But on Comrade Abu Square, the focus was on an earnest young man with a bushy beard and long black hair, who sat on a platform and shouted too loudly into a microphone. Eventually, he took a bow and left the platform to a small ripple of applause. Next to the stage, a man flicked a switch and the music began.
Bob Marley was playing on the stereo.
I had stumbled across the festival of the Bob Marley Cultural Collective that morning. Comrade Abu Square was lined with neat rows of red plastic chairs. One table labelled ‘Official’ and one labelled ‘Press’ faced a raised platform. Here, the young man stood and preached, while 6 delegates sat behind him and nodded seriously. The audience consisted of a few dozen curious passers-by.
As the whole talk was in Malayalam, I could only catch a few phrases:
“BOB MARLEY….REGGAE….BOB MARLEY…BOB MARLEY!”
Stir it up
A number of photos and posters displayed Bob Marley in familiar poses: head back, laughing, oversize hat on dreadlocks.
A quick perusal of the Hindu newspaper revealed the schedule for the festival. Aware that I would miss the seminar “Cultural Resistance at the Time of Globalization”, I decided to leave and return for the music at 5pm.
By 5pm, the red plastic chairs were strewn across the square. The audience now consisted of tired tourists or elderly people looking for a seat. A man approached me looking for donations, and I asked him what this was all about.
“We are celebrating Bob Marley and his fight for the underclass against the oppressors. Because, you know, the black power!”
He clenched his fist at this last part and I caught a faint whiff of alcohol on his breath.
“Against the whites, man! We are fighting against capitalism and for Marxism. We are carrying on in the fight to no longer be downtrodden!”
“So why did you choose Bob Marley?” I asked.
“Because, you know, he did it through music”.
And so I, a white woman from a capitalist country, handed over a donation so that I could stop oppressing people.
The music was still going, but nobody seemed to be enjoying it.