Picture a massive fort with imposing walls that stands upon a hill accessible by roads that climb up, zig-zagging their way to the top. Inside that fort, musicians from all over the world have assembled bringing their own unique style of music with them. You are seated on chairs in a wide open courtyard surrounded by the tall, erect walls of the fort that stand cocooning you away from the world outside.
But, it is not morning when you are in there (as it is in the above picture). Instead, it is midnight. The moon is waning, having seen the first day of the music festival in all its full glory.
You are not alone.
To the left of you are your friends with their eyes, ears and minds glued to the stage in front of them. To your right is a tiny 3-year old foreign kid with sunset yellow hair in an Indian kurta and pyjama. He sits on the floor, claps, leaps up, dances and plays with whomever he wants, oblivious of the rest of us. Carefree and obviously having the time of his life, he doesn’t smile though. It is as if the scene in front of him was one of the secret rituals of a ceremony that only he knows and was created just for him to take part in.
His mom is somewhere at the back. You know this because you had seen both of them eariler in the food courtyard. He looked sleepy then, probably waiting for things to get started. The mother looked like many years ago, she must have gone through a similar procession. Ragged clothes, pierced skin, a backpack, flip-flops - she exudes charm and natural cool that many of us can only look at, admire and idolise.
Behind us is a swarm of people equally interesting and completely interested in what was unfolding in front of us. Some are standing holding their drinks while others, their lover's hands. Rest are seated on a stone platform at the base of the walls surrounded by strangers wanting to strike up a conversation, smoking, listening to the music.
The Royalty of Jodhpur sits on one side against the wall - impeccably dressed in their regal attire - turbans, sherwani, swords - the works. Guards with curled up moustaches stood protecting them from the common folk.
The main attraction was lit up by an amalgamation of colors dispersing out of various strobes shining on the performers on the stage and reflecting against the walls.
Who the performer is on the stage is immaterial. You don’t remember much of how it sounded like except that when you were there, the music was solely what you thought about. No other thoughts entered into your head and you feel glad because of it.
The music lifts you up, drowns you down, moves you - takes you in circles, makes you smile, wonder and smile some more. You don't really know which category to place this music in. There is Rock, Sufi, Soul, Folk and many others. Often, they collaborate and produce unique sounds.
It is not too cold , just warm enough for a thin sweater. You take a sip of your drink. But, it is only customary, you don’t really need it.
Earlier, you sat at a ledge outside with your friends, legs dangling in the air. 200ft below, looking ahead in the distance, you see the many houses and people that make up the city. People dance on the roofs for a reason which you are not privy to. City appears a box full of more brown boxes with a few specks of color scattered around on top of people’s houses.
And it is midnight.
This is Jodhpur Riff Music Festival. I was there for only a night and day but it is already among one of my favorite live music experiences. I didn’t click many pictures of that night, there is no point. You have to be there to truly appreciate the grandeur of the event.
On the way to the fort at 4.30 in the morning
That night, we stayed at the fort till 3 am then came back to rest for an hour before leaving again for the finale at a different venue. Unlike most music festivals, this one didn't end with a grand last night. Instead a beautiful morning show ended the proceedings. It was by the brilliant Kabir Panthi Prahlad Singh Tipaniya whose work we are already a big fan of.
This was a completely new experience for me. We arrived at the venue for the morning show, Jaswant Thada which is a mausoleum, early in the morning when it was still dark. Tipanya Ji sat on the floor of the courtyard with his group.
Different shades of Jaswant Thada during the performance
The sun had not yet appeared, probably waiting for us to assemble before emerging. We lay our bums down on the bright green wet morning grass, others on the mattresses. Gradually, the light grew brighter and we shut our tired eyes and let the music sink in. Although, honestly, we couldn't really hear all of it - the exhaustion from the night before resulted in a few small naps interspersed with Tipanya Ji's booming voice and the sounds from the instruments of the rest of his group.
Eventually, we got up, roamed around, had a cup of tea, looked on the other side from where, again, the whole city and the Mehrangarh fort could be seen - all this time, the group kept singing songs of Kabir in devotion to God.
As it ended, we broke into an impromptu jig. The rest of the day was comparatively uneventful as we came back and rested for a bit before catching the train to back home.