GHANA I BENIN I INDIA I ZIMBABWE I MARS I CANADA I TOGO I JAPAN I SOUTH AFRICA
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Sent:
March 31, 2006

AFRICANS AND ALIENS IN INDIA

Writing this now at about 1am......the last few days have been fulfilling, bizarre and sublime. It has been awhile since I wrote last, maybe cause I was mostly in Chennai, doing my thing which is quite quotidian by my standards, just practicing, eating good food, traveling with and learning at the feet of the master..on and off the stage, going to performances and doing logistical tasks....I won't bore yee with that, though the mundane over here can be shocking for most people abroad.

Anyhow, leaving Chennai always brings good times. Many to recount but not sure what to include. I'll try to recap the last couple of weeks off the top of my tired head.....was up all last night watching a kathakali performance. As good a place to start as any I spose. What is kathakali you ask?? Difficult question.....I wrote about it last time I was in India....essentially if you happen to walk into a kathakali performance unaware of what it is or what it is about, you may think you are on another planet or that your planet is being invaded. The characters, costumes, make-up, expressions, suspension of time, musical accompaniment...all out of this world. The "dancers" are covered in a large hoop like dress with layers of multi-hued cotton and silk and tassels, fantastic facial make-up which can extend 4 inches off the face, usually a leafy green but can also be pitch black, cream coloured, red with lines or spots and always with eerie red eyes and maybe fangs (depending if they are good or evil), 2 feet tall head dresses that sparkle gold and gem-like set against a large circular disk with mandala-like engravings, black, black hair (or rusty red), loads of jewellery on the arms, legs, chest, head, knees.....they are sweating rivers under the lights. Sometimes not moving at all for 20-30 minutes, sometimes only moving the eyes, cheeks, mouth or all together to the sounds of the extremely intense and dramatic drumming that goes with it all, not to mention the story being narrated by two singers who hypnotize and also play these almost deafening cymbals and an iron gong to highlight the action. I think I am a little more than deaf after 8 hours of it. A brief synopsis only, it goes on from 10ish until sunrise. Where are am I?? Kerala of course, one of the most beautiful and peaceful (depending) places I know. It is essentially green with some of the most out-of-this-world artistic traditions one will find anywhere. I am here in Kottakkal, seemingly an Ayurvedic mecca, for one of Guru Sankarans concerts, which we just came back from....4hrs later!!! One of the heaviest concerts I've seen. I think I'll get a massage tomorrow...4hrs on the floor takes its toll on the hips and knees. We are staying on the grounds of this temple/clinic while they are having a festival. All day music and or dance. This morning after the kathakali I ate breakfast to the sounds of one elephant and about 40 musicians, mainly drummers. Kind of surreal after no sleep.

Before coming here I was with Anu doing some traveling in another state called Karnataka where her mother is from. Spent some time in Bangalore which one could almost think is like Toronto depending where you hang out, a much different Indian experience than Chennai for sure, at least it smells better if nothing else. Anyhow, leaving Bangalore for the coastal town of Mangalore to take in some Konkani (a minority language of which Anu speaks) music and dance. But would you expect Africans to be speaking this Konkani language?? Talk about a minority within a minority. Yes, the slave trade knows no limits. We all know there were African descendants in many parts of the world, especially the New World, but seeing African "Indians" was a bit freaky!! Sure, the African diaspora has a wide net, but one never hears of it in India. Apparently there are a few small pockets of Africans descendants (known as Siddis) in India, remnants of those who were brought over several generations ago by the British, Portuguese and/or Arabs. Cultural retention varies, though when you see these people sing and dance, you can feel something different is operating there, especially if you've spent any time in an African country. Something must be said for collective memory of a people. You get goosebumps. Also caught a performance of another group of Konkanis (Kudubris) who play and dance and sing with their drum of identity...the gumut. Kind of like a clay pot with two holes of different sizes...the larger covered by a lizard skin. The music is quite elusive and subtle. Seemingly simple with only one rhythm, yet it straddles the line between being even and odd.....difficult to intellectualize but easy to get when you feel it. Hence, it is deep. Especially when you witness the drummers dancing to said music….swaying like reeds in the wind. And the vocal aesthetic is also intriguing. A definite melody is there as well as some form of harmony, either intentional or not I do not know, but it seems to vary with the age of performer and hence vocal range. Overall, quite effective. God love folk music.

Browsing through an encyclopedia of folk music and attending a small show of folk music of Karnataka has also made me realize the breadth of such music and especially folk drums that exist in this country, and this state alone. Each unique with its own little history, repertoire, taboos etc. One could spend a few lifetimes trying to hear/play/see them all. I feel cursed to love drums so much as I can't possibly follow them all!!! Forgive me if I'm confusing you chronologically...I'm starting at the end and will eventually get to the beginning. Before Karantaka we went spent a day at the intriguing shore town of Mahabalipuram, famous for its 8th century stones temples and numerous carvings and a plethora of carvers. While said structures carried some awe, I think the most impressive fact of the place is that I do believe it has more stone carvers per square foot than any other place on earth. Seriously. ……………….

Back in Chennai now….just returned from the airport to see Guruji and Lalitha mami off as they have flown back to Canada. Now what do I do??? Practice all he has shown me of course, not just practice but internalize. He has given me much.

On the upside the heat is increasing (always above 30) which means less mosquitoes so that battle is on hiatus. But the heat!!!!……they say it will even get hotter come May. May need to escape to the hills.

All for now….enjoy these couple of pics. I was going to attach some short video but figured it would clog up some people’s e-mails. If you want to see anything ask me when you see me again.

Curtis


ENTRIES FROM INDIA
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


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