Throwback: Sarah Chawla’s Postcard From Magnetic Fields Festival

3 years ago

You’d have thought that by year 4 the excruciating levels of anxiety tinged with excitement/fear would have dissipated or at least evolved into more stable emotions but I swear they get worse! Over the last four years Magnetic Fields has grown from a large party of 400 to an impressive gathering of 3,000. This edition was especially nerve racking as we introduced a number of new content streams and partnerships, there was also a lot more hype and expectation from the audience.

We debuted Magnetic Words, a space where ideas and minds took centre stage in the dungeon. It featured talks curated and hosted by my dear friend Rebecca Hobson, who I studied English Literature with at Sussex University – this was a real experiment. Do people who want to dance to electronic music until the sun rises really want to sit and listen to talks in the afternoon? In festivals that we’ve visited around the world this has always worked, but that didn’t mean it would here… We turned the dungeon into a snuggly nook full of cushions and low seating and were overwhelmed with the response received!

The outstanding calibre of speakers really shone through; highlights included talks from Raghu Karnad and William Dalrymple; Monica Dogra impressed with her discussion about intimacy in the digital era; Jahnvi Dameron Nandan’s exploration of fragrance through memory, story and emotion was beautiful, and we were delighted with the turn out on both days.

This space also underwent a transformation at midnight and turned into a little jazz club – a collaboration with Delhi-based venue The Piano Man Jazz Club. Again, the same doubts and concerns were raised – how is this compatible with everything else that we are doing? In many ways it wasn’t, but that was the point. Magnetic Fields is many different types of experiences or curated little surreal bubbles and moments. On the one hand you had the RBMA North Stage, where you could dance under a crisp star-lit sky (during a meteor shower no less!) in a courtyard decorated with historic alfresco paintings with international heavyweights like Helena Hauff and Roman Flugel belting out beats – transfixing people on a two-hour journey.  Yet, just around the corner, you could descend into the surreal dungeon and lose yourself in rhythms and sounds that made your body melt!

With this edition, we began to realise a lot of dreams we’ve had for Magnetic Fields since the very first day. A really special moment was the sunset performance by Abhimanyu’s troupe of handpicked Manganiyars. They captivated the audience sat among Shilo Shiv Suleman’s otherworldly installation, ‘Pulse and Bloom’. Getting ‘Pulse and Bloom’ to Magnetic Fields and having Rajasthani folk music play in the Bedouin area have both been dreams but to combine the two together, and place this within the magical backdrop of sunset, was really spectacular.

Another highlight for me (every year) is the people watching. I think the very fabulous Harjoth Singh summed this up in his article for Discover India: “The festival-goers are very much part of the sensorial kaleidoscope here, rippling through courtyards in a flowing, flamboyant mélange of colour.” Magnetic Fields guests have always gone to town with their outfits and each year we get more delightfully eccentric garms (and I’m not talking about the glitter bindi fairies)! My favourite spot to watch Magnetic Fields go by this year was a souk called Life Is A Masquerade, a veritable den full of magical jewels and wears from Strange Shrew, Wadadisi, Roma, Simply Simone Bombay and Goa’s Asdeen. (Asdeen also turned out to my one of my new favourite dancers at the festival!) This position also allowed me to strategically watch people get their faces transformed/ “Rosariod” by the notorious Italian makeup artist who had set up shop just opposite.

In terms of my own outfits, NorBlack NorWhite always come to the rescue! Their North Eastern dress has become a staple part of every single journey I make and I’ve worn it religiously to every edition of Magnetic Fields. This year I was incredibly flattered to also be helped out by Le Mill and got the opportunity to wear clothes made by three really inspiring women: Olivia Dar, Ruchika Sachdeva (of Bodice) and Rina Singh (of Eka). Olivia and I are part of a ladies lunch club in Shahpur Jat where a bunch of us who run our own businesses regularly meet up to support each other, and needless to say have a lot of fun in the process. I spent over an hour trying pretty much all of her vintage Afghani dresses and zoned in on a few to wear at Magnetic – so much fun! All the outfits I chose were feminine and practical – perfect for gallivanting, running around and dancing. Bodice’s indigo polka suit was an absolute dream – Ruchika gave me the confidence to wear this over tea in her office and I’m so glad she did! I also went spotty with Eka wearing the most divine silk dress and thick woolen top that made transitioning from day to night easy peasy – all outfits paired with black John Lennon’s to hide my tired, sleep-deprived eyes and plain black Vans so that dancing was always an option! Until next year Magnetic Fields.

The next edition will take place between December 15-17, 2017.