Dear Kala Ghoda Arts Festival’s Heritage Walks organisers,
Greetings from a participant in your 2014 Heritage Walks 🙂
I almost ignored the Heritage Walks section of the 2014 edition of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF). Not because I suspected the quality of the programmes (they are always good!), but because my previous experience with your Heritage Walks was not very nice.
It was in 2010 (or maybe 2011), when I participated in two walks — (i) Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and (ii) Ballard Estate. The CST walk called for registrations via email for 30 available seats; and I was lucky to get one of them. When I arrived at the meeting point outside CST on the day of the walk and at the appointed time, I found a large crowd gathered there. Most of them had not registered and were determined to be on the walk one way or the other. And they succeeded as your people were just not able to turn them away. This meant that we ended up as a pretty large group and I barely got to hear what the guide spoke.
The Ballard Estate walk turned out to be even more chaotic. This walk had no pre- registrations and interested participants just had to turn up at the World War I memorial in Ballard Estate at the appointed day and time. About 150–200 people turned up that day for the walk. I left 5 minutes into the walk when I found that I could neither see the tour guide nor hear a word of what she spoke.
Thereafter, I restricted my KGAF participation only to the events on Rampart Row every year. Till I came across these words on your website with regard to the 2014 Heritage Walks.
Participants are welcome on FIRST COME – FIRST SERVE [sic] basis… (Maximum people – 50 on first come first serve [sic] basis)…
Note: Only 1 token would be handed over to one person. No email registrations would be accepted.
The “First come – First serve” [sic] and the “Maximum people – 50” clinched it for me. After choosing which ones to go for, applying for time off from work, and reaching well in time to stand up in the queue for the registration tokens, I managed to participate in 5 Heritage Walks and Tours at the KGAF 2014.
Every heritage walk revealed yet another interesting aspect about this beautiful city of ours. Unfortunately, every heritage walk also revealed how much things had not changed with regard to organising and conducting them. The words on your website just remained mere words and didn’t translate into action.
Let me elaborate with details from each walk:
Bombay High Court Walk : When I arrived at Gate No. 4 of the High Court, the starting point of the walk, after collecting my registration token from your help desk (and after being given wrong directions), it was to see a familiar sight — that of people without tokens or prior registration gathered there. Because this was within the closed premises of the High Court, the extra numbers did not matter too much and the walk was manageable. This was not the case with the next walk.
Jewish Heritage Walk : By the time the tokens were handed out at your Help Desk, the line had grown beyond 50 (in fact, Bhavani, a fellow blogger was the last person to get the token for this walk). When we assembled at the starting point outside David Sassoon Library, there were an equal number of people waiting there without the registration tokens. And since they refused to leave or were accommodated by your volunteers (I’m not sure which as it was too crowded and noisy to figure out the reason), the walk was conducted in 2 batches — one for those with tokens and the other for those without.
Stained Glass Walk : This was the only walk which did not have ‘gatecrashers’ and was conducted smoothly. In fact, this walk had less than 50 participants; perhaps, that’s why it went off so well.
Art Deco Walk : This could have ended up as a repeat of the Jewish Heritage Walk as many people just landed up at the starting point without the registration tokens. Some of them, however, went away when they saw the crowd, though an equal number didn’t and ended up joining the walk. Another walk managed with a difficulty.
Mumbai Port and Harbour Tour : Since this was a boat trip, I was pretty sure there would be no extras or gatecrashers to the 60 seats announced. I didn’t realise how wrong my assumption was.
After seeing your tweets on how one should come early for registration to avoid disappointment, I was at your Help Desk by 6.45 am on the day of the tour. By the time the registration tokens were distributed at 8 am, the line had snaked out of sight.
There were about 35 people ahead of me, though I became the 47th person to receive the token. The difference was thanks to people barging into the line shamelessly, your volunteers and Help Desk people nowhere in sight, and your security looking the other way. When the registration was declared closed, many people left in disappointment. But many more stayed behind to protest angrily and even threaten to not allow the boat tour to happen.
This spilled over to the meeting point for the start of the tour where, along with the registered participants, a large number of the protesting, unregistered participants had gathered as well. I don’t know the details of what happened or how it happened, but when the boat left the harbour, there were about 120 people, instead of 60 that were supposed to be on board. Those with registration tokens were supposed to be on the upper deck and those without on the lower deck. But, of course, this didn’t happen as some people refused to move to the lower deck and your volunteers could do nothing about it. The tour guide had a mike and spoke from the lower deck for most of the time, but due to a malfunctioning audio system, those on the upper deck and with the registered token did not hear him always.
Now that I have shared my experience of the Heritage Walks, I have a few things to ask you:
- One of your volunteers said that ‘it was not fair to turn away interested people. So what if they had not registered!’ Tell me, was it fair for those people to read your website and actually believe it? Was it fair on those people who took leave from work or arranged for baby-sitting or child care services or travelled all the way from Kalyan just so that they could come early and register for a walk. Was it fair for those people to find that all their planning was in vain as they were jostling for space with people who had not registered, or had just strolled into the walk and were welcomed by your volunteers. If you did not mean to follow your own procedure for registering on the walks, why go through the entire charade of putting up one?
The security guards were completely useless and ineffective, except for a mention of ‘please stand in a straight line’ to the people waiting to collect tokens. On the morning of the Mumbai Port and Harbour Tour, they pleaded helplessness against dealing with the crowds that had queued up. It is only when your Help Desk people walked in, shortly before 8 am, that they started patrolling the queue. But by that time, it was too late and many people had broken into the queue. Please, may I know, what was the brief given to the security?
Your twitter feed kept urging people to come early and register for the tours. Obviously this was not meant for your volunteers who would saunter in 5 minutes before the registrations opened. While this was not really a problem for the other Walks, it was a big problem for the Mumbai Port and Harbour Tour. After all the publicity done and your volunteers telling people to come early for registrations, how could you not have predicted the turnout or crowd behaviour that day?
During one of the walks and in response to a comment by a participant, the tour guide had snapped and responded, “The KGAF is doing so much already and all for free. You shouldn’t be demanding anything more.” I don’t know the context of the comment as I did not hear it. I also do not know the context of the response, which I did hear. True, every aspect of the KGAF is free, thanks to the generous sponsorship that you receive, and I’m sure everybody who participates are grateful to you for that. But the choice to offer it free is yours and not a demand made by the participants. So, if I were to ask you to follow what you have stated on your website, would I also be considered as demanding?
Dear KGAF Heritage Walk organisers, it is not like I did not come away with any positives. I loved all the walks as each one introduced me to a side of Mumbai that I had only a passing knowledge of. I came away from each one feeling happy and proud of living in a city with such a fascinating and varied history hidden at the most unexpected of places. All the walks, without exception, were well curated and led.
But all this does not take away or make me ignore the shortcomings in organising and conducting the walks. I don’t have an issue with 50 participants, which is a large number, or even that it is offered only once during the KGAF. I do, however, object to all my planning and waiting in the queue to collect a token coming to nought when the casual participant walks in and your volunteers say nothing. While I do understand the difficulty in meeting the expectations of so many and disappointing many more, you cannot lay down a procedure and then not follow it yourself. You have been organising Heritage Walks for so many years; surely you should have understood the Indian psyche by now.
Just because the walks are conducted free of charge does not mean that participants like me cannot expect you to keep your word. I hope that next time around you come up with a system that you not only expect the others to follow, but will also be one that you follow. There are many ways this can be done, and it only can be done if you really mean it.