My time is about up here in India for this round and what a time it has been.
As usual my main reason for coming to India (Chennai,Tamil Nadu to be exact) is to have experience with my mridangam guru Sri Trichy Sankaran. Many of you know who he is, but for those that do not, he is, in my biased opinion (of course) one of the greatest musicians I have ever known and one of the best players of the Indian drum called mridangam in the world. I have had the extreme privilege of accompanying him in his concerts…which essentially entails carrying his drums to and from the concert, setting his place on stage, giving him tea,/coffee/water on stage, opening doors. Call it “guru seva” (“guru service”) if you will and I am more than happy to do it Those moments on stage, sitting next to a living legend essentially, while he gives his all are priceless…a different type of listening and learning occurs. Your ears are peaked at every moment and the reception of sound becomes somewhat “meta-phonic” if you will. It doesn’t just go into your ears, your being hears it. No recording can ever have this impact. Somehow what you hear has a much deeper and meaningful effect, the energy more intense, the content, is blissful. This type of learning you can only get in this way. So I’ll carry drums any day with pleasure.
Of course, not all my time is spent with him,. I’ve been doing some interesting things…..kind of hard not to in this wondrous place. A godsend has been the use of a friend’s bicycle (thanks Graig!!). What would I do without it? Probably argue with autorickshaw drivers and be angry which is no fun. Instead, I go just about everywhere, zooming in and out of traffic, sandwiched between mammoth buses, rickshaws and families of 5 on a scooter. Very liberating, exhilarating and good exercise. Though all that traffic exhaust can’t be good for me. Anyhow, riding here will make somewhere like Vancouver or Copenhagen look like a joke…bike lanes? Helmets? Ha!!
Once I rode my bike to a circus, yes, a typical big tent, with animals, acrobats, elephants, and clowns type of circus. Mostly I went to see the advertised “real Africans!!” on the poster….a dance troupe or acrobats. The whole event was a mixture of the sad, the bizarre, and the amazing. Picture a very filthy, bare earth space, next to the Central Rail station (which means the stench of human waste, old food and god knows else is not far away. Over this patch of scorched earth is a massive tent, red carpet and of course lights. In the centre is the primordial ring where the action happens. Hundreds of red plastic lawn chairs surround this ring and at the back, high up is a keyboard player and drumset player, giving the much needed musical interludes/accompaniment…for better or for worse. The very young looking Nepalese/Thai/Chinese/Pan-Asian acrobats, who probably should be in school somewhere, did amazing things as contortionists, acrobats, and balance artists. The Tanzanian group of acrobats probably freaked out some members of the audience with their chiseled physiques, sexy dance moves (leading up to their act) and their truly awesome feats of human pyramid formations, pole climbing and human balancing. One of them has even fallen in love and is getting married with one of the Russian artists ….maybe one of the cycling ladies? Speaking of which, the cycling ladies came out in a group of five, in some skimpy-ish Spandex outfits doing synchronized wheelies, riding backwards, sitting on the handlebars, and such all around the circle. When they finished, an older lady (perhaps their teacher?) came out and did the same but a little better…and then rode a tiny, and I meant like 1 foot high, bicycle around the barrier of the circle…bizarre.
The Nepalese fire artist was pretty good though I feel for his lips/tongue after doing this 3 times a day. The guy who swallowed buckets of water and regurgitated it was a bit weird…he even swallowed a live fish and spit it back up.
Upping the sad factor was the Rajasthani camel “master” who made his three camels trot around, kneel and basically obey him and his bullwhip. The dancing and “acrobatic” cockatoos and parakeets were kind of odd but saddest of all was the elephant made to pray to Lord Siva…ringing a bell, pouring different abhishekams, kneeling and laying a mala over a fake Sivalingam. I got a weird feeling that the living conditions and life of the animal entertainers and the humans were not that different.
All of this repeated three times a day, for mediocre claps for many months around India for anywhere from $1-3 per person for entry.
In another example amazing things humans can do, I visited Thirumala with my guru as he had a concert there. Essentially Thirupati/Thirumala is one of the most visited and richest religious establishments in the world. By the far it has the most income per day of any temple anywhere, employs 14, 000 thousand people and 60,000 people come and go each day(!!). Somehow though, the place is clean, well run, refreshing and peaceful. The management should be in the government or something!! Of course, people come here to pray, make offerings or get a sighting of the Lord Venkateswara and they will wait in a line for up to 8hrs, spanning 3 kms, starting at around 4am, to get a glimpse of this favoured deity. And if lucky, you get a giant laddu!!! (ball of flour, milk, sugar, spices)
Like I said, humans will do amazing things sometimes.
I was lucky enough to hang out with a great group of people doing some meaningful work/life in a place called Thiruvannamalai. My friend Arun and his family have moved from the city of Chennai and live on and run an organic farm just on the outskirts of Thiruvannamalai and with another family, are running/building a school of original means, both in construction and content. If anything, these people give hope to the rest of the country because they care for the environment, think outside the box and follow their hearts…something which the majority do not. And they are dedicated in educating the local youth, of all backgrounds/socio-economic classes in similar ideals. I even gave a little music session to the little kids. It’s great that people can become software engineers, doctors and go abroad or move to the city and such….someone has to do that. But the rural, agricultural segment of society is the backbone of a country, esp a country like India. Really, where do people think their food comes from? Someone has to grow it right? Farmers and farming should be encouraged, supported and applauded…..the world over.
While in Thiruvannamalai I also went for a hike up Mount Arunachala, the embodiment of Lord Siva as fire. Very nice vibe surrounds this place and it has attracted spiritual minded persons for centuries, most notable being the late Ramana Maharishi whose ashram sits at the base. I had some directions on how to ascend this little mountain but in the end, followed my path and just kind of went “up”. A bit harrowing at times, but was worth the thorns, scratches, dust and near slips down some vertical embankments when my clumps of grass “rope” gave way….quite a view though!!
Through the same Arun, I also got to walk along a beach one night in Chennai from 10pm-4am looking for Olive Ridley turtle nests. Luckily, we found a few nests and the rescue team dug up the nest, picked out between120-150 freshly laid ping-pong ball looking eggs and re-buried them (in replicated nests) in a safe zone to increase the chances of survival for this at risk species. Poachers, lights and general human (and dog) activity have decreased the chances of life for the Olive Ridley. This endeavour was started nearly 2 decades ago by a few concerned peeps and has continued since.
Again, humans doing amazing things!
Speaking of which, I just remembered my being onstage with 5000+ other musicians. One Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, leader and founder of The Art of Living foundation had organized this event. He is a popular spiritual figure in India and around the world and espouses healthy living, good breathing, treating people well, meditate here and there…nothing new really but doesn’t hurt anyone. At least he doesn’t claim to be God or whatever …..but sure does like to have a big giant throne in the centre of all the action Anyhow, my teacher was asked to participate and lead the mridangam section.
So egos, lights, 5000+ soon-to-be garbage dinner packets aside, the feeling of being among thousands of musicians singing and playing in near unison on some deep Carnatic tunes did give some goose bumps at times. The experience got me thinking of starting my own movement here in India. More often than not, people want to follow than lead and foster their own spiritual development, so why not give them what they need (like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and countless others before him)? A friend (kind of) jokingly put it to me this way:
Have the “spiritual” look (done), don’t speak too much (easy), get some few start-up followers, make some pictures of yourself (website doesn’t hurt), get someone to sing bhajans (praise songs) in your name, espouse what has essentially been said for thousands of years in India but just put a new spin on it, know some basic yoga (check!), build some hospitals or schools ( hey..did that too!), get a movie star or politician (or both) to join your movement and in a few years you are worldwide!! It is that simple!! I was almost tempted to do the same in Ghana and start a church there….goldmine!!
Well, if music doesn’t pay-off, I can put on the robes and give it a shot.
Just got a few more days left here in Chennai and then I fly back to Canada to start the Idlers cross-Canada tour which will be a blast (check my site for dates/details).
It has been a good stint here in India and next time I return it will be with wedding bells, or some kind of sound, in tow. More details on that as it solidifies. At this point, we will actually be getting married in Canada first (to cover the legal side of things and include some family) in July (in NL). Then, on Dec.11 a major reception and “re-enforcement” of the wedding will happen in India….it will to be remembered. We have an amazing private house located right on a beach secured where the whole thing will take place. And a couple of elephants live close by..they will be invited.
Anyone interested in coming, of course let me and Anu know.
All for now......
PS…I just remembered a dream I had the other night. I dreamt I won $1,000,000!! It was awesome. I do believe I now know what that feeling is like..so real.
Then I woke up.
||ENTRIES FROM INDIA|
||FEBRUARY 10, 2011|
||APRIL 11, 2008|
||MARCH 31, 2006|
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||JANUARY 19, 2006|
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||APRIL 23, 2003|
||MARCH 30, 2003|
||MARCH 9, 2003|
||FEBRUARY 19, 2003|
||JANUARY 31, 2003|
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||JANUARY 10, 2003|