A note on my three blogs

A note on my blogs

(1) vio; in love with india - this one is the main blog about my Indian adventures, which started in 2005. I don't write much on this blog these days because I prefer to write privately in the confidential blog. But check out the categories and the index to figure out your way. I have kept some older posts not about India but which I still find interesting or relevant in Old words. Also check out my new, fun category Only in India in which I post photos of funny, unique, Indian situations...

(2) vio; sounds of india - this is my blog of sounds, because India wouldn't be as incredible if it was not so vibrant and just so full of incredible sounds!

(3) vio; confidential - this an extension of my main blog in which I post entries I do not want to reveal to the entire webspace for privacy or sensitivity reasons. You must receive an invitation from me and then accept the invitation to be able to read it. You may email me if you are interested in receiving an invitation.


Friday, 30 May 2008

"You are That."

The yoga retreat is over. Already! It was a very good retreat indeed. The people in the group were lovely, the teachers amazing, and all the classes very insightful. Still, I don't really know what to say about the yoga itself. I have been practising iyengar for seven years and so nothing was really surprising for me. i think i have a pretty good understanding of yoga philosophy, too. so it was probably just a continuation with no big revelation.

For me the most amazing bit was on the musical front. Not only did I have time to practise violin four hours everyday, but halfway through the course I met a south Indian singer, Ray, who lives here, and from following day we practised together in the ashram's temple everyday. The first evening I had arrived in the ashram I had noticed him; he looked very familiar to me somehow - perhaps I saw him at Qmma's ashram back in December because it turned out that he was there at the same time. We clicked instantly. I have been singing a little with him too, because it was useful to let the melody sink into my mind that way before learning it on the violin.

For our last satsang (music & talk) evening, our yoga teacher had organised a 'talent show' where each one of us in the group was to create a short 'performance'. I thought (hoped!?) at first that it was a joke. It was not. Of course I was to play the violin, the teacher seemed very keen to remind me everyday... And so, last night, I played the violin in front of my first 'proper' audience. Instead of just playing or improvising just anything, I had prepared a piece (re-learning my favourite song by Francesco Banchini on my newly-tuned violin) and even an 'encore'. informally showing the violin to people in India has (very!) gradually made me feel less shy about playing 'in public'. As well as playing everyday with Ray in the temple where people passed by and stayed to listen to our practices. So it looks like fear is slowly leaving me... And I am immensely grateful for it. Last night it wasn't as scary as it has been in the past, and I didn't make too many quacks; I was very happy. I did feel the discomfort lessening as I was playing, replacing it with love, and I did use my 'encore'... Other performances including ballet dancing, yoga comedy, poetry, singer/guitar player etc. It was fun.

Now it looks like I have no other option but to stay here for the time being. The idea of packing and travelling somewhere else doesn't even cross my mind, and I don't feel like going to panchakarma treatment now like I was initially 'planning' to. It will come when it comes. It seems to me whenever I plan something in my head, deep down it is obvious that it will NOT happen for the only reason that it has crossed my mind. BY definition life is unpredictable, so whatever you think you predict cannot be.

As Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj said in the I am that which I am current reading; "You would be wiser to deny the existence of what you imagine. It is the imagined that is unreal (...) imagination based on memories is unreal. The future is not entirely unreal (...) The unexpected and the unpredictable is real."

Again I have to focus on what I have and for now right before me is the opportunity to practise more violin with Ray. I cannot leave it; I have to follow it. Since I left Khajuraho Life has only been taking me on a violinesque journey it seems - from Varanasi, to Rishikesh with the kids' music school and still here, now even more surprisingly at the yoga retreat... But I also really like this ashram. Vedanta master Swami Dayananda's ashram. Vedanta teaching is basically 'you are that'. Exactly the book that I was led to find in Swami Rama's ashram before coming here. I feel a lot less shy around people here than in the previous one - I feel welcome somehow.

And I really liked Swami ji - our funny Sanskrit and chanting teacher. I know it is reciprocal for he told me. The other day we were talking about phonetics and he said to me with his big bright smile that my face was even more expressive than his and so he should learn from me, hahaha. And yes, he wants to learn English and phonetics from me and iI would find it very interesting to learn Hindi from him indeed. Or Sanskrit even!? I wasn't sure whether he was entirely serious so I asked him again today, but again he sounded very keen. We will see.

Oh, and Swami Dayananda is coming in a few days. So perhaps I will see him. From what I have learnt about him and about Vedanta these last few days, I am very keen on this to say the least.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Yoga (and violin!?) retreat

This is half way through the yoga retreat, and Sunday (I am really finding it impossible to know which day it is in India) so today we have most of the day off. Most of the group is out and we're going to have lunch all together. It is a very good group with about twenty people from all over the world, from Australia and New Zealand, to North America and Europe, and a couple of Indian people too.

The yoga teacher is excellent (nothing to do with the past four weeks!) and his classes are fun. It's back to the basics for me because most people are beginners - to yoga or to Iyengar yoga - but there's always something to learn in yoga, in your body and in your mind - you can always learn tons in beginners level. If you do it well in fact, yoga is never a beginners class, and that's the beauty of it. It's nice to go back to the basics and catch up on what I never caught at first because there's just so much to yoga.

Sanskrit and chanting are fun, too. Though in Sanskrit we are just learning the alphabet and the pronunciation, mainly, so as I already know the Devanagari script and phonetic it's easy for me. But again there's always something to learn, and the teacher is a very very very funny swami with big beard and orange robes, and I love him. The first time I saw a Swami four years ago she seemed so calm and in her own world that she appeared strict and severe. She had left a strong impression on me, almost fear. But this Swami is one of the funniest person I've come to meet and - of course - there are all sorts of renunciants in the world like in any other group or communities or whatever. We shouldn't forget that these people are renunciants because it helps them be at peace and happy. And so this Swami is basically a very funny and happy man. He always tells us funny stories and laugh at his own jokes. And through his bushy beard I can just perceive how much his laughter and smile remind me of my first boyfriend, which makes me laugh even more. In the class we also learn mudras (hand gestures) and there benefits. Years ago when I was first shown mudras I didn't believe in them at all, but today I can feel that they have a lot of power indeed.

We have a video session everyday too, and we've been shown videos about B.K.S. Iyengar's life, him showing postures or doing talks, and a documentary about yogis and Rishikesh. I think they must be pretty rare videos and they too are very insightful and inspiring. We are also taught a new technique of meditation, which in this time of general meditation-head-mess-and-doubts for me, is very welcome!

My main surprise is that we are having four hours break during the day, two hours after breakfast and another two after lunch. After One and a half month of learning Indian classical violin with teachers, I am now left alone to explore my 'new' instrument, and oh, what fun! I've been literally drawn to my violin every minute of my four hour-breaks, so i am not even playing it less than before the yoga retreat. perhaps even longer and more intensely; i am losing myself into it every time. I am getting used to the posture and the new tuning, which now that I have more freedom, I am enjoying more than Western-style violin!

(1) The posture, with the violin held on my ankle, allows me to free my neck and my left arm so that I have more freedom to move my fingers up the finger-board.
(2) I really enjoy the new tuning, because it's closer to a viola and so I can play deeper notes. I can still play high pitch notes when I go higher up the E string since it's easier in the new posture, so it's like I have both violin and viola, two instruments in one!
(3) And I am really enjoying the new skill of sliding fingers on the string, too; it's like my fingers know the corresponding gap between the notes, or as my ears inherently hear the appropriate gaps between the notes, so my fingers follow. Like a direct link between my fingers and my ears.

So I've been exploring the violin intensely, so intensely that I find myself in meditation for another four hours a day. I've been going to bed at 10pm and have had no difficulty to get up at 5.30am everyday. It's as much a violin retreat as a yoga retreat. As a result, even though I love the group, I don't feel like talking very much. I need my contemplation. But when I do talk, I laugh a lot. Everyone in the group really is fun and open and non-judgemental. We are meeting other (Indian) people who live in or visit the ashram too, for it is a big ashram. And I do get to speak some Hindi, because the yoga assistant teacher seems to really enjoy telling everyone else that I speak Hindi...

So this has been my life on the yoga retreat. I think it is a very beneficial time for me here and I am very grateful for it.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

On music school and minor accidents

Today violin teacher & I went to Dehradun, one hour away from Rishikesh, to go to a good music shop and bring many instruments for repair (four violin corpses, two sarangis, one guitar, and two mini-funny-keyboards-I-forget-how-they-are-called). That was going to be my donation for the music school; it was a lot cheaper than expected so I also bought some strings and a mandolin (it is played in south India). Guruji was happy like a child, and in turn this made me happy like a child. It is amazing to donate but know exactly where your money goes, and be there to give instruments rather than rupee notes.

I have only one week left in the school, because on 20 May I will go to another other ashram for a 10-day yoga retreat. I am really looking forward to this. It will of course bring the music to an end - but for a while only. Guruji told me that I learn fast. Apparently many occidental violin players cannot grasp the Indian techniques so quickly. Perhaps, however frustrated I may be to have started learning violin at age 28, because the technique is not so 'settled' in my brain Ii am more flexible. Who knows. (Or perhaps I was an Indian violin player in a former life, haha.) Anyhow, it makes me happy. At the concert with the children on Sunday, after just two weeks of practice in the school I managed to play four of the songs. One was simple and I'd picked it up instantly the previous day. I think the most difficult was to sit crossed-legged on the stone-floor with no mat for one hour... My left leg was stone-asleep by the end of it... I am a lot more comfortable around the kids since then (I had to accompany most of them on a school bus to go to the ashram; what fun! :p) and the kids were happy with me. It's funny to practise Hindi with children, too, but perhaps I have already said this elsewhere... huhu.

There are a lot of beginners on the violin since last week. So Guruji has started a second afternoon class after the first violin one. It's a lot of fun because, since Guruji teaches many people and instruments at the same time, the students who already know how to play get to help the beginners. I am clearly in India: there are not many means but we use whatever we have in the best way possible. That means a lot of recycling; and that's also recycling the teachers. Whoever knows some can teach what they know. I love this. And so I have started helping a tiny seven-year old super-cute boy to play the violin. He mainly just gets used to use the bow on the violin, and it sounds horrible. But it's fun. And from time to time he looks at me with a cheeky little smile whilst bowing his two strings - making horrible yet cute sounds. And then everybody plays in the same room or on the same rooftop at the same time, and it is a horrible auditory mess. Sometimes when the kids wait for Guruji (I am always coming early to practise) I wonder how I can tolerate the screams and the noise and basically the children's mess. But then I want to play so I'm not going to stop and complain. And it is very interesting to train my ears to listen to the sound of my violin amid the cacophony...

So next week will be a new beginning with the yoga retreat. After this I think my friend from Khajuraho will visit me. And around mid-June, I shall be going to a reputed hospital for panchakarma treatment. Since I've been reading about ayurveda (India's ancient medicine system, related to yoga) I have dreamt of going through such a treatment and am therefore very much looking forward to it... :) And that brings me to around the end of June, after which again comes the gig "Unknown"... But I am very much getting used to this vast, empty "Unknown"... It is no longer scary, it is becoming quite a good friend...

* * *

On a totally different note... I seem to be prone to (minor!) accidents in India. But then, when in Khajuraho after my operation, a Brahmin visited the house and (as they do!) proceeded to tell me a lot about my life and my family (and all of it was true!) And gave me a few predictions about my future... He also told me that in my life I had been supposed to have a big accident, but because God had compassion and understanding for me, he had given me this minor operation. I didn't know what to believe. In these circumstances I decide not to believe anything. Still, it was rather puzzling to say the least, and if anything it made me happy to indeed have had such a minor operation...

So, last week I burnt my ankle against the exhaust pipe of Guruji's motorbike. That's four 'accidents' since I've been in India - first there was the other 'knee-bump on a motorbike' in Auroville (very small but it got infected - I don't tell everything here not to worry my family! - and it took a while to heal). Secondly came the falling in the roadside-ravine at moonlight night when trying to let pass a motorbike; it was not deep but full of spiky bushes - apart from a couple of scratches, out of some miracle I came out completely fine. Third was the foot operation, and now the burn. It looks like my ankle will be ugly for some months but I don't care. More than anything I find it interesting to try all the medical 'gear' that I brought with me to India - especially the MAGICAL magnesium chloride, which is good taken internally for energy/immune boosts, and now incredible to apply externally. It works wonders on my burn. It also means I have been visiting numerous doctors in India, and I have to say I've always had good experiences. Here Guruji took me to a renowned Western medicine/ayurvedic doctor just around the corner from my ashram. I even showed me the scar on my foot's sole since the operation (for it does still bother sometimes when I walk barefoot) and he gave me ayurvedic herbs to help with the hard, damaged tissue - they are already helping.

If most of my family worried to see me leave for India and my Dad insisted that I took medical insurance (I did, of course) I seriously don't feel in worse hands than in Great Britain with doctors here. Many doctors have knowledge of Western medicine AND ayurveda, which makes their discipline more complete, it seems to me. All the doctors I visited looked after me with genuine care. There are amazing ayurvedic herbs everywhere. And if you have money (but it is very cheap compared to the West) and prefer prevention to cure, you can go to panchakarma/rejuvenation treatment... the one i am so looking forward to!!

Thursday, 8 May 2008

The new routine

Life is good in Rishikesh; I have settled my new life here. It's funny how quickly 9 felt 'homey' in the end.

So the ashram is lovely - but I hardly speak to anyone here. I befriended a very interesting Russian guy from New-York, but he has now left. Apart from that, I greet the guards and the cooks. And I speak a little to the gardener who always speaks to me in Hindi. And otherwise people come and go. It is a funny place. There are not many people and no set routine - or at least they don't care if you follow it. Apart from sleeping and eating (and the food is gorgeous as ever; eating is a ritual), I am mainly out most of the day, in the other ashram, well - in the music school.

The music school is great. Singing is great. Violin is great. Guruji (violin teacher) says I learn very fast. On Sunday we are going to visit another ashram I-forget-where for lunch, and we are going to play a few songs. So that'll be my first concert on the violin hihihi, with Indian children. So I practise a lot, morning and evening, between two and five hours everyday. I do get used to the Indian notes, but still prefer the Western music writing system of course, mainly because on the stave the notes go up and down and it's easier to see than on just a series of letters. I still take S for Si instead of Sa if I'm not careful enough... But it's going well; I'm enjoying sliding my fingers on the violin, and it's mainly a question of learning new melodies...

I am slowly befriending the children, too. I seem to have my favourites, but that they don't know. A few girls have started talking to me; they asked me my name the other day. And two boys are amused by my Hindi. Mainly we communicate with funny looks, smiles or laughter. Even though I spend a lot of time with Guruji, with the children I am pretty shy. They outnumber me of course; there are so many it's almost scary. And some mothers still bring kids and Guruji is trying his hardest to attend to them all - so many children for him alone; he is very patient and dedicated - but what else would he do if he didn't have them, I wonder. I feel a little like his assistant. The other day he asked me to help me write a letter in English, and he always tells me about his worries and issues about the school and its future...

And the yoga school. It is another story but I do enjoy it thoroughly. There are more women now; about five. Still a majority of men though of course. The teacher is very military; he shouts all the time. But if B.K.S. Iyengar (the real Iyengar, huhu) has a systematic, strategic use of anger (as I read in his latest book!), my current teacher seems not to master his art. And he seems to have a big ego. I ask questions and challenge him - he doesn't seem to like it. This morning I couldn't help it: in this supposedly beginners' class (but according to the difficulties of the postures I REALLY don't think it's a beginners class!), he was teaching the beginner-ladies to do the headstand. He didn't even explain to them how to properly put their arms on the floor so as to make a steady base of the posture. Their arms were way too wide and of course they were going to fall down. But he had no kindness; he took their legs up the wall aggressively. I couldn't help it; I said 'Excuse me...' and asked him to show them how to properly ground their hands and arms. Of course he didn't like it. And of course the men in the class laughed... But I was honestly talking with my heart. I was so fearful of headstand for years, if he had been my teacher he'd have traumatised me even more. So I just had compassion for the poor, collapsing women...

Still I do like my yoga class. I like the challenge. And I certainly don't take the teacher seriously...

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Mel, & the music school

[Typed from paper journal]

Mel died two days ago; James sent me an email yesterday to inform me. I felt shivery and tearful for a short while. It felt odd; as usual when someone dies it is mainly difficult to come to terms with the idea – difficult to believe. On the way back along the Ganges I picked a small wild flower and carried it along with me, thinking of Mel – as if to give her positive energy and love. When I came to the steps that go to the Holy Water, I went down and sat down for a while, observing the calmness of the scenery. After some time I threw the flower in the water, into the stillness which Mel has now returned to. I watched it floating away from me and left.

So I started music school with the children yesterday. Singing class starts at around 9.30 in the morning for about one hour. It is good for me of course because it is always good to get me singing. There has been no issue of shyness. But also because it is a good way for me to learn about raga and raga theory. Shivananda, the teacher, told me that what to do with Indian violin is basically to follow the singing, copy the singing. So if I understand what is going on with singing, I will more easily play it on the violin.

I guess I see how much 'Indian-style' violin I had been playing in my Edinburgh bedroom on my own without realising: (1) I was following the singing (or the instrument playing the main melody) on my CDs. (2) A few times when it played too fast and I couldn't keep up I wrote down the music; but I couldn't write in the conventional occidental way, so I wrote down in note-words, Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Si etc. with my own, self-made 'punctuation', or symbols to indicate modified notes etc. This is very much like the Indian way of writing music, as they write Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni etc. with modifying symbols like a dot or a bar below or above the note-letters to indicate flat or sharp or lower-octave notes etc.. (3) Sometimes I would naturally slide a little onto the violin strings from note to note, I suppose... (4) And interestingly, I was trying to play Alan's guitar in a similar way to the Indian slide-guitar because I found it more comfortable to play; the guitar sitting flat on my lap I played a melody one string at a time.

It is fun to play the violin with the kids. The class is at 4.00pm or around (Indian timing!) Between singing and violin class many of the children come to the school to practise. Today I practised my Bhairav scale along with Shashi on the sitar. The classes are mainly a cacophony and too fast for me to follow, but of course I hope that with practice I will come to follow the kids. The melodies are simple and similar to the ones I would have picked up from my CDs. Sa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa, Dha, Ni seem like they will be quicker to pick than were the Anglo-saxon A, B, C, D, E, F, G, I guess because they are 'in line' with Do etc. unlike A etc. – or perhaps just because my brain has performed similar 'gymnastics' before...

Today the violin class was very short and we watched two videos. The first was of a concert by amazing and beautiful Anushka Shankar (daughter of Ravi Shankar) on the sitar – a western-Indian collaboration with many musicians and some very varied and interesting instruments. The second one was of the kids; a concert given six months ago. It was good but I wanted to see more of Mata Ji, the recently defunct Swami who founded the school some three years ago. At the end of the session Shivananda explained to me the odd ashram situation now that she was Gone, as seems typical of ashram life when a Swami leaves his/her body. More specifically different conflicting parties (alleged relatives, friends, disciples...) want to rule the ashram now, and unfortunately for the future of the school and its young students (and endangered Indian classical music!), only Mata Ji and Shivananda were genuinely interested in creating the project. Now that Mata Ji is no more, Shivananda is alone, and the different parties show little conviction in the life and credibility of the school. Today again he said to me that I had arrived at the right time, that the ashram is “mine” and that if I need anything (food included) I should just ask for it.

And I am again amazed that I “landed” here, with music and violin and among poor children...