No one can do cool quite like Calcutta (yes, for some of us, it will always be Cal). So, when an invite from the elegant and understated Madhu Neotia turned up in my virtual mailbox, I couldn’t refuse. The invite was for the India Story, an initiative she spearheads under the aegis of the Neotia Arts Trust, and which, over the course of a few days, brings together art, craft and design from all over the country. Looked at one way, it’s a big fashion-food-music mela. Looked at another way, it is the early stirrings of a possibly pan-Indian movement. Either way, what’s not to like?
Held from October 20 to 23 this year, at the invitation-only opening night gala, Rahul Mishra wowed the posh audience with his star-spangled ensemble even as a drone camera buzzed breezily overhead. Designers like Abraham & Thakore, Anavila Mishra (whose saris are to die for) and Kalyani Chawla (exquisite silverware) had popped up shops. And, from the looks of it, Calcutta was giving them good custom (yeah, â‚¹500 and â‚¹1,000 notes weren’t yet demonised). Besides a glut of top-notch designers, new kids on the block were well represented too.
But besides design there was crafty craft too–intricate patola fabrics from Patan, musical instruments repurposed as home dÃ©cor, Bengal’s beloved gamcha as fashion accessory and lacquerware from Channapatna.
There was art as well, all rather accessible, including several larger-than-life installations. Next year, I for one would love to see more art, and more serious art, on show.
It takes a lot of effort to pull off an event of this scale smoothly, engaging as it does hundreds of partners. Madhu Neotia seems to have hired the best people for the job and then let them run the show. Excellent strategy, really. Curators included Abhilasha Sethia, Nil of design duo Dev R Nil and music composer Shantanu Moitra (who, of course, provided the theme music for the event).
There was a roundtable on the future of art, fashion and travel, where yours truly weighed in as well. A music festival piggybacked on the India Story, and there was some very good, very edgy music.
We were in Calcutta, so good food could hardly be far behind: raw chocolate from Mysore (paired with local Bandel cheese), artisanal ice cream from Mumbai, Calcutta’s jhalmuri, chaat from Banaras...And there was Baori, a pop-up restaurant reviving the lost recipes of Rajasthan.
The India Story is also injecting new life into its venue, Swabhumi, Kolkata’s version of Dilli Haat, which was a novel way to repurpose a landfill. I had a hard time imagining Swabhumi’s heydays were over, as I slipped between Calcutta’s swish set, generational and even gender lines visibly blurred.
This year also saw the launch of The India Story Design Awards (TISDA), felicitating designers in a wide range of categories. The jury included avant garde architect Abin Chaudhuri, currently the flavour of the moment.
The great thing about the India Story, whose tagline this year was “Revive. Reinvent. Relove”, is that it attracts absolutely the best talent there is. An otherwise contrarian Swapan Seth, who was also on the TISDA jury, called it “the germ of an idea.” It’s early days but, trust me, the India Story is poised on the cusp of a great journey.