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Some people call it the distant suburb of Mumbai, others call it the little big city. Some call it the city where you come home to, while others call it the place you retire to. But for me, Pune has always been that posh, pretty cousin who you secretly heroine-worship. You know, the one who has all those lovely butterfly dresses as a little girl? Has all the boys queuing up as a gorgeous teenager? And, even at 40 with 3 kids, looks fitter and younger than a 25-year-old? Yep, she is THAT one!

View of the Pune valley through the Pune Darwaza at Sinhagad

So, my first trip to Pune many years ago was quite like visiting that same blessed cousin – a bit wide-eyed, waiting to be impressed with everything, but also carrying MY best dresses 😉 That initial sheen may have slightly dulled over the years, but the many visits to the city, for many different occasions, has still not managed to take the shine off completely. It’s still a place that surprises me with its quaint balance between a life of spirituality and spirited nightlife, legendary traditional food-spots (some of the best Misals and Vada Pavs, sorry Mumbai!) and equally celebrated international restaurants, grand college campuses and tiny fashion boutiques, and at least half a population of friendly people – the other half is the somewhat scary army of 2-wheeler-riding women in the city, and since their faces are curiously covered with scarves (not for religious faith, but protection), there is really no way of knowing if they are smiling underneath, or are friendly and warm, is there? 😉

The fascinating Pulse and Bloom art installation, a hit at the Burning Man festival, enthralls the crowds here…

But at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender last weekend, there was ample evidence of the friendly nature of the city. For the last 5 years, this music festival has been promoting independent music and artists, giving home-grown bands an increasingly stronger presence and a louder voice… just what Only Much Louder, the company and force behind the concept and execution of this baby set off to do. In these 5 years, the baby has grown to become an all-encompassing arts festival with music as its beating heart and painting, sculpture, dance, fashion, and food as the air it breathes in…

The famous Tin Mug...

The famous Tin Mug…

Easy pickings at the festivals grounds...

Easy pickings at the festivals grounds…

With a 3-day weekend filled with 6 stages, 60 artistes, 30 food stalls and 10 bars, there was obviously plenty to do… and so we did! Apart from ‘Sipping on Bacardi Rum(remember the jingle?) from quirky Tin Mugs and huge red Buckets, bumping into hundreds of friends from Pune, Mumbai and even Dubai, gobbling up Burgers and Pork Ribs and Souvlakis at the food court, and marveling at cool message Tees and quirky merch at the flea market, we also listened, sang, swayed, jumped, jived and boogied to music by Motopony, Raghu Dixit, Thermal and a Quarter, Amit Trivedi, AIB, The Bartender, The Vaccines, Indian Ocean, Foreign Beggars, Skyharbour and many others, as we passive-smoked a lot of ‘stuff’, lay down on a bed of cool grass, flapped our arms to make our own grass versions of ‘snow angels’, and reached up dancing fingers to the starlit sky in perfect harmony with the music and the universe!

In the mood for music...

Swaying to the music with Monica Dogra…

Raghu Dixit Project - merging great earthy music with funky folk performances

Raghu Dixit Project blending great earthy music with funky folk performances by shadow puppeteers

In the mood for some Songhoy Blues!

The Weekender state of mind… up a few notches!

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Bucketfuls of friendship!

It was my first outing here, and I have to admit that it was by far the most inspiring, entertaining and heartwarming concert I have ever attended. The level of intuitive planning, space management and precise execution is simply, and bafflingly, impressive!

So what inspired the man behind OML to do something as inspiring as this?, I ask Vijay Nair, 30-year old CEO of OML. He replies that his world changed when he attended the Glastonbury Festival in UK a few years ago, where 200,000 people came together like a seamless, harmonious community, one with the universe of music. That struck a resounding chord with him, and he pledged to give a similar life-changing experience to the people of India, and open up their eyes and ears to live music. Thus was born the ‘Happiest Music Festival’, something that he aspires to take so deep into our music-loving country that no person would be more than 12 hours away from any NH7 concert!

Nightcrawlers rock on at the Bacardi Arena at the tail of the giant wheel…

Too good to be true, you say? Maybe not, because Shillong is joining the NH7 band-wagon as the 5th city next year, giving the rock-crazy North-Eastern states their very own edition of the festival in the ‘the Scotland of the East’! Not that I needed an excuse to revisit one of the most beautiful cities in the country, but hey, this one will do nicely 🙂

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