A medley of experiences

From food to art, from poetry to dance, from music to theatre – the MSLF reflects the famous Ganga-Jamuni culture of the city of Lucknow

As we touch down at the Lucknow airport on a crisp winter morning, the air is brimming with anticipation. The Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival or MSLF as it’s called, is all set to open in a few hours, and we the Mahindra Group’s brand and communications team have travelled 1000+ kms to join in, in the festivities.

Started 15 years ago, the Group’s association with the festival dates back to its inception. Began as a platform to showcase the work by local artisans and craftsmen, and thereby provide them with a livelihood, the festival today is a multi-event, multi-genre festival with a medley of experiences – musical, culinary, artistic, oral, written, performative and poetic.

Opened on February 2 amongst much fanfare. The inauguration saw the who’s-who of Lucknow drop in at Safed Baradari in Qaiser Bagh, Lucknow to kickstart the five-day festival. The evening began with Jay Shah, Head, Cultural Outreach, M&M, formally opening the festival and introducing this year’s theme, Aashiqana, an occasion to celebrate love and lovers.

The Aashiqana theme in all its splendour, spilled over, across the festival space. The art displays across the two venues – Safed Baradri and Salempur House – intertwined the theme through its creative expression. The walkway to the Bawarchi Tola (food stalls) explored the various modes of communication used by lovers over the years. From the classic letters to sneaky phone calls. From the 90s late-night song dedication on radio to modern-day ASL chat rooms – the display was a nod to love and lovers and their infinite resilience. Other art exhibits too explored the theme with candour and humour.

Festival founder, Madhavi Kukreja took the opportunity to speak in detail about the festival, its growth over the years and what to expect from the line-up of events. A short film celebrating rafoogiri (the art of darning) was followed by a musical performance by Askari Naqvi. A play, a conversation, a dance performance and Qissagoi (story telling) marked day one.

Our day two began early with a special curated walk along Lucknow’s famed inner cities. Known for their unique Ganga-Jamuni culture that blends Hindu cultural elements with Muslim cultural elements, Lucknow’s historic structures are often an amalgamation of both these cultures. The Mughals, then the British have both left an imprint on the city’s architecture and landscape, which continue to jostle with modern-day high rises. Our first stop was the Firangi Mahal, an old-style haveli that once famously hosted secret meetings by Indian freedom fighters. Moving on, we encountered the bungalow-style living, among the first such in Lucknow and finished our walk with a visit to a colonial-style home.

True to its purpose the MSLF continues to curate an eclectical spread at the Weaves & Crafts Bazaar. The bazaar is a tapestry of colour and creativity. Stalls from across India, artisans big and small displayed an array of Indian fabrics, weaves, textures, styles, and crafts. Stacks of tant, tussar, chikankari, ajrak jostled with uniquely crafted silver jewellery and terracotta home decor. Leather lampshades, shibori saris and even a stall from Uzbekistan added the touch of variety to the fair.

Packed with musical recitals, dance performance, film screenings, book launches, talks on love, food stalls, film screenings, heritage walks, plays, theatrical acts and curated events, the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival is a true medley of experiences.

As the week-long event concluded on February 6, it is hard to ignore the smiling faces. Smiling at the food they ate, the trinkets they bought, the music they heard, the stories they encountered and above all the Lucknow they experienced.

For us, too, there was something for each one of us.

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