Saturday, December 31, 2005

The End of a Great Year, Ready for 2006!

Hello,

It has been such a great year. I feel so greatful to have been able to share it with you. I just finished entering my entire journal from my trip to Calcutta, so if you haven't been here in a while, check it out (11 entries in all). It was an amazing trip. The day after I got back I was back in Ann Arbor for the Go Like The Wind Christmas Concert. In case I haven't mentioned it before, Go Like the Wind is a school where I teach general music to 4th-7th graders. In the weeks leading up to Calcutta, we had been working on the music for the concert. I was concerned about leaving the students for two weeks before the show, but thankfully, Steve Osburn took over for me while I was gone and helped to put it all together. He also works as a music teacher at the school, and is responsible for me being hired there, in addition, he is the owner of Oz's Music where I teach all my private lessons, workshops, and classes. I think we will be working together much more in the future.
When I walked into the school the students were rehearsing the show. Doug Collier, the principal was directing and telling the kids to be quiet, but as soon as I walked in they were all distracted and waiving. It felt good to be back, and it was great to see everyone so into the performance. Thinking back on it now, it seems almost like a dream. I was feeling the jet lag, and felt like I was running on Coffee alone, but I do remember that I couldn't stop smiling.

The next day my wife and I went up to Marquette, MI. to relax and enjoy the holidays with my family. It was so nice to be home after this big trip. I ran into alot of friends and fellow musicians. There are so many great musicians from Marquette that are all out in the world doing so many great things, and it feels great to be able to come home and share our stories. I have a friend Jared Smith who is in L.A. playing music and doing great things, he actually recorded a track on Ry Cooders last album Chavez Ravine, which, I think is up for a Grammy. I have a friend Ryan Staples in Chicago who is in the process of building his own recording studio, and then there is Mike Waite, Ryan Mahoney, Emily Jack and others who are all playing and singing all over the country. I am inspired and motivated by them all. My sister Evelyn was also home from a year and a half with the Peace Corps in Namibia, Africa, so we had a lot of catching up to do. As I sit here, (home in Linden), I feel refreshed, rested, inspired, energized, and ready for the new year. I will be kicking it off with the Gratitude Steel Band once again at the same church we played at last new years eve.

I have absolutely loved this blog and I hope to keep it up. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Thanks for reading, and I will talk to you soon!

John

Monday, December 19, 2005

Day 8, Last Day of Festival

Well the festival is now over and I couldn’t feel more satisfied or inspired. The closing day was like a fairy tale. I showed up at 9:30 a.m. and saw 6 of Samarji’s students perform in a tabla ensemble. They were all really good and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few of them became tabla masters themselves. They were followed by a Kathak dancer that went on for almost 2 hours. She seemed to have endless energy. I was feeling so much anticipation for the arrival of Swapan Chaudhuri that I could barely pay attention.
After the dancer there was to be one more singer and then Swapanji was up. George said I can meet him before the performance if I want, but as of the end of the kathak dance he had still not arrived. The singer was Manas Chakrabarty. He seemed to be very well known and very well liked by the crowd. People were packing into the seats, which got me worried that I would loose mine if I left to see Swapan. The singer was accompanied by Kumar Bose on tabla. Up to that point in the festival, I would say that he was my favorite soloist. He was just as great to watch accompany as well. As the singer went into his final piece, I decided that I did not want to miss the opportunity to say hi to Swapan before he went on. I asked Manu to save my seat and went backstage. I saw Samarji and asked if I could meet Swapan. He immediately pointed me to his room and I went back. It was full of people, all wanting to say hi. I scooted up to the front and just sat down in front of him, (he had been warming up for the performance). He recognized me right away, but didn’t remember my name right off. I told him that he was my first tabla teacher and that I have been inspired by the instrument ever since in large part because of his teaching. It looked like a light went on and he remembered me all of a sudden. We talked about Calarts and some of the people there. He said he is now the chairman of the music department. I told him I was very happy to be able to watch him play and touched his feet. I stood up to get out of the way and a couple people came up to me to ask about people I knew from Calarts. They had come with Swapan and knew some of my old teachers and friends. I passed my card around and felt so satisfied that I went backstage. Now it was time to rush back up front to claim my seat back and get ready for the show.
When I started learning tabla, everyone at the school always told me the stories of Swapan’s playing, and how he is so well known and respected for his beautiful sound and masterful technique. Since I never actually got to see him perform a tabla solo, I never got to see for myself what everyone was so excited about. I think that made him a mythical legend in my mind. Actually seeing this legend on stage in front of me was sort of like watching a superhero take flight.

The setting was perfect, the sun was just right so it poured a soft amber light over the audience. I could feel the warmth on my face. The stage was lit in bright white light, untouched by the amber sun. The contrast of light was as though the performer and audience were existing in two different realities. I felt so happy watching this master at work. His playing was beautiful and amazing. I was surprised to be able to recognize some of the things he played because they were some of the first compositions I learned on the tabla. I felt like I had come full circle.
Swapan finished his last composition and thanked the crowd, but just as he was about to get up Shankar Ghosh walked in. He held up his hand and said something to the effect of, ‘I just got here, you can’t be done yet, you must play something for me.’ Swapan laughed and sat back down. It was a great show of respect that not only allowed me and the rest of the crowd to see one more composition, but connected the reality of the rest of the festival to this almost surreal experience of seeing my old guruji perform.
When he was done I rushed backstage again to try and snag some pictures. The crowd around him was intense. People were pushing each other just for a chance to touch his feet. When he got to the dressing room they let about 10 people in and cut everyone else off. I was able to get in because a few of the crew wanted me to take pictures of them with Swapan. I snapped a few pictures and Swapan asked how long I will be in India. I told him just 2 more days and he said, “Well, I guess I will see you in America then.” I shook his hand and went outside.
For the next hour I just stood outside in a dazed state. Just taking everything in and processing what had just happened. After a while, I realized that there was still music playing, so I went in to enjoy the finale of the festival. I caught the end of a sitarist named Budhaditya Mukherjee, which was great, but my mind was still elsewhere.
The final two performances were by two of the oldest living exponents of Indian Classical music. The first was a vocalist named Smt. Girija Devi. When she took the stage she said that a couple of months ago she had double bypass surgery on her heart. She said that she did not think she would ever be able to perform again. Tonight she would sing Rag Yemen. It was the simplest rag she sang, and it was the rag she teaches to the smallest children. She wanted to sing it tonight because with this performance, she feels as if she has been born again. Her singing was amazing and powerful and still very much full of life.
The final performance was by Pt. Kishen Maharaj and his son Puran Maharaj. When he came onto stage everyone in the crowd stood up and there was a 20 minute devotional ceremony, known as a puja. All the great tabla masters from throughout the week were on stage to touch the feet of this master. Actually there were more than just the tabla masters. All the singers and instrumentalists were up there as well, along with children, students, and any others that just wanted to show their respect. Pt. Mahraj gave a 10 minute speech and then sat to play his drums in what may very well be his last public performance.
His 88 year old hands were shaky and slow, but his rhythm and improvisational mind were as sharp as ever. The seats were packed. I was sitting behind and next to all the great tabla masters as they watched this living legend. They were all on the front of their seats just soaking the moment in. I was awe struck by the moment and felt so happy to be able to be a part of it.
When the concert was over I hung around a bit and saw Samarji. He was beaming with the biggest smile I have seen from him all week. I congratulated him on an amazing festival and told him that I have been truly inspired by his effort. I said goodbye to my new friends and slowly walked back to my room. It was a good day.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Festival Day 7

Yesterday marked the last festival day in the Uttam Manch, (the smaller auditorium). The concert started one hour earlier so the crew had time to take down decorations and bring them over to the Nazrul Manch, (the bigger auditorium). I spent my morning writing and burning C.D.’s for people. I had to hang around the mission till 10 because I was waiting for some pictures to be developed. I took some great pictures of Mukta’s daughter and I wanted to give them to him before I left. I picked up the pictures and went straight to Mukta’s shop. Manu was there ordering some tabla for himself, so I used his language skills to help me translate my tabla needs. I think I have everything figured out. I will feel better about everything once I am past customs and on the plane to Amsterdam.
After Mukta’s, I spent the afternoon relaxing and hanging out at the mission. There was not much time before we had to leave for the concert, so I wanted to rest up. The show was great once again. The tabla solo was by Sabir Khan and his son Arif. They were very entertaining on stage, and sounded incredible.

The vocalist was Mashkoor Ali Khan. He had two of his students with him playing the tanpura and singing a bit. One of the students was really really good. All the master performers sitting in the front row kept looking at each other when he would sing. I think he has been marked as one to watch.
The tabla accompanist was Tarak Saha, who is Samarji’s brother. There was a moment in the show when he went to take a little solo and Mashkoor stopped him. Everyone sitting around me was upset by it. It is, after all, a tabla based festival.
The third performer was Kushal Das on the sitar. I was especially interested in seeing him because he is the sitarist who got sick in Chicago which led to me being on stage with Samarji back in 2003. I guess I just wanted to see what we missed that day. I must say, I was blown away by his playing. I think Ann Arbor missed out on a truly incredible show when they got me instead of him.
The final performer was Ali Ahmed Hussain. He played a double reed instrument called the shenai (shen-eye). The sound reminded me at times of a soprano saxophone with a gruff sort of tone. He was an amazing player and he was surrounded by what I assumed to be 3 of his sons. They all played the shenai, so the sound was really big and boisterous.
When the concert was over, everyone was working furiously to take things down and bring them over to the Nazrul Manch. One guy fell off stage and broke his wrist. It didn’t look to bad, but everyone was lamenting, since he seemed to play some sort of important roll in tomorrows concert. I offered to help once again, but instead was put into a car and driven home.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Festival Day 6

One of the things that has most impressed me about this festival is the amount of respect everyone gives to one another. There is an Indian custom of touching the feet of your gurus and elders to give blessings and show your respect. Every time one of Samarji’s students sees him they touch his feet. If they see him from a distance and can’t reach him then they hold there hands together in front of their heart or face and give a little bow. If an elder of Samarji comes into the room, then Samarji touches his feet, as does everyone else. It is a nice custom that gives meaning to the term guruji and shows respect for those that came before you.
Understanding this custom has given me great anticipation for the final day of this festival. There has been one man that gets his feet touched by everyone that sees him. His name is Pt. Krishen Maharaj. Performers have even come off stage, walked into the audience and touched his feet before beginning their performance. I am told that he is the oldest living exponent of the great tabla players. I feel the anticipation because he is to be the final performer in the festival. I am sure that the whole front row will be filled with most of the performers from the week, all there to see a living legend. As a newcomer to this musical world, I feel that I don’t fully understand the significance of his performance, but I definitely feel the respect.
Another reason for my anticipation for Sunday is that my first teacher of the tabla, Pt. Swapan Chaudhuri will be performing a tabla solo. I studied with Swapanji for 2 1/2 years at Cal Arts and this will be my first time seeing him perform a tabla solo, and it will be in front of his home crowd. I am so excited for this. George said I may get to see him before the performance. I hope he remembers me!
Yesterday was another good day for me. I am thankful for my good health and energy. I spent the morning at the tabla maker's shop again. We talked a bit more this time. His name is Mukta Das. He told me that he is very busy because of this festival, and that he makes tabla for all of the big names. As we talked he was working on Krishen Maharaj’s tabla for Sunday. The more I watch him work, the more I understand why he is so good. His mastery of every detail of the process is fun to watch. I showed him my card with a picture of my tabla on it and he stared at it for 5 minutes. He said it was a Calcutta tabla, but not made by him. He really liked it.
After leaving Mukta’s place I hopped on the metro subway and went on an adventure into downtown. It was fun to walk around and just watch the culture buzz. India has so many nooks and crannies that are all filled by people doing every thing from making food, polishing shoes, butchering fish and chicken, selling cigarettes, telling fortunes, praying, sleeping, squatting, sewing, reading, picking their nose, making fires, washing clothes, talking, eating, etc., etc., etc., and that is all in just one city block!

As I walked I began talking to a guy who just opened a new shop down the road. He said his old shop burnt down in a fire, and now he has just opened a new one, but business is slow and he is having a hard time. I asked him if I could see it and he got really happy. I could tell he wasn’t just putting me on because his new shop looked like he just set it up and it was stuffed way in the back of an almost empty building. We had to go through a gate and walk down a deserted alley, (very rare in Calcutta), just to get to it. When we got there he had some of the most beautiful shawls and fabrics that I have ever seen. He said, “I don’t care if you don’t buy anything, but please let me show you what I have. It is so beautiful and it is a joy for me to show you.” He then spent the next hour unwrapping and laying out every piece in his store. He explained the difference in all the fabrics and asked me if I like each and every one. In the end I made a small purchase from him and he was very happy. It was nice to have an honest, good time with a merchant. As a big tall white guy in India, this kind of thing is hard to find. I shook his hand and caught a cab home, (paid for by the merchant). I got back to the mission with enough time to take a little nap before the festival.
The festival tonight was wonderful. This time it started off with the drums. It was a duet of two brothers, Madhu and Gopal Burman. One played tabla and the other played and instrument called the khol. It was like a pakawaj, except it was ceramic and the small head was really small, like 4 inches in diameter. The pitch was very high. It was piercing. They played very well. It was like fireworks were going off the entire time.
Next was Narendra Mishra on the sitar. His tabla player was a younger phenom named Sukhbindar Singh Namdhari, or Pinki for short.
They brought a lot of energy and virtuosity to the stage and the crowd was into it the whole time. They were fast and very much in sync with each other. It was a good match-up.

The final performance was Debasish Bhattacharyya. He played a customized guitar that he played flat with a slide. It had all the sympathetic strings and sounded like a warm lap steel. His tabla player was Anindo Chatterjee’s son. When the performance started Anindo and Mukta Das came and sat down right in front of me. It was fascinating to see Anindo watch his son perform. His son had his eyes glued to his father for the whole performance.
He was actually really an amazing tabla player. I guess it should be no surprise when your father is considered one of the best in the world.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Festival Day 5

Go with the flow. That is the best advice someone could give to a new visitor to India. Everything flows here like water down a river. The traffic is a perfect example.
At first, you might think it is complete chaos and mayhem. Bikes, pedestrians, animals, cars, and trucks all use the same road for travel and no one seems to pay attention to any kind of centerline or traffic light. You would think that there would be accidents all over, but somehow everything just flows along without a problem.

After breakfast I took a cab and went over to Samarji’s house at 9 a.m. I wanted to discuss the options for bringing back multiple sets of tabla to the U.S. We began talking about it and he got a phone call, then another, then the flower delivery guy came by, then another phone call, then his accountant, then another phone call. Now it was 1 p.m. and we finally resumed our conversation. Another phone call interrupted us and it was back to waiting again. In the meantime I burned some C.D. of pictures and music, and I showed Samarji’s son my computer. He loved the games, especially Tony Hawk Pro Skater 4. He must have played it for 3 hours. At around 2 p.m. Samarji said that he will take a shower and we will have lunch. I practiced for just a bit as he cleaned up for the show and then had a nice lunch. I headed back to the mission at 3 p.m. for a phone call home and to get ready for the show. The flow was slow today, which was good because my feet are weary from all the walking I have been doing lately.
Once again the festival was phenomenal. The program last night consisted of two vocalists, one sarod, and one tabla performance. The first vocalist was Shubhra Guha. She had the sweetest voice I have heard all week. Her technical skill was on the same level as Samaresh Chowdhury from the night before, but her delivery was subtle and sweet. Of all the Indian vocalists I have seen, she has been the most pleasant to listen to.
The second performer was Debojyoti Bose on the sarod. I was excited because Bikram Ghosh was the tabla player accompanying him. Bikram Gosh was one of the few names that I had heard of before I came here. He lived up to every expectation. Not only was he powerful and blazingly fast, but his stage presence was commanding and fun to watch. The sarod player was excellent too, but my eyes were glued to Bikram’s hands almost the whole time. Their ending tihai was one of the best I have heard all weekend. It was long, fast, and perfectly in sync.
When that performance was over I went to the restaurant next door with George and Manu to get a quick bite to eat. The third performance was another vocalist, and we thought we could eat and be back in time to catch a bit of it. We were all very hungry and wanted to feel good for the tabla solo at the end. We ate and got back just in time to see the end of the performance. It was an older man named Amiyo Ranjan Banerjee. He sounded great and was very animated on stage.
The tabla player was Sanju Sahai. He is the nephew of one of the great living tabla players Sharda Sahai. They were scheduled to perform together but by doctors orders, Sharda could not make the trip from England. The show went on and it ended up as one of my favorites. He seemed to have the widest array of compositions that all sounded very unique to my ears. As all the other tabla soloist, his speed and clarity were amazing. His demeanor on stage was calm and light, but when he played, the tabla seemed to roar. When he finished, George stood up and asked if he would play a one handed composition. He made a joke and then played a great little chakardar with just his right hand. It was a nice ending to a good day.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Festival Day 4

I almost missed my morning tea today. Yesterday was yet another long day of walking around Calcutta. George agreed to take me to the downtown area for shopping. With his help I got almost everything on my list in just a few hours. I have really been considering learning Bengali when I get back to the U.S. so I can manage a bit better if I ever come to Calcutta again, but his time I am thankful for George. He is also having a good time showing me his hometown. We took a break from shopping yesterday to call a couple of his friends. He wanted to make them happy by letting them speak to an American. So I sat on a phone talking about the U.S. government, the weather, school, and the T.V. show friends. It was interesting to me that this would make them happy. I was glad to do it. One of his friends kept reminding me how lucky I was to be living in America. He said that “when America sneezes, the whole world catches a cold”, and that I should be proud of that. I told him I don’t like to spread germs and we both laughed.
After shopping we headed down to George's place for a late lunch. His mother made a beautiful meal. I even tasted the chicken. It was my first time eating meat in India. They kept assuring me that it was safe, and it looked so good that I said yes. I feel great this morning, so it looks like I made a good decision. After lunch we played around on the tabla for a bit and then it was time to head to the festival. George said tonight’s program is especially fine. I took his word for it.
The program consisted of Gobindo Bose doing a tabla solo, Samaresh Chowdhury with a vocal performance, and Tejendra Narayan Majumdar on the sarod. The tabla solo started off great, aside from a few sound problems. It is difficult for me to compare all of these tabla maestros when they all play so well. Pt. Bose had the same mastery and skill that I had been seeing all week, but he kept getting more and more distracted by the sound, which sounded great in the front of house speakers, but apparently wasn’t happening in the monitors.
All of a sudden Pt. Bose began yelling backstage at the monitor guy and before I could tell what was going on he stood up and started to scream at him. The whole auditorium erupted in yelling and suddenly there were 20 people on stage. It looked as though some were trying to hold the sound guy back from coming out on stage, and Gobindo just kept waiving his arms and yelling like mad. Samarji came out to try to calm things down, but it didn’t happen. The crowd began to yell for him to continue, but he made an announcement that he would not, and that he wanted the sound guy to come out onto stage and apologize publicly. This caused more yelling and the pandemonium continued.
They lowered the curtain and everyone was in shock. Pt. Bose had flipped his lid and, for a moment, cast a black cloud over the festival. It was a shame to see an artist get so upset in front of an audience, but I guess we all have our breaking points.
When the curtain rose again the stage was calm, although the artists kept looking backstage signaling to me that the quarrel had not simmered down quite yet. The vocalist said a few words and the crowd clapped. I don’t know what he was saying, but I heard the word ‘satisfaction’ a few times. He seemed to calm the atmosphere and the festival continued.
Now, I will admit that I do not get excited for the vocalists like I do for the instrumentalists. I am not sure if it is because instrumentalists are more fun to watch, or if the vocal music is simply a finer taste to acquire, but listening to Pt. Chowdhury changed everything. He was simply amazing. At first he sang with the same beauty and grace I had been hearing all week, but then like a tiger let out of the cage, he began to roar. Flurries of notes so precise and big came ripping through the air. He seemed to be able to throw out notes that felt like a baseball was hitting your chest. His command of the rhythm was so strong, it was almost as if he was playing the tabla himself. When he finished, I felt the same excitement that I felt on the first day of the festival. The dark cloud was long gone.
The final performance of the evening was a sarod performance by Tejendra Narayan Majumdar. It was also amazing. He began with an alap, (solo introduction to the rag), that was soothing and sweet. His command of the instrument could be felt from the first note. As he played the crowd would all gasp, and react at the same moments. It was truly as if we were all on a ride together. When the tabla started to play the whole room was energized. The two players seemed to work together in a way I have not yet seen on stage here. It was yet another performance beyond words.

Festival Day 3

Yesterday was a good day. I started it off with another big walk. I had intended to get a cab to the tabla flat, but ended up walking the whole way there. It took about an hour and a half. When I got there the door was closed and everything was quiet. I poked my head in and said hello. There was a guy standing there quietly staring at me and I asked if I could use the phone. I called George to ask if he would translate for me and ask the guy if it was all right for me to practice. The guy said yes and I grabbed some drums and went to town. Shortly after a nice lady named Chhaya Gupta came from one of the rooms and said hello. She is from Toronto, Canada and is here for the festival as well. We talked a lot about education and doing workshops to introduce Indian Classical music to the school systems. She is a sitar player and vocalist. We exchanged numbers and she went back into her room. As I sat down again to practice, a pakawaj player walked through the door and sat in front of me. His name was Bhaskar Mukherjee and he is from Calcutta. He said there was to be a rehearsal in the room at 11 a.m. and he was here for it, (it was already 11:15….did I mention IST?). I began to get up and he said, “keep practicing till they come”. So I did. He grabbed a set of tabla and showed me a bunch of stuff. He was really good. He said that he has performed all over the world on the pakawaj, and that he will be performing on Sunday as part of the opening ceremony. We played until 12:30 and then people started to show up. He was visibly upset at their tardiness.
I headed downstairs and sat with the tabla maker again. I guess I should mention that when I say tabla maker I am talking about the storeowner, but there are about 4 people who work there, including his brother. From what I see, he is the guy that does all the finishing touches and fine-tuning, and the others do more preparation work, like stringing the heads. I learn more and more every time I sit with them. I am starting to see more detail in what they do and I can understand why he is so good. He spends a massive amount of time tuning and adjusting the gob. He has a tuning pitch whistle next to him at all times, but I have never seen him use it. I desperately want to ask questions.
After a couple hours I got a cab and headed to a restaurant that I saw the day before. The food at the mission is great, but it is always the same, so I wanted to change it up a bit. I went to a place that served a mix of Chinese and Indian food. I had some corn chowder, fried rice with noodles and some water. It was a welcome change.
When I was done I walked down the street a couple of blocks to a shopping district. I began my quest for gifts for friends and family back home. I wanted to get back to the mission in time to take a little nap before the concert, but after shopping I ended up at the cyber café checking e-mail, which took me right up to showtime. I rushed back home changed, and hitched a ride with Manu and his parents.
It is becoming surreal to walk into the theater every night and feel the anticipation. I have noticed the crowd has changed slightly depending on who is performing. It is hard to believe that such a high caliber of performance can exist every night for 8 days. I feel like I have seen a years worth of great music already. I am definitely feeling spoiled by this amazing event.
On the bill last night was a tabla solo by Sanjay Mukherjee, a vocal performance by Arun Bhaduri, and a sitar performance by Monilal Nag. Once again, the tabla solo was amazing. Pt. Mukherjee played a straight tintal solo (16 beats) and displayed all the technical skill and prowess of the previous performers. He had a thing that he did where he would stay on one phrase for a long time and go from quiet to loud while maintaining high speeds and it always got applause from the crowd. He told a story of the last day he and Anindo (Chaterjee) went to their guruji together for a lesson. He bit of fun with them and composed a composition on their heads, one head as the tabla and the other as the bayan. This was his last lesson before his guruji passed away, so now he plays the composition in tribute.
The vocalist was probably one of the eldest I have seen in the festival. His voice was sweet and smooth. He had a shake in some of his lines that made his voice sound like it was running through an old fender vibe amp. His hands and body moved with every note he sang and the form of his pieces were easy to understand and follow. I will leave this festival with a whole new appreciation of Hindustani vocal music, and Pt. Bhaduri is a big reason for that.
During the break between the vocalist and Sitar performance, Manu, his parents, and myself all decided to go get something to eat and skip the last performance. Because the festival runs so late, we have not gotten to have dinner since it began. Not to mention we were all dead tired from a long day, so we went to a restaurant that was right next door to the theater. I was sorry to miss the sitarist, but I was happy to get to bed early with food in my belly. This morning I feel much better and ready for the second half of my trip to begin.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Festival Day 2

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.

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