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!

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...

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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...