House in Kala Ghoda that became a hub for artists who exhibited their works there. “This period saw the birth of the arts movement in Kala Ghoda area,” says Talwar. The Ador House arts centre (it moved out two years ago) displayed the works of famous artists like MF Hussain, SH Raza, Gaitonde and FN Souza, all members of the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group formed in the 1940s. The Jehangir Art Gallery followed in 1952.

“We kept the arts district going during the pandemic by organising virtual talks twice a week,” says Sukhnandan Vohra, who joined fellow heritage evangelist Pereena Lamba in conducting an online talk, Bombay Buffet: Food And The City, during the festival. “Food is part of our intangible heritage. We will lose our heritage if we don’t talk about it,” says Vohra.

Faizal Khan is a freelancer

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