While many of the items mentioned are now easily available within the city itself, and often at better rates, the venue still fills up every year on afternoons and weekends, with families and friends taking advantage of an excuse to enjoy the moderate weather with some entertainment. Unfortunately, however, the Mela of recent years has seen a steady decline in terms of quality. What was, some years ago, a vibrant display of talent and insuperable craftsmanship by artisans from the whole country, has now declined into a lackluster, touristy event with little to offer. This year in particular, the performances carried out at intervals during the day, normally a big draw and much enjoyed, were embarrassingly insipid; some were actually painful to hear and watch.The venue itself didn’t appear to have received any effort at all in terms of presentation; muddy grounds spotted with garbage, stall banners half sagging, and most stall owners sitting quietly in their appointed areas with half bored looks, all combined to create an overwhelming impression of collective indifference.
Strangely, a large number of stalls in each pavilion belonged to businesses that are located in commercial centers of the cities they originate from, their presence seemingly pointless when compared to just the sprinkling of traditional artisans displaying their work; this was probably the most disappointing bit of all, not only because of what the platform is expected to represent, but also because one remembers a time when one couldn’t pass through the venue grounds without stopping every couple of minutes, witnessing in awe a master woodcarver or weaver at work. Perhaps one reason for this could be that the overwhelming majority of participants, when questioned, explained that while they are given a place to stay in Islamabad and are provided stalls by the organizing authority, their travel fare to and from their place of origin as well as their daily food expenditure all comes out of their own pocket. There were some varying accounts to this; while one or two of those interviewed said they received some monetary recompense (these rare birds were some of the bigger names, having received a national award or two), others said they received recompense some years, not all. Most (a number of whom have been participating for over a decade) asserted they had never received recompense, neither when it was the responsibility of the center, nor with the devolution of power to the provinces; consequently, they are often unable to break even with the sales they make during the Mela.
Nevertheless, the audience continues to make a reasonable show of numbers. This year, the most likable – read, genuinely heartfelt and therefore the most enjoyable – performance was at the Gilgit Baltistan pavilion, where a group of men performed a traditional dance to their music. In the meantime, one hopes that things for the Lok Mela, an admirable tradition having been institutionalized by Mr. Uxi Mufti (Uxi Mufti on Lok Virsa), will once again pick up and return to its roots of grandeur.
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