Heat and Light

By Shiv Ahuja 0

Shiv Ahuja documents the energies of a rock music festival in Arunachal Pradesh

In 2012, Anup Kutty, guitarist with New Delhi rock band, Menwhopause, asked me to accompany him to a music festival he was curating in Ziro, the home of the Apatani people in Arunachal Pradesh. A two-day train ride and a back-breaking 18-hour road journey later, we were finally there. The same night, at a drinking hole, a few mugs of the local rice beer and I was out cold. I woke up to realise I had been photographed by my new friends with my hair tied up in traditional tribal style and my face decorated with bamboo-ash tattoos. Sometimes you visit a place and you feel an instant connection, an instinctive response to its energy—even though you will always be an outsider. I have been back every year since.

        In the final weeks of September, what is usually a valley infused with a gentle calm, filled with paddy fields and surrounded by misty mountains, is transformed. The first year only saw some friends and a few locals in attendance; by its seventh edition the Ziro Music Festival was hosting several thousand attendees from all over the mainland as well as the Northeast, spread across multiple campsites and home-stays. As the sun sets across the fields and you settle into the smells of the smoky meats and local brews, it begins to feel like a giant release, a collective letting-go that the landscape is now charged with.

        There is a story slowly unfolding and it’s about change, about growth. It’s about youth and energy, the mixing of cultures and sub-cultures. And it’s all set to the sound of heavy distorted guitars, fuelled by the local brew. These photographs were taken over six editions of the festival.

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This essay was published in the April-June 2019 issue. The theme of the issue was ‘Heat’.

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