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.


Thursday, 19 December 2013

Hungry for music & accepting my new musician identity...

Not sure how this post will unfold, but I feel like writing.

This month has been totally full on playing music, and it's been very, very satisfying. And I know it's not over, with my third solo coming up on Christmas Day.

I've been teaching and it's been fun, rewarding and exciting. I've been practising with my guru-cousin for the Christmas concert, and I've been loving it. And I've been jamming a lot recently, like never before. I used to feel envious of those music-playing hippie travellers, because I somehow would feel inadequate and not good enough - I have this tendency to believe any other musician is better than me. But recently I've been meeting the same really nice travelling folks, and I've been feeling pretty comfortable with them. It's very new. I don't know how not to sound nasty saying this but I usually have no interest in meeting travellers because I just can't be bothered making the effort of small talk if they're leaving soon. Even with other long-term non-Indian musicians I kind of feel different and uncomfortable, and I generally try to hang out with Indians. But. There's a big but: I can't deny my background - and my musical background - and it is also very nice to spend time with non-Indians, especially musicians. When it works out it's just wonderful to play non-Indian music once in a while because I don't have to care about raga rules or difficult cyclic rhythm, I can just play anything the way I feel it, the way it flows out of my body... And although for years I wasn't a musician, I have been listening to so much music of all kinds over the years that I do have some sort of musical intuition or perhaps maturity - I do surprise myself with the inspiration I have, which is precisely why I should jam with non-Indian musicians from time to time, for the fun of it, and in order not to always look higher than myself. Indeed when I just jam freely, I realise how much I've learnt from learning strict Indian classical music, how much it has made me capable of playing other types of music, and I feel profoundly grateful to my Guruji! That's when I realise that I have actually made massive progress and I have become very comfortable with my own instrument to just play whatever. My mind still has a faint memory of how uncomfortable I used to feel at the thought of playing in front of other people; today though I have to get used to a new me - a Vio known as a musician, a Vio known as a good violinist. Yes, people here know me for my violin, and wow, it still feels surreal sometimes. And people even say I'm talented; in fact I have recently been bombarded with positive feedback and compliments, and it such a wonderful dream come true that it sometimes brings shivers to my body and tears to my eyes.

And at those jams, when a French woman has brought her accordion I get totally overexcited with the novelty, the groove that it brings and the new inspiration that I get. There's also a Balkan oud player, a lovely folky guitar player from the USA, and last night I sat with a really nice, more middle-eastern/klezmer guitar player from Israel... And there's my new guru-bhai, a lovely Chilli-Brazilian multi-instrumentalist musician who's been learning Indian violin from Sukhdev for two months. He's learning Hindi and needs to practise it with someone so we're having great skill-exchange sessions in which I speak with him in Hindi and teach him bits of grammar, whist he gives me classes in western harmony and chord theory - something I've been wanting to learn for years to accompany western musicians better. I adore these sessions because my new teacher revives some old childhood memories about music theory which had been hidden in the deep corners of my mind for decades. We complement each other beautifully and I learn such great stuff that I'm excited like a little girl. Back to Hindustani violin, I've been playing ragas with a lovely girlfriend (my oldest friend in Varanasi actually) who plays slide-guitar, which has been greatly inspiring as well. So yeah, my days are filled with practising music alone and with many other lovely souls. Music from morning to evening, music without end, music til I collapse exhausted onto my bed at night for sleep, but it's so very inspiring and liberating and rewarding, and it has given me new energy and even entrancing moments of pure joy...

So yeah, I am finally coming to terms with my shyness and getting used to the new thought - fact? - that I am indeed accepted as a talented musician around here... ♥

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

How Life designs my music syllabus & and a new student

Teaching violin has been great in Khajuraho.

My student's father, the music teacher Trivedi had been telling me for a while that he wanted to enrol Akhilesh onto the Prayag Sangeet Samiti course in Allahabad for violin. Now you don't have to live in Allahabad for this course; you just need to find an accredited music teacher in your area who will teach you the course's syllabus, and at the end of the year you just sit the exam. Trivedi does that with his pupils at the music school. Once a year he has to fill a pile of (50+) forms and bring them to Allahabad (this is about 3 hours before Varanasi by train), and once a year an external examiner comes to Khajuraho for the practical exam.

The Prayag Sangeet Samiti is famous all over India; it may well be the most famous Hindustani music institution in the country. Before I enrolled onto the Hindi program at Banaras Hindu University (BHU) to get a student visa, Sukhdev had told me that if I enrolled onto this course, I could just study with him, sit the exams, and come to India with a student visa. At the time though, I had never heard of this program (and I could never remember its name) and I was scared that it wasn't official enough for the embassy to grant me a student visa! I was wrong, because about three years later a friend of mine got a student visa through the program. Nevermind, I wanted to learn Hindi from BHU anyway, and I always had in mind that music is for love, and as such it is important for me that I learn it outside of any institution in order to follow my own musical path... After completing my Hindi diploma I did join BHU for the violin diploma to be able to renew my student visa, and it was a great experience, but I dropped during the second year, because it was impeding too much on my own routine, the course was disappointing, and I would never want to move on to the BMus or MMus program in BHU anyway. I guess I could join the Prayag Sangeet Samiti myself but ah - no, not for me. I've done enough of formal studying in my life (10 years!)...

Anyway... The Rishikesh students too have all studied for the Prayag Sangeet Samiti, some of them have passed their exams up until the 5 or 6 years, and I was amazed when I learnt that even in Khajuraho, one can study music for the Prayag Sangeet Samiti!

Well, it makes me quite proud that my student is now also studying for the Prayag Sangeet Samiti! His father has enrolled him onto both first and second years, so I have to teach him the syllabus until May! It's amazing how Life always seems to bring me new challenges at the right moment. In a way, I really feel Life (God!?) is designing my music syllabus: After 4 years of studying with Sukhdev, Life forced me to enrol onto the BHU violin diploma, not so that I would get a violin diploma but to give me an insight into how music is taught in formal institutions, to get me to read about music in Hindi books, and to introduce me to my two classmates who would become my first violin students. About a year later, Life introduced me to a music teacher in Khajuraho, so that I would start learning semi-classical music with him and accompanying his pupils in class - because it's very complementary to my India classical "syllabus" with Sukhdev, as it gets me used to hearing other taal (rhythm) cycles and it gives me the opportunity to practise accompanying the kids by ear. Along with that, in Khajuraho still, I got my very first (and so far the steadiest) violin student whom I would teach from scratch! About a month ago in Varanasi, Life offered me a 9-year old Australian student because I should know how to teach young kids too, and in English medium. And now, for three weeks, I have started teaching Akhilesh towards his Prayag Sangeet Samiti exams! I wouldn't be able to do this if I hadn't got the BHU insight...

So the first two raags I will teach him will be Bhairav and Yaman. Bhairav was the very first raag I learnt with Sukhdev, and at the time, in order for me to understand the structure of Indian music, he had written everything from bandish (composition) to boltans and tans (fast improvisation). I don't have any written alaap for Bhairav, but I took it from Akhilesh's father's book. Now with Sukhdev, apart from the composition I never write anything of course, because I learn to improvise. In music institutions however, in the beginning at least, everything is written and learnt by heart. Trivedi never teaches any improvisation to his pupils, but it's OK because they are kids. Although I knew I would only have to teach him written stuff, I was a bit scared to teach Bhairav to Akhilesh at first because I hadn't played it for four years, and because I didn't remember the feeling of this raag. Yet, miraculously, just before coming back to Khajuraho I shared two or three classes with one of Sukhdev's new students who was learning... Surprise, surprise: Bhairav! I had never asked anything to Sukhdev about going back to Bhairav, but Life made the necessary arrangements. I recorded the alaap, just to get it back into my ears and into my fingers... So these last three weeks I have been going through Bhairav with Akhilesh. And I am amazed to go back to my first classes with him! It's such a great refresher, reminder of my own progress! And I am thrilled when I hear him play what I used to play, just after over a year of teaching him! It's wonderful that I have taught him all this from nought!

Finally, this week Life granted me my second Khajuraho student. Actually I had already given him a class a month ago but I didn't know if anything would follow. I met Arjun, one of Vijay's distant relatives, for the first time at a family do on 10 October. At the end of the day some of the family members had wanted me to play violin. He had been amazed in a genuine way and had wanted to try the violin. I had felt some real sensitivity in him, so I had told him I could teach him, and a few days after that I had given him a taster class before going back to Varanasi. When I was back three weeks ago I saw him in the town centre and said hello to him, but he had been too shy to came back for class... until three days ago. If this works out he will be a new challenge for me. Not only do I have to teach him violin from scratch, but also, unlike Akhilesh, he has absolutely no background in music. Akhilesh had never touched a violin before he met me, but he had been exposed to music from his father since he was born, and he had studied tabla for 2 years. He could hardly sing before I started teaching him either, but he does have a good ear from his life-long exposure to music. Arjun, is another story. He can sing pretty much in tune, but his range of notes is extremely small - like most people here it seems. He can sing "Pa, Re, Ga, Ma, Pa", but after Pa he can't go any higher and says "Dha, Ni, Sa" without changing his pitch. And like everyone here he confuses going up in pitch and going up in volume! So I shall see what I can do!! I absolutely love his attitude though. Most kids here "do what they're told". Being a good student here means learning what your teacher says by heart and repeating it properly. But Arjun is not your typical (rural) Indian kid, and I love him for that! At only 13, he has a real gift in henna tattooing, and he even earns money from tattooing brides-to-be! He follows his own heart; he has initiatives. At his third class he asked me if he could try to play the scale holding the violin in western position, and then even holding it upside down like a cello. And he asked me what the lower strings were used for, unlike Akhilesh who probably wouldn't have played them by now if I hadn't told him to! Unlike Akhilesh who takes his violin classes very seriously, Arjun laughs all the time. At the same time he is very curious, he definitely wants to learn and he has great concentration, but he knows it's for fun, too! Learning and fun don't often go hand in hand in rural India and that's exactly what I thrive to teach here... So I am very much looking forward to teaching him. Of course he has no violin and so far he has been playing on mine. He comes from a poor family, but he has told me he would earn money himself and when he has collected enough, I will bring him a violin from Banaras (like I did for Akhilesh)...

How I love being the first violin teacher of Khajuraho...

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Dual life, yet part of a whole...

To read this entry, please email me to request an invitation.

If you already have an invitation, you can read the entry here.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Updates on my Varanasi life

Almost a month without writing. I went to Varanasi on 15 October and came back to Khajuraho on 7 November, just after the Diwali festival. The thing is, I was so busy in Banaras that I haven't been able to write even though I did want to. Now that I'm in Khajuraho again and life is slower, I'm taking the time to do those things I don't have any time for in Banaras, such as writing...

The main thing was that my friends Marie-Christine and Jérôme from the Partage et Culture Sarasvati association came to India and stayed in Banaras for a few weeks. So we lived together in the flat, and as always when they are in Banaras, we had loads of things to do! Our main project this time was that the young musicians from Rishikesh and the Mata Ganga Orchestra came for a week to practise music with Sukhdev, and on their last two days we recorded three tracks of our French program in a professional studio. It was quite hectic but as always a lot of fun. During one of the workshops, with some of Sukhdev's other students, I counted 12 violinists in the flat! We didn't have much time to rehearse, but the recording was a very interesting and positive experience...

Marie-Christine had come to India with the documentary maker of our Mata Ganga Orchestra tour in France. The film is almost ready and we watched it all together with a hired video-projector on the white wall of our living-room - my oh my, it was so funny to see how the Indians reacted to it!! Commenting, oohing, hand clapping, laughing... It's a very beautiful movie and I can't wait to see it completely ready. As soon as I arrived in Khajuraho I spent 4-5 days making the English subtitles and improving the French ones, so I have studied the film from all its angles... I love doing that kind of work.

And in Varanasi, I've also been teaching and earning a bit of money, which I have been very happy about. I have a new Hindi student (teaching Hindi for the first time, whoo!) and a new violin student. My Hindi student is a friend from Colombia who is here for a year to study on the philosophy and religion program at Banaras Hindu University, and who already has quite a good knowledge of the language. He comes to see me for a class once every two days. I had not studied any Hindi at all since I finished my university diploma two years ago; I was just reading a bit from time to time and of course doing loads and loads of spoken practice. So it is amazing for me to teach Hindi because it forces me to revise what I learnt, and having to transmit it to a student really revives my knowledge of the language a lot. Although my explicit learning is fresh, there are many aspects of Hindi that have become natural to me and I have forgotten the explanations for them, so going back to my books and notes is great. I have to prepare my classes, structuring the grammar in a way that is suitable for him, creating homework and revising lots of spelling and vocabulary, so I'm learning tons for myself in the process. I am loving every minute of it!

My new violin student is a lovely 9 year-old Australian boy and the son of a couple I have known for almost as long as I've been living in Varanasi. He had started learning violin with Sukhdev about 2 years ago, but it had been too difficult for his mum to juggle between home and school and to take him to my teacher, so they had dropped the classes. Two years later the boy wishes to carry on learning, so his mother recently asked me if I would teach him in their home. Which I can, as they live in a hidden paradise on the banks of the Ganges not far from my flat. I have had three classes with the wee boy so far and it has been sheer delight! So far I had taught violin to 4 students, all young Indian men, but wow, it is completely different with a 9-year old (and in English)! I don't want to be too silly to have some credibility, but I don't want to be too serious either because I don't want to bore him, so this new balance made me somewhat uncomfortable at first... Funny that I'm more shy with a western kid than with young Indian men, but I know it will pass, and I am very much looking forward to the new experience of getting to know a child for some one-to-one violin classes! He has a brilliant ear and a great response to the instrument, along with great motivation, and so far he has "thanked me so much for teaching him" after every class! Another enjoyable aspect with him is that he is a native English speaker, and seeing him twice a week is a good refresher for my slightly impoverished English due to hearing too much broken Hinglish...!

All this along with my usual violin classes with Guruji of course... I have also been invited to play a solo concert in a temple on Christmas day with my guru-cousin for the third time, so I'm working on it at the moment...

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Musical retreat in Haldwani & a (benign) road accident

From 20 to 27 September, I went to Haldwani for a week with my violin teacher Sukhdev, his eldest brother Pt. Kishore Mishra (a famous Banaras tabla player), his nephew Amit (tabla player), two of the most famous Banaras Kathak dancers of with one of their disciples, and a very well-known Khyal singer. Haldwani is located near Nainital, just before the Nepalese border at the foots of the Himalayas. The musicians were invited for a week to run workshops in a newly-established music school and to perform in concerts. I had not had any violin classes for almost two weeks after my guru's father's passing, so he invited me to come along. Apart from the train tickets everything was free, as I would be housed and fed with the musicians in the organiser's family house. Needless to say I was very excited to spend some privileged time with seven of the greatest Banaras musicians!

The first event of all I guess, was the accident... I haven't told many people and neither of my family because I didn't want to worry them unnecessarily, and because none of us got hurt anyway. Sukhdev, Kishore, Amit and I had arrived in Bareilly by train at midnight (they others were already in Haldwani) and a taxi driver was waiting for us at the station to take us to our destination for a 3-hour ride or so. We loaded the car, Kishore took the front seat, and Sukhdev, Amit and I sat at the back. I was on the middle seat so I had no seat belt, and being Indians none of the others wore theirs. The road was pretty bad and the driver was driving pretty fast but I didn't really take notice of it. I was sleepy and for most of the journey I tried to rest as best as I could, leaning my head back onto a blanket because my seat was low, and focusing on my breath with my eyes closed. Every once in a while the car would jump on the uneven road, but I just got used to it. At the beginning of the ride at some point, the driver just avoided colliding into a car he was overtaking as it wasn't running straight. "He's falling asleep!", our driver complained, as though to prove that he knew better how to control his vehicle. I got a fright but quickly lied back down to rest. Later, Sukhdev told me, we almost bumped into a cow but I was too sleepy to notice anything. And then, only about 25 km away from our destination, the car suddenly jumped a lot more loudly and violently, BAM! BAM! BAM! I heard Amit screaming asking his his father was OK. I woke up wondering what the hell was happening but for all those few seconds I was aware that I was fine, and everything was over. It was so quick and I had been so sleepy that I hadn't had time to get scared that the car had stopped. Sukhdev, Amit and Kishore were shouting asking if everyone was OK and got out of the car, but I had one single concern in the midst of all this chaos: "My glasses, my glasses!" I shouted. Sukhdev hurried me to get out but I couldn't stop looking around and shouting "Chasma, chasma!!!" "Something so dangerous happened and you're just looking for your glasses?!" he shouted, laughing. "But I can't live without my glasses!" I shouted back, whilst scanning the floor from as close as I could to try and see something. I had slipped my glasses onto the top of my jumper to sleep and they had jumped away during the accident. After five minutes of shouting for my glasses I found them between the front seat and the gear lever, but one lens was missing. Being cheap Indian glasses (20 euros!) the lenses sometimes pop out of the frame and I can put them back in easily so that wasn't a worry... as long as I did find the missing lens, that is... I looked some more, now shouting "My lens, my lens!!"... My companions were all out of the car looking at the damage, but I still couldn't possibly get out! Normally I always have an extra pair of glasses in case when I travel, but this time I had found it to be a waste of space, as I never use them anyway. "Well, that'll teach you!" I thought.

After less than five minutes of panic, Kishore came back to the car, and with the coolest of attitude, asked me "Are you looking for your lens?" "Yes!" I shouted with a hint of hope. "There!" He took the lens out of the pocket of his kurta and handed it to me. I was startled. How was this possible!? Could he have had the alertness to see my lens and put it in his pocket to save it before he had got out of the car after such a shocking moment!? No, of course not. After he had got out of the car, he explained to me, he had plunged his hands in his pockets and felt something hard in one of them. He got the thing out and was shocked to discover a lens from my glasses!! He immediately came back to the car to give it to me. Now then, my lens had LANDED IN HIS POCKET during the accident!!! How mad is that!?!? For the next few weeks, this was my guru's best story to tell whomever he met...

After I had found my lens and popped it back into its frame (only 5-10 minutes after the accident!) I finally came out of the vehicle and joined my companions. "Wow!!!" I shouted when I saw the front of the car. It was pretty badly smashed with the right part of the windscreen in pieces. Yet apart from a couple of bruises on my thighs I had nothing. Kishore, even more miraculously since he had been sitting behind the right side of the windscreen, came out with just a 1-cm scratch on his knee. Sukhdev was slightly sore on his lower back, and Amit on his right arm, but that was it (and the following day after I gave them reiki their pain disappeared). It was 3:30am and we were standing on the side of the road while the driver phoned people up. We weren't far from our destination so a new driver would just come and pick us up. I had no idea what had happened because I had been too short-sighted and too sleepy to see anything! A big white jeep was parked on the side of the road with us, apparently because we had bumped into it, but it wasn't so damaged. After a few phone calls and a look at the motor, its driver took the road again and we were left alone. The Indians kept recalling the event frantically and thanking God for His grace which had spared us. "Bhagwan ki kripa, bhagwan ki kripa..." they repeated. It took me a while and a number of questions to understand what had happened. Actually, the car had bumped three times: Firstly we had ran over a cow (and probably killed it, gulp!), then we had bumped into another cow, and then we had bumped into the white jeep which was stopped because it too had bumped into a cow!!! This particular road was famous for its wandering cows and we were not impressed with the driver, because he must have known about it. A cow indeed was sitting in the middle of the road with a leg badly injured, but she finally managed to get up and walk away... We kept waiting and waiting. It was night time and I had no idea how long we would stand there in the middle of no-where, but I had the most surreal of feelings: I was completely quiet, peaceful and alert, and I was grateful, surprised at my lack of fear. After a while we noticed that our driver had quite a lot of pain in his chest. Sukhdev told me that his body had hit the steering wheel. Right after the shock he had not felt anything but now the pain was starting to wake up. He was keeping a hand on his chest, and now he clearly look like it was disturbing him because he couldn't stand quite straight. I felt uncomfortable because I really wanted to give him some reiki, so after a while to help myself go for it I asked my teacher if he thought I could give him. (I regularly give reiki to Sukhdev and he loves it.) The driver kept saying he was OK but kept his hand on his chest so eventually I stopped caring about being socially acceptable and went to put my hands on his chest. I would stand there with my hands on his chest for as long as we would have to wait. I think it really soothed his pain a little because he didn't push me away. It was the weirdest thing to keep my hands on a male Indian stranger's chest in the middle of the night on the side of an empty road, but I kept going and I felt a lot of energy in my hands...

Eventually, I have no idea after how long, the new car came to pick us all up and on we went, leaving the damaged car where it was. We finally reached our destination at about 5am. The organiser and his friend welcomed us in their best kurta-pajama (at 5am!), touched their gurus' feet asked if we were all OK. After dropping us the new driver took the old driver straight to the hospital. We were invited to sit in a very well-furnished living room, and to make my time even more surreal, the three Banaras dancers came to greet us, half-asleep in their night clothes!!! It was quite an amusing sight compared to how I am used to seeing them on stage, with fancy make-up and shiny clothes!!! After the musicians hugged one another happily and loudly we drank some hot, comforting chai, and Kishore, Sukhdev and Amit agitatedly recalled the night's event in their best Bojhpuri (the Varanasi dialect). While the others were still talking about the accident, Sukhdev burst out laughing and told everyone about my glasses story... "Bhagwan ki Kripa se, thanks to God's grace we are all here!", Kishore repeated. I loved that they were talking about God's grace, because somehow I hadn't even thought about it. Perhaps it had all been so surreal that my mind had not been quite in place. And it was almost 6am and I was now very sleepy... With great relief I collapsed on my (assigned) bed and into the most comforting realm of, aaaah... Sleep...

I woke up quite early the next same day because I couldn't sleep more, but until evening I intercepted awakeness with two or three more naps. It was just a weird, recovering day. Around lunch time I was called to sit with all the musicians on a semi-circle of red plastic chairs at the entrance of the property. Two journalists were sitting in front of them taking pictures and asking questions. As soon as I sat, still feeling odd and sleepy, one of the men started interviewing me about my musical background. It felt a bit like a joke, considering that I was sitting next to eight of the most talented musicians of North India!!! The next morning at breakfast one of the dancers told me "Wow, your face came out really nicely in the newspaper!" Hey? What? I went to look... Shocking! Just a day after I had arrived in Haldwani, my face - only my face - was in the newspaper. They had been taking photos of all the great musicians, yet they had chosen just my wee face... Those silly Indians, in owe of anything western!!! It took some time getting used to!!! Of course they misspelled my name; they even invented that I was 22 years old!

The whole week passed smoothly, a like a musical retreat. It was very interesting to get to know some of Varanasi's greatest musicians, including my guru's brother and nephew. I was fed delicious food, although by the end of the week I really missed salad and fruits. The surroundings were quiet and beautiful. I was very-well looked after. I attended a beautiful vocal class from the khyal singer, delighted to hear his sweetest voice in the intimacy of a bedroom for the first time, as it sounded way better than when it's over-amplified! I sat during tabla and Kathak dance workshops; I took daily classes with my guru and practised alone as well. On the third day I accompanied my teacher in concert (following another two newspaper articles featuring my wee face), and my performance was well-received by the audience and the other musicians, who were all very encouraging and just lovely with me. I kept telling them it was no big deal, that many foreigners learn Indian classical music in Varanasi, but as one of the dancers told me, "For us it is a big deal that you drop your culture to adopt our tradition, and to even to learn our language so well." This went straight to my heart and I decided to accept the compliments... Whenever I felt too shy to sit with the musicians in their rooms during break times (not only because they were great, "inaccessible" musicians but also because they were Indian men), I spent time with the family's women. Of course, as Indian women always do because I look fair and beautiful in their eyes and my Hindi sounds sweet, they absolutely loved me. One day, Sukhdev, Amit, Saurav and I were invited to visit Nainital. It was a fun day and we took a boat tour on the city's famous lake. Nainital is higher in the mountain and I was happy to be able to wear my jeans after hot and sticky Varanasi.

After a few days into this musical routine the whole accident episode just felt like a dream. It turned out that our driver had broken two ribs, by the way, but he was OK. As I remembered the event, for me it was as though this accident had happened to us to justify the law of Karma. I couldn't explain how and why, but it felt clear to me that it had happened because the driver had had to work out something in his karma, and we had been his passengers to facilitate his task. Of course all of us musicians had been spared because it was not our karma, just the driver's...

On the car ride back to Bareilli, we all wore our seat belt...

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Engagement ceremony

To read this entry, please email me to request an invitation.

If you already have an invitation, you can read the entry here.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Up to the engagement

To read this entry, please email me to request an invitation.

If you already have an invitation, you can read the entry here.

Almost 3 months without shampoo & discovering reetha

I have now been shampoo-free for 2 months and 3 weeks. I wanted to wait 3 months to write an update on my new hair experience, but today I'm so excited about my new discovery that I had to write about it!

So for about a month and a half now my routine had stabilised to washing my hair once a week with sodium bicarbonate in water and lemony water for conditioning. The rest of the time I have just been rinsing my hair every morning. I have also been washing my comb every morning before shower (with "savon de Marseille" and a toothbrush) because when I comb my hair in the evening the comb gets really dusty (there is so much dust in this country!) and grubby. In the last month or so it hasn't seemed like I can keep my hair clean for longer than a week with just water and I have to push it a bit to wait for a whole week to wash it again. Well, it is really quite odd: after 5 days it still looks fine, but on the 6th and 7th day even if it feels dirty when I touch it, when I let my hair loose it doesn't actually look that dirty. It really is a new feeling for me. And it is now clear that I lose my hair less than before, because it feels thicker than ever. I'm very happy about that. But I still didn't quite like the "kind of dirty" feel my hair has 5 days after I've used the soda bicarbonate ("bc"), and there's another thing: with "bc" my hair mostly doesn't smell of anything, but after maybe 3 days, its ends have quite a weird smell. Just the ends! I wonder if other "poo-free" adventurers have had the same experience...!?

I was getting a bit uncomfortable with that smell so a few days ago I tried to find some more websites on going "poo-free". The women of the websites I found were not talking about using soda bicarbonate; instead they were using powders such as reetha, amla, sidr and shikakai, which they all buy from organic internet shops and which all originate from... India!!! Now that's interesting, I thought! I asked Vijay and his family whether you could find reetha in Khajuraho, because that was the one that seemed most used. The answer was yes - and also amla powder, and sidr, and shikakhai, but reetha is the most common. Vijay's brother-in-law who was visiting even told me you can find it easily in his village, which is a tiny place in the "bumhole" of the earth, as the French proverb says. I was very happy but puzzled that I hadn't known about all these beautiful natural products before! And so Vijay brought me some reetha from the "market" yesterday evening.

I opened the bag and was surprised to see that reetha was none other than... soap-nuts!!! Now I had seen them in organic shops in Europe, and I have even used them once for my laundry after a friend had asked me to buy some for her in Delhi. However I had never known that you could find dried soapnuts powder as the websites mention, and especially I had never known that soapnuts actually come from India and that you can find them just everywhere cheaply and especially in rural areas!!! That's just amazing news!!! So last night I looked out for more information about how to use soapnuts on the internet as well as asking Vijay's sister, who sadly didn't actually have much experience with it! All website said to just soak some nuts in boiling water overnight and to use the soapy water on the following morning. So I asked Sonam for a bowl, filled it with water and dropped 6 nuts in it. I told Sonam the websites were advising to use boiling water but she told me that it wasn't necessary if the nuts were to soak overnight; boiling water was used to speed up the process if you didn't have time. I said OK let's see.

This morning before my shower I opened the soaked nuts with my fingers to throw away their seeds, and I took the nut-skins out of the water. According to the websites you can reuse the same nuts up to 5-6 times; I shall have to experiment with that... Then I simply poured some of the natural soapy water on my head slowly and started massaging my scalp, poured some more and massaged some more. There was no foam at all on my head; however when I massaged the length of my hair it was foamy. I poured the rest of the water on my head, massaged my scalp some more and let it rest for 5 minutes while I washed my clothes. You have to be careful because reetha stings your eyes quite badly. Finally I rinsed my hair and that was it.

I went back upstairs after my shower and after my hair had dried a bit in the towel I combed it. WOW!!! It was soft and easy to comb just like after ordinary conditioner!!! No need for lemony water like after soda bicarbonate! And my hair felt better than after using "bc", just like with ordinary conditioner!! I am so happy!!! But why oh why, do all Indian women today use ordinary shampoo when they have access to such wonders of nature!?? Really the West is spoiling India more and more. If Indians throw away their rubbish outside and mounts of plastic have covered their poor country, it is because before they became in awe of anything western, they could throw their rubbish outside, because it was all natural!!! Like those wonderful earthen chai cups which are sadly being replaced everywhere with horrible plastic cups!!!

In summary, reetha is: cheap (about 10 Rs for at least 6 wash), ecological, natural, healthy, easy-to-use, and local!!! I really am gutted that it took me 6 years in India to find out about it!!!

So my poo-free adventure continues now with reetha, as well as soda bicarbonate. Actually I also found some (non-organic) apple cider vinegar in Varanasi, and although I will probably never buy any here again because it is imported from America (*blush*), I shall give it a try also. Finally I am very happy because I thought I had lost my wooden comb before coming back to India while I had actually just forgotten it at a friend's house, and she is now back in Varanasi with it! No more plastic comb from now on...

My hair almost 3 months after giving up shampoo, just after washing with reetha

More websites on going "poo-free" (en francais)

Joséphine au natur'elle
Poudres pour les cheveux

Monday, 14 October 2013

Durga Puja (on overwhelming Hindu rules and how it must feel to be an untouchable)

To read this entry, please email me to request an invitation.

If you already have an invitation, you can read the entry here.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Raga Rageshree on viola

Today a major event happened in my life as a musician: I made myself SHIVER whilst playing for the very first time!! It was an alap in raag Rageshree, which I was playing on the viola. I'm loving the viola more and more; its deep grave strings... Coupled with that heartbreaking shudh Ga... Wow, so deep, so beautiful! I just didn't want to stop playing, it was wonderful. A very new and rewarding feeling it was...

Monday, 16 September 2013

Death in India

To read this entry, please email me to request an invitation.

If you already have an invitation, you can read the entry here.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

On guru faith

With Guruji; first concerts (December 2010)
I was practising alaap (slow improvisation) on raga Bageshree tonight. I love Bageshree. It's amazing how one particular note becomes exciting in a certain raga, how colourful and poignant that note feels every time you play it. In Bageshree I absolutely love Dha (A/la). I guess that's progress! When I started learning to play alaap it was an absolute torture to practise improvisation; I would play 5 minutes and get sort of exhausted from playing, as though someone had been pulling emotions out of my heart or stripping me naked in public. It would sort of feel heavy in my tummy or I would sort of become short of breath and so had to stop. I couldn't certainly feel anything when I played alone. I was really intrigued about how some people could state that certain ragas have certain feelings attached to them. I mean of course it made sense; music is feeling, but I didn't know how a musician could bring out that feeling alone, just by him or herself. It's so much easier to feel music when you play with others. But in ragas, you can make yourself cry alone; this sounded just impossible. I would cry with discomfort more than any other feeling, because improvisation just made me choke with embarrassment, self-judgement. Today I feel like a knife plunges into my heart whenever I hear that Dha (A/la) in Bageshree. It's just so deep, so thick like velvet, so dense; I don't know just so full of a sharp sort of beauty.

I regularly use recordings of my violin teacher to play over his alaaps, to put myself into the mood of a raga, to be able to improvise better afterwards. Tonight again I did that, and then I tried to play over a recording of N. Rajam, too. The variety of styles within north Indian classical music is amazing... Some sounds which N. Rajam produces are just impossible to get from just hearing them. Her way of jumping between notes, her jerking kind of approach to a note, some of her ornaments... N. Rajam is probably the most famous north Indian classical violinist of our times; she's amazingly talented, amazingly sweet; her notes seem to transcend her skin. She's 75 years old now. I saw her in concert last year in November and her sound was so pure that it's pierced me right through the heart. Her violin cries; her melodies are warm and soft and sweet like honey. But tonight I realised that there really was no point in me trying to play over her alaaps. I guess the only sensical thing to do, violin in hands, is to listen to her so that I'll know straight away which notes she plays and thus I recognise the raga more easily, and so I understand that raga better the next time I hear it bare-handed, and so I can also understand how her style differs from that of my guru.

This insight urged me to write about guru faith. It's something I have been thinking about regularly yet I was never ready to write about it before. I know many Indian classical music students in Banaras who have had a number of teachers. I guess the most serious students I know have changed teacher at least once since they started learning Indian classical music. I've had some frustrated moments that made me consider checking out new teachers, but I really never want to leave Sukhdev completely for he will always remain my guru. Last year I took some classes with Narendra Mishra for two weeks while Sukhdev was away because I had been wanting to take violin classes with a singer for a while. I wanted to follow voice with my instrument, to express vocal through my violin. It was really interesting indeed; I absolutely loved the novelty I experienced through those classes; I loved discovering a new teaching approach, and I loved getting to know Narendra and spending time with him, because he is an amazingly sweet and honest soul. At the time I was thinking I could continue taking classes on vocal or sitar medium with Narendra from time to time because it would perhaps complement my training with Sukhdev.

Life got in the way; a year passed and I hardly saw Narendra again... until he came to visit Sukhdev during my very first violin class this season. It felt a bit funny to sit and practise at Guruji's house while Narendra was sitting next to me, but I was really happy to see him. He had come to hand out some invitation cards for an event he was organising a few days later, so I asked him if he too had any concerts lined-up, because I so love him as a musician. And he did! On 1st September I went to his concert; it was a very intimate one in a school a bit far away from my area of town, and it was at 9am, but it was well worth he effort! I had the amazing surprise to see that his nephew Shubh Maharaj (grandson of renowned Pt. Kishan Maharaj) was accompanying him on tabla, really bombastic and amazing for his young age, and it was a fantastic concert. While I was listening to Narendra's sitar though I realised how different his style is from Sukhdev's, and I realised I no longer had any interest in taking any classes with him. Sure it would be lovely play with and learn from him if the occasion somehow arose, but I don't want to go to him as a student again. I wouldn't see the point now; it would just confuse me. I guess this experience led me to understand what I really wanted to learn: to accompany vocalists. And that's what I am actually doing with the children in Khajuraho!

I think I am also a very faithful and loyal person. I love being dedicated to just one person; dedicated solely to my guru in the same way that I am utterly and totally dedicated to the man I love. Perhaps "cheating" on Sukhdev with Narendra made me understand that cheating with another teacher was just the same as cheating on the man you love. I didn't really cheat - perhaps it was just like a polyamory experience because I told Sukhdev straight away that I was going to take classes with Narendra for a while and he was fine with it. Sukhdev always says I have to make my own experience, go and see for myself. Of course I love to play with other people, other musicians, but that's a different story because those musicians are not my "official" teachers. I guess it's quite simple: Your guru is like your husband. Another teacher is like having an affair. Other musicians with whom you play are like friends. I can have friends but I won't be having an affair again!

With a husband you learn to grow together; you build trust, life as one. Difficult times are but opportunities to make your relationship more loving and beautiful, and if you have the maturity to communicate with honesty and respect, with perseverance you'll go through them together to come out stronger and more devoted towards one another. And in India, your husband is your god and your wife is your goddess. With a guru it's the same. Guru is way more than a music teacher; you touch his/her feet in respect which, it is said, helps you progress faster because you "take" some of your guru's energy in the process. I don't know if this is literally true, and it took me a long time to do it because although I find this gesture extremely beautiful it used to make me feel very uncomfortable. Still, today I certainly feel that being close and devoted to my guru helps me progress on the violin and I even feel that devotion is as important as violin practice (as long as it is honest). So your relationship to your guru is a deep one which you build, develop and maintain. In India you get to know all of your guru's family; you even become part of his family. In addition to my guru's blood family, all of his students have become my brothers and sisters, and the students of my guru's brothers my cousins. I guess I feel that more with my Indian "siblings" because they follow and feel the guru parampara (guru tradition) a lot more than my European "siblings".

In India, you also have to serve your guru. For instance my Indian "siblings" massage Guruji regularly. The first time I saw this (4 students, two massaging each of his arms and and two massaging his legs) I thought this was really too much, but this is common practice! I still have a (big) issue with massaging my guru; I guess it's the touching and I'm hopeless at massage anyway, but I serve him in different ways, more western or educated ways I guess, like giving him reiki, designing his website, doing translation work for some of his projects, helping him on the computer... I think we Westerners have a big issue with "selfless service", because our society is very individualistic, and we often associate devotion with blind religion. But I love serving my guru and I do it heartily. One of my "cousins" still follows the authentic tradition; which is a rarity nowadays: he lives (part-time) in his guru's home for free in return of which he performs many daily tasks for the family, like when the family wives send him out for shopping, looking after instruments, being a concert assistant etc. Living in the guru's home, again, from immersing yourself with his presence, with his energy and the energy of the ancestral tradition, allows you to progress faster. At the moment my "cousin" also looks after his guru's (dying) father, our "grand-guru"... Sometimes I wish I would do it too, like feed this aged man who used to be an amazing sarangi player and for whom I have great respect...

A guru's students also offer him/her his selfless service (that's called seva) during concerts. They carry their guru's instrument and the tanpura to and off the stage, and the guru's concert is part of his/her students training so they have a special place to sit near him/her. I absolutely love this, because you sometimes get the chance to come close to wonderful musicians. This is the groupie side of learning Indian music! And I have ALWAYS been a groupie! When I lived in Europe I used to only listen to alternative music and small musicians, so somehow whenever I would go to concerts I could come close to my favourite musicians if I wanted, and I always loved being able to express my love and gratitude towards those people who played the music that moved me. I loved going towards them after concerts, even if I felt too shy to speak, just to look at them closely and feel their presence, and I have even hugged a number of my favourites! Many of my friends used to say "Hey, you're such a groupie!" and I used to be shy and ashamed to admit liking to approach my favourite musicians (silly mind!) but the truth was always that I LOVED LOVED LOVED it so much. Today I live in India and being a groupie doesn't get me called an "arse-licker", it is common practice when you learn classical music!!! And it's amazing because you even get to play with your favourite musicians, and I'm the luckiest of all because my favourite Indian music musician is my teacher! In India your favourite band or singer can become your teacher! Just imagine going to meet Devendra Banhart after a concert and asking him to teach you the guitar, hey!? How great would that be!? So I have come to terms with my groupyness thanks to Indian classical music and thanks to my dear guru - well, I have come to terms with many things thanks to Indian classical music and my guru! ♥

I don't know if I have "the" ideal relationship with my musical guru, but I certainly know that I have a very beautiful relationship to him. I am very lucky indeed because not only is he a fantastic musician (and apart from N. Rajam I have yet never heard an Indian classical violinist whom I liked equally or more than him), but he is also a great and encouraging teacher, and a very fun and cool guy! I know he's not perfect and he's certainly not my "life" guru; he's my "musical" guru only. I wouldn't throw myself outside of a window if he told me to do so, but I never refuse to do some work for him if he needs it, I hardly ever miss his concerts if he plays near me (I wonder how many times I have seen him in concerts actually; more than 100!?), and I feel enormous respect, enormous gratitude, and deep unconditional love towards him... With him I have not only grown to be a musician and even a violin teacher myself, I have also grown to be a healthier human being, I have challenged my deepest fears and made my wildest dream come true, I have become part of an(other!) Indian family and dived into the most ancient of Indian (musical) traditions...

With your devoted husband you grow as a human being, you build a relationship and a life together which it would be immature to shatter just for the excitement of novelty or entertainment or for the fear of going through hardship. Likewise, with my guru I have grown (and am still growing) as a human being; all the difficulties I went through with him were opportunities for me to grow and the frustrated moments have passed thanks to honesty, communication and perseverance. With my guru I have been building a profound, beautiful relationship which I am devoted to nurture, because I feel the relationship I have with him is as important as the music I learn - the relationship I have with him gives more depth and meaning to the music I learn with him. The additional techniques I could learn by going for another teacher would never make up for the loss of a beautiful, deep and growing relationship. With one you dig in and deeper you grow; with too many nowhere you go.

Monday, 2 September 2013

A (fun) example of Indian bureaucracy


To update my address in my bank pass-book.


Thursday evening-
1) Ask landlord for a letter & a copy of his phone bill. Wait 15 minutes, get it.

Friday morning-
2) Cycle to the bank (crossing the overflowing river that has reached the road on the way). Meet the branch manager. Manager ponders, ask if my landlord has an account in this bank for security check. Phone landlord; the answer is no. Manager ponders, asks another few questions. "I need a photocopy of your landlord's pan-card", manager says. Phone landlord; he's away til Sunday. OK, I'll come back to the bank on Monday. Cycle back through the overflowing river and get home.

Sunday afternoon-
3) Get pan-card photocopy from landlord.

4) 10:30am - Cycle through the overflowing river and to the bank. Go to the manager's office; show him the pan-card photocopy of my landlord.

5) Manager: "But he hasn't signed his letter! I can't do anything til I get a signature of your landlord that matches the one on his pan-card." "You're an educated lady, you should know that a letter should be signed to be valid" etc. etc.

6) Get frustrated. "But he wrote it himself, and some people's signatures are just their name in writing, how could I know!?"! "Being angry is not good", says manager. "I know. I'm OK, I'm just human" says I. Calm down. Get out of the office. Retaining my tears of frustration, phone landlord - thank God he's home; he was about to get out in 10 minutes but he will wait for me.

7) 11:00am - Cycle through the overflowing river (& the Indian traffic) back home; get landlord's signature.

8) 11:30am - Cycle through the overflowing river and back to the bank for the second time. Sit down in front of the manager; hand him the landlord's letter with his signature. Wait in manager's office.

9) Manager goes to his employee's desk and instructs her to update my details and issue a new passbook. Wait.

10) Get my new passbook. Go back to manager's office to get it signed by him. "And now say thank you!" says manager. "Thank you, dhanyavad, bahut dhanyavad", says I, smiling away.

11) 12:30 - Cycle through the overflowing river and back home. Cook lunch. Eat lunch. Getting ready to photocopy the front page of my passbook; open passbook - my address was typed erroneously. ARGH!!! OK, it was my fault too I should have checked. Actually getting amused wondering what the manager will look like when he sees my face approach his office again.

12) 14:00 - Cycle back through the overflowing river and the Indian traffic and to the bank for the third time. Check-out the manager's eyes growing in size as I approach the office. Sit down in front of his desk. 3-4 people are waiting for some work to get done - as usual manager deals with all customers at the same time. "The address is wrong", I say. Still calm(ish). Wait.

13) After a while, the manager looks at my passbook. "What now?", he asks. "The address was typed wrongly", says I. "Ok ok. My colleague is having her lunch. We have to wait for her. She will make a correction on the second page of your passbook", says he. I feel anger rise again. "No no, I want a new passbook! I need a strong proof of address for some official work, I want it to look right!" "I've been coming three times! I had so much to do today I have done nothing at all!" Letting anger out trying to control myself. "It's not good to get angry." says manager. "I am a human being, kind sir. Humans do get angry from time to time, no?"

14) Calm down. Wait for others customers to get dealt with, focusing on my breath...

15) After a wee while... "Smile!" says manager. I look at him; I'm calm but I can't possibly let a smile out. "Anger is not good; but lying is also not good, right sir? So If I smiled I'd be lying, and that's not good either!" says I. "Actually, that's quite true", says manager. I burst out laughing. In the meantime, the other customers have left and I'm alone with the manager.

16) "Haha." smiles manager, in a "See, you're smiling!" kind of look! "You know, there used to be 6 employees in this office. Now we are only 3 people and I'm the only officer. See this pile of paperwork on my desk; but I never get angry. In my life, I just want to give, give, give" says he, moving his hands eagerly in the air... "No take, just give... That's what Jesus used to say no?"

17) "Uh?!" I say; I didn't understand what he said because of his accent. "Jesus" he repeats. "Ah OK! Jesus; hm I guess; I don't know." "You don't know??" asks manager in disbelief. "Nah, I never had any religious education. Actually I know more about Hinduism than Christianity".

18) More talking about how to be a good human being. Getting more and more amused by his funny wig-looking like hair style and his slightly gay-looking expressions and gestures.

19) Manager gets up and goes to the toilet just besides his office. Half a minute later he comes back and proceeds to open his lunch box. "I'm just going to get some water', says I. "No no!" says manager. "I have some water. Here you take it. You can drink from above, right?" - "Yep". Pour water into my mouth without touching the bottle.

20) "Please I won't let you go without sharing a chapati with me; just one." says manager. "No no, thanks that's very kind; I've just had my lunch sir". "Oh please, says manager. Just one chapati!" A bit embarrassed but impressed with myself for having shouted at him earlier and now getting to share his lunch (!), I come round his desk, take a chapati, dip it in his paneer (cheese) dish." Yum! While biting my chapati, I look outside of the office and see a surprised customer looking at the foreign lady sharing the bank manager's lunch.

21) "Who made this?" ask I. " My Mrs made it." says manager. Manager proceeds to ask me about my family, tells me his daughter lives in America; his wife works in a bank like him, and "You speak very good Hindi; where did you learn? etc. etc.

22) Manager gets up; his employee is back from her lunch and has come into the office. Manager hands her a small pile of paper, including my passbook. "Please issue a new passbook for the lady; the address is wrong." Employee looks surprised that she'll have to issue a whole new passbook for me but complies. I follow her to her desk. Wait 5 minutes. Get my new passbook. I check it; the address is right.

23) Get back to manager's office. He signs my passbook. Big smile. "Thank you sir, bye"....

24) 15:35pm - Cycle through the overflowing river and the Indian traffic and back home. Sigh. 4pm. Horrah! I have my new passbook! And I SHARED THE BANK MANAGER'S LUNCH IN HIS OFFICE!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! I LOVE INDIA!!!!

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Banaras floods 2013

At the very beginning of August, although it hasn't rained very much in Varanasi this year, the Ganges river burst its banks onto the edges of the Holy City. This is due to the floods which devastated Himachal Pradesh earlier in June...

I went to Khajuraho on 31 July, just missing the floods, and the river retrieved back into its bed. After a few days however, Ganga rose again, dramatically this time and for at least three weeks. The south of the city (Nagwa, Lanka, Samne Ghat) was most deeply affected, with many unfortunate families losing their houses and all their belongings in the floods... Although this was obviously a tragedy for many, some people got very excited by the floods because they had never ever seen anything like it, and I too really wanted to see them. I came back to Varanasi on 28 August, and after dropping my bags home the first thing I did was to go for a wander from Assi Ghat to the Main Ghat to see the river and take pictures...

I firstly walked to see my most familiar landmarks around Assi Ghat. The water had reached the beginning of the lane of my old guesthouse. My mouth dropped open when I saw Ashish Cafe and the Assi steps... After that, on the main road I walked to Shivala, to climb onto the rooftop of my friends' house, who live by the river there. Next I really wanted to see Harischandra Ghat, because it was my first home in Varanasi. I was in total shock when I saw how far up the water had come there... I dared into the dirty water and squeezed into a narrow lane that was still dry; I wanted to see where the cremations were happening, in such little space. But life never stops in India, even in the biggest tragedies, and so the wood was stored in the street, and cremations crammed into a tiny round lane behind some dilapidated family homes by the river. I managed to squeeze past the crowd of watching men onto the side of the lane, somehow, to reach to the river. I had to climb onto mounts of mud and shit and bamboo sticks and lean onto a burning hot stone wall. Three bodies were burning in a 3-meter-squared space; I could hardly breathe.

Like me, many people had come to see the river gone mad, with a mixture of love, admiration and fear. They admired the power of their beloved Mother-River, yet for the first time in their lives it seemed to me that they feared it, as it had devastated many families; and how far up would the waters still rise?... Along my way all the people I met were kind and helpful telling me where the water was least high and which way I could go; helpful in the way that when tragedy happens you're all part of the same boat (no pun intended) and it brings you closer...

It was amazing to see a Varanasi in such a new light, so familiar yet completely different somehow. And fascinating and scary to imagine that below the water it was not sand and stones that lied, but familiar steps, walkways, temples, shops, and houses engulfed into nothingness. Despite the tragedy, people enjoy the novelty this bring into their lives. You see naked kids splashing one another with water on the sides of the road. You try having fun slowly cycling in 50cm-high water without knowing when you'll hit a hole in the road and fall off your bike. If you walk you don't know exactly what you'll meet in the thick dirty waters - cow shit, plastic bags, stones? You see cars and rickshaws producing a wake pattern as though they were boats... Of course the photos I have posted below hardly depict what I have seen with my own eyes...

The water has retrieved considerably since I took these pictures, but God knows what the future brings...

To see the rest of the pictures, click here.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

One month without shampoo!

Today I have not been using shampoo for a whole month. This is the beginning of the story.

I think my hair was at its greasiest about 2-3 weeks after I stopped shampoo, just like I read on most websites. I have now got used to using soda bicarbonate with water to wash my hair followed by lemony water for conditioning. The first two times I didn't get it quite right, so my hair didn't feel very clean, but the third time round I added a tiny bit more bicarbonate in the water, and I massaged my scalp better, and I was very happy with the result. After a good rinse I poured the lemony water onto my head, combed my hair and rinsed it well with water; it really is a great conditioner! My hair after that was the cleanest it had been since I had stopped shampoo, almost like with shampoo. I guess it hasn't been as extremely smooth and shining (yet) as it used to get, but as the days pass it is getting better and better.

So far, then, I've been rinsing and massaging my scalp with water everyday, and I've been washing it with soda bicarbonate & lemon water every 4-6 days. I also comb my hair everyday with a clean comb. Over time it does seem like my hair greases less quickly. Today I've not used the bicarbonate for 4 days and it still feels pretty clean.

I've also noticed that my hair feels better than it used to be under just water. Before, if one day I just rinsed it with water, like when the weather is too hot and I need to refresh my head, my hair felt quite "sticky" and tangled while I rinsed it - a bit like when I used soap. Now my hair feels softer and more pleasant to touch.

I am extremely happy with this new experience and I definitely want to keep it up. I don't know if the transition phase is over, but so far it has been a lot less difficult than I thought it would be. It's great to be able to tie my hair up, and India is definitely a great place to do the "poo-free" experience, since Indian people's hair always look greasy with oil anyway so no-one has noticed anything, but then it's not even that bad!

I wonder how my hair will be in the days and months to come - will I really, like my friends, only need to clean my hair once in a while, and will water otherwise be enough to keep it clean? We shall see...

My hair after 1 month of going "poo-free", in the morning of the 5 days of rinsing with water

More informative (and convincing!) pages:
Beyond no poo only with water
“No Poo Shampoo” Story: Shampoo Free from Now On! - with photos!
Extra thoughts on going "no-poo"

Friday, 23 August 2013

More on my music routine in Khajuraho

I don't know what I would do without my music routine in Khajuraho. I love it so, so much!

I have learnt a bit about accepting "doing nothing" in India and I have learnt a lot about patience, but there is just no way I can sit for too long doing nothing, and in Khajuraho I have to keep myself busy. I just could never live like a typical Indian woman, with my only work being domestic chores, my only "hobby" wearing sarees and combinations of shiny bracelets, and when I have free time just to sit, gossip about family or the past, or lie down and take naps. I need creative and artistic fulfillment, constant learning and personal growth! In the house I still don't have free access in the kitchen so I still don't cook. That's at least three hours of free time in the morning. I help a bit with domestic chores now, but mainly just filling the bathroom's buckets with water, mopping the floor in the afternoon (not my favourite!), and a few things like putting dry clothes away or tidying beds. So most of the day, if I don't keep myself busy I just get mad. When I'm idle for too long, like when there's family visiting and I feel I need to spend time with them but they speak far too quickly in Bundelkhandi and I get tired listening and I have nothing to say so I just sit there, eventually my energy level dramatically drops and my mind clutters up with crap like worries about the future or judgement about traditional Indian life.

Most mornings I get up at 7:30 and upon wakening I do 1 to 1 1/2 hours of yoga. It took me a long time to feel comfortable doing yoga around the family, like I described in this post, but I have no problem now, and the family have got used to it and they respect my space. After yoga I usually check my emails on Vijay's phone whilst sipping the chai Sister or Mother have made for me, and I also have fruits with or without leftover chapatis.

After my shower, I then go to practise my violin in the downstairs room. At the moment I also write a lot on my computer, so I devote most of my days to writing or practising violin. Even more than with yoga, for a long time I was too shy to practise violin within the family and in front of visiting neighbours or relatives, but now it has become normal to me. I think family and friends still think I should practise Bollywood songs rather than boring alankars (exercises; alankar means "ornament") and obscure ragas, but that's OK. Violin is my best friend in Khajuraho after Vijay. If I feel crap and lonely and misunderstood, after half-an-hour of violin I forget everything and my mood lifts. I actually think I'm a bit autistic in many ways: I don't like looking at people in the eyes when I speak to them and look at their mouth instead; I feel uncomfortable with small talk; I take things seriously and miss out on some jokes because I take things literally; I'm geeky and passionate about things like grammar and languages and writing geeky violin posts. And I absolutely love repetitive violin exercises and can practise the same scale with its variations for a whole hour. When they are distressed, autistic people use repetitive movements or sounds to make themselves feel better, and I recently realised how comforting these repetitive scales feel to me... All about getting back to focus on the present moment, of course.

But it's not always easy for me, because the family doesn't understand music. All they listen to is Bollywood music, and whenever they sing along it's so out of tune that it makes my stomach turn. Actually, I think 95% of the Indian population just listens to Bollywood songs, because that's the only pop music they have access to, and especially it's the only music they appreciate. For most people in rural India learning music has no value. "What would you learn music for? - Earn money to buy your food and survive." So I regularly feel lonely because they don't appreciate Indian classical music (or generally what I would call quality music as opposed to entertainment), and I also feel uncomfortable being anti-social or practising for too long while the women of the house spend time on domestic chores. I know the discomfort is only a product of my own mind, but I need to get out and breathe, breathe the fresh air of my freedom and independence. Women don't go out much, and there's not much to do outside of the house here, so I don't go outside much either, but I sometimes feel trapped like an Indian woman, especially if I'm idle for too long.

In the beginning I felt uncomfortable every day telling Vijay's mother I was going out for something useless like music class, but when some obvious payoffs manifested like being invited to play devotional songs in temples or national folk music for Independence day and even winning two articles in the local newspaper, the family praised me and my going out for music class has now become a daily part of life. So everyday, usually in the evening, I go out for 3-4 hours, and it's pure bliss to have a meaningful reason to get outside the house, and especially to spend time with people who understand the meaning and value of musical practice. I guess it's the first time I have my social sphere in tiny Khajuraho, thanks to the only man who teaches music here, a good-hearted and honest man not obsessed with earning money! Trivedi works his arse off to survive from his poorly-paid teaching, but he does it with love and humility. I go to his house everyday; a house in which each child learns music. I teach violin to his son of 18, who used to be the only one of three children who didn't sing or play an instrument, and who I think used to feel a little ashamed for it. His sister sings and plays harmonium, while his younger brother plays tabla, but Akhilesh tried tabla for 2 years and "his hands didn't work right", says his father, so he stopped, and he never managed to sing in tune either. But with me he learns a very difficult instrument and very fast, and his hands and arms are definitely working for the violin! Thanks to his life-long exposition to music he also has a much better ear than he thinks. He is a motivated and dedicated young man, too; every time before practice he touches his violin and takes his hand to his heart like he would touch the feet of a saint in respect. A shy model boy and the perfect student.

Recently I gave my pupil his first sliding alankar. That's playing the scale on one single string sliding from note to note, which demands a very good ear and a lot of practice. So I decided it was time to get him to sing also, because you need to have the tune in your head so your fingers will reach the notes right, to strengthen the connection between your ear and your fingers. I guess he had probably been too shy to sing in front of his authoritative father, and God knows I used to be shy singing myself. So I figured I would get him to sing only 5-10 minutes before taking the violin, only 5-10 minutes but everyday, and when his father was away to start with. And I would not show any sign of judgement or scolding, only repetition, patience and love. I began with getting him to catch the SA (base note) of the tanpura (drone) machine, then to sing the straight scale up and down, which he managed quite quickly. Just a few days later I started teaching him jumping between different sets of notes - from SA (do) to PA (sol) and up to upper SA, then back down to PA and SA, and then going back down and up the scales, and jumping from SA to GA to PA and down etc. In just two weeks he has made massive progress! I absolutely love teaching my pupil, because it is the first time I teach with such regularity, and I know I can achieve a lot because I will be here for many years so we have time to get somewhere together. The most beautiful of all is that I am absolutely free to teach in the way I want, just using my intuition, my spontaneity, my love. There is no money involved, since I receive classes from his father in return, so everyday I feel like my classes and my time, are a gift; a present I offer him with my heart, and I know he is a very lucky boy to get so much attention from a teacher! Obviously I too am lucky, because I learn a lot in the process, and teaching is very gratifying, especially seeing how fast he progresses! Today for the first time he sang an alankar that we play on the violin; something he had never managed to do before...

After my class at Trivedi's home I walk to the music school to accompany the children during their class. I don't interfere in the class; I don't talk much; I just play, and I certainly don't want to just appear like a "serious adult" to the children. Teachers in rural India are very old-fashioned, and education doesn't seem to imply much more than learning things by heart. Children have to repeat what they are told; if they make a mistake they get a slap, and the weakest ones seem to just learn from fear. I feel dedicated to (subtly) show the children that you can be studious and childish at the same time, and that learning can be fun. I often pull funny faces in class (I can't help it!) which makes the children laugh and thus feel more comfortable, especially if the teacher has scolded them for their lack of practice. In the children's class I am learning two main things - the first, to accompany the singing girls by ear. It's easy yet very good practice and wonderful meditation, and it gives me an insight into new ragas. Secondly, when it's the boys' turn to show what they've practiced at home on tabla, I give them the lahara (a simple melody repeated in cycles) that accompanies their theka (rhythm cycle) or I play traditional songs with them. I sometimes used to wonder if what I did in that school was not too easy for me (that Western judging mind...), but the immersion and the company of the children made me happy so of course I kept going. Recently though, I have started something new: with the tunes I know best, some new harmonies have been coming to me. Harmony is what I miss most from European music in Indian music; here, two musicians or a singer and his/her accompanist will always play the same tune without any variations whatsoever. I always thought Indian music would be even more amazing if sometimes harmonies were involved - though of course I have no ambition to challenge century-old tradition, just to sprinkle a few harmonies in simple folk songs to bring some light into them...

And every evening when I go back home from music school I feel joy in my heart, a wonderful sense of peace and achievement, and renewed energy which makes me want to hug the whole world.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Post-shamanic testimonial

I initially contacted Kefah, not because I thought I needed a healing, but because I was very eager to find out about my past lives.

Once I passed the gate of her house, the peace and light which emanated from her courtyard literally stunned me, and as soon as I stepped into the therapy room, the warmth and comfort that wrapped me made me feel certain that I had found the right place. Kefah was just like I had found her on her website's picture: calm, loving and reassuring.

First of all we sat together for me to go through my intentions to come to see her, and for her to give me some insight into the procedure we would be going through. At first I was very reluctant to tell her too much about myself, not because I didn't trust her, but because I was tightly holding onto some stupid promise I had made to myself: not to tell her anything about myself that would help her "guess" about my past lives, to make sure she was an authentic shaman. I had heard and read about shamanism before, and I have quite a few close friends familiar to such practices, but I had absolutely no shamanic experience myself, so part of me wanted to "test" her, although I knew it was stupid, and certainly I knew that this close-mindedness would not help her! For a good thirty minutes I tried to go round talking about what had brought me to her without revealing anything actual about myself. Then something clicked; I realised that my attitude would lead us to no-where and most importantly that she wouldn't be doing the work but only guide me through the work *I* would be doing. So I opened my heart, told her my background story and my intentions honestly, and wow I felt a lot lighter! I ended my story with some tears in my eyes already...

Then Kefah invited me to lie down in shavasana (relaxation pose) on the mat in the middle of the room, and I closed my eyes. She started burning some sage, whose fragrance immersed me into an extraordinary sense of peace. Gosh I absolutely loved that smell, so very intense yet so soothing! The first thing Kefah told me to do was to imagine/visualise myself in a peaceful place of my choice. I don't know whether it was the burning sage, or Kefah's drumming which was going to accompany me throughout the entire procedure, but I felt my body sink very heavily into the floor as soon as I had found my peaceful place. I was deeply impressed, firstly because this sensation was extremely pleasant, secondly because although I have being practising regular yoga and meditation for about 10 years, I had never felt such a strong sensation in shavasana ever before. Finally, although I see myself as quite a spiritual being, visualisation, contact with spirits and going into trance were either practices I had never managed to achieve or experiences I had never had. But clearly something was happening there...

During the whole session Kefah and I communicated a lot - she would tell me what to do or where to "go", and I would tell her what I experienced or felt. Her presence was very reassuring throughout the journey. I found it difficult to find my spiritual guide(s), so Kefah took over this part of the work and I had to do the rest - embrace my sensations, my feelings, my emotions, and let her know what was happening... And Spirit clearly didn't see fit for me to go through my past lives; instead S/He sent me another kind of work altogether. Basically I went through some important issues I had with some of my dearest ones. My guide sent me in front of these people, and my work during the spiritual journey was to face them one by one. At no point during the session did I feel disappointed because I wouldn't learn anything about my past lives. I knew the work was going to be difficult, and I cried A LOT during the session (pretty much the whole time!) but I felt I was doing some very necessary and important work indeed. Throughout the entire process, I remember thinking - or rather *feeling*, because it was a kind of "wordless thinking", more like an impression - that what I was going through was really quite mental, and how weird it was that Life had taken me onto this mat with this woman I didn't know, to open myself up to her completely so she would help me go though the depth of my subconscious - many people in my position would have freaked out and run away! But at the same time I had absolutely NO doubt, and it was more than just having no doubt, it was the utter, complete, absolute conviction that I was in the right place, doing the right work, with the right person at that very moment. That feeling stayed with me during the whole session.

When I woke up from my state of meditation I was completely exhausted. I had cried so much that my eyes were burning and my head aching. I slowly gathered myself up and went back to sit on the couch with Kefah so that we would talk about the journey. My tears didn't stop; they kept running slowly down my cheeks as I spoke, in between some deep breaths. I was fine; I just had to let the crying happen until it was happy to end. Kefah told me I had done really well, and that made me cry some more (with happiness!) I felt so much love in her words, a kind of motherly reassuring love, and I knew she was right. Although I was an emotional wreck, I was very grateful, because profound issues had left me with all those tears, and I thought the journey I had gone through with Kefah was a very beautiful one - in just two hours I had stripped my heart open for her to get into it so she would "share my space", as she would say, and it had brought us quite close together! Although I had not received what my mind had wanted (to get to see my past lives), my heart knew that the deep healing I had just received was a lot more important to me at this point in my life, and I was very lucky that Life had brought me to it somehow! As I was leaving, Kefah called me back to give me a bunch of sage, which felt like the kindest gesture on earth...


Exactly a month has passed since my journey with Kefah, and I met with those loved ones for the first time since my shamanic experience ten days ago. At first I didn't feel any different, but as the days have passed I have realised that I actually feel a lot lighter in their presence, which allows me to be a lot more open towards them. Those things or words which used to weigh on and bring me down actually have a lot less power than I used to think they had, hence they no longer clutter my mind, or if they do I know better how to find peace again, so I can let go and find solutions more quickly... Needless to say it feels wonderful! Kefah's healing was a miracle...

Friday, 9 August 2013

Music classes in an old palace

I have been going to music classes in Khajuraho for a whole year now, yet I have hardly written anything about it.

The school which hosts our music classes is basically an old palace that was built over 500 years ago and in which its maharaja still lived in the early 80s. It is not huge, but quite frankly it looks magnificent: an ancient Indian palace with a high alcove-shaped tower in its centre and four smaller ones at each of its corners, reminding of a thick, dirty Taj Mahal. When you come towards the school from the market (town centre) you can see it from quite a distance, as it is higher than all the shops that have grown on the square around it. Way before I started coming here for music class I would admire the monument's grace every time I saw it, thinking how great it would have been to be a school kid in there. Time has soiled the whiteness of the building stone with big black stains, but then, dirt on buildings and walls is very much responsible for India's beauty; that beauty of things not perfect which actually makes them perfect as they are, just like us human beings. And that school is just that. It's ancient and dilapidated, but it looks, and especially it feels amazing, as the pores of each of its walls are impregnated with ancient, mysterious history...

The main gate gives way onto a courtyard around which the monument was built, with another smaller building in the centre of its premises, in which some the king's furniture and belongings are still kept today. I'm not sure how much of the building is used by the school; the king's descendants still live in one part of the building, and strangely a restaurant has been opened on the second and only floor on the entrance side. Hidden by a beautiful, dense tree, the music room is located across the courtyard in the corner right part of the palace.

For the first of my rehearsal sessions with the school girls for Independence Day, the music teacher asked me to come at 11am, although the girls only turned up after 12:00. In the meantime I was invited to sit in the school office, right next-door to the music room. It is quite a small room, perhaps 3x5 meters. In each of its thick stone walls one of those typical shelves has been built, in which Indians used to keep oil lamps in the pre-electricity era. The room looks very rustic. None of its walls is straight and perfectly perpendicular; instead they follow rough lines and their edges are rounds, and they have been painted in the brightest pink! As expected one can still see each stroke of the brush with which the walls were painted. About one meter away from the white, rounded ceiling, a thick stone shelf surrounds the entire room, as is common in many old Indian houses for storage space. On two opposite sides of this shelf sit no less that five huge posters of Sarasvati, the goddess of culture and education, magnificent in her white and yellow saree and with her veena instrument, surrounded by cheap, shiny plastic frame. On one side of the shelf in between two of the Sarasvati posters also stands a similarly framed painting of Mahatma Gandhi, clearly fatter and broader than he actually was. The fan hangs from a thick rod that crosses the ceiling. The main furniture of the room includes two metal shelves and two tables, both covered with checkered cloths and clotted with piles of papers. Behind the table closest to the entrance door sits a man with a thick mustache and black died hair, almost blue. He just sits there doing nothing and looks as though he is staring into the emptiness of his mind. When someone comes into the room, his speech reveals his missing front teeth. For a whole hour I sat on a thick wooden chair by the entrance of this room, with my viola on my left rested on a bench covered with some sort of dirty beige fur. The hour passed quickly as I carefully studied every detail of the room, the spectacle of which still seemed completely surreal to me after over half a decade in India. It literally felt like I had flown back hundreds of years - well, except for the laptop on the table, that is...

When all the girls had arrived, the music teacher came in and called me for rehearsal. Like the office, the music room also measures about 3 by 5 meters, but it has absolutely no furniture, except for an old brown plastic stool, which actually used to be a beige plastic chair. I don't know when its old rough walls were last painted as their dirty white paint falls down in patches and big brown stains on their bottoms surrounds the entire room. Quite a few framed pictures rest high up on top of the stone border which surrounds the room, including two Sarasvatis that are the only ones slightly clean. One can hardly distinguish the rest of the frames' contents, as they have long faded in the sun and they are covered in thick, brown cobwebs. A few of their plastic covers are completely ripped. On the left side of the entrance a blackboard seems to have been carved into the wall. Like the walls, the blackboard isn't a neat rectangle but follows rough lines and round edges. The ground is even rougher than the walls with patches of its stone coming off in places. God knows when it was last swept. To sit on, five narrow mats of the length of the room have been spread on the floor, whose fabric looks like that of a rough potato bag. The room is dark, as it only has one window in the wall facing the courtyard, barred with thick prison-type grids, but the door is open at all times during class to give it more sunlight. The inbuilt shelves that were used to keep oil-lamps years ago are now used as storage space for the single pair of tablas - one drum per shelf. The dholak is kept on top of the stone shelf below the ceiling, amongst a pile of other random dusty stuff including two old bicycle wheels, and the harmonium is simply kept below the blackboard in one corner of the room on top of a wooden box which contains the music books. That's it! All other classes resemble this one. The pupils in their white and blue uniforms sit crossed-legged on the floor and write in the books on their lap while the teacher stands at the blackboard to lead his/her class. In the music school of course both pupils and teacher sit on the floor, as all Indian instruments are played crossed-legged. I usually sit on the teacher's left near the blackboard facing the pupils.

The music class I usually attend is the one that is held after school in the evening from 6 to 8, and it is open to any child (or adult) wanting to study music - vocal and harmonium (mostly girls) or tablas (all boys). The fee is 200 rupees per month, that's about £1.50 or €2.50. The music teacher is a resident teacher of the establishment and also one of its Hindi teachers. For the occasion of Independence day, about 10 girls from this school will be performing some national and traditional songs, accompanied by a dholak, an harmonium, bells and my violin, so I am going for rehearsal during school time everyday around noon, and will do so until 15 August. At that time of day the school is obviously packed with pupils of all ages, and I become a pole of attraction for curious children. As I pass the school's gate and cross the courtyard, the smallest children around me shout "Hello Madam!"s on my way to the music room. I only usually reply by pulling silly faces at them, because it saves me from having to speak, and the surprise of an unexpected mode of communication amuses them greatly. The first days of rehearsal as we started playing, children and mothers (?) quickly gathered to cram themselves in front of both the door and window; they listened to and stared at my instrument for the whole session...

It is difficult to express what I feel in such moments. The incredible setting, coupled with so much attention is quite ecstatic; I enjoy it, although I don't take it personally. I too like to look at their faces and their eyes while I play; I wish I would smile more whilst playing but all I can manage is an occasional shy smile from one corner of my mouth. I certainly don't mind them staring at me; it must be fascinating to hear an instrument for the first time and I certainly would look at it with as much curiosity in my eyes if I was in their position... I guess it is mostly respect and love that I feel, and I often wonder why this is happening to me...

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Health of a violin

I had been quite distressed for a few days about my violin's pegs being stuck into its swollen neck. Two or three days ago I emailed Steve, the maker of my violin, to let him know about the state of the violin, and to ask him for some advice on how to clean its wood because it was dirty and grubby and sticky. When I received his reply I realised that I had been over-dramatic. He said he was really sorry that my violin had gone "downhill" and that he would think about it. The following day, he sent me a long message entitled "DIY hot climate varnish rescue plan" in which he told me in great details how I could make some emergency varnish by mixing some linseed oil with some turpentine oil and using my fingers to rub it into the violin. I was very impressed with how seriously he had taken my problem and how he had been thinking it over to find some solutions, except that I would never be able to find these types of oil in India!

The next day two strings of my viola snapped because I'd been playing it too high. I got really upset, since I only had one spare set of viola strings with me. I decided to change them all because I had never done in over 5 years. But this meant that I really had to play the viola lower than D to keep its strings going for as long as possible, which also meant that I really needed to get the violin's pegs moving to be able to play it in D again!

Everyone here advised me to hang my violin in the heat to get the wood to deflate, but I really didn't like the idea. My violin comes from Scotland, where the weather is COLD!!! I only trusted my friend Lolo's advice to place my violin in an air-conditioned room for a few hours, since she'd had the same problem last year with her clarinet and that was the way the wood of her instrument had deflated. But where would I have access to an AC room here? Could I ask the manager of a posh hotel to let him keep my violin for half-a-day? Could I hang my violin in the bank, which is air-conditioned? Or would I have to sit for hours in an ATM booth with my violin in my arms explaining all the ATM-users why I was sitting in there with an instrument?? I wasn't sure why the wood had swollen though - was it the heat, or was it the humidity, or was it both? I wrote an email to Steve again to ask him what he thought. One neighbour told me I should place my violin underneath a lit bulb for a while. We tried that, as it sounded slightly (only slightly!) safer to me that placing it under the Indian sun. After perhaps 1-2 hours nothing had changed and we were going to leave it overnight, but just before going to bed I went to switch off the bulb and put my violin back into his case because I really felt uncomfortable with it.

The next night I dreamt that I had been hanging my violin in the bank and after one or two hours the pegs had started moving again. When I woke up I remembered how much I had been enjoying the sensation of the pegs moving into their holes as I was tuning the violin again... I don't know if you can call it a premonition; I don't think I'm good at premonitions anyway, but my violin is fine again today. Not thanks to an AC room, but to our carpenter neighbour Kamu's DIY skills. Vijay had tried hammering the pegs' bums back into the wood so they would stick out more on the tuning side and move again, but it hadn't worked. Kamu came, and using the back end of a screwdriver, he unstuck the pegs one by one in just a few hits. It was so miraculously quick! And what a relief!

I took my violin and started moving the pegs. I removed the peg of the E string and applied soap on it, as advised to me by Steve. Soap lubricates the pegs without making them too oily. I tried to tune the E string back but it snapped. I put a new one; snap! Indian strings are good for low-tuned violins, but they often break... I always have loads of spare E and A strings and I'm glad they're cheap. Before changing yet another E string I decided to clean the fingerboard, which was quite grubby and sticky. I had found out from various websites that alcohol is good to clean the fingerboard and the strings, but one has to be very careful not to spill it on the wood of the violin. So I decided to use some of the water-free hand sanitiser which I always have in my handbag, as it is alcohol-based and it's quite thick so would be easy to use. I applied a drop on a cotton handkerchief and used my index finger to rub it onto the fingerboard. I also cleaned the fine-tuning board, which was even dustier and stickier, using the sanitiser on a cotton bud followed by the handkerchief. I soaped all the pegs, changed all the strings and dusted the violin's body well, including the F-holes, with dry parts of the handkerchief. I felt really good after this cleaning session.

I think next time I go to Scotland I will take my violin back to Steve for a big health-check and rejuvenating plan. He has told me he could come-up with a special varnish that would make the violin more resistant to Indian weather, and I'm very excited about it. I'd love to assist him during the work, too, to see how he does it, to perhaps learn to apply some of the varnish myself, and basically to see all the work being done with my own eyes. I'm so incredibly happy to know the maker of my violin; I'm so grateful for his friendship, for his kindness and for his help! It makes an instrument so very special to be able to let it be looked after by the very man who made it, with his hands, with his devotion, with his love!