Friday, September 16, 2011

Of 'La Tomatina' and India

       Bangalore is all set to host the maiden La Tomatina festival. It is set to replicate the event which originated in Spain way back in 1945. The event which began as a street brawl and gradually developed into a festival of sorts has the central theme of quashing tomato and throwing it on revellers turning the scene, the street and the people red! While many knew of such an event, the La Tomatino became institutionalised recently owing to its depiction the popular Bollywood flick ‘zindagi na milegi dobara’. Now that organizer has set the date (18th sept) and time (11 a.m) for the event, larger questions hog the limelight.

       The first question that pricks your conscience is that in a country like ours, where considering whichever statistics you follow, around 40 million people do not get two decent meals a day, is this waste of tomatoes a wise or fun thing to do? What might be fun for one participant could very well be essential food to prevent starvation for many. It is probably to answer this ethical question that the organizers on their website have mentioned “will ensure that a part of the earnings are donated to NGO's or Foundations which feed the needy. Details will be posted once things are concrete.” (this can be found on their facebook page). ‘Part of the earnings’ , ‘once things are concrete’ and no mention of which NGO or Foundation are misleading, untrustworthy and  on the face of it appears mere jargon.
    By now you could be caught thinking that we engage in millions of activities which could be branded as anti poor, be it wasting food each day, in however small or large quantity or indulging in spendthrift activities every weekend. And thus it is not our job to curtail our fun activities. It is our right to be part of any activity we think is fun. Or rather the onus is on the government to feed the poor, so what if we can afford tomatoes to be thrown down the drain. Yes you may be right if you think all of the above.

        But the larger issue here is the blatant spectacle that the La Tomatino provides. At the point of writing the article some 55 thousand people had clicked on ‘attending’ on the organisers page. I am not sure if such number of people will turn up but imagine a spectacle of tonnes of tomatoes being quashed amongst thousands, many DJ’s blaring away chartbusters, gallons of water used for the ‘rain dance’ that is part of the event, and also gallons of booze that will be downed all carefully and closely brought every home courtesy ‘News’ channels. How well do you think will the spectacle go down with those 7 million people who have just been rendered homeless by floods in Odisha?
          The tomatoes that are used in La Tomatina in Spain are specifically grown for the festival and are of inferior quality for consumption. The organizers in Bangalore have also mentioned that they have ‘acquired’ tomatoes which are ‘not edible’ and are ‘NOT ROTTEN’ (in capital letters). It leaves me wondering which tomato in India which is not rotten would not be fit for consumption. And if the organisers suggest that they have imported such huge quantity of tomatoes, it is a much graver sin in that case. These statements, aiming to provide credibility to this exercise, appear more as cover ups than answering the ethical debate that the event has arisen. Probably the conscience of larger masses would not have pricked if it was to do with any other valuable, but food, the first basic necessity for humans, makes it a different ball game altogether.

         Just because the affluent can pay a ticket of twelve hundred rupees, arrive in their fancy cars, dress not much different than what they have just seen their screen idols do, and a few page 3 celebrities posing to shutterbugs doesn’t mean that a moral licence for such events. The Bhagvad Gita says "The serenity of mind, gentleness, silence, self-restraint, and the purity of mind are called the austerity of thought." It is this austerity which is missing. The question remains whether such an organised event for people to have ‘fantastico time’ as they have claim, is justified where the slums not far than hundred meters from the place have people starving for food, and  a component of that food which might flow in the drain upon which they have built their twigs and tarpaulin huts.


  1. Dear Sambit Babu,

    I am just a ordinary citizen of a country called India where we have hypocrites ruling all around us. I am a part of this big country where we still have poverty deep down the root. I also belong to a country of dreamers where we made our foray into all possible territories in the world and have been praised. One part of my country still struggles to have electricity and the other is thinking beyond just a Rolls Royce. Now in the midst of these two dichotomies, I find myself NOWHERE. I feel that I want to be a part of such a famous & interesting event, I also feel that what about those thousands of poor people who are finding it hard to have a proper two-time meal.

    I sincerely request you to help me overcome such a conflict within my own 'self'.

    Resting my case.


  2. Dear Mr. Mishra,
    It certainly is a dilemma, more at an ethical level than any other, regarding which sie to be on. The age, the new found financial independence, the outlets at disposal are all contributing to the dilemma. Though it is certain that one cannot be responsible for millions of downtrodden and that the first responsibility is towards oneself and ones family, it should according to me be that austerity which should help not prick the moral conscience.

    It is a multilayered ethical debate, and is to be dealt with step by step.

    More on the philosophy later




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