The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shake a leg, but after metal detector test

Ahmedabad, Oct. 13: Heard of Navratri festivities where you can’t shake a leg beyond 10 pm' Or where you can’t spot PYTs preening on the streets in their dazzling chaniya cholis' Or where you have to pass through a metal detector before dancing the garba'

Believe it or not, that’s the way things are going in Gandhi’s Gujarat this time around. Dare say, the legacies of Godhra and Akshardham'

With Narendra Modi and his men stepping up security all around and clamping restrictions of all kinds, Navratri has never been a bigger bore. People who survived the post-Godhra riots and the terror at Akshardham temple seem either too scared or to have lost the spirit to dance away the night.

Not to be seen, in the first place, are the hundreds of garbas that draw crowds turned out in their splendour on every one of the nine nights. Then, even the 18 lucky ones granted sanction to hold the highly popular dance dos are cooling their heels.

Revellers appear to have been put off by the 10 pm deadline for the last dance. Loudspeakers have to be turned off by then. Flashing and revolving strobe lights that lend glitz to the garbas have been prohibited because of security concerns.

Only hard yellow unromantic lights are allowed. And the metal detector test appears to be pushing people towards the less-pompous traditional garbas in small mohallas.

There are no takers even for Dandiya Dhamaal, one of the largest garbas in Ahmedabad, organised by the SOI group at the University Grounds. On the first day, the orchestra began playing as early as 7 in the evening but the grounds remained deserted. Only 10 people turned up. After the 10 pm deadline, dholaks replaced the loudspeakers, but to little avail.

Himanshu Shah of SOI says business was so bleak that he was forced to offer a South Indian meal free on every Rs 60 ticket. “This is to encourage people to come in early and salvage matters,” he says.

Because police are not being tyrannical about keeping to deadlines, festivities have picked up over the last three days. But Shah, who has put in nearly Rs 50 lakh, is jittery whether he will be able to recover the money, leave alone plough profits.

“This year, we don’t even have 5 per cent of the normal crowds. Last year, there were at least 4,000 people dancing on the floor, but this year, there are not even 400 people,” he says.

On Wednesday, the third night, SOI defied the deadline in agreement with organisers in Surat and Baroda. “We did not switch off loudspeakers at 10 pm but luckily the police did not interrupt the revelry,” Shah says.

Finding the police a little lax, Anil Todi has taken the risk of organising a five-day garba, called Interspace. But he fears his money and effort might go down the drain. “I am even giving a free meal worth Rs 40 on every Rs 80 ticket, but I’m nervous,” he says.

More than the money, what seems lost is the spirit to celebrate. Says 22-year-old Vindi Shah: “During Navratri, we see a lot of youngsters like us roaming around, hopping from one garba to another all night. The last two nights, I visited the Satellite area, considered the most happening place in the city, but I saw hardly anyone in a chaniya choli. The 10 pm deadline has killed the festivity,” she says.

Binjan Marfatia, another youngster and a garba enthusiast, adds: “It is not possible to start dancing at 7 o’clock. Everyone gets into the garba mood only after 10 pm.”

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