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.

Enjoy!

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!

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Yoga practice in an Indian family

Today when I woke up Uncle's daughter was visiting. I thought "Shit; I won't be able to do my yoga." But sod it; I did it. When she was in the main room I'd bugger off in the bedroom next door, but she would sneak in and watch me. I'd finish my asana and hide back into the main room for the next posture, but after a while she'd come back again and stare at me. So after my posture I'd get back again into the bedroom and on and on. After I finished my standing series I decided to do some sitting and lying positions, which I usually do on the hard bed in the bedroom. (Beds are basically wooden tables with 3-cm thick mattresses in most houses, which is hard enough for yoga.) Of course she lied down on the bed, listening to some unpleasant Bollywood music on her mobile. I politely asked her to get back into the main room, which she did. I went on with my lying back exercises on the bed. I was resting closed-eyes in between two postures when she decided to try and scare me. I opened my eyes, startled - her head was close to mine and she was holding a kitchen knife making silly faces! For the first time I raised my voice and shouted that she should leave me alone when I try to do my Yoga. After all, Yoga is to me what puja (prayer) is to Hindus, and no-one bothers someone performing a ritual. Shocked, she buggered off. Obviously I had been more annoyed than scared. With a (small) kitchen knife; what a silly idea!

Trying to keep my yoga practice up is quite a task amongst an Indian family. First of all I have no mat here, so I have learnt to make do with the bare floor for standing postures, and hard beds for lying asanas. There are some plastic weaved mats here, which are non-slippery and actually quite good for yoga, so I also use them from time to time. However not having "my own" yoga mat set for the purpose of yoga doesn't really help... And of course there is no specific room I can use. In winter I'll go on the rooftop, which is nice and quiet, but most of the year it's far too hot, and I can get stared at by the neighbours (though they are quite far away). The terrace by the kitchen is quite nice too, but it's often crowded with stuff and clothes hanging and I don't want to be in the way of the family. There's the main room, but now the family has added a table to its (normally absent) furniture so I have less space, and in the bedroom there's hardly any space and at best I'm in the middle of anyone who wants to use the mirror after their shower. But there's the hard bed, which is good for lying position. Downstairs I don't like to use the shop because it's the shop and it should be open for any customer wanting to pop in, and there's the new room but its floor is rough and it's too humid during monsoon.

So I don't have a mat (that's OK) and especially there is no specific room I can use and no intimacy in an Indian family. Needless to say it took me years to learn to practise whilst being watched by the family to start with, and now that they've got used to me by any visitor. It's also taken me a long, long time to do yoga peacefully whilst a member of the family decides to switch on the TV next to me, or whilst they play Bollywood songs on their mobile, sometimes even two people listening to two different songs at once. And I also had to get used to practising yoga whilst the family burns cow dung to repel bad spirits or when sister or mother cooks vegetables burning loads of oil in the process - and God, both the cow dung and the oil burning sting your eyes and your throat, which isn't great for you especially when try to focus on your breath...

So yeah, I have gone through quite a lot of learning about self-judgement and being watched whilst doing weird positions anywhere around the house. But I had NO CHOICE, right, because if I hadn't learnt this, I would have given up yoga altogether, and that is NOT an option!

Friday, 2 August 2013

Indian violin (& viola) practice resumed

Today was the day I reunited with my dearest Devendra, my violin which I had left in Khajuraho while I was in Europe. 2 1/2 months. It had been kept underneath the bed in the downstairs bedroom. Its case was very dusty, which upset me somewhat. I really have to get a new case-cover made for him, as this one is falling into pieces. I also washed Devendra's scarves, its mini-towel and that small red felt case in which I keep my rosin, as I had never washed it in well over 7 years. The cloths were all terribly stinky and I threw them straight into a bucket for a wash.

And then I took Devendra. It was still sort of tuned, relatively, but as expected its pegs were totally unmovable, as the wood of its neck had swollen during hot season. As expected - although I feel I should have known better and loosened the strings before leaving! I hope I will never have to leave my violin in India in May-June ever again! Now I either have to find an AC room to keep it in a cooler environment for a while to let the wood shrink, which isn't available for now, or... What? We tried to hammer the pegs out of the neck to loosen them but it didn't work. We unsuccessfully tried to unscrew the pegs with pliers. If we try too hard we will damage my violin, which would be horrible. The only thing to do now is to play it as low as it will go, i.e. tuned in E, and wait for next month to get some help from Guruji...

In the meantime, when I practise in the music school here I shall use the viola - it goes up do D although that's the highest it will go. And as was the plan when I decided to bring it over from France, I shall accompany the singing girls in A.

And so I practised a little today; the viola to start with, but I really wanted to try Devendra again despite its poor state, to see how it felt after playing that big fat viola for three months. When I realised I could still play it in E I took it and played it. Its high sound feels very thin somehow, but it is a lot easier to play because it is small and its strings are extremely thin and soft! I think if I keep practising on the viola, the violin will feel very easy!!

After my practice I realised I was tired, so I went to lie down. I fell asleep and woke up after a whole hour; I had slept so tightly that I thought it was morning. I took a few seconds to gather myself back. Why does sleep feel so comfortable in this country? When I don't know what to do, when I feel empty and confused, there's always that comforting slumber friend - and letting go into a world of nothingness...

When I woke up it was time to go to the music teacher's house. I resumed teaching his son today followed by the music school with him. Of course I went with the viola. I did tune it in D and it worked fine, but its strings were so tight that they kept loosening by themselves and I had to tune it back often... It was nice to teach Animesh again, as I hadn't been able to teach him after so long. He hasn't really lost any of his skills, and I think he plays faster now. He behaves so much like a "model boy"; he is quite funny... After my class I handled the viola to him so he could try it out. It was a bit difficult for him to play, but the instrument looked like it would be the right size for his long body. After my chai before I left I tuned the viola back into A.

I walked to the music school. I was really excited to try out the viola in A in tune with the girls. And wow what a difference it feels to be in the same tuning; Their SA is no longer a PA for me but a SA, which makes my accompanying a lot easier! It's also lovely to try out new raags and actually be able to follow them. I stayed 2 hours in the school. I could be accompanying the girls for hours on end. Time stops when I'm in that school; just focusing on the notes and playing, without worrying about rhythm...

The teacher told me that we will be playing on 15 August for Independence Day. I will have to go to school everyday around 12:00 noon for practice with the children, and I guess following that I'll be going to his house for class with Animesh.