Tuesday, Dec. 13th 6:15 a.m.
I am beginning to overcome my jet lag. Instead of being wide awake at 5 a.m. I find myself being woken up by the tea servant at 6, and I am able to keep my eyes open past 7 p.m. Jet lag overcomes you like a tidal wave. It hits suddenly and doesn’t let go. I am not sure if it pays to fight it off, or just ease into the new schedule. Anyway, it is my 4th day here and I feel like I am finally on track.
Yesterday was a day of walking. During the week the festival doesn’t start until 5p.m. and it is in a smaller venue called the Uttam Manch, so I have most of the day to myself. I have been meeting a lot of people who all said they want to take me out, but yesterday no one was around, so I went walking. It was a perfect day for it. The temperature was in the high 70’s and the pollution didn’t seem so bad. Walking in the morning is easy. Traffic is light and people are not quite up and at ‘em. Most shops don’t open till around 10, so the sidewalks are clear. I must have walked for 10 miles up and down the streets.
I decided not to worry about being lost. If I didn’t find my way back I would just get a cab. I keep a slip of paper with me with all the addresses I need, so I can just point and the driver takes care of the rest. I find it funny here that no one will ever tell you they can’t take you, or they don’t know where a place is. They will always say ‘yes sir, please’ and begin driving. If they don’t know where they are going they will simply stop and ask. I have been on rides where they must have asked about 20 different people. They will not give up until you are where you need to be. I was determined not to have to get a cab and find my way on my own, so I just kept walking and asking people on the street for directions. I found myself at one of the subway stations, so I hopped on and rode down to Tollygunge, which is the area where Samarji lives. I walked to the tabla flat and sat with the tabla maker for a couple of hours. I met Manu, one of Samarji’s students from Toronto, Canada who came to discuss the purchase of some tabla. He told me that this tabla maker is one of the best in the world, and that most of the performers that I will see this week are playing on his tabla. I will definitely be bringing home some nice sets from him. Watching him work is really amazing. He cuts the heads with such precision, and applies the gobs all with no guides or help of fancy tools, simply his finger and a knife. It was great to watch him work.
Samarji was nowhere to be seen, so I headed back home and ate lunch. After lunch I was determined to get my bearings using a map and the direction of the sun. I saw on the map that there was a big lake nearby that I had not yet seen. I grabbed my camera and headed west. I found the lake and walked around the whole thing. It was a city park and there were couples everywhere sitting on benches with their arms around each other. It is the only public display of affection I have seen in India. George told me the other night that you can get in trouble with the police just for holding hands, so this was strange for me to see. It was nice though; it reminded me of back home. The park was great too. It was really nice to get away from all the cars and chaos. I met some high school students who were skipping school and playing cards. They saw me with my camera and wanted a picture. They wanted to know if I came to India to see a dirty bad place, or a place of beauty. I thought it was such a fascinating question to ask. I said I thought it was a very beautiful place and they said, “Oh good, good, you see it then.”
We talked a lot and I told them I was a musician. They immediately asked if I could recite a composition for them. They all got quiet and I felt the pressure. I smiled and recited a short tabla composition. As soon as I started they clapped to the beat and one kid started to beat box. I finished with a tihai and they all cheered. I said goodbye and kept walking. The impromptu performance gave me a shot of adrenaline that put a smile on my face and a bounce in my step.
When I got back to the mission, it was time to go to the concert. I met up with the Manu and his parents and we all took a cab to the venue. The concert consisted of 3 performances; Ananda and Prana Gopal Banerjee, a father and son tabla duet, Falguni Mitra, a vocal performer, and Buddhadev Dasgupta, a sarod master. The tabla duet was great. The son was visibly nervous. George told me that this was only the second time he has performed with his father, and the first time was over 2 years ago. Once they started the nerves melted and the performance was amazing. They were doing compositions so perfectly in sync that it sounded like one drum, and the speed was unbelievable. It was great to see. The father would smile often as his son played, and the son did the same.
The vocalist was very interesting too. He was flanked by 2 tempuras a sarangi, and a pakhawaj drum. The pakhawaj drum is the father of the tabla and looks a lot like a mridangam. I have never seen one in a performance before so this was a treat. The performance was mellow and sweet. There wasn’t the usual flurry of notes at the end, but just a gentle couple of pieces that were really nice to listen to.
The sarod maestro was great to see too. He oozed wisdom from the stage and his command of the music could be felt instantly. The tabla player was Anindo Chatterjee, who was the first tabla soloist from the night before. Usually, in a setting like this, you will see the tabla player take one or two solos. This performance was like a tabla solo all over again. The sarod player broke 3 strings in the first piece, so Anindoji took solos as the sarod player changed strings. They said the sound was such that they could not hear the sarod so he kept playing too loud and that is why the strings were breaking. It was interesting to see these two masters deal with such problems on stage. It was like they were two eagles trying to soar in the sky, but couldn’t get above the trees. They ended the first piece and he wanted to stop, but the crowd yelled out for more, so they played another short one. The audience applauded in appreciation but when the night was over, all people were talking about was the sound. I think everyone felt a little cheated by the technical mishap, but what can ya’ do? We hung around a bit and then headed home.