Heartbreak at Ukhrul : unfolding Shirock 2018

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Shirock 2018By Lukhendro Keisham
Gone are days when we had to listen to music available only on cassette tapes that we possessed, or wait for some random lyrics with guitar chords to be featured in some monthly magazine. Gone are the days about the endless discussions and gossips of Woodstock videos as no one cares about the “western music” programme broadcasted on All India Radio (AIR) these days. The truth is that no one really cares about the past glories and memories except for praising or degrading what we had gained. We no longer limit ourselves to friends and elders to explore new music or artistes. The culture of music has been constantly evolving and if the trend continues, we could see many more golden eras of music to come. It is when we get stuck in the past for too long and fall short to accept the streaming generation that we sometimes find ourselves with conflicting views.
          Let us stop telling the kids that the bands we had, the genre of our choice and the memories we had were the best compared to the ones they now have. Some people can be genuinely condescending and sarcastic about the music of yesteryears that we used to be so in love without even pondering about evolving musical trends. But all is not lost, the music still live within us in the form of golden memories and as markers to carry forward the culture.
          Mega music concerts or festivals are no more a thing of surprise to the regular concert goers of the state. In all, ShiRock 2018 was a mega success with one of the highest number of attendees at a musical concert in the country. Shirui Festival is a part of Government of Manipur’s annual tourism event titled under the name of Shirui Lily, the state flower of Manipur found only in the Shirui Hills of Ukhrul District. Financially covered by the government, it is a dream-ride event for any organizers. The ShiRock 2018 was truly the biggest side event of Shirui Festival with two of the most internationally acclaimed hard rock bands Steelheart and Queensrÿche headlining the opening and closing nights on April 24 and April 28. Bakshi Ground, where the ShiRock 2018 took place was half -full on the opening night and full on the closing night.
          But some things are not exactly as we see in photographs and videos. Many believed the organizer’s point of view and their self-proclamation that the ShiRock 2018 was an astounding success, rather than relying on the judgement from regular concert goers and event experts. For some it was a monopolistic event backed by the wealthy and the powerful government of Manipur and initiated by its close aides.
          Unlike the most popular Sangai Festival and any other events undertaken by the Government of Manipur’s, we don’t see any open competition for work allotments to organize or manage the events of Shirui Festival. The fundamental question is under what conditions, technical know-how and experiences the events of Shirui Festival particularly ‘ShiRock 2018’ was allotted to private firms and individual?
          It was told that all visitors to ShiRock 2018 must get a free but compulsory entry pass from the Mini Secretariat located at Ukhrul town and about a kilometre from the venue. So concerned were the people about not missing the show, that many were seen hurrying through the winding hilly roads to Ukhrul and crowded traffics at Ukhrul Town to get the passes before it ran out. But ironically, as they entered Bakshi Ground no one inquired about the passes and everyone was given free access. For those of us who have tried hard to get the passes, we felt like fools and infuriated at the same time. What a waste it was, an unnecessary inconvenience!!!
          The ShiRock 2018 was also one of the most unsafe public gathering events. Forget about metal detectors, neither the volunteers nor the security personals even bothered to check or looked at anyone. One can smuggle in any illicit items or even a whole backpack inside the crowd. It is hard to imagine the consequences if any anti-social element had smuggled a bomb among the mammoth crowd. Throwing of water bottles towards the main stage or sprinkling it aimlessly among the fellow crowds (which even felled on a technical console) was a usual scene at ShiRock 2018. The arrangers seem to be always in a fear of human discharges instead of the water. Not only this, one can cross and sneak into the restricted zones in front of the main stage or the back stage even. Instead of looking for miscreants the volunteers and event officials who were posted near the crowd barricades, joined in to cheer the performance. Even the photographers did not spare themselves to celebrate and scream between their shots from the best and up-close spots they were approved of. It only plants resentments to those who were squeezed between the crowds and standing on their toes while stretching their necks to get a proper sight of their favorite performances. It was shameful and quite unthinkable from a host’s point of view.
          Is the rock competition at ShiRock 2018 one of the toughest to judge in the world that there were not one but two winners each at multiple positions? Two first runners up, two second runners up and one winner was the final judgement of ShiRock Competition 2018. This reminds of one major rock music competition in the country were someone from the host state always gets through the final top five too consistently. Doubt and criticism has swiped across the rock music community about the particular competition. Such attitude will only kill the spirit of competition and repel deserving bands from further participation.
          Underrated sound system was the most talked about technical glitch during ShiRock 2018 with even an open onstage complain from one of the headlining acts. It is true that ShiRock 2018 sounded a little less refined and rumours have indicated the sound systems were assembled from different owners or agencies due to which the configuration failed to come up with the top notch output.
          Are we going forward or backward by listening to the tunes of previous generation who sound old and are in the dawn of their careers? Most people who came for Steelheart and Queensrÿche were not even aware of the bands until ShiRock 2018. Some do not even know how to pronounce the name of one of the bands. No disrespect to the bands and genre they play but it is a general feeling among music lovers that we should invite bands and artist which the present generation follows.
          Except for the performances from Steelheart and Queensrÿche, the ShiRock 2018 was too less to be termed as an international event. Of all the underrated production designs, the wooden crowd barricade was an absolute shocker. With the amount of money rumoured to have been invested for the event they should have had an all new real crowd barricade of its own.
          There were ‘to and fro shuttle’ bus service between Imphal and Ukhrul during Shirui Festival 2018. The buses imply daily from 7:30 am to 9:30 am from Imphal and return back between 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm from Ukhrul. But since ShiRock happens after 6:00 pm the shuttle bus service was unavailable after the concert. Visitors had to either arrange their own transport or spend the night at Ukhrul itself. What the organisers also missed was that the shuttle service was available only during festival days i.e. from April 24 to April 28, and as a result, visitors who had to return back on April 29th were left stranded. People took to social media to protest and showcase the dilemmas faced by the stranded visitors on the morning of 29th April. With only just six buses providing ‘to and fro’ services daily, it was needless to say that the shuttle bus service during Shirui Festival 2018 was just a publicity gimmick.
          Other fall-outs include: Shirui Festival left Ukhrul town in a complete mess of garbage. Littering of waste by the visitors and business owners made the festival venues look like a garbage dumping site, a clear sign of poor waste management. Roads leading to Ukhrul deserve better treatment at least during the festival. One had to either overtake or snick off the trail of dust from the vehicle driving in front. Ignorance was probably the reason for the number of vehicular accidents that took place frequently during the festival days or it could have been the consequence of bad roads. Overall, it was heart-breaking to see so many things misplaced.
          It is true that ShiRock is at a very early stage, but to make it great rather than just a big fat government party, a lot of hard work is still due. Not to miss that there are many who are keeping a close watch on such lavish government events from the opposite end. Without a fight we all can undoubtedly be big and clear winner in our own ways. For now, ShiRock is one such winner who has no such competition but the lone runner in a race. Private promoters go through so many hardships with very little to no sponsors to organise a gig here in Manipur while ShiRock has an exceeding amount of resources to make it the greatest entertainment story of the time.
          Shurui Festival is truly a long due gesture from the Government of Manipur to not only attract tourist but also close the gap between the hills and valleys of Manipur. It reflects the unity and brotherhood of ancient Manipur. The place, people and hospitality of Ukhrul tempted many of us to come back for more visits and not just for the sake of Shirui Festival alone. Let us be honest and commit ourselves to serve the importance of presenting Manipur to the world. Shirui Festival represents the whole of Manipur and not just a section of it. It is indeed a pride to be able to host such an event that stands out from the rest of India. Thanks to the Government of Manipur for coming up with such a wholesome event that could gain interest from the rest of the country and the world.

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