August 15th and 16th were a double bonanza, not only for people of South Asian descent living in Toronto and its quieter suburbs, but for all ethnicities and origins that call this bustling city home. August 15th was not only being celebrated inside the Consulate General of India premises for being the 69th anniversary of Indian independence from foreign rule, but also in the mega outdoor party at Gerrard India Bazaar— supposedly the largest marketplace of South Asian goods and services in North America.
The stores were shining under sunny skies as most retailers fussed over finishing touches to their colorful display of fabric and jewelry, snacks and sandalwood before the street fest got underway at noon. Eateries and restaurants were particularly busy, organizing plastic furniture of tables and chairs under canopies. Volunteers were at hand distributing fliers detailing the programming of the weekend, police personnel seemed to be relaxing in such a festive work environment, and garbage bins were aplenty.
Just after noon, the stage set up for cultural performances came to life, first with recorded music, then with live singing by Faisal Raza, who sung a melodious and foot-tapping parody of Bollywood favourites, blending perfectly the old and the new. Spectators cheered and danced along the peppy tunes of Yamma Yamma…, Meri umar ke naujavanon…, Khaike paan Banaras waley… and many more catchy numbers. The entire ambience was eclectic with kids waving the Indian tricolor, and incurable music addicts planted on folding chairs right in front of the stage.
Not far was a free tasting stall set up by Canada Dry, where a short line-up gave patrons a free sample and a can to cool off in the blistering afternoon heat. The selection of authentic Eastern cuisine was mind boggling: signature dishes of butter chicken and naan; chickpea curry with rice; roti, rice and curry combos; veggie fritters; samosa with chutney—and we have only gotten started yet! Desserts of halva, laddoos, kulfi, and gulab jamuns were on the menu to flatter the sweet tooth of hungry festival goers. Well-loved beverages of mango shakes, lassi and fresh sugarcane juice were quenching not just thirsty throats, but brewing nostalgia with every sip.
Kids had a vast choice of activities to choose from: paint the mural sponsored by TD bank wearing an apron, or learn a few dance steps with Cornerstone Dance Studio, or just sit back and enjoy the Destiny Fairytale.
The toughest part of this festival was trying to resist the temptation of the fantastic deals at almost every store along the festival site from clothing, jewelry, appliances, accessories, henna painting, and cosmetics.