Japan in India: The Land of Rising Sun in Bangalore
It All Started on February 8
When I was first asked to cover Japan Habba , an annual cultural festival, which was apparently on its 16th iteration in the city this year, I laughed like a maniac.
What was so funny was the actual phrase itself: "Japan Habba" - A nonsensical fusion of words. Habba, meaning “festival” in Kannada, throws back imagery of quaint Hundu festivals, drum-beating, oil lamps and religious traditions whose antecedents are as arcane as they are old. Sometimes an anarchic mess. Then we have Japan: staid, proper and painfully polite.
But it turned out that Japan Habba itself was pretty serious stuff, to those organizing it and to the 4,000-odd people who showed up.
Organized by a committee with the help of the Japanese consulate and several Japanese organizations, the festival saw Japanese VIPs mix with expat workers, Japanophiles, students and cosplay enthusiasts with blonde wigs, schoolgirl skirts and paper-mache props modelled after their favorite manga characters.
Several attendees told me they felt an affinity for Japanese culture because it was efficient and because the Japanese had manners.
““The real draw about Japan is their civility and their sense of order,” said Nomita, 19, a student from Presidency College, who was found at a stall selling second-hand Japanese manga comics and books donated by Japanese expats. "I am trying to get more into Japanese anime to learn more about their social norms."
Then, there were Haiku constructions, a selfie-friendly Bangalore native dressed up as a 1500 AD Samurai warrior from the Tokugawa clan, film screenings, quick language tutorials in Japanese, food booths, quizzes, cosplay, and Kimono booths .
Trying on a black and pink-colored kimono was Shubhangi, 22 an IT professional, who said she felt like an anime character. “I could wear this everyday. I feel really cute,” she said.
I laughed again, which was sort of infectious I suppose, because she and the Japanese dressers started laughing as well.
Takayuki Kitagawa, the city’s Consul-General of Japan who partook in the cosplay spirit by dressing as a “Ninja,” expressed satisfaction at how the festival was progressing. “There needs to be more links between our cultures,” he said.
Meantime, the Japanese traditional artist, Shukou Tsuchiya, set about painting a Japanese phoenix on a sprawling 20 foot by 5 five foot canvas, to symbolize what he said was the “the Indo-Japan connection.”
A different ball game
Compared to the "Habba business," the rest of the week was a different kind of intense, with a large protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) brewing up at Tannery Road, in an erstwhile British part of town that I had never been to before. The place was now a ghetto, with a majority Muslim demographic; a maze of messy streets, overbearing concrete construction and teeming people.
Incredibly, despite not having any police permission to hold a rally, the 200-strong protesters held their ground on-site for eight straight days, to make their protest the long-running continuous anti-CAA protest in Bangalore so far. In fact, as of this writing, they are still there, defiant against police attempts to clear them from the area, and despite having lost all support from local organizations, including the local mosque.
I ended up meeting an interesting middle-aged women named Reshma, and her daughter who had come out to see what the fuss was about. They were Muslims, they said, although they clearly did not belong to the primary demographic attending the rally - mostly lower middle class or poor Muslims.
"I suppose I was fortunate to get an education and get out," she said and I suddenly realized how similar they are to African-American communities in the US, many Muslim communities are like. Lacking all the privileges of the upper classes while facing all of the hurdles that middle class never has to worry about, including police harassment.
When asked what had brought them to the protest site, Reshma, said: I never thought I would have to worry about my kid's futures in India. I look at this government and all I see is parallels with the beginnings of Nazi Germany. There, Jews were vilified; here, it is Muslims. The tactics are no different.
Then, finally, at the end of the week, there was the launch of an annual report by the international sustainability research program, Future Earth, which announced that humanity faced "catastrophic" environmental challenges if it did not move to curtail the global temperature rise to
under 2 degrees Celsius. It turns out that the Indian Government is increasing its green energy projects around the country, to help live up to the country's obligations as far as the 2015 Paris Climate are concerned. But then, I overheard some scientists saying that the government's efforts are tantamount to nothing, so maybe this amounts to a bit of theater.
Grim stuff. However, my meeting a rather interesting climate change policy professional (above), who spoke about water shortages in India, alleviated matters somewhat.