On a new moon day, the usually lugubrious football ground was dazzling like a newly polished jewel. The odd bunch of indifferent school kids kicking a deflated football with the only motive of killing time was replaced by masses of humanity that would outnumber the whole town. And more were expected to turn up from neighboring villages. It was a bizarre and incredible new world of buzz, noise, glare, flair, dust, fest, litter and glitter. No! It was not the football world cup, not even the cricket world cup! It was the annual summer exhibition, fashionably christened as Expo 89 by an enterprising and way ahead of its time Municipal Committee.
Exhibition! Fair! It was the olden day metaphor to a party! It was one hotchpotch of festivities: an all out attack of light and sound on our faculties. Loudspeakers stationed every few yards were mercilessly assaulting passer-by eardrums filling them with a curious amalgam of advertising promotions and item numbers from the latest flop movies. It was a scorching May and the already hot air was brought up to a simmer by the festoon of multi-colored Goliath bulbs and tube lights taller than humans. The unceasing din of the crowd and its hustle-bustle created a pandemonium beyond parallel. And then there was food!
Eating stalls scattered across the ground in a strange zigzag created a crystal maze that trapped passers-by with its scores of mouth-watering delicacies. Potato and onion bajjis fried in oil, fresh jilebis struggling to jump out of the frying pan straight into your mouth, wafer like appalams and pappadams in delightful shapes and exotic colors sizzling in oil and blossoming like flowers, peas seasoned with raw mango, sodas and colors of all types, idlis named after actresses, ice-creams and kulfis that were supposed to melt in your mouth but did so in your hands! Yet no fair is complete without the pinkish fluffy gossamer-like candy which is bigger than the face and sweeter than sugar. And it has always been a medical miracle to me as to how people gorge on all these and then manage to get on the Giant Wheel!
Ah.. the giant wheel! One simply remarkable invention! It is so huge that you can see it from your house in the adjacent village. But it is menacingly slow as it groans and whimpers its way up to the sky and limps back down as kids gasp at the stars with excitement and elders hold on to the railings and their dear lives. And then there are trains circling the ground, the odd monkey performing better than movie stars, parrot having a ball telling people their karma, wannabe businessmen trying to sell you all kinds of stuff, horse rides, the lost dog looking for its master, child clinging on tight to her father’s finger, all just to spice up an already fascinatingly eventful day.
An added attraction (really!) was everyday a politician graced the fair and gave away exciting prices and a boring speech. It was the last day and so the Chief Minister was expected. Several fabulous prizes were for the taking; the grand prize was a newly refurbished Lambretta scooter which stood majestically in the center of the ground at an elevated pedestal decorated by flowers, lights and patrolling men. Several lucky folks hit the jackpot and walked away with bonanza prizes ranging from hair pins to pencil sharpeners, candy bars to Tiger brand underwear. It always remained a mystery as to who took the Lambretta home. Nevertheless, the excitement lasted a full year until Expo’ 90 came along. Expo’ 89 was my first fair and its memory is still fresh in my mind. Today somehow these things have fallen out of our favor and are on the verge of extinction. I, for one, wish I could go to such a fair and lose myself once again!