Bombay grass is 5000% greener than Gulbarga’s

Hittala gida maddalla,” is an old Kannada saying. It means we are blind to the medicinal qualities of the herbs that grow in our own backyard. That we think that even the wild weeds beyond our fence have magical potential.

The truth of that aphorism comes home to roost in a story by G. Manjusainath in Deccan Herald today on the week-long “Gulbarga Utsava” held in the north Karnataka district in December last year.

The government released Rs 5 lakh for the Utsava. And the purpose, as always, was high and noble: to provide a forum for local artistes and to help them to showcase their talent before their own. And, sure enough, it did.

Gulbarga-based sugama sangeeth artiste Malashree Kanavi performed. Gulbarga-based flautist Sheikh Abdullah Khan also performed. But, the organisers also called in the singer Kailash Kher from Bombay, and four others from Hyderabad: A. Musa Haji, Ashraf, magician Shankar Junior, and kawwal Sayyad Ali.

That, too, you might say, is OK. We must be exposed to talent from outside. But the real story in what the local artistes were paid as against the outside talent. And that real story comes because a citizen (Sheshmurthy) used the Right to Information Act to demand the details.

Kailash Kher: Rs 3 lakh
Musa Haji: Rs 75,000
Ashraf: Rs 50,000
Shankar Jr: Rs 30,000
Adil: Rs 20,000

And the locals?

Malashree: Rs 2,000
Khan: Rs 2,000

In a way, the Gulbarga Utsava story is not very different from the ongoing Mysore Utsava where organisers opted to bring in outside talent from Bangalore by claiming that local artistes were demanding the moon. But if we are willing to pay a bomb to accommodate “outsiders” why is it so difficult to loosen the purse strings for the locals?

You could argue that this is the way of the market. That big-ticket artistes have the draw and appeal which local artistes will never be able to match. And that Bhimsen Joshi or A.R. Rehman should not be expected to come if they are going to be paid the same as local artistes.

But, disparity among equals?