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

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


Friday, 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...

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