Netflix might have renewed the Ferris wheel drama on screen but did the real carnival ever truly fade? Our search for mindless joy and innate childlike enthusiasm leads us to the fairs every time we get lost in our work lives. After all, a carnival is always the talk of the town we cannot escape. We aspire to be on the top, but the Ferris wheel knows how to ground us. Honestly, how could we ever outgrow such simplistic pleasure and nostalgic anticipation?
There’s at least one understated memory associated with carnivals that our hearts retain. Whether it’s discovering you have vertigo or a first kiss on the Giant wheel pressed against the star-spangled night sky. Fairs erupt into colorful brush strokes of thoughts and feelings like an Impressionist artwork. The carnival ride experience is an easily attainable adventure for an introvert who subscribes to escapism.
The crescendo of hearts beating, funny screaming, holding hands, reaching for the sky, and coming back down for another ticket to round two, the wheel never stops. The fair or carnival, and in Sanskrit, ‘mela’ is rife with personal and political history.
Mela is where people come together en masse, bonding and celebrating each other. All year round, almost every religious and non-religious festival is accompanied by a glorious fair. South Asian villages have this tradition of community gathering and small-scale trade. In rural culture, a fair signifies mandatory joy. While the young take the miscellaneous rides, grown-ups look for little treasures to buy—ornaments, art and craft, pickles, toys, trinkets, and more. Fair is a festival both for the rich and the poor.
Carnivals have long been a part of our culture. Be it music or metaphors, people reach for carnivals almost in an attempt to reach for a past submerged in nostalgia and smeared with the color of forgotten love. After all, who can forget The Poets Of The Fall saying, “Cause without your love, my life/Ain’t nothing but this carnival of rust.” The journey of carnivals going from rustic to rust in the modern concrete jungle might bankrupt the new world of a charm that cannot be store-bought or experiences that cannot be manufactured on demand.
‘Mela’ might be a new word for some. However, for a generation, it is an emotion. The thrill at the sound of its announcement, the brewing anticipation of a cotton candy romance on the Ferris wheel, gawking at stalls, guilt-free fried snack escapades, falling in love with handicrafts, family time, gossip, and timeless strolls constitute an average fair experience. The mela ground blush in teenage colors of many sneaky dates, bunked classes, or the aftermath of consuming too much fruit beer with peers. It becomes a mosaic of memories where even a bad day at work gets lost in the translation of time and becomes beautiful.
In cinema, fairs represent all things thrilling, bright, stylish, and Romantic. Mela scenes ranged from long-lost childhood to trend-setting dances or horror scenes to the fruition of love stories through the various ages of cinema. It would not be entirely fair to call it a resurgence since the importance of carnivals in cinematography never dwindled. Rom-com and dramas like The Notebook, Euphoria, Love Simon, Masaan, and many more re-amplified the spark of the contemporary carnivalesque sensation.
While some are about religious congruence, other melas are specifically for arts and crafts, clothes, or cinema. We have World Expos or some bougie (bourgeois) fairs for vintage cars. Trinidad and Tobago
considers their polymorphic carnivals as ritualistic celebrations, the 2000-year-old Kumbh Mela is a sacred pilgrimage, Christian carnivals since the middle ages have activated month-long joyous celebration of food, desires, and culture, and Mardi Gras dates back to pagan spring rituals, and Chūnjié celebrates generous gifting. In the Mughal era, the Indian capital would host a 5-8 days long festive bazaar for women by craftswomen in business called the Meena Bazaar, pictorially similar to a mela. Commerce has been central to fairs since ancient times. Fairs held at regular intervals solved goods distribution problems in the Roman Empire by creating a trading hub. In Champagne, France, fairs helped in booming transactions of Russian furs, East Asian spices, German linens, etc. Modern fairs still uphold some attributes of the traditions.
Contemporary fair seems balanced on the scale of urbanization and rustic nostalgia. Kids growing up, moving to the cities, leaving three-quarters of the family behind; office-goers slumping at the end of their shifts far away from home; traditions getting eliminated as per convenience; mutation of family values caused by time and distance; rapid urbanization of villages; outpour of fast-food chains quietly replacing the best of the street – all these blinding thoughts bring us to question: Are we leaving the
rural culture behind? Or is the rural culture beyond our reach now? Is fair just a favorite essay topic in schools and nothing more? Are melas only surviving in our memories because we’re busy at work or lonely?
The multifaceted nature of a fair is such that you will find its pieces in parts everywhere. Fried snacks come in various brands; Ferris wheels stand tall in theme parks – so why go to a fair? Because it’s fun – like building a festive Lego set with blocks of snack stalls, games, rides, memories & people coming together. It’s a rhythmic engagement communities look forward to every year. It is fair to say fairs are sustainable in their temporality.
Essay/Article commissioned by: TDLM Editorial
Written by: Ipshita Chakraborty
[Digital Innovation; Jadavpur University; Lady Brabourne College, Kolkata; English Literature]
‘‘Mela’ – The Village Fair, Romance of the Ferris Wheel’ First Published in The Daily Life Magazine on May 30, 2023