analysis> It's time to discover!

Bollywood at Groep T

The Indian Students Association Leuven (ISAL) hosted their yearly autumn fest, which was centered around ‘anvesha’. If you do not know what that is, well, it's time to discover.


Truthfully, none of us here at Veto are all that well-acquainted with Indian culture. Apart from having the occasional curry delivered to our doorstep, our knowledge of India is generally limited to the odd Bollywood song, some historical facts and maybe a few spiritual rituals. Without knowing what to expect, we made our way into the large income hall of Groep T.

(Re)discovering India

‘Anvesha’, as it turns out, stands for the journey to (self)discovery. For the many people of Indian descent that are present, it is also a trip down memory lane. Our decision to dive in head first and immediately immerse ourselves in the cultural programme of the evening was, admittedly, a bit ambitious. Thankfully, the organisation went out of their way to ensure that even non-Indian people could be a part of the festivities.

We are greeted by a charming duo of presenters who guide us through the evening with their EuroVision-style jokes. As becomes apparent throughout the show, we are witnessing several stories of self-discovery. First, there is a band of children performing Indian medleys, who are quickly followed by a group of students, who bring a selection of songs about the journey towards adulthood.

The crowd chimes in at will, cheering at the announcement of an Indian classic which is, sadly, unknown to us. It turns out to be a really seductive, agreeable tune - one of many interesting Indian songs on display. After this musical intermezzo, three dancers appear. Despite their best efforts to describe the story they are about to perform, we still fall short of really understanding what we are looking at. The other spectators seem to love it, though, and their enthusiasm is rather contagious.

To round things off, we get to see an Indian play. The general look and feel of it is quite amateuristic, but it is enjoyable because of its over-the-top storyline, which combines pretty much all plot twists of your favourite soap opera in half an hour of theatre. There is hardly a living soul in the room who doesn’t get involved, either. Maybe we missed an e-mail.

Food and dance

After the cultural part of the evening, we are guided into another room to enjoy a buffet. Curry, palak paneer, biryani rice - everything you could hope for, really. In fact, I once had a dream about unlimited Indian food that was not too much unlike this very buffet, but that is a whole other story. With pain in our hearts we have to turn down a kind older gentleman who is offering us even more food. Eventually, we share a table with some warm-hearted Indian people, but our social interaction does not extend much further than a friendly nod.

This gives us an opportunity to sink into the role of spectator. What immediately strikes the eye is the incredible amount of selfies that are being taken. Everyone present is all smiles. It is kind of like walking into prom night at high school, except that everybody is actually happy at Anvesha. Then again, how could you not be, when everyone around you has their most colourful garments on.

The evening concludes with a cheerful dance performance, guided by a Bollywood DJ. Children, teens, adults - everyone seems to join in at some point, to the bewilderment of the crowd. The dancing does not really seem to stop. For a brief moment, we talk with an Indian spectator. We tell him it feels as if we have just walked into an Indian wedding celebration. ‘Oh no’, the man says, ‘there are far more people at our weddings’.

At some point, we decide that the rest of Anvesha is best left to the Indian people to enjoy. Whereas it was definitely a puzzling evening, it was also a strong reminder to keep an open mind towards other cultures. The people of ISAL really tried their best to show us a piece of Indian culture, for which we are very grateful. Really understanding another culture, though, takes more than one evening, but if you have to start somewhere, the ISAL autumn fest is a lovely place to start.

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