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How a lockdown led to India’s ‘First Gamified’ Online Mela

I know India’s ‘first gamified’ mela is a tall claim to make, but when you’re launching something new, fresh out of a pandemic, you’ll take any passably true clickbait you can get. 

Like a lot of people this year, I was in the middle of a lockdown, with a business badly hit, isolated from family, trying to make peace with my own company. There was little to do but think, imagine and maybe clean the house. I’m also someone who really loves travel (that’s why I began Dharma Endeavours with travel first), so the isolation was particularly difficult to take. And nearly impossible to get through. I did what I could to help with online volunteering efforts, but it just wasn’t enough. At least not to my mind. 

Then came calls from people at the grassroots. 

Their voices poured in. Harvest was nearly done. There was no transport, of course, due to the lockdown. I went into survival mode and started rationing things. Let’s just say I’m an ‘end-of-times’ kinda gal. 

I felt useless to be doing nothing. Especially difficult to note was the plight of artists and artisans who struggled to make ends meet in the best of times. My mind flashed straight back to the years I’d spent living and traveling through quaint villages. Groups of women working the fields, singing melodious songs. Bullock carts going gently by at 6:00 o’clock in the morning, just as the sun rays filled the sky. 

Then I remembered all the hustle and bustle of rural India. The weekly ‘santhes’, as we call them in Kannada, where farmers brought their fresh vegetables for sale. The festival ‘jatras’ that set up stalls full of the prettiest things. If you ever want to buy the freshest of fresh vegetables, you know - the really, really, really fresh ones - you should go to a village ‘santhe’. And if you want to buy dupattas, bags, shoes and all things bright and beautiful, then you really must visit a festival ‘jatra’. 

The heart of our country beats in Her people: our diversity, our history, our culture. In the silent lockdown of Bangalore’s urban jungle, I was craving that vibrant energy. 

But during the lockdown, my world was online. 

I’m not sure if it was around the time I was cleaning out the kitchen with a toothbrush (yes, I did that, and now my kitchen is spotless – even Mum said so), or if it was as I nibbled at my zillionth 2-minute-microwave-chocolate cupcake (stay away from those, they can be addictive), but the idea popped into my head that there must be a way to create an experience online, that was similar to all that hustle and bustle of India that I loved so much. If only I could bridge that gap between rural and urban India. If only we could talk to each other, sell directly to each other, and get to know each other. 

Our rural world is one of bullock carts, quiet mornings and genteel living. Our urban jungles are of fast planes and fancy cars. Between the two is a gap of a century and more. 

‘Santhes’ and ‘melas’ are where people cn bridge that gap, explore and discover each other. I really wanted to bring that feeling online. 

And so, the online mela was born. I thought it was an ideal time too. Especially as I knew, that after the lockdown, people would have changed their way of interacting with the online world. Rural India woke up to the reality that the road ahead is online. The timing is also good because eCommerce in India has evolved. So has logistics. People are more comfortable online now. They’re ready for more than just convenience: they want experience. Coming out of this was also the increasing sentiment that we should buy ‘Made in India’ products. I hope this movement keeps growing. 

Somewhere along the way, a character popped into my head: Kabuli, our adorable mascot. Tagore’s story echoed through time and called out to be heard.  I think the artisans of India are a lot like Kabuli. They traverse through a different time and a different world, to come to our ‘santhes’ and ‘melas’ in the city. To my mind, Kabuli is the voice of rural India. He has a lot to say. I hope we will all listen. 

Of course, there was a lot of doubt. The businesswoman in me told me it was crazy to do this in the middle of a pandemic. There was finance to be considered. There was logistics and tech and market research and rural partnerships. And in the middle of it all, people fell ill. I was unwell for a number of weeks (not Covid). When I first started Dharma Endeavours, it was as a way to increase the annual income of our rural Indian partners by at least 25%. By strengthening their economic security, I hoped to alleviate the stress of living at the bottom of the pyramid. It started with travel. I always knew crafts would be a part of it. Farmers and artisans are so inextricably linked with the fabric of India. 

But was a pandemic really the right time?

Something told me to just go for it.  There come moments in life, when you just have to go for it. Once I made up my mind, the universe sent its people (yes, I believe in that sort of thing). 

First, came Preeti.  Then came Raghu, Ram, Vivek, Gitanjali, Vinay, Shilpy, Shivangini, Shinoy, Smithyy. And the list goes on. Then the crafts groups and organizations. So many kind people opened doors, connections, contacts. A special thank you to The Better India and The Better Home, for sharing our little mela across their social media platforms. 

And at the base of them all, like the perfect first layer of a three-tier, dark-chocolate cake (all the best metaphors are based on cake) were my family. I’m sure my brother’s career in gaming has influenced me in many ways. As for Mum and Dad: they supported me, albeit virtually, from Chennai. They’ve no clue what I’m up to exactly. They just know that it’s ‘helping people’. They tell me to eat well, sleep well, do well. And only ask me to be happy. 

I’m happy. 

I’m well and truly happy to present to you our first, online, gamified mela. Bringing you handmade in India products from organizations and individuals across the country. This 23rd, 24th and 25th of December. From 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. We have live events, chats and sales. 

Find us here: www.dharmaendeavours.com 

I hope you’ll join us! And meet Kabuli. You’ll find he has a lot to say.