I've just spent an intense month of violin classes with Guruji. Almost every morning I have been going to his house for class with a few (Indian) students from BHU (Banaras Hindu University), and in the afternoon I've been practising alone. I've been playing between three and six hours of violin everyday. But tonight Guruji is leaving to Mexico for two months, so I'm allowing myself a little break. It feels a bit funny thinking I'll have no teacher for two months, although I will still have plenty to do: Guruji has requested that our group of students keep practising together like in class once a week. We picked up my place for practical reasons (which I'm quite happy about as that will save me from sweaty cycling through Indian traffic - although I do enjoy cycling). Also, I will still be practising with the tabla student of Guruji's brother, so I'll still be going to his house and be able to practise in a “traditional musical family”'s atmosphere and energy. And anyway, I have tons of material to practise with alone, with less inhibition and more motivation as I get along, so I'm happy to give myself the challenge to impress Guruji with my progress when he returns after two months! :-)
But I started this entry wanting to write about my new friend. My new Indian friend. My new Indian girl-friend! That's quite exciting news because it is generally very difficult for foreigners to befriend Indian women. For one, married women don't generally go out of their houses much in traditional (and rural) families, and most of them seem very uninterested by anything that's too far away or too different from their traditional housewife lives, uninterested by anything inaccessible to them or outside of their world. And if one has the chance to speak with them, there isn't much topic for chat beyond traditional/religious and family life, cooking, and cosmetics/clothes... This is slowly changing in bigger cities, but obviously Varanasi being Holy Benares, it is still an extremely traditional place. Then, if girls and younger or unmarried women go out for school or university or whatever, they seem extremely shy towards Westerners or non-Indian people, and even if they do know or understand English they are usually very shy to speak it. Apart from Vijay's sisters, I had never developed proper friendship with an Indian woman in almost four years – until now.
Among our group of students who go to Guruji's house for class every morning there's one girl; she's studying on the final year of Violin Masters at BHU. It's funny because she is my senior of eight years at university, but at Guruji's house we are in the same class. She's very good; technically our level is similar although she's clearly more advanced than me in Indian music theory and knowledge, and more experienced in playing accompanied with tabla and performing on stage, as she regularly has to perform in BHU. It took us some time to start speaking as we are both slow in opening up to new people, and she's very young (21), and being an Indian girl she's quite shy, but she is curious and open and fun, and in comparison to most Indian girls it feels like she kind of “has guts”. Once we started talking we got along quickly.
I'm so very happy; because this is all thanks to my finally being fluent in Hindi. It's funny with Hindi and the violin, how every time after a three-month break in Europe I come back and my mind (and body in the case of violin) has clearly digested all the information learnt in the passed 6-8 months. With Hindi, it feels like my mind has digested all the information, freeing-up a lot of brain-space for more, and I suddenly (magically!) understand more Hindi and speak it better than three month before.
And so with my all-Indian group of classmates who go to Guruji's house (in India they are called “Guru-brothers/-sisters”) I've been speaking only Hindi, being part of an Indian circle for the very first time. And it feels amazing to be integrated in a group of Indians who share a common interest, not to be spoken to only because my skin is white or because I'm a female, and not to be considered like a foreigner, but to be spoken to because I am part of their group, because I'm just like them. That really feels special in India, and for me it feels like such an achievement that I truly feel blessed, and proud of myself for having conquered such a different language as Hindi! In India, it's all too easy to stay amongst Westerners, because deep contact with Indians takes so much time and effort, but I'm finally piercing through!
My Indian girlfriend and Guru-sister took me once to meet her small family (they live one hour away from Varanasi), which was absolutely lovely. She has also introduced me to her friends and classmates at BHU. She lives in one of the student residences for girls on campus, which I've already visited a few times to practise violin with her (and to avoid a 15-hour long power-cut at my place!) I've thus met quite a number of her room/house mates, and that, too has felt pretty amazing! Being with a group of Indian girls, talking about whatever I want freely, like girly things including the Mooncup (!) or boyfriends, music, and why they are shy to speak with foreigners!
Classes have finally started for me on the Violin Diploma at BHU. It's a bit funny because I'm in class with complete beginners, and yet I love it because the fact that I have joined BHU for music means I'm allowed in a new “Indian music circle”, which is very interesting on the “Hindi community” side of things. At the same time it is very nice to be let in whilst having no pressure, no homework because I can already play everything I've got to learn! Being a student without the tough part, only with the fun, socialising part of it! Yet “being the best” in class is also interesting, because the last thing I want is to “show off”. When the teacher asks me to play or show something in class I still feel very shy and self-conscious, therefore I have to focus inward to play it. In a way, I kind of have to “play the game” in the most humble way possible; I have to accept what the teacher tells me, going back to the basics without just thinking that “I know it all”, but paying attention to any aspect and feeling I can learn from. It is a funny situation and one I can learn from, because I am my classmates' senior in the explicit, violin subject whilst they are my seniors as far as the implicit, Hindi teaching side is concerned! Apart from violin practice classes there will also be one theory class per week, which is taught in Hindi. I know most of the content of the syllabus, which will help me focusing on understanding, and hopefully taking notes in Hindi. Perhaps I shall even take the challenge to sit the theory exam in Hindi at the end...?
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.