I’m back at the blog after another eventful week at SAM. This past weekend was a party weekend, as India celebrated Diwali, the Festival of Lights. It’s the biggest Hindu holiday, and all weekend people are partying and lighting fireworks. SAM celebrated with a modest display of fireworks in the driveway of the campus. What a thrill though, watching student by student test their courage at lighting the crackers. Pretty unnerving though, there were a few close calls. On Saturday, I took a cab to Chennai with Ed and Steve to check out a few points of attraction, namely Pondy Bazaar and a few fruit and juice stands, and to visit some of Steve’s friends. On the way up, Steve had researched a veterinarian close to Chennai, just off East Coast Road, where he could stop for advice on a puppy that my student Bharath rescued off the road and brought to campus. There are tons of stray dogs roaming around here, who look like they’ve had way too many puppies and not enough to eat. But this little guy got special treatment; he was on the verge of death, covered in mange and lice and who knows what else. And infected with tape worms as we would later discover. The saga of this puppy (he’s not been assigned a name as I’m aware) is a whole other story that is still unfolding. Since the trip to the vet this weekend, and with all the meds and supplies that Steve brought back for him, he’s really made a recovery and runs and jumps and looks adorable just like a little baby dog should. His sores are starting to scab and heal, and we just hope that someone will adopt him once Steve gets back to the states.
Our first stop was at the home of Steve’s good friend and musical collaborator, Ganesh Kumar. He’s a famous Kanjira player hailing from Chennai, and the two play together frequently in the U.S. and in India. He lives in an apartment on the first floor of a building close to T. Nagar, a bustling, busy neighborhood in the center of Chennai. The ground floor houses the Carnatic School of Music and the recording studio of Hari Krishnan, the son of the Ghatam master Subash Chandran, who happens to live on the second floor. This unassuming building sure has some talent living within its walls. Ganesh invited us with loving arms and hospitality into his home, and cooked us an amazing lunch, with potatoes and rice and green chili curry. We ate Indian style (and Ed kindly reminded me to stash away my left hand while doing so). The duo happens to be giving workshops and concerts this weekend in Berkeley, CA at the Jazz School, out of all the places in the world they could be travelling. I hope that if you are in the area that you visit these masters at work playing some of the most precise and moving rhythmic pieces. Carnatic percussion done right is an other-worldly experience.
Upon leaving the Carnatic music house, we tried to get some sense of the big city, so we checked out the most hectic street I’ve ever walked upon in my life: Pondy Bazaar. This street is part department store shopping, and part street vendors. Not to mention part foot, bicycle, motorcycle, rickshaw, cab, car, and bus traffic all rolled into a two lane street. The best way I could describe being a pedestrian at the bazaar is to confess that I truly know what Frogger was going through. The calm of the sari and jewelry stores was inviting, although compared to the prices on the street, everything was out of my price range. I am beginning to fall in love with the style of Indian women. The patterns and fabric are to die for, and the sari wraps and salwar kameez outfits are so lovely. We didn’t bother stepping into the platinum retailer store. Our shopping excursion began at cursory glances at the merchandise and turned into a mission to save our lives by getting off the street and into nearby Panagal Park as quick as possible. But we did manage to get a taste of fresh squeezed sweet lime juice at a juice stand on the main strip. Chennai is a crazy place, that’s the easiest way to sum up the remainder of my time there.
Shyam, SAM’s vice president, took us to some amazing parties that night, at amazingly lavish apartments all over the city. We enjoyed more fireworks displays, and a full blown dance-off at each one. And catered spreads with the best finger foods I’ve had probably in my whole life. Indians are friendly, interesting, attractive people who know how to party. I was once more reminded of the array of lifestyles found in one major city. The streets are very dirty, everywhere I’ve been, even in the nice areas. Private homes are a halting contrast to the casual disregard for any aesthetic order in public places. But on the street, the trash is just piled up everywhere. As somebody mentioned to me, there is no garbage collection because even a few years back, it was not a problem to dispense of biodegradable waste in such a manner. Now that India is up to speed with the western plastic and waste culture, there is no where for this build up to go. I look around and wish that they will find a solution to this disheartening issue.
Earlier this week, our campus was more or less overlooked by an impending cyclone. We got a bit of rain, but the fears of power outages and flooding were assuaged as we hung around the apartments, drinking rum and sweet lime juice. Monsoon season has officially begun but we haven’t been swept away by any storms yet. Time to knock on wood, I suppose.
Right now, the school’s getting ready to host a “Rock and Funk and Roll” workshop led by Ed DeGenaro, Steve Zerlin, and Atma Anur. Students are coming in from out of town to learn how to rip like this power trio for two intensive days. I plan to check out the Sunday session as an audience member and maybe as a participant, but tomorrow I’m attending to something that is of the utmost importance: a visit to Auroville’s Quiet Healing Center for a full-body massage by the beach. I’ve deduced that combination of 4 weeks of sleeping on a real lousy mattress plus a less than ideal diet has messed with my nerves in my lower back, resulting in searing pain which has now started to shoot down my legs. I’m hoping that the massage will help align it to its normal functioning, or at least help it in that direction. Auroville is a unique place. It is a universal city in the making in south-India, dedicated to human unity, and based on the vision of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother. Essentially, its an ashram that is all-inclusive to those who are willing to work towards its development. I plan to explore their vegetable garden while I’m there, because generally raw foods can’t be trusted to be clean of bacteria in any other part of India. The town population is comprised of mix of Indians, Asians, and westerners from Europe, the U.S. and all over. For more info, check out: http://www.auroville.org/
I wanted to leave you with one last video, and if I can figure out how to cut it so it fits WordPress requirements I’ll so do. Til then, au revoir til next time!