January 31, 2003

It seems that I'm temporarily locked out of my apartment until someone else comes home, why not use the opportunity..... where have I been, dong what, with who? well...perhaps it should all begin with a train ride. Growing up in post-railway Nfld (unless drinking on the old tracks counts), I never really got to experience railway culture, save for a couple of trips a couple of years ago from Montreal to N.S. I guess nothing could prepare anyone for a train ride in India....not for the hectic pace or overcrowdedness, really it was quite relaxing and spacious (even for a cheap ticket).... but for the beauty in the landscape, cruising past you in a blur up close but soothingly at a distance. We (me, Sankaran et al) were on out way to the historic town of Tanjore, former seat of culture and royalty with an ancient history. The reason: the Tyagaraja Aradhana (three day's of music and devotion to one of South India', one of India's greatest musician/composer/saint...I'll get to that). So the train....I spent half of the journey(for 350km's in 9hr's) standing in the doorway taking it all in. Once you leave the tumultuous and congested urban landscape a whole other world of lushness awaits. Simply beautiful, acres upon acres of resplendent greenery, farms, coconut groves, teak and eucalyptus, orchards, quaint villages with familiar sights of mud and thatch houses with children waving all along, rivers both dry and thriving.  Broken up with stops at different stations, each seller with their own chant or song for coffee, fruit, biscuits...quite entertaining.  And of course the ever present garbage (no doubt from the villages and the trains) and human waste experience. The whole rural vibe with the combined scenery greatly reminded me of rural Ghana which I miss. Several times I had the urge to jump off the moving train into one of the villages and see what would happen..a whole different world exists out there..I'm sure I'd get to Tanjore eventually..alas, I just took some pictures instead.  In Tanjore we decide to visit the Brahadiswarar Temple..a large sprawling temple complex built in the 12th century which frankly blew my mind.  I won't even try to describe it, suffice to say that temples exist for a reason and you feel that reason when you enter.  And to top it off I got blessed by an elephant!! (for a small fee of course) I was buzzed for the rest of the night. So Tyagaraja Aradhana the next day....hard to encapsulate that one....I'll try to paint a picture.  First, this man is worshipped here, esp. among musicians.  Every year in the village of Thiruvaiyaru thousands flock to the town where he lived and prayed to worship and pay homage to him.  So under a large, corrugated tin roof you have at one point the cream of South India's musicians and rasikas (music lovers).  Now picture the musicians...vocalists, mrdangists, violins, vinas, ghatam, kanjira, flutes, nagaswaram, tavils...all of it, lined up on two sides of a narrow pathway.  For the next hour or so they and those in the audience who know, will sing/play five elaborate, glimmering songs of the aforementioned Saint/composer, his Pancharatna kritis (five gems).  Now, if you've never heard this music before, let's just say it's rarely sung in a chorus due to it's complexity in many respects, it doesn't go over well.  But if everyone singing knows the tunes sufficiently, the effect is near-otherworldy.  You could just sit there on the ground and forget time and you existed.  Visually stunning as well....when singing this music, peoples heads usually shake a little to produce a specific undulation on specific notes.  So picture fifty or more people all moving their heads in unison....with the aural aspect as well.  So that ends and we visit the temple where Tyagaraja would worship.  Pure first real taste of what the inside of a temple feels like.  Quiet save for the periodic chanting of the priest, dimly lit..and a feeling of timelessness, stillness reverence and devotion....humbling . Every temple I've visited gives this, especially the older ones. Every wall, post, ceiling….everything is sculpted or  elaborately carved from stone , incense, oil lamps and of course the deity, shining black stone, covered in flowers, oils, offerings and love.  No doubt you can find God anywhere, but it seems some places make it easier.  And again an elephant to bless you outside as it crushes sugar cane and eats it.  These animals are something else, I'm completely enthralled by them.  I could stand and watch one all day.  Pretty eyelashes, a sublime grin and that snout..something like a hand that smells and can ingest water.  They seem happy living at the temple.  But then you hear about the one who gored his mahout (trainer) to death!! Anyhow, I felt safe and assured by their presence. The next day Sankaran and company leave for some family affairs and  I stick around and stay with friends from Canada (Devon and Nadin from Cape Breton, she's here on an exchange at this progressive agricultural/engineering school for women..complete with vermicompost!! and he's along for the ride and learning some mrdangam to boot)  Nice to see friends of course.  So I take Devon to day two of the festival which is bit lacking in the afternoon with less than professional musicians.  We decide to take a walk through the sleepier part of the town.  Down a sunny road and back again, we're met by a man asking us what facility we are looking for.  None, were just strolling we say.  Next thing we know, he's feeding us bananas from his backyard banana forest which he gives a tour of, going through the warm but receded Cauvery river whose banks it lies on, meet his cow Lakshmi, his son Deran, wife Indra Ghandi, business associate who lived in Nigeria for four years, take a tour of his house, visit his puja room where he blesses us, gives us two VIP passes to the festival, look at pictures and some coffee.  He (Venugopalan) gives some bananas for the road and says. and I quote "God bless you, God bless me, God bless the world".  The day just got a lot nicer.  And it continued.  Back at the festival the music picked up and peaked with a drum duet between drums known as the tavil.  A penetrating species of membranophone, played with almost punk-rock like intensity, a stick in one hand and hard thimbles on the other....the two maestros tore the house down.  I figured nothing else could top it so we left and met Venugopalan at the restaurant by chance.  He took us across the street and gave us two, ummm trophies I guess.  Something like a plaque, mine in the shape of a vina (lute).  I still don't understand why fully, but the gesture is what counts.   A whole lot more happened but I'll skip it.  Back in Chennai the next day and for the last few days.  Lessons continuing and blowing my conceptions of time open even more.  And shopping with Sankaran is always a treat.  In those moments he gives you insights, a personal touch I suppose.  Went to a "snake park" with a guy I met on the street the other day....reptiles are wondrous creatures.  A python about 15 feet long, crocodiles eating beef (I wonder what the Hindus think), vipers, cobras...and earlier on the beach a freshly washed up (and dead) puffer fish...very strange.  Sadly, Rajam the senior musician/painter/actor is in the hospital with some heart problems but is recovering nicely.  Walking down the street to eat or the post office still freaks me out, you'll never fully get used to the smell of feces, cars on the "wrong" side of the road with children or no one in the driver side, lepers, mad rickshaw drivers and scooters, smog, smog and more smog, combined with heat that only gets hotter, numbers of homeless or seemingly homeless people. I guess they're not really homeless...the street is their home..literally.  Little camps appear at night and day, cooking by the roadside, sleeping, possessions in a pile, same place every day.  Like a house without walls or a ceiling...just a floor.   It all moves on....earlier I came from an enchanting Bharatanatyam performance as I knew the drummer. Tomorrow were going to a temple for a dance program which will be interesting no doubt.

What else is there to say?  I'm very lucky, even more blessed if someone can let me into the apartment or else I'll be on the street too (to all those concerned, esp. mudder..that is not to be taken seriously......seriously.)

al la prochaine....


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