February 27, 2006


Yes another mass mail so quickly....I figured I should since it needs to be sent around. Where to begin?? Well, it is good to have Anu in company after some time apart. As soon as she arrived we left for Orissa to hang out with a contact she made who studies dolphins in a lagoon/brackish lake. Hi Dipani!!!( "Hey" Bhagawan!) Early morning trains that take 21 hours are a little more bearable when you have someone to share it with. All the beauty and ugliness. Beauty: small kid going through the train with a little monkey hanging off the back of his head by his ears and clean (looking and smelling) rivers meandering through the land. Ugly: stagnant and polluted waters near the rancid and foul smelling train tracks that straddle poor slums and the total disregard the majority of people seem to have for the surroundings of others by always throwing trash out of the moving train onto someone else's backyard or farmland. Out the window and you don't think about it. India may be in for a rude awakening in terms of waste management. 1 billion people!!! At least the majority doesn't use toilet paper. Anyhow, the train moves north into different states with different languages and the written script changes shape(I think the official census is somewhere over 1000 languages/dialects!!!). Finally arriving in Bhuvaneswar and we meet the wonderful Dipani who proves to be our guide and newfound friend over the next week or so.

So many stories to recount but shouldn't bore you with all of them. Have to cut many details.

Extended autorickshaw rides on a path through peaceful villages and fields of rice, sunflowers and groundnuts and I smell something familiar in the air...ocean.....secluded beach/forest area looking for dolphins in the Bay of Bengal on much too choppy waters. No dolphins just dead Olive Ridley turtles and 2 live ones ( but the beach is littered with their carcasses..... bizarre count is around 2500...mainly due to trawler nets offshore....not good for an endangered species). Picking a dead fish in the water which must have fell off another fishing boat. Eating it in the evening, it is perhaps the best tasting fish curry I've ever had. Nearly capsizing thanks to the stubborn driver who went too fast over much too large waves. Smiles afterwards though as we are soaked and get to enjoy the full moon that night in the peace of the tiny homestead just behind the beach. At another little village a few km's away...peaceful vibes. Time seemed to stand still as were waiting. Cow dung patties stuck on the house walls to use as cooking fuel. Kids running any which way they can and want to. Old folks who have that weather beaten/sun baked look and are still doing some kind of work(which probably keeps them alive). Communal bathing pools where women bath with their clothes on and go home to dry off. On the river finally we near the delta and spot several groups of playful dolphins. They were mainly fishing (by chasing the fish close to the shore) and socializing. So stealth in their element. And what a shore it was, so isolated and calm..... barren with only wind textured sand, crabs that leave little pebbles of sand all over the beach and of course tortoise carcasses.

Onto Puri, a transition town en route to our destination of Lake/lagoon Chilika, where Dipani is based and does her research and drinks copious amounts of tea and Horlicks (Horlicks is some sort of sweet powder you mix with water....I don't know who named it). To get to Lake Chilika we take another extended auto ride in the night and avoid the copious amount of lounging cows in the road at night. On some parts of the unlit road they are like specters that appear from nowhere and you avoid them like and obstacle course. All cars, buses, autos, cycles, scooters, people must give way to them. After arriving and waking up the next morning, Dipani takes us to the mist-covered lagoon in the early morn to start our search for her Irrawaddy dolphins. Kind of surreal as the lagoon is literally filled with these fence-like fishing nets in various lines and boxes and on the horizon it looks like land but it is actually these nets. Each day they check them on their boats, some with propeller, some still using the "pole in the mud" technique to propel their boat. The whole lifestyle of the lagoon and its fisher folk is changing nowadays with smaller fish catches, more destructive prawn farming and increasing tourism. The tour boats that take people to look at dolphins are literally like cockroaches, leaving the jetty at regular intervals and interrupting the research of our friend. Many fisherman have gone from fishing to operating these boats. Reminds one of Newfoundland and the ocean tourism scene.

On our final night in the town, we ate with Dipani at the house of the family she lives with in one of the villages. A guy down the street is a musician and happens to play the "mridang". This peaks my interest as the instrument I am learning to play back in Chennai is the "mridangam". The name basically means clay body...... but what I play is made of wood and used in classical music....what the other guy plays is made of clay and is used in folk/devotional music mainly. They are both related of course but with major differences. Upon visiting him in the quiet blanket of night he invites us into his porch and sits himself down and displays his beloved drum. Much smaller than mine and kind of cute with a colorful and embroidered wrap around it. I ask him to play (all conversation is translated as he speaks no English and I no Oriya nor Hindi...thanks again Dipani) and he displays some of his rhythms, which are very soothing and bear a little resemblance to tabla playing. After more questions about his technique, where and how he learnt (the village actually paid for him and 12 others to go to a guru in a nearby village. He used to rap them on the knuckles if they didn't learn well, only 2 made the cut in the end). Then I told of the instrument I played. He, and the small crowd that had been gathering, were quite curious. After describing it to them they thought it to be a North Indian drum called pakhawaj (close but not quite) or dholak. I said no and told them more about it. They wanted to see and hear it. Luckily I travel with one so after eating I returned with it. Very eagerly watching me as I took it out of its bag, they inspected it like a new stone from another planet. Touching, knocking it and playing it a little. They seemed confused even, though respectful of it. Then I played a little and they enjoyed, though I think they enjoyed their instrument more, especially after they couldn't reproduce what they normally do on theirs with mine. But the interaction was enlightening as we ended up speaking the same language, that of rhythm.

Before leaving Orissa, we paid a visit to the famous Sun Temple in Konark. A magnificent piece of art/architecture if nothing else, with very amusing and confusing sculptures/carvings blanketing the whole thing. Some supernatural beings, dancers, musicians, animals, court processions and most of all, highly erotic and graphic depictions of people doing almost anything your mind can imagine in terms of lust and love. Who said India was a conservative society?? Maybe today, but not when this was made!!!! And I think we understood the power of that sun as we almost melted in its noontime shine.

Back in Chennai it feels good, almost like home weirdly enough. Hearing Tamil and eating masala dosa is comforting. Last night I saw an amazing vocalist. Once again experiencing the power of music. During one of his pieces called raga alapana (a melodic improvisation on a fixed set of tones with specific rules and character) he starts at the bottom of his vocal range. Slowly he builds, going higher bit by bit, enticing your ears and bringing you with him, creating tension and releasing it with so many lines and ideas. Reaching the upper notes, you want him to go higher but he holds back, though you know it may be coming. Then briefly he hits that note. It had a literal physical effect on me as I got goose bumps. Then he hits it again and stayed on it for a while. More shivers. Swerving in and around it and then above it gave pure ecstasy. The crowd spontaneously applauds and encourages him more. Finally he gently brings us all back down to earth. That is the power of music indeed. You forget all else.

As usual there is much to write about, both the seemingly mundane and the sublime. All is fascinating when examined and observed. Next time.


In the meantime enjoy a few photos........


FEBRUARY 10, 2011
APRIL 11, 2008
MARCH 31, 2006
FEBRUARY 27, 2006
FEBRUARY 22, 2006
FEBRUARY 5, 2006
JANUARY 19, 2006
MAY 7, 2003
APRIL 23, 2003
MARCH 30, 2003
MARCH 9, 2003
FEBRUARY 19, 2003
JANUARY 31, 2003
JANUARY 19, 2003
JANUARY 10, 2003