Feeds:
Posts
Comments

BLOG ENTRY: “KERALA TRAVELS AND BEYOND”

It is 4:00pm on Saturday, May 1, as I sit in my comfortable hotel room in the city of Chennai, in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, and begin to write my new blog entry.  I arrived here by overnight sleeper bus from the mountain town of Kodaikanal, where I had been spending the previous 5 days.  I will give more details on these recent events later.  First I return to early April, to the time where my last blog entry left off.

My train ride on April 5 from Kannur to Cochin went smoothly.  In the extremely hot weather at this time of year, I was happy to have been able to reserve a seat in an air-conditioned car.  The train ride took around 7 hours. I got off in Ernakulam, which is on the mainland train stop for Fort Cochin.   Cochin is part of a series of islands that are reached from Ernakulam by ferry or bridge.  Getting off the train I hired an auto rickshaw, which after some discussion with the driver, ended up taking me all the way to Fort Cochin where I intended to stay.

The rickshaw driver hustled me into looking at a “Homestay” of some people he knew.   The “Homestay” tradition is common throughout much of Kerala.  In Fort Cochin there are many of these small establishments, where families let out rooms in part of their home, in the mode of a western “bed-and-breakfast”.  The first place he took me to was new, very clean and I decided to take it without looking further.  I was tired and very hot after my journey and was ready to settle in as quickly as possible.  The family that lived at the “Casa Mia Homestay” included husband, wife, two sons, mother of husband, and various other relatives that seemed to come and go over the few days I was there.

That evening, after resting and getting cleaned up, I wondered around a part of downtown Fort Cochin, where I found a cheap, yet good working mans restaurant.  After eating, and already in my “hustle a concert mode”, I noticed a young man with a violin case walking into a building.  I immediately set out in pursuit and after a brief search found him in a somewhat disorderly room with 5 or 6 other music students, a few with very funky guitars and some old music stands.  At one end of the room was a frail, elderly man going over some simple musical notation with a student.  The violinist I had followed was taking his instrument out of the case.  After a brief discussion he indicated that the old fellow was their music teacher.  I went over, and after a considerable period of waiting, he finally acknowledged my presence.  I explained that I was interested in making contacts with musicians and hoping to set up a concert in Fort Cochin.  It quickly became apparent that he was a very uptight fellow and wanted to have absolutely nothing at all to do with me.  So off I went, in what turned out to be the first episode in a list of futile efforts to set up a concert performance in the Cochin area.

Back on the street, I found and wondered into an interesting second floor bookstore and art gallery. Entering the place I looked at paintings in the gallery section and browsed the excellent bookstore.  I met the owner, Madhu, who is a painter, and he told me about some of the local artists on display.  I asked if he had any suggestions regarding people to contact to help arrange a concert.  I also asked if I could bring in my guitar the next day to play a few tunes for him and his friends as a sort of informal audition.  He was in the midst of teaching summer art classes to children during the day, so we set a meeting time of 6:00pm. I then headed home to my Homestay.  The next day I discovered that the area I was exploring was some distance from the main tourist area of Fort Cochin.

The next day, using my “Lonely Planet” guidebook as a resource, I headed to a café/gallery called the “Draavidia Art & Performance Gallery”.   On my way to finding the place, I came upon the main tourist section of Fort Cochin.  Located near the center of the old port, there are many beautiful Old Portuguese and Dutch buildings and numerous high-end hotels and tourist shops.  Since it is the hot season, tourism is at its lowest ebb, so every street seller was on a major hustle to get my business.  At one point I sat down on a park bench to take a rest.  Three hand drum sellers immediately approached me with the intention of selling me a drum.  I clearly indicated that I was not interested in a purchase, but suggested we have a jam session. Out came my guitar, and the best drummer of the group and I had a good jam.  A small group of locals gathered to watch the show.  After we finished playing, the sales pitch continued as if we had never even played together.  Throughout my travels I have been for the most part treated with generosity and respect, but the hustle in this tourist area displayed another side of the culture.  That side, which exists everywhere on the planet, is where you are seen as an object for material gain and not a spiritual being.

The whole town of Fort Cochin is quite beautiful with lots of history being felt and seen.  One of the striking differences in the State of Kerala, from the rest of India, is the powerful Christian influence.  A large percentage of the population is Catholic, with other evangelical groups also being represented.  In the Cochin area I saw little Hindu influence, and only a few mosques in the city.  Fort Cochin also has a Jewish Synagogue built in 1568, destroyed by the Portuguese in 1662 and rebuilt 2 years later when the Dutch took Cochin.  With all this history and atmosphere it is easy to see why the area is such a tourist attraction.

The café I was looking for is located in what is called “Jew Town”, a busy port area filled with run down buildings, which still deal in the spice trade.  From the small warehouses comes the smell of ginger, cardamom, cumin, vanilla and ginger.  Entering the café, I found the place empty except for the owner, Viju and his one employee.  I ordered a fresh ground pressed coffee and a mixed fruit plate. I had my guitar with me, and after asking, began playing a few tunes while Viju prepared my coffee and fruit.  I told him of my desire to perform a concert.  He explained that he was about to close down the place for the next 2 months during the slow season, and do some traveling.  Viju is a hip fellow with many connections in the artistic, ex-patriot and alternative community in the area.  He suggested I contact a Yoga teacher named Abe.  He gave me a copy a promotional card used by Abe to help people become aware of his “Sanathana Global School of Yoga Studies”.  Viju and I had a good talk and I then headed off in the direction of my meeting with Madhu at his “Eka Gallery and Book Store”.   Somewhat lost in my wondering through the city, I finally found my way to my next destination.

At 6:00pm the gallery was quite busy with many friends of Madhu hanging around.  After some conversation I pulled out my guitar and was politely set up for a mini performance.  All present seemed to enjoy my playing and singing.  I enquired about the possibility of performing a concert at the gallery, which struck me as a good location for a small recital.  I suggested a Sunday evening, when the area was quieter, due to the lack of commerce at that time.  Madhu’s resistance to the idea was immediate.  He said he would have to talk with his partners and it would be very difficult to arrange, etc.  One of his friends suggested I call a Mr. Suchendran who is program coordinator for the “Kerala Kathakali Center”.

I made that call the next day and went in for a meeting and audition that evening.  Upon entering the Center I met Mr. Suchendran. I paid to enter the evening show and heard a Carnatic singer perform with tabla, harmonium and another drummer.  It was an enjoyable show and I continued my Indian music learning curve.  After the show and the small audience of tourists left, I was invited on stage to do my thing.  The young tabla player remained on stage and we played a few of my more rhythmic tunes together.  I then performed alone doing 2 classical guitar numbers.  To my surprise Mr. Suchendran asked me to come back the next night and perform with the Veena player who would be performing that night. It was not what I had in mind, but I thought it might be fun and provide another chance to play with an Indian musician.

The next night I arrived shortly after the performance had begun.  It turned out the Veena player was not performing.   Instead, Mr. Suchendran was singing to an audience of 8 tourists.  He totally ignored my presence during the show.  After the show finished I went up to say hello and find out what had happened.  He avoided contact with me until I directly greeted him.  He told me the Veena player was sick and that was the end of our communication.  So another possible performance did not happening in Fort Cochin.  As it turned out, my musical experience for the remainder of my time in the area was rich and full, in a variety of wonderful unexpected ways.

Oh so hot!!!  Sleeping naked all night with no cover, the overhead fan on high speed to at least circulate the hot air.  I was taking at least 2 showers a day, with more when circumstances permitted.  I was still staying at the “Casa Mia Homestay”.  I used their computer to do my email and even made a few skype calls to Ian and Jeremy.  A Catholic family, their home is filled with church symbols.  Over the few days of my stay I got to know the family somewhat better.  So the next morning I borrowed the small bicycle of the older son, and after getting directions, peddled the 4 km to the  “Sanathana Global School of Yoga Studies”.  This was my first excursion into self-driving in India.  I am glad my destination did not require me to pass through any high traffic areas.  The ride was great fun and brought India into a different perspective then that seen during my usual modes of transport; walking, buses, trains, auto-rickshaws and cars.

Arriving at the gate of Abe’s place I found the gate locked.  Somehow I sensed that he would be back soon. So I hung around the front gate for around 20 minutes watching the neighborhood activities.  Then Abe arrived on his motor scooter.  A thin, very fit fellow of 50, Abe has a wispy graying beard and moustache and long hair tied back in a bun.  Dressed in the traditional cotton cloth wrap, worn by men all over Kerala, Abe fit into my image of an Indian Yogi.

I was warmly greeted and we entered Abe’s beautiful home.  Abe built this 2-story place around 10 years ago.  A simple place, with a modest green area leading up to the front porch, I was immediately struck by the attention given to detail everywhere I looked.  The first floor consists of a comfortably sized covered front porch that leads into a living room.  Off to one side is the single bedroom and to the back is a simple kitchen area.  Out back is a small patio with one end containing a toilet and shower.  The other end of the patio has a small area where Abe houses a few chickens and his cat, which is currently with kittens.  An exterior staircase leads to his yoga studio.  At the top of the stairs is a large covered porch with a beautiful view of the Arabian Sea.  The studio space consists of one large room with a small shrine, folded mats and other decorative features.  Throughout the home/studio, it is the sense of artistry and care taken with every detail of construction and design, that makes this simple but elegant place stand out.

This first meeting was the beginning of a warm and deepening friendship that took place over many days of interaction.  Abe is a fountain of knowledge about so many things.  Indian history, religion, philosophy, plants, herbs, birds, stars, western popular music and South Indian Carnatic music are just a few of his areas of knowledge.  On that first day I watched him teach yoga to a group of around 10 neighborhood boys from around ages 9 to 14.  Watching him work with these young boys was a delight.  Speaking and singing in Malayalam, the regional language, I could not understand his stories and instructions, but the tone and approach were very special and the boys responded with so much enthusiasm and dedication.  Later we played music, Abe on bamboo flute, me on guitar.  Over the coming days I made great advances in my understanding and performance of Carnatic Raga.  Abe made good progress in his ability to jam in a more harmonic western musical approach, so there was a wonderful trade in experience and understanding.  I also met some of his friends as well as local and international yoga students. I participated in one of his group yoga classes and found it very rewarding.  During my time spent at his house Abe arranged for me to meet and play with a fine Sitar player.  We had an excellent 3 hour session together trading and sharing music and ideas.

During that first day at Abe’s I met Blue Charles, a recent new friend and business associate.  Blue has had a career in business and is in the process of trying to set up a group of independent, but connected places for travelers in India to visit and stay.  Blue and his family live in Ernakulam, which is the larger city connected to Cochin by bridge and ferry.  His wife, 3 children, and mother-in-law live on a lovely piece of property that his wife inherited from her father when he passed away.  Blue built a large new home for his family and put considerable expense and energy into fixing up the lovely older home.  The large grounds are filled with tropical fruit trees and numerous other plants.  He has hosted a number of travelers, and is in the process of developing and promoting his Homestay for a particular type of traveler.  I was invited to stay at his place for a few days.  Then Blue, Abe and myself would drive to the Munnar area in Blue’s car, where we would be visiting a friend, Saji, who is developing a rural home for traveling guests and trying to create an organic farm at the same location.  Blue wanted to show the place to Abe, whose advice and opinions he greatly respects.  I was intending to head up to that area anyway, so it all fit in perfectly with my plans.

So the next morning I packed my bags, left “Mia Casa Homestay”, and later in the day, after spending time at Abe’s place, drove with Blue to my new temporary home.  Our trip to Munnar was delayed a few days, so I ended up spending around 5 nights at Blue’s place.  I was treated warmly by his wife, Liz, and his son Leigh (15) and two daughters, Laurene (11) and Lhea (9).  Liz’s mother, Daisy, who is in her 80’s, and the mother of 9 children, somehow reminded me of my mother in her later years, as she would wonder around the grounds admiring plants and trees.  Blue also connected me with some local musician friends and we a some good jam sessions.  I had a wonderful time at their place, eating well, relaxing, playing music and enjoying the family and environment.

One day Blue took me to the wedding of a family member on his wife’s side.  A big Catholic affair, with hundreds of guests, we arrived late for the ceremony, but in time to eat and socialize.  As usual, it was so hot; especially in the reception hall after the power went out, and all the ceiling fans stopped working.  Blue asked my to bring my guitar and arranged to have me play a wedding song for the new bride and groom.  Up on the stage, where they were receiving guests and taking photos, I played them one song as both the bride and groom melted in their heavy wedding attire.  Outside we met an old family friend of his, a very eccentric fellow, who is quite wealthy, but spends much of his time, fishing and selling prawns in a backwaters area some distance from Cochin.  Blue wanted Abe to see the place as a possible location for taking visiting guests. So the next day, after an hours drive, with a stop at a local village for snacks, we met up with this strange fellow.  He is somewhat handicapped from a youthful case of polio, but he paddled us out to his fishing operation.  With only a long push stick we very slowly made our way in his 12-foot long, rustic, heavy wood canoe.  After around an hours struggle against strong currents and wind we finally made it to our destination, which was actually only a few hundred yards distant from our starting point.  Spending his nights in a small shack, on a tiny strip of manmade land, this fellow fishes for prawns according to the tidal flow.  While there he fed us a meal of prawns and rice.  After spending around 2 hours, with some singing and conversation, we quickly paddled back to our car and headed home.

Parts of most days were spent at Abe’s playing music and talking with visitors.  I met many interesting people and learned new aspects of Indian culture.  The day arrived for our drive to Munnar and beyond.  We would be heading directly to Saji’s place around 40 km northeast of Munnar, where Blue and Abe planned to spend 2 nights.  Blue had told me about a legendary 75-year-old man named Jake, who lived nearby.  I somehow felt that two of us would hit-it-off, and that possibly I would be able to stay at his place for some additional days.  Originally planning to leave around 8:00am, we finally left Fort Cochin around noon.  We headed out in Blue’s car at super high speeds for the 5-6 hour drive.  Along narrow, twisting mountain roads we endlessly climbed.  After around 2 hours we came into the area of tea plantations.  Mile after mile of tea estates, with perfectly manicured hillsides, planted in beautiful formations.  It was breathtakingly beautiful.  Onward we speed, taking a few breaks to eat, see a view and smoke.  I have neglected to mention so far, that Abe, Blue and many others in India, that I have been spending time with, are chain smokers of both tobacco and other substances.  So as we speed around blind turns making breathtaking passes.  As we speed along my meditation was on trust, and we did arrive safe and sound.

We spent 2 nights a Saji’s place, eating, talking, playing music and building campfires at night.  It was amazing to actually want to be close to a fire to keep warm, after a month of living in sweltering heat day and night.  I met Jake, and after we spent some time together, he invited me to stay with him at his home around ½ km from Saji’s place.  Saji, his other visiting friends, Blue and Abe were all heading back to Cochin the next day.  So after two nights at his place, I packed up my bags and moved in with Jake and his two dogs.

Jake is a remarkable fellow, and over the 8 days I spent with him we established a close friendship.  Living in a lovely home overlooking the terraced mountain and high woodlands Jake spends his days observing nature, playing with his dogs, doing some gardening, listening to music and watching tennis and cricket games on his TV.  He has a nephew who built the house and takes care of all his financial needs.  During my stay we told each other about our lives, I played many hours of music and we went for some long walks.  Jake never got married but appears to have had female companions over the years.  He spent most of his life wandering around India.  During his early travels he worked at various trades including master welder and cheese maker, but has spent much of his time living out of a backpack and getting by day to day.  From talking with his friends I gather that he has become somewhat of a legend as a wondering mystic while interacting with both international travelers and Indians.  He is almost completely self-taught, very well read, extremely knowledgeable about the world around him and a kind and generous person.  He is a non-stop smoker of tobacco and weed and enjoys drinking when available.  Over the years, since his youth he has used numerous psychedelic drugs, including taking many mushrooms, which grow in the area. With all this experience behind him he is amazingly clear headed, articulate and wise.  At age 75, our walks together were leisurely, but energetic.  He once told me that J. Krishnamurti was his god.  He said that when he first read his writing at around the age of 30, he had finally found someone who viewed life as he had since early childhood.  What wonderful days we had together, watching the rain clouds gather every afternoon and after the rain watching rainbows appear.  I spent many hours on his porch playing classical guitar music and improvising.  Very knowledgeable about both Indian raga and western classical and popular music, he once asked me if I knew a particular piece by JS Bach, which he proceeded to whistle.  I was amazed when he started the tune, because it was the only musical score I had carried to India, with the intention of learning during my travels.  I immediately pulled it out and began once again studying it, to his great pleasure.

Loving the cool mountain weather and feeling in excellent health, I had decided to take the 6-7 hour walk across the mountains to Kodaikanal, rather then take the 8-9 hour round-about bus ride.  Jake, who has done the hike in past years, suggested a local fellow to guide me and help carry my bags.  So after 8 days with Jake, I set off with my “guide” at 6:30 am.  The plan was to arrive at the organic farm of a friend of his named John, who would then drive me to Kodaikanal where I would be staying with another friend, a painter named Eddie.  The only English my guide knew was the term “short-cut”.  Down steep paths we headed, in the direction of two small villages, before then heading up over the mountain range.  Two hours later we got to the villages, where we stopped for tea and a short rest, before heading up into the native forest, along footpaths used for hundreds of years to cross this mountain chain.  My guide liked to use “shortcuts”, which initially saved us some time.  After leaving the last village, we were doing continuous hard climbing.  My legs were getting tired, but I felt confident that I could complete the journey.  Jake had packed us a lunch of potatoes and chapati.  Every hour or so we would stop for rest and water, and a bite to eat now and then.  Finally after over 3 hours of hard climbing we reached the top.  Ahh, I thought, downhill for the last leg of the trip.  Following the trail on the top ridge we had a short level stretch.   Then suddenly my guide said “Shortcut”, and off we headed through the trees with no trail to follow.  An hour later we were totally lost, hacking our way through virgin forest, often on the edge steep precipices, and rain clouds coming on strong.  And to make the situation even better, we had no way to communicate a good plan of action.  Onward we plodded down, down, sometimes sliding on our rear-ends down slops of 70 degrees.  Four hours later we finally entered a farming valley with a small farmhouse around 1km distant.  My guide had no idea where we had come out of the forest.  When we finally found some people, I gathered they told him we were some 8 km distance from where we should have come out.  So off we went.  Now it was up and up again.  My feet and legs were very tired, but I had no choice but to plod onward.  I must also say that my guide was also showing sighs of being extremely tired.  After another hour of walking on a good trail through a wooded area, we came to a crossroads with a large wood post in the middle.  I suggested that we continue on straight, my guide thought we should go left.  Left we went, and after a short distance the rain began.  I was most concerned about my guitar getting soaked.  Just then we saw a small hut, and I made a quick turn to enter the property through the wood gate guarded by two mangy dogs.  Just as the rain really began to pour we arrived.  An old man came to the small door and we entered.  This poor old farmer inhabited this extremely small, 2-room hut.  The thatched roof had a few leaks, but at least we were out of the heavy rain and hail.  We were also out of drinking water, so after around 15 minutes of heavy rain, I filled our water containers from the water pouring off the thatched roof.  The two of them conversed.  After a while I pulled out my guitar and played a few tunes.  Two hours later, after the rain reduced to a slow mist, we headed out.  The farmer pointed out a short cut to get to the correct path to our final destination.  Ten minutes later we were back at the crossroads heading in the direction I had thought best.  It turned out that under the circumstances the wrong turn he had suggested was best, because for the next hour we didn’t see another house, and would have been totally soaked in the rainstorm, on a path that was like a river.  Finally, after 12 hours of hiking, passing through another village, at 6:30pm, we arrived at John’s farm.  John had long ago left for Kodaikanal, where he lives with is family, so we spent the night at the farm for a hefty fee.  I was so tired and sore I could barely move or eat and fell into bed for a much needed rest. One of my toe nails, on my left foot was totally destroyed and extremely painful.  A few days later the nail came off.  Other then that and extremely sore leg muscles for a few days, I look back at it all as a great adventure.  I did see one native deer, but no elephants or wild bison that roam the forests where we were traveling.

I was ready to be done with my guide and had paid him more then Jake had suggested for his services.  He seemed to want to stay with me until Kodaikanal, so I paid both our bus fares from the road near the farm to Kodai, where I then hoped to part ways with this fellow.  It was my understanding that he would be taking a bus back to Munnar, and then finding his way back home from there.  When we arrived in Kodai he asked for more money.  In a job that should have gotten him home on the same day we left, we spent large amounts of extra energy and time because of his incompetence.  I gave him some more cash for his bus fare, but still he would not leave me.  Because of the language barrier, I could not understand why he wanted to stay with me.

So off went together, in my hired taxi, to Eddies place, which is around an 8km distance from Kodaikanal, in a place called Vaddakanal.  On arriving, we passed through his gate, and up a stone pathway to his guesthouse.  It was my understanding from talking with Eddie on the phone, that I would be paying a daily fee for my room and board.  Eddie saw us coming and headed down from his home higher up the hill.  I told him I did not know why my guide had followed me here.  They conversed and Eddie told me he wanted more money, a lot more, for his work.  I refused, explained the situation to Eddie, and ended up giving him another 100 rupees at Eddie’s suggestion.  I assume he is now back home at his usual work as the village rock splitter.  What a journey we shared together.

I spent the next 4 nights at Eddie’s place.  A very fine painter, he has sold his work around the world and in India.  He has traveled to Germany, Iceland and other places for one-man shows.  Mostly a landscape painter working in oil, he is currently doing watercolor.  My 4 days at his place were somewhat strange.  He and his friends were in the midst of a psychodrama revolving around a mentally deranged woman who has suffered years of abuse since her childhood.  For various reasons she has had years of direct contact with Eddie and some of his good friends.  I will not go into the details, but suffice it to say, that they were all acting out their own highly emotional dramas, related to the situation.  Endless chatter, blame and confusion with each other limited my communication with all these people.  They were all so self-absorbed that even my calming music did not seem to sink in.  It was an interesting four days with some interesting characters.

I did get to play music with a German flute player for a few hours.  And then on my last day I met and played music with an Indian medical Doctor, named Mathew.  He is currently working at the International School where I had been scheduled to play a concert.  That event was cancelled because of end of semester exams and other school conflicts, but I did meet the school music director, with whom I had conversed on the phone while making the concert arrangements.  Mathew and I played together in the school chapel.  American Christian Missionaries founded the Kodaikanal International School in the late 1800’s.  Mathew is an excellent guitarist and songwriter and we had a wonderful 3 hours exchanging songs and playing together.  We had good communication during our short time together and spending my last hours with such a warm soul was a great way to end my stay in Kodai.

Before catching my 6:00pm all night sleeper bus to Chennai, I decided to have a meal at a Tibetan Restaurant located near the bus station.  The owner’s daughter was eating boiled vegetables, which looked just right, so I ordered that.  Well, by the next morning, I barely made it to a hotel in Chennai.  After 4 months in India, I finally had been initiated to what is sometimes called by international travelers, “Delhi Belly”.  I just made it to the toilet at my hotel in time to empty my insides all over the place.  What a mess that was.  With my still sore toe, a broken nail on my guitar plucking hand and a stomach in a state of upheaval, I was a mess.  But after a few more hours of emptying out my system, some sleep and getting cleaned up, I headed out for the most important order of business, getting my nails fixed.  I knew of a place in Chennai that did the job I needed done, and found my way there.  They did a great job and I was now ready to meet my classical guitar contact in Chennai.

Samuel Thangadurai is the classical guitar man in this city.  I met him at his teaching studio that evening (Wednesday) and he agreed to set up a house concert for the coming Friday.  What a great guy.  He made it all so easy. So on Friday evening I played a concert for around 25 guitarists and guitar music lovers.  It went beautifully and I even earned some modest rupees for my efforts.

It is now Sunday, and in a few hours I will be heading out to watch his 15-member guitar ensemble rehearse.  Tomorrow I plan to take a bus to Pondicherry, where I plan to spend some days.  I have now spent a least 8 hours writing up this blog entry and hope to proof it and send it out tomorrow morning, before catching my bus.  I am back in great health, feeling full of energy, and look forward to my next month of adventures before connecting up with my son, Jeremy, who flies into Delhi at the end of May.  So until my next blog… enjoy.

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/KeralaAndBeyond?authkey=Gv1sRgCLCxzZfN0PfyhgE&feat=directlink

Advertisements

Blog Entry March 20, 2010

As I write this blog entry I am in my large tent room at the Mojo Rain Forest Retreat around 10 km west of Madikeri, which is in the Coorg Region of Southern Karnataka.  I have been staying here since March 22.   Outside my tent I am surrounded by a beautiful rain forest planted with coffee plants in full bloom, along with plantings of vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon, tea, pepper and many other medicinal plants.   I will write more about this amazing place later.  Now I will go back to Thursday, March 4.

On that day I got up around 6:00 am to finish packing and doing a range of necessary errands and goodbyes before leaving MUWCI for the last time.  The 2 months spent at MUWCI seemed like a perfect prelude to my upcoming travels.  I had arranged a 2:15pm flight from Pune to Bangalore.  On the way to the airport I had my MUWCI driver make a stop in downtown Pune to collect my printed ticket and a package that my friend Jehangir wanted me to hand deliver to Bangalore.  All my connections flowed smoothly and I was at the airport around 1:00pm.  This allowed me plenty of time to pass through the very careful but efficient security at the airport.  India is attempting to keep track of all traveler movement.  At all hotels guests must register with a passport and visa photocopy.  It seems the situation with Pakistan regarding Kashmir and the violence surrounding that issue, has the Indian military on continual high alert at all travel centers and government buildings.

My 2-hour flight went smoothly.  I had been instructed by my Bangalore contacts to hop on an airport bus and get off at a particular bus stop, where I would then make a cell phone call and be met.  After the bus dropped me in downtown Bangalore, while waiting for my ride, I was once again impressed with the incredible intensity of urban life in India. There is heavy traffic on every street, yet the flow of vehicles (which appear to follow no defined rules), pedestrians and animals has an amazing fluidity amidst the incredible sound of horns, garbage and business activity.

After a 20-minute wait Peter Abreo, who is the administrative director at the Bangalore School of Music, picked me up.  We drove directly to the School where Aruna Sanderlal, the school founder and director was waiting.   After introductions, food and tea we had a meeting with the 5 guitar teachers to set up my teaching schedule.  The result was that from Friday thru the following Tuesday, I would be spending 4 days teaching master classes and private lessons for around 4 hours each day.  On Friday evening, March 5 I would also be performing a concert in the school auditorium.

Next Aruna Sunderlal took me to her home, where I would be her guest during my stay in Bangalore.  She lives in a comfortable apartment complex on a quiet street.  Her 3rd floor balcony overlooks an area with many trees, birds and at times, wild monkeys.  She has been living at this location for around 2 years, after selling her family home and property to a developer, who is in the process of constructing a complex of 8 condos.  As part of the deal with the developer, she will own 3 of the condos.  When completed in around a year she plans to live in one and rent the other two.  They would also be available to her son and daughter if the should decide to move back to Bangalore.  Her son lives and works in Calcutta and her daughter and family live in Washington DC where she works for an NGO.

Aruna started her music school at her old home over 20 years ago.  Since then it has grown tremendously and now occupies a 4-story building that was designed and build to house her school.  With over 350 students studying piano, strings, voice, guitar and dance the school continues to be a place of dynamic study of western music.  During my 4 days of teaching I was very impressed with the dedication, high standard of playing and musicianship of both students and teachers.  The deep interest and respect shown by all, in learning from my experience as a guitarist/musician, was a very satisfying experience for me.

My concert played to a full house of around 80 music students, faculty and others connected to the school.  Because of the short time available to arrange my concert and other scheduling problems, publicity was limited and I did not perform in a venue with greater seating.  The concert was a great success and Aruna wants me to return to Bangalore to perform as a part of their regular concert series.  During my travels so far there has been interest in my performing future concerts, so a return trip to India may happen at some future time?

While in Bangalore I had the opportunity to spend time at the guitar workshop of Arul Dominic, a fine Indian classical guitar maker.  Some year’s back Arul made some significant changes in his life.  He left a successful career in politics to devote himself to the full time profession of guitar maker.  A shift from doing intellectual work to hand made labor is very rare in India.  He made 2 extensive trips northern California where he worked and studied in the shops of various well-known guitar makers.  On returning to India he now sells his high priced instruments with success and has many plans for expanding his business.  A big group of local guitarists showed up at his workshop and we had a great time playing for each other.  Afterwards we continued our socializing at a local restaurant with much food and drink.  (Photos of the workshop will be available on my Picasa site)

Another interesting event was going out with a small group from the music school to a local nightclub that features live music.  I was looking forward to hearing some Indian jazz musicians, but it turned out the entertainment that night was provided by a rock group who played standard cover tunes.  They were quite good, but were very loud, and unfortunately did almost no improvisation.  I had my guitar with me and after their second set, I was asked to play.  I had a good time playing some of my original songs.  Most of the audience had been drinking and the noise level was high so real attention to my music was limited.  There is considerable interest amongst Indian youth in western pop culture.  I have been told that within large segments of the young urban middle class there is a decline of interest in traditional Indian artistic culture.  At the same time many of the defining aspects of Indian culture such as marriage, caste and close family ties still maintain great strength throughout the culture.  As my interactions with many Indians continue to grow in number and depth I gradually feel I am coming to a greater understanding of this deep and complex culture.

My stay with Aruna was wonderful.  She told me before my leaving that I was the first visiting musician that she had invited to stay at her home.  We got along well and had many discussions about our lives and views.  She did so much to make my stay in Bangalore comfortable and full.

On Wednesday, March 10 I took a 3-hour train ride from Bangalore to Mysore.  It was a beautiful trip passing through miles of rice fields and coconut groves.  I was scheduled to performing a concert on the coming Friday at the “India Song House”.  At 5:30pm Jan Brouwer, who organizes concerts of classical western music in Mysore, met me at the Mysore train station riding his motorcycle.  Jan, who is 50, has lived in India for 25 years, is of Dutch decent, is married to Indian women, and has 2 children.  Unable to carry my baggage and me on his motorcycle, he hired an auto-rickshaw for me.  With him in lead we headed to the “Indian Song House” where he informed me I would be staying.

My arrival there was the beginning of a great 12-day adventure.  Shoaib Chadkhan lives in this beautiful old house (see photos) and is in the process of developing the location as an art and music center.  Shoaib and I immediately felt a kinship and over my stay became good friends.  He is 30 years old, grew up in Mysore in a large family and is partners with his 2 older brothers in a fabric store that has been in the family for generations.  While I was there he spent little time at the store, even though he plays a vital role in their successful business.  Over the past few months he has been putting considerable energy into developing his interest in the arts, both as a collector and promoter.  His open communication skills, strong business sense, responsibility and generous spirit will all contribute towards success in his future projects.

Shortly after my arrival he spent many hours in preparing for the Friday night opening of a one-man art show.  My concert was scheduled for the same night, so we also spent time planning that event.  It was wonderful to see his living space and outside grounds quickly and efficiently transformed into a beautiful gallery and concert venue.

Inside workers from his business came and helped clean the place from top to bottom.  The artist, Barath, spent 2 days with Shoaib hanging the paintings.  Electricians came and installed lighting for painting display.  By Friday noon all was ready for the 5:00pm opening.

Outside, the large yard area surrounding the house was cleaned and made beautiful.  Bougainvillea, mango, coconut, breadfruit, papaya trees, flowering bushes, surround the house and open spaces.  Shoaib and I decided on the final details of setup for my performance, which was held by an outside porch area, under huge mango and palm trees.  Chairs and mats were placed around the area in sufficient quantity to accommodate an audience of around 70.  Incense sticks were placed around for atmosphere and to help keep away mosquitoes.  On Friday morning women from his store brought large baskets of flowers to line all the pathways, building ledges and steps.  Intricate traditional Indian designs were created with white chalk. In two days of thoughtful work this lovely house and grounds were transformed into a place of great beauty.

I spent most of Friday afternoon in guitar practice in preparation for the concert.  By 6:00pm the house and grounds were full of people who came to view the show and concert.  Shoaib had arranged considerable newspaper publicity for the art opening.  I dressed in my new Indian embroidered silk shirt and traditional white cotton Indian pants that I had received as a departing gift from the guitar faculty at the Bangalore School of Music.   I began my performance with the audience sitting on chairs and mats.  The atmosphere was beautiful with burning incense and candlelight, as dusk settled into night.  I enjoyed performing and the audience loved the event.

After performing I spent around an hour greeting and meeting people.  Then Jan Brouwer, who had arranged my concert, took Shoaib, Praveer (a friend of Shoaib’s visiting from Delhi), myself, his wife and 12-year-old son and others from the Mysore Concert Society to the Mysore Sports Club where he is a member.  Dating from the colonial period, clubs of this type are now used by wealthy Indians as a social gathering place for family and friends.  We sat outside and had a good meal.  I enjoyed talking with some Indian Concert Society members who have traveled extensively outside India.

Back home at the “India Song House” I spent the next 10 days experiencing many aspects of life in Mysore.  Both Shoaib and Barath have many friends who came by the house from morning to night to visit and see the show.  Reporters came by to interview Barath, as well as many Mysore residents who had seen the extensive publicity.  I spent many hours of my days and nights sitting the outside porch playing music, talking with new friends and enjoying the wonderful space.  I had many talks with young Indian artists and western travelers visiting Mysore for extended periods to study yoga at the internationally renowned yoga centers in Mysore.

My bedroom was located at the quiet back end of the house, so it was easy for me to get away from all the visitors when I desired.  I had access to an Indian style toilet and a shower area.  It was all very comfortable and my days in Mysore were relaxed, varied, informative and filled with learning and personal growth.

On my last night at “India Song House”, which was the closing day of Barath’s show, I performed a second joint concert with Harish.  For the past 10 years he has intensely studied singing in the south Indian classical style called Carnatic.  This musical form differs from the north Indian classical style called Hindustani.  Harish composes original songs in the Carnatic style while playing guitar chords to accompany his singing.

I met Harish the day after my first concert performance.  He would come by now and then.  Each time he stopped by we would spend a few hours exchanging musical ideas.  He taught me some basics of the Carnatic raga vocal style and I taught him some guitar fundamentals.  We would always play his original songs together, so when Barath asked us to perform a joint concert on the closing night of his show we were both excited.  We performed at 6:00 pm in the living room with candlelight.  I recorded the concert and will attempt to download segments onto my blog.  It was beautiful and the audience, of around 25, loved the performance.  For me it was very special, as it was my first concert with a traditional Indian musician, where I had the opportunity to complement his music with my guitar.

Harish also provided me with another wonderful musical opportunity.  On 2 occasions he took me to meet his musical guru, C.A Shridhar, who is an exceptional Carnatic (south Indian classical musician) singer and flute player.  In addition to his exceptional musicianship he has an extensive academic background and teaches at the Mysore University School of Music.  A few evenings a week he teaches private students like Harish out of his home studio.

At our first meeting I attended Harish’s weekly singing lesson with his guru.  Harish and 3 other vocal students attended this class.  He had previously contacted his guru and asked permission for me to attend.  We arrived at his guru’s home with me on the back seat of Harish’s motorcycle.  Ascending a narrow outside stairway we arrived at the second floor teaching studio.  In the room were instruments including sitars, veenas, south Indian flutes, tamboura and tablas.  On the walls were photos and paintings of historically famous south Indian musicians, wall hangings and other religious images.  The other 3 students had already arrived and Harish immediately took charge of a one hour warm up session while waiting for the guru to arrive.  They were practicing a variety of ragas and other vocal exercises.  I later learned that all 4 students had been seriously studying voice for over 10 years.

After an hour of warm-up C.A. Shridhar arrived.  A dignified man, he was dressed in tradition Indian dress with his entire forehead painted with a gray coloring.  The lesson lasted for almost 2 hours.  It began with the guru singing a phrase of a raga and the students repeating each section in unison 3 times.  The goal was for the students to follow as closely as possible all nuance and inflexion as sung by the guru.  Occasionally he would stop to comment or make corrections.  Later he gave, what sounded to me like a general musical commentary on the ragas they had been studying.  He did not speak in English.  There is a highly technical and complex musical system in south Indian classical music that takes many years to master.  It seems that improvisation work with the guru begins only after this system is nearly mastered.

After the lesson the guru and I spoke briefly and it was arranged that I would return in a few dates to attend another class and have the opportunity to perform for C.A. Shridhar.  It was my hope that the two of us would also have the opportunity to play together.

Harish and I arrived a few nights later after the class had already begun.  This class was for a group of 8 flute students ranging from age 10 to around 25.  All had been studying flute for around 3 years and were serious about their musical pursuits.  The class followed a method that was similar to the vocal students.  When the class ended an hour later the guru had each of the students introduce themselves.  While this was going on, Harish left.  After a while he returned with a basket of fruit and a large, beautiful flower necklace, which were given as a gift to me.  I then performed two selections on the guitar, one classical and the other an original composition.  With the students still present I was given a discourse on Indian Classical music and its relationship to the Vedas, Sanskrit and the meaning of Om as the fundamental source of all musical creation.  After the students left we told each other in more detail about our backgrounds and then improvised together on flute and guitar.  It was an opportunity for me to play with an exceptionally fine Indian musician and I enjoyed the experience very much.  He expressed an interest in having me perform a solo concert at the University.  We discussed the possibility of my returning to Mysore at some future date.

One day Barath offered to take me to his Art School, where he will soon be finishing his Masters Degree.  Off we went on a speedy ride on the back of his motorcycle.  The school is housed in a large complex of old buildings.  I visited beginner and advanced drawing classes, commercial art studios, sculpture work areas, print making facilities and their photography studios.  I got a chance to see the work of some of the advanced students and was generally very impressed with the high quality of their work.  It appears that the students academic training is very rigorous, but they also given great freedom to explore their personal creative direction.  Overall the commitment to getting a very good education seems to be strong with Indian students in every field of study.

One evening Shoaib took me to a party attended by western students at a very large yoga school.  It took place at the home/restaurant of a Chinese/American fellow who has a thriving breakfast and lunch business with the hundreds of yoga students passing through Mysore for a 1month to 6-month stay.  An American fellow Mickey had been helping manage the restaurant for some months.  I had not met him previously but he had attended my solo concert.  When he arrived in Mysore from the U.S., he brought along his acoustic bass guitar.  During the party we had a great jam session on the roof terrace of the building.  A few days later we got together again at Shoaib’s place and had another good jam.

Other fun adventures were an afternoon trip out to a beautiful river area lined with miles of rice fields.  I also went out to the home of German a woman who has a small bed and breakfast and restaurant around 15 kms outside of Mysore.  Her husband, who passed away a few years ago, was a fine painter who Shoaib has started collecting.  Shoaib, Praveer and I had a good German meal of homemade bread, potatoes and various cuts of meet.  On another occasion I had lunch at the home of Jan, which included a good conversation with a well-known Indian Anthropologist.  There were more outings and doings over my days in Mysore, to numerous to mention.  My time in Mysore was full, inspiring, yet relaxed.

After some thought, reading and discussion, I decided to head next to a place recommended in my Lonely Planet guidebook.  Called the “Mojo Rainforest Retreat”, it is an organically run coffee, tea, vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon pepper, pineapple, and vegetable plantation.  Run by an Indian biologist couple, Anurag and Sujata Goel, the place has extraordinary beauty and harmony.  I was fortunate to arrive just as the 20 acres of coffee were coming into full bloom.  In addition to the various building used to house visiting guests, they have two large guest tents overlooking the rainforest.  My tent enabled we to capture all the surrounding sounds, sights and smells day and night.  Every morning at around 6:30, I would be awakened, in a heavy mist, to the sounds of first cicadas, then an every increasing symphony of bird song.  After doing my regular morning exercise and bathing routine, I would sit in front of my tent and continue my day in music and song.  Then down the hill to breakfast with other guests and staff.  I took a few tours of the plantations learning in some detail about Anurag and Sujata’s 20 years history and relationship to the place and land.  During the day I would spend hours at my musical studies, which over the past months have included in increased amount of time dedicated to my improvisational work.  The sounds of the rainforest were very conducive to going every more deeply into these explorations.  After dinner I would give a mini concert for the guests and staff, surrounded by the sounds of night insects.  After dark, walking home through the forest on narrow paths, I would pass a very wet area that was filling with the flashing of hundreds of fireflies, mixed with the sounds of many frogs croaking.  I would often stop to see and listen to this magic of nature.

After staying 3 days Sujata and Anurag offered to let me stay on at no cost for as long as I liked.  I ended up staying a full week.  After my second day I began teaching their 12-year-old daughter, Maya, the guitar and keyboard.  She is an energetic and engaged person and was a great student.  I also gave lessons to Arun, their office manager from Mumbai who had extensive experience as a rock and roll drummer.

Knowing that I wanted to head to the beach on the next leg of my journey, Sujata recommended that I go the home/guest house of their friends Nazir and Rosi who have a place called the Kannur Beach House.  Their home is located on a beautiful beach in Kerala around 12kms outside of the town of Kannur.  I spent a week, waking to the sound of rolling waves and morning birds singing outside my room.  Nazir and Rosi have 3 children, Soumyo (girl 21), Shalom (girl15) and Sanyo (boy12).  All 3 were just finishing up their school year, so I got to spend time with them, when they were not helping out their parents with the many tasks of cleaning and cooking for the guests that were coming and going.  Both Nazir and Rosi are from Kannur and were deeply involved in the world of computers and IT before deciding to give up that life and live on the beach.  Nazir is knowledgeable about south Indian Canartic music and he asked my to show him how he could extend his knowledge to the guitar.  We both learned a great deal from each other.  I also taught Soumyo and Sanyo guitar lessons and in trade they gave me a discount on the cost of my room.   I had great week at the beach.  My time included long days of practice, 2 short trips to town, a backwater boat trip and swimming and exercising every afternoon on the beach.  It was very hot, but when the breeze picked up one cooled off a bit.  Many showers and swimming also helped.  India is entering the full force of its hot season, which is very hot indeed.

This morning I left Kannur on a train for a 6-hour ride to Fort Cochin where I am now staying.  I have already begun making connections with the goal of setting up a concert here in around 2 weeks.  If that can be arranged, I will likely head into the mountainous Ghats, where it is much cooler.  I am scheduled to teach and perform a concert at the International School at Kodhikanal, which is one of the highest places in southern India.  I will be writing more on all these new adventures in my next blog.  Until then, greetings to all who are taking the time to read this blog entry.

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/AMonthOfNewAdventures?feat=directlink

It is Monday morning, March 1, which is a holiday here in India called “Holi” the festival of colors.  It has a long history in Hindu tradition, but in its most basic sense is a celebration of spring.  It is a day of joy and love with people celebrating by putting colors on each other.  In modern times this is often done by the youth by throwing colored water balloons at each other.  Here at MUWCI, where the celebration has not yet begun, I was told that students often use mud to cover each other, as the balloons and coloring are limited in supply.  I am not sure at this point how involved I will get in the festivities.

On Wednesday afternoon, March 17, I left MUWCI in the staff commuter van heading to Pune.  I was dropped off and caught a auto-rickshaw to the home of Arnaud & Shakuntal where I had been invited to dinner, before catching my overnight sleeper bus to the beach at Ganpatipule.  They have a 2 apartment situation.  In one apartment they live and the other houses Arnaud’s organ.  After a few moments in their living space Arnaud and I went next door to see and hear his 4 manual Johannus organ which is manufactured in Holland.  With a large wall almost entirely filled with high quality speakers  the sound was breathtaking.  Arnaud focuses much of his attention on practicing Bach and it was wonderful to hear him play various chorales and a toccata.  After he played form some time I asked if I could give it a spin.  I was playing simple improvisations but the sound was amazing and I could have sat there for hours.  But dinner and my bus beckoned so we headed back to their living area.  My friends Jehanger and Binaifir had arrived, so we settled in to a light dinner but very tasty dinner, plus wine, beer and whisky which put me in a very mellow mood for the long bus trip ahead.

Binaifir and Jehanger drove me to the bus station after dinner.  After a while the bus arrived, I said my goodbyes and boarded.  Because the bus was not crowded  I got to use a larger bed.  The bus was second class and had no air conditioning but nights are still cool this time of year.  We left Pune around 11:00 pm and arrived at Ganpatipule at 7:30 am on Thursday.  I had a restful night except for the load engine noise, extreme rocking, bumps, bright lights as we passed through town, twisting hair pin turns through the mountains, stopping and starting.  Upon arrival I found my way to the MTDC resort which is a government-run lodging chain throughout India.  At Ganpatipule they have a large main complex and then a smaller area 1/2 km down the beach.  I rented a small cottage with bathroom at that location. My cottage was located around 100 yards from the beach with a view from my window of the Arabian Sea.  Located in a coconut grove and near a beach restaurant I found the situation perfect.  The food at the restaurant was good and very reasonable in price.  The beach was mostly deserted except near the main complex so it was a time of mostly relaxing solitude.  I spent my 4 days swimming, walking the mile long beach, exercising, playing guitar and meeting people.  In the next door cottage was a woman from Switzerland, who was on her last stop after spending a 2 month solo journey in India.  Over the 4 days we became friends and enjoyed spending time together.  I also got to know some of the staff and other tourists.  This resort is used almost entirely to Indian tourists.  During my stay I only saw 5-6 non-Indian travelers.  You can check out photos of the beach and area on my Picasa site.

I arrived back in Pune at 5:30 am after another all night bus ride.  After receiving some bad advice when getting off the bus, I finally found my way to the location where the MUWCI employee van would be picking me up for the return trip to the college.  It was still dark when I arrived at that spot and I really enjoyed watching the city wake up. . . the early morning women street sweepers, the daily newspaper seller setting up, the gradual increase of traffic, the morning dogs making their rounds.

Back at MUWCI I had a very busy week ahead.  On Monday I taught my regular guitar students, practiced and caught up on a little sleep from the bus ride.  On Tuesday I taught the beginners guitar club and worked with the 4 more advanced guitarists.  I also worked with Martin, the German cello player, and asked him to perform with me at my upcoming Saturday night UWC concert.  He is a good classical cellist and I have been doing some work with him on improvisation, which he had never done before.  He has a great natural feel and good harmonic knowledge.  We began rehearsing “Summertime” for the concert.  I also taught Carla a lesson.  She was in the process of learning one of my favorite classical guitar pieces “Recuerdos de la Alhambra”.  Carla has never played any classical guitar and it is a joy to watch her learn the piece by memorizing it measure by measure as I played it for her.  She almost instantly has developed very good classical technique and ended up learning the entire piece in around 6 practice sessions with me.  She has great talent and when she returns to Australia she intends to study music full-time.

On Wednesday I performed at the boys mentally handicapped facility located at one of the nearby villages.  I went with around 8 UWC students who go there on a weekly basis as part of their service.  After playing various games I got out my guitar a played for around 20 minutes.  We all had a great time and the boys loved the music.  See blog photos of that event.

On Thursday I performed at the Mercedes-Benz School on the edge of Pune.  The school was originally founded to teach the children of administrative employees at the Mercedes-Benz factory.  But in the past 5 or so years the area has become the center of IT development in the Pune area and possibly the largest in India.  Huge company building complexes are going up on a monthly basis.  So the school is serving to this segment of the Indian population, as well as the international people who are also working in the area.  I gave a 3 hour workshop with around 15 students and then after lunch played a 45 minute concert for around 60 of the older students.  One of the guitarists, a 16-year-old Indian, who grew up in Peking, China, where his father working as an executive at some large company, played with me during my show.  He is a strong player and writes original music.  I had him do some improvisation with me which was great for his fellow students and teachers to hear.  I received an honorarium  for that work and am starting to earn just enough to meet my expenses while here in India.

On Friday I performed a concert at the National Chemical Lab (NCL) in Pune.  That concert came about because a fellow, Pankaj Doshi, had attended my concert a few weeks earlier at the Pune Music Society and arranged to have me perform at NCL.  On short notice he did a wonderful job of arranging the event.  I played to an audience of around 150 at their large auditorium and well very well received.  After the concert I made some contacts with Doctoral students working at the Lab who volunteer fore and organization that promotes Indian Classical Music around the country.  The organization has many branches around India.  One of these fellows, Siddarth, is going to be contacting other members to help me meet some top Indian classical musicians and hopefully help set up performances for me as I travel.

On Saturday I performed my last concert here at MUWCI.  After in opening number I had Martin come up and we performed two selections together; Summertime and Romance de Amor.  He played very well and is looking forward to exploring more improvisation in the future.  That concert was my public goodbye, as I will be leaving MUWCI on March 4.  It has been a wonderful 2 months here.  I have had the opportunity to enjoy this amazing campus with its great students, faculty and staff.

On Saturday I also attended a final meeting of a 2 day conference being held here a MUWCI.  The conference was centered around environmental sustainability. It brought together some leading Indian people involved in environmental Science, reforestation, banking and business.  The idea is to create, here at MUWCI, a self-sustaining, environmentally balanced institution, in cooperation with the surrounding communities, that can serve as a model for institutions around India and the world.  It is a very exciting project which I will be discussing further at the Montezuma UWC when I return home.  I had the opportunity to get to know some of those involved and will hopefully be meeting up with a few of them during my future travels here in India.

On Sunday evening I attended a student music/theatre showcase performance in the Space.  This is usually a bi-weekly event but because of the series of weekend plays was the first since I have been here.  I am glad I got a chance to see it and was impressed with the variety of talented students here at the college.

So I have spent my morning writing this blog and missed the Holi mud/color event.  This afternoon and evening I have some teaching to do.  On Tuesday I plan to make a quick trip to Pune for some necessary shopping and then teach in the evening.  On Wednesday I will be getting organized for my departure on Thursday morning.

And then on Thursday I fly to Bangalore for around 6 days to teach, perform and check out the area.  I will then take a train or bus to Mysore where I will also perform a concert and explore the area, which I have been told is very special.  More on all that in my next blog entry.  Until then, be well.

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/Ganpatipule?feat=directlink

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/VillageConcertInTempleAndConcertAtVilliageBoysMentalFacility?feat=directlink

Enjoying the flow

It is already Monday night here I am just getting around to starting my weekly blog entry.  What a terrific week of wonderful experience I have had.  I looked at my iPod calendar to survey my weeks activities and found that last Monday, a week back, seems like the distant past.  I grabbed an early breakfast at the school cafeteria, caught a ride into Pune with a school jeep and got dropped of at the train station.     I got to the station about an hour early so enjoyed people watching while waiting for my train to arrive.  In India trains go almost everywhere, are very cheap and are almost always full.  I got a second class ticket, non air-conditioned car which cost me around $4.00 for the 4 hour trip.  Much of the landscape was dry plains, but we did go through a stretch of mountains, where I say monkeys running around and in the trees.

Mumbai is a huge city and in getting to the train station the tracks passed through some miles of extreme urban poverty.  Many of the urban poor are rural people who have moved to the city in search of new opportunity.  All along the tracks right-of-way, amidst the squalor, were miles of perfectly tended vegetable gardens.  These gardens are cared for by the people who live in the slums just above the tracks.  This right-of-way is “public” land owned by the railroad. It appears people have taken it upon themselves to carefully clean up all the rubble and garbage along the tracks and turn this no mans land into places of beauty and production.   These same people seem to live in conditions of great disorder.  My observation of these extraordinary gardens causes me to wonder if this is not always the case.  I have not yet walked through these slum areas along the tracks, so I don’t know how living spaces are kept up inside, but from the outside it is hard to imagine greater poverty and poor living conditions.  At some time during my travel I am going to take time to visit such an area and find out more.   At any rate the gardens displayed an aspect of resilience and creative works that was quite beautiful.

Out on the street I finally found a auto-rickshaw they knew how to get me to the American Center.  I arrived just in time for my 2:30 pm appointment, but didn’t get upstairs to visit the American Consul for at least 20 minutes because of the extremely tight security at the building.  (You may remember that a little over a year ago a group of crazy political extremists went walking through a high-end area of Mumbai killing hundreds of people at random.)  After finally meeting the American Consul and her Indian Cultural Affairs Specialist, we had a good meeting.  I played them some music and we talked about future performance possibilities.  It is likely that I will be flying back to Mumbai in early April to perform and concert and give a workshop.  More on all that if it is firmed up.  They will also be contacting other posts to see if they want to have me perform.  By the time I got out of there is was 5:00 pm and I went to find a hotel.  I ended up staying in as old historic of part of Mumbai at the place recommended in my Lonely Planet guide-book.  I now know that hotels in India are quite expensive, especially in places like Mumbai and Delhi.  The place I stayed at was on the funky end, but the room and sheets were clean, and it still cost me $20 a night.  Food, if you eat at the right places is quite cheap and good.  Transportation is more than reasonable, but lodging is high.

After checking in and cleaning up a bit I hit the streets to find a place to eat, see some sites in the area and find a place to get my nails repaired.  My nails have grown out since arriving in India so it was absolutely necessary to get them repaired before my upcoming concert.  So I headed over to the Taj, which is the most expensive and elegant hotel in Mumbai.  The Taj Hotel was the epicenter of the terrorist attack I described above, so security was quite tight, but nothing compared to security at the American Center.  Inside and outside it is 5 star all the way.  At the reception desk they told me where to find the nail salon and I headed directly there.  It was already around 7:30 pm and they were about to close up for the night, but I made an appointment for 11:30 am the next morning, which was the first time slot available.  In a place like this, I don’t think most people ask what something costs, because money is not an issue.  I did ask and was told that the starting price was 1800 rupees ($40 us).  I mentioned that I only needed 4 nails worked and they said talk to the nail guy at my appointment.  In Las Vegas I get what I need done for $7.50.  Well the next morning I showed up and ended up paying the $40.  At least the guy did a good job and I had to have it done.  I have to get my nails fixed around every 6 weeks, so next time I need them done I will start checking around sooner.

I then walked straight back to my hotel, checked out and headed to the train station to catch my 2:00 pm train back to Pune.  I had some good Indian fast food at the train station, took a few fotos as I wandered around and then boarded my train where I had a reserved seat.  Now before I tell you about the following incident please note a few of the following facts.  1. Mumbai has over 16 million residents.  2. Trains run in and out of Mumbai by at least a hundred times a day.  3.  Mumbai is on constant terrorist alert.  4.  The government and army probably have a huge secret police force.

So on entering the train I go to my reserved seat.  My compartment seating area is not full, so around a half-hour after the train pulls out,  I pull out my guitar and start practicing.  There is one guy sitting at the bench seat opposite and 2 guys across the aisle.  After a while, the guy across from me says “I saw you yesterday at the American Center”.  I am very surprised, he is a serious type of fellow, and tells me he was a guard out front.  He is not in uniform on the train.  He says he is going home to visit his family a few stops up and that he commutes back and forth to work.  He is kind of vague about how often he does this.  It could be his lack of fluent English.  He asks me what kind of visa I have.  I tell him I am a tourist traveling around and that I play music.  More people start coming looking for seats so I put my guitar away.  After a while I drift off to sleep and when I wake up a few minutes later he is gone.  As I got reflecting on it later, I thought about the amazing coincidence of it all.  I also thought that maybe it was not a chance meeting. Maybe someone was just checking up on me.  A few days after this, on Saturday night, while I was performing my concert in Pune, a terrorist bomb went off about a mile away, at a popular hang out for foreigners and Indians.  Many people were killed and injured.  It is easy to understand why security folks may want to check out anything that seems even slightly unusual.  What a strange and sick place the world is, and what a beautiful and glorious place it is at the same time.

Off the train and back in Pune I had a long wait at the train station for my UWC driver to pick me up.  Somewhere along the long day I picked up some fellow travelers in the form of fleas.  After five days my numerous bites have finally stopped itching and the swelling has gone down.  I feel that this was my first initiation ritual to extended Indian travel.  I expect there will be other similar trials along the way.  Arriving back at my UWC room around 10:00 pm I immediately showered and soaked all my clothes in soapy hot water.  Mumbai is very hot and sticky compared to here in the hills, so it felt very good to clean up, but mostly I wanted to make sure I got rid of every one of those rascally flees.

On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I took it fairly easy, doing a little teaching, lots of practice and some hanging out.  A fine fellow, Neil had showed up on campus while I was gone.  Ben had arranged for him to come to do drama workshops with the drama students.  Over recent days we have had a good time discussing life and our pursuits.  He lives in Japan, has a Japanese wife, and spends quite a bit of time traveling around India and other places in Asia doing drama related projects.  He writes short stories and gave me a packet of 8 to read.  They are well written, entertaining and generally have an unusual twist at the end which tend to grab me.  Meeting writers these days is of special interest to me as I entering that form of expression more deeply myself.

Speaking of writing, this past Wednesday I was approached by Karen, the biology teacher who I met when first arriving on campus.  She was organizing a birthday party for Darwin’s 201st birthday.  She asked me if I could do a song about Darwin or evolution.  I said I didn’t know one but would write a song to sing at the Friday afternoon party, which I did.  Here are the results.

Evolutionary Blues

CHORUS

I’ve got those evolutionary blues

Let’s move to things fresh and true

We can evolve into something new

Some people say man’s evolved over time

We have a history of fear and crime

War and greed, hate and pain

Conditioned thoughts bring more of the same

CHORUS

We kill each other for our beliefs

We say having more things will make us free

Yet planet destruction is the path were on

If this is evolution then it’s gone wrong

CHORUS

It’s thought that evolutions long and slow

Yet natural selection can have a speedy flow

Mankind must evolve in this crazy time

We can change with a shift of mind

I’ve got those evolutionary blues

Let’s move to things fresh and true

We can evolve into something new

On Saturday morning a caught a jeep into Pune with one of the teachers and a family of 5 who were visiting their son who is a UWC student here at MUWCI.  (They are from Malaysia so I learned a little more about that place.  Others have recently mentioned the place in conversations.  I need to do some research but sounds as if may be an interesting place to visit some day.)

I was dropped in downtown Pune at a well know coffee shop and waited around for a while for Jehangir and Binaifer to pick me up.  They took me to lunch at the restaurant connected to the Pune Race Track.  A place out of the old colonial days that displays a calm yet faded elegance.  The place was full of diners but I was the only non-Indian in the place.  We had a wonderful Indian meal which they ordered.  The lunch was the beginning of two days of kind, thoughtful and generous treatment during my time in Pune for my Saturday evening concert and Sunday afternoon teaching workshop.  After lunch they dropped me at my lodging which was an apartment owned by one of the Pune Music Society board members that is used for their visiting business clients.  It was a comfortable place off the main street with a courtyard area below full of trees, birds and drifting city sounds.  The next morning I sat for some time on the balcony playing my guitar while overlooking this scene.

At 4:00 pm on Saturday I was picked up and taken to the Mazda Hall where my concert would be taking place that evening.  The hall is part of a 120 year old school that is still functioning.   Colonial architecture on a self-contained campus in the heart of Pune.  I tried out the acoustics and got set up on stage where I got the best sound.  I then spent around 2 hours warming up.  At 6:30 pm they opened the doors and by 7:00 the house was full.  By the time I finished my first 2 selections, and the late comers were seated, there were over 300 people in the audience.  It was a mixed crowd of young and old.  From my first note to my last I was enjoying myself, playing well and drawing the audience more and more deeply into the music.  At the end, after an encore of “Never Too Late” I was presented with an amazing garland of flowers.  (See the photo)  I met audience members back stage and then went out to eat with Jehanger, Binaifer, Ben, Sindu, Neil, Arnaud and Shakuntala.

The next day I had a light breakfast at the apartment, prepared by Ravi, who has managed the apartment for over 20 years.  At noon Arnaud picked me up and we went to lunch at a great vegetarian restaurant.  Arnaud is a 66-year-old Frenchmen, married to Shakuntala from India.  He has lived in Pune for over 20 years and recently sold his engineering business.  He plays music, mostly Bach and has a 4 manual digital organ in his home.  He imported it from Holland and told me it is the best made.  I will be going to their home for dinner and organ music this coming Wednesday evening before catching my overnight bus to the beach at Ganpatipule.  I am really looking forward to hearing him play.

My workshop/master class started at 2:00 pm Sunday.  I worked with around 15-20 students.  There were around 30 people observing me teach each student, some waiting for their turn to perform.  Over the years I have taught this type of event on many occasions and find myself very comfortable working in the setting.  All the students were Indian from ages 9 to around 30, with most being younger.  Many were relative beginners but I had a few who were quite experienced having played for many years.  It seems there are limited opportunities in India for advanced instruction in guitar so my class was greatly appreciated.  After 4 straight hours of working with one student after another we finally finished at 6 :00 pm.  Jehanger, Binaifer and I headed out to dinner at another excellent vegetarian restaurant.  We then walked back to the hall and my UWC jeep was waiting for me to take me back to campus.

It was a full week of people and events.  It is now already Tuesday and the next few weeks should be very interesting and busy.  I am in the process of lining up a whole series of performance gigs, some this month and others in early March when I leave the UWC for good.  Tomorrow  evening I leave for the beach and will be spending 4 full days hanging out under coconut trees, swinging in my hammock, swimming, playing music and who knows what else.  Mmmmm … I am very ready for that.

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/ConcertInPune2132010?feat=directlink

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/TrainTripToMumbai?feat=directlink

Stretchin’ out

What a great week it has been.  On Mondays and Tuesdays I have scheduled various teaching and musical interaction projects around campus.  So on Monday, in addition to my usual 6 or so hours of guitar practice I taught a couple of 1 on 1 guitar lessons.  It is fun getting to know my new students and giving them ideas for self exploration through the via of music.  I have loved teaching throughout my life and continue to gain new perspectives on how to make the time spent together richer for both teacher and student.  On Tuesday I continue my almost daily morning practice in the “butterfly garden”, which is just a few hundred feet from my apartment.  It is so peaceful and beautiful.  (See a few photos of that place on my Picasa site).  I also practice at another favorite site overlooking the valley with its farmland.  I am continuing my read of “Unfinished Journey” by Yehudi Menuhin.   I am finding it very interesting and reading his life experiences are triggering many valuable reflections on my life.   In the evening I taught my beginners guitar class and then had a 2 hour session with the 4 more advanced students that ended at 11:30 pm.

Last week I had sent an email to the US consulate Cultural Affairs Officer in Mumbai asking her to get back to me about setting up an appointment to discuss my performing a concert in Mumbai and possibly other locations.  Not having heard back, I gave her a call on Wednesday morning and set up an appointment to see her tomorrow, February 8.  I will be taking an express train from Pune to Mumbai, which takes about 4 hours.  I will be getting  MUWCI transport into Pune with some other the teachers children, who commute daily for the schooling.  I will spent one night in Mumbai and expect to check out a bit of the nightlife.  I also have some shopping to do and most important, I need to find someone who can do my right hand guitar picking nails which are due for a new coating.  I am looking forward to the upcoming meeting because I potentially will be able to set up some sort of concert tour of India.  I will be taking my guitar and doing an audition.  I spent the day reading, playing music talking with students and faculty during meals.

On Thursday I met with Ben’s second year music class and talked about my time in Peru with particular emphasis on my musical interactions and knowledge of Andean music.  Then in the afternoon I met with my friend Michael who had just returned from a week in Delhi where he had gone to pick up his sister, Carla, who is coming for a one month visit.  She is 20 years old and plays guitar and writes songs.  We ended up having a fun 2 hour jam session out in the “butterfly garden” and then off to dinner.

After dinner I returned to my room and noticed that my neighbor, Sumit, had friends over.  We share a kitchen, and I could hear them preparing a meal through my door.  After my practicing for an hour or so, he knocked on my door and invited me over for a drink.  Sumit heads up the IT center here on campus and his two visitors are managers at the cafeteria.  He asked me to bring over my guitar and I played them a few tunes in varied styles.  We had a good time.  At some point I may begin writing some of my reflections on Indian culture and values of which I am just beginning to gain some  experience and understanding.

Friday was again fairly open.  I taught a new student, Eric, who had asked me for a lesson.  Other then that I spent a day of practice and reading.  My time here is basically open although it is gradually filling up with more teaching.  I love all this time to play, read and relax.  I can’t remember a time like this for many years and I am really enjoying this way of life.

Then last night a special event.  Michael, who works for the community service NGO, Akshara, arranged for us (Michael, his sister Carla and me) to go to the local village, Asde, and have me meet the local musicians and possibly play with them.  We arrived around 6:00 pm at the home of one of the musicians, who is a singer and harmonium (a hand pumped keyboard like a small organ) player.  We had tea and played each other a little music while we waited for the other musicians to arrive.  We met various members of his family from kids to grandparents.  Micheal speaks good Hindi and did all the translating.  After a while the other musician arrived and we had a great jam for around 2 hours.  I had great fun trying to play along with traditional Indian ceremonial songs.  The musicians included a good tabla player, a different more experienced harmonium player/singer, a bell-ringer and myself on guitar and vocals.  Michael recorded and Carla took pictures, so I will put some photos, film clips and sound bits on my blog.

This experience was the first of hopefully many musical encounters that I will be having throughout my travels.  This type of interaction was one of the things I had hoped would happen during my travel in India.  There is a big festival happening in the village this coming Tuesday and my new musician friends asked me to bring my guitar along.  Apparently there will be musicians coming from many of the villages in the area so it should be a special all night event.

Well that is it for now.  Off to Mumbai at 7:15 tomorrow morning.  More updates on my next blog entry.

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/AsdeJam?feat=directlink

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/CarlaSPhotosOfAzdeVillage?feat=directlink

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/CommunityMentalHealthHome?feat=directlink

To the end of January

It is Sunday evening here at MUWCI and I just returned from attending the 2nd of a series of student dramatic productions. This play was by a contemporary Indian playwright, Vijay Tendulkar.  It tells the story of a working class man who takes in outcast women and treats them as his personal slaves.  This production was not as tightly acted and produced as last weeks production, but was interesting to see.  There was not the slightest quality of a redeeming character in the entire production…. so it was a depressing vision of Indian society.

I had another full week here at the college and also a 3 day, 2 night trip to Aurangabad and the nearby cave temples of Ellora.  I spent this past Monday on Campus.  I did some 1 on 1 teaching as well as working for the first time with 4 of the more advanced guitar students.  We are working on some improvisation and I am helping them expand their chord knowledge.  Now that I am really settled in here on campus I am more or less limiting my student and community interactions to 3 days a week.  This will enable me to travel out of the area on 3 to 4 day excursions.  I am really enjoying interacting with the students and now that I have been around for over 3 weeks everyone here is really accepting me as a part of the community.

Tuesday was a national holiday here in India celebrating the day when India officially became one country.  There were no classes that day so students were hanging out playing soccer, swimming and catching up on work and rest.  I took it easy myself doing some reading and practice. I am reading an autobiography by Yehudi Menuhn, the great violinist, and finding it very worthwhile.

On Wednesday morning I caught a ride into Pune in a school car that was already scheduled and had them drop me off at a bus station where I got a ticket on a second class bus to Aurangabad.  It felt really wonderful to be heading out on my first serious excursion.  To get to the bus site I was packed into a car with at least 10 other passengers and we were transported around a mile to the bus. The trip took around 6 hours with many stops along the way dropping off and picking up passengers.  I was the only non-Indian on the bus.  One of the many interesting observations along the way was how the ticket guy picked up a couple of sadhu types along the way who needed a ride…. no charge.  When we finally arrived in Aurangabad I got a motor rickshaw to a low-priced hotel listed in my “Lonely Planet” guide to India.  What a great resource that will be during my travels.  The place was pretty funky, but clean and had a good breakfast.  The bus ride cost me under $4 US and the hotel was around $8 a night.  After getting into my room and freshening up a bit I headed onto the streets looking for a restaurant that was also recommended in my guide-book.  I had a good meal and headed back to my hotel which was around a 1 km walk for the restaurant.  As usual the streets both small and large a just teeming with activity.  I loved being out wandering around and feeling the pulse of urban India.  There are so many amazing sights and sounds.  I am really going to make an effort to start taking more photos to share on my Picasa site.

On this trip I was traveling with my backpack and guitar and realized early on that I was going to need to lighten  my load on all future travel.  I am going to get rid of my suitcase that I brought from the US.  So in the morning, after breakfast at the hotel,  I searched for an inexpensive small day pack which I bought before heading out to Ellora.  I think that will be my entire travel gear for the rest of my India journey…. backpack, daypack and guitar.  I will be getting rid of some unneeded clothes to make it all fit.  From the hotel I caught a rickshaw to the local bus station and caught a bus to Ellora which is around 20 km for Aurangabad.

Ellora is a 2 km series of 30 manmade cave temples carved out of solid rock over a period of hundreds of years. There are many Hindu, Buddhist and Jain structures that are all extraordinary creations.  Ellora is listed as a World Heritage Site so if you are interested in finding out more about them, I suggest you do a web search.  Anyway, I spent around 5 hours looking at all the temples and even took a few photos that you can see after I post them.  Upon leaving the caves a caught a ride in a jeep type vehicle driven by a turbaned speed demon.  It seems like every time I get in a vehicle the driver is the fastest on the road.  It is always an exhilarating experience moving around in bus, car, rickshaw or walking.  I actually saw my first minor accident as it happened right in front of us.  Everyone in the front seat with me laughed as we watched the two motorcyclist who lightly collided tried to fix blame for the mishap.  To drive here in India it is necessary to have to do a masterful dance between aggression and non aggression.

The next morning I caught a bus back to Pune.  A MUWCI driver was to pick me up at one of the train stations in Pune to get me back to the college.  I now have a Indian cell phone so making phone contacts is easy.  Having almost entirely eaten on campus so far, I am really just beginning to learn how to eat on the street and at local restaurants.  While waiting for my driver at the train station, I had time to explore and try out some of the great street food.  There are many wonderful choices and I am looking to learning more about how to do it “right” as I continue my travels.  The trick seems to be eating well-cooked food, no tap water and fruits that can be peeled. I ended up hanging out front of the train station for over 1 hour and really got a feel for the coming and going in that area.  When hanging in an area for that long, what at first seemed fast and chaotic, begins to slow way down and the natural rhythm of the place become obvious.

When I got back to the UWC after another crazy ride I really felt like I was coming home.  At the same time, I am excited about my next trip off campus, which I will decide on in the next couple of days.  So I am back to my focused guitar practice sessions.  My intention is to really wow them at my Pune concert.  I have also contacted the U.S. Cultural Affairs Officers in Mumbai and hope to set up a meeting for next week.  If I can get on their concert circuit that would be an easy way to set up at least some of my concerts.  I did that throughout our years of travel in Latin America and the Caribbean so know how it all works…. we shall see.

My good health is back.  I am loving being here and look forward to lots more adventures.

Link to pictures: http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/ElloraTempleCaves?feat=directlink

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/ViewsOfUWCCampusInIndia_2?feat=directlink

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/VillageLife?feat=directlink

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/HouseByRiver?feat=directlink

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/ViewsOfUWCCampusInIndia?feat=directlink

http://picasaweb.google.com/musictou3/KathakaliPerformace130110?feat=directlink