Well..the possible culmination of the month- the FINAL PROGRAM. We performed tonight….all of us, in groups or by ourselves. The singers were stellar, with Rachel and Ryan blending wonderfully and Evan belting it out with soul. Emily performed wonderfully – she couldnt (and shouldn’t!) hide the fact that she has a wonderful “Western” vibrato and articulation, but then brought ornamentation, preparation and poise to the fore! Kathryn’s performance was an unnecessary apology. She was new to string instruments, and performed admirably. Grace under pressure, pure and simple. One can only wonder how this fabulous Doctoral student in Musicology will integrate this experience into her research (the British Invasion – post-WWII influences).
The Mrdangam tribe (Peter/Michael/Jon) were stunning. The 1st half of their “show” was painstakingly simple…and then “things hit the fan”. It got harder and harder…then just became sheer dizziness. It’s not that hard to see that these 3 guys are stellar musicians in their own right at home, and they brought those strengths to the Mrdangam. To play that much music – and by memory – is patently nuts.
Calvin and Kirsten both played admirably. Calvin had a nice approach to the ornamentation (pitch-bending is a different thing on the Veena..the string goes literally “into the neck”, instead of bending up and down on the fretboard like a guitar). Kirsten handled fast passages with integrity and clarity – showing her chops nicely! Saraswati-ji sat next to them on the stage, on a chair, beating the tala and often singing the piece for them as they played. It seemed distracting to us, but I know that she did this to encourage, help, and love them.
I was shocked and thrilled that Ramesh-ji (Our Ghatam teacher) had asked his lovely daughter to accompany me for my “set” – 4 pieces of extreme difficulty (for me anyway!). She had a lot to prove, playing in front of some of Mysore’s musical glitterati (our teachers are big deals here), so she brought her “A” game. My tendency to live up to my last name wasn’t going to be hidden with her drumming for me…and we sped ahead like nobody’s business. In the end – I feel pretty darn good about what I did…..but you can judge for yourself when I post the darn thing on YouTube (soon!).
The dancers then proceeded to steal the show. Nola looked a complete natural with the tan make-up, and danced perfectly – not a shock to me knowing her work in the Dance Dept. back home. Elly’s smile lit up the stage and blew me away with her virtuosity. A Theater Major, she REALLY CAN DANCE! Shauna absolutely knocked us out with accuracy of the Mudras (esp!), and gleamed with joy. She loves being here and aches to return. I bet I see her in these halls next year…what a rock star!
Lizzie strutted her stuff brilliantly, especially when she was thrust downstage – she simply shone. Brittany worked through her messy knee situation (recovering from surgery in the knee..then slapping marble floors for a month in India?…OUCH!!). She was heroic, majestic and lovely.
pics and clips will follow…but I’m packing today. This is crazy!! People are running around…doing last minute touristy things – seeing the Bird Sanctuary, going to Temples, buying Puja supplies, clothes, filling out forms, paying people off, and copying files to thumb drives. Good heavens!! I could say “where did the time go” but I’d be lying. The time does not fly in India. It stands still AND flies. It is horribly boring, and insanely fast…(sometimes at the same time, which is vertiginous!).
The students wrestle with the vital issue – “how to take this home” – as I’ve said before here. There is no easy solution. Those of you that are supporting these wonderful people…ask probing and open questions, and be patient with these wonderful people. There are no easy answers, by the way, to the question, “how was India”. I’ve asked them all to shape short and honest replies, and to be patient with questions about their experience here. Only someone who’s come here could really understand…so it will demand some explaining. But don’t bite people’s head off just for asking – usually out of love and compassion, “how was your trip” . I can tell you, though, it was SAFE, FUN and LIFE-CHANGING. I don’t doubt every student (and Shauna) would concur, and heartily.
This is my last entry for this blog. Thank you all for reading, and your support of me and the students. See you next year – gulp. Maybe YOU can join us – or, if you’re in a position to do so, help some other student to come (yep, I’m asking for money). It’s worth it. Truly.
Om and Shanti
Final Yoga classes: (boo hoo!!!!)
Happy Independence Day India!! The celebration started with Prayanama breathing exercises from Yogiji, then we hustled to observe the “cultural program” (including a quiz show!) and a moving, stirring speech by a dignitary lecturing on self-discipline and “strength” (not quite like the way we think of “strength” by the way – strength here means the willingness to speak out, and loudly, about corruption, to speak the truth and to be a good example to others). The day concluded with a concert (What Else!) that itself concluded with a stunning drum battle between a local mrdangam player (stellar) and Ramanujan-ji – ON GHATAM. There were shocking silences, fantastic virtuosity, and total commitment. It was completely unfettered, or, in the parlance of the day, “off the chain”. Whew.
Is it really the last day of the program tomorrow? Impossible. Seriously impossible. But there are different stages of “finally” and “NO! I CAN”T LEAVE INDIA”, and everything in between. There is no right answer………
two beauties on Independence Day – Brittany and her cleaning lady:
As has been the case for many years (the last 7), I have to celebrate my son’s birthday by calling him from India. We also sang him Happy Birthday (to be posted here when it’s officially Aug. 14 – Austin time!). We all sang Happy Birthday to him, Merilynne recorded it on her phone. We sing, by the way, wonderfully. The Indians around us thought we were hilarious singing to someone who wasn’t really here!!!! (we are!).
Tonight we watched the Gandhi movie with Ben Kingsley, by turning my (our) room into a movie theater and having thali plate dinners (dinner on a circle plate – as we always do – and filling it with goodies). Not a dry eye in the house – I guarantee. Watching that movie here is mind-blowing. One realizes what Gandhi did, what he tried to do, and what is still left undone. Peace, especially between Muslims and Hindus, is still a work-in-progress. We cannot be smug about this, especially so soon after the massacre at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Let’s all keep working for religious tolerance and acceptance, in Gandhi’s name!
Tonight culminated a day of lovely day of hard study and lessons with an amazing Dance Concert (Bharata Natyam) with students of Krupa-ji showing us some highlights from the Ramayana story. She wasn’t completely thrilled about the performance, but boy – we were!!! Absolutely fun, dramatic, funNY, and vastly entertaining. We were joined at the concert by MHEAL students – from U-M (Engineering students who have “experimental” medical technologies – working with SVYM). Their leaders were brought here last year by none other than Merilynne!! At the concert they were various stages of confused, thrilled and awestruck – but….entertained nonetheless. They are doing great work with a team of doctors “in the jungle” (as we say here).
Tonight I gave a short little speech about “how to still be in India”, both now and in about 5 days – after we’re home! The students were asked, by me, to figure out a strategy to bring the positive things they’ve learned about themselves HOME – but figure it out HERE. Once we’re home, it’s just too blatantly distracting and confusing. The West has it’s way of crowding our psyches and “owning us” with it’s ease of lifestyle and, contradictory enough, it’s complications!
Sunday! Lots of fun things happening in different directions. The students started the day in COORG- Madekeri, etc., and experienced the “Golden Temple”, a true treasure of Tibetan Buddhism. They were treated to Sutras, tea, and a HUGE Buddha or three!
(sorry for the “Stock Photo”…but this is really where they were!!).
Calvin and Emily joined me at the NadaBrahma Hall for my lecture on “Introduction to Western Classical Music”, during which Emily wonderfully played a bit of Bach, I played (into a microphone on my i_Phone) Bach, Hildegard, Mozart (Figaro!), Debussy, Riley, Glass, Miles and Trane, and of course, a new track from Listening Music from the Age of the Crystal Moon Cone (don’t judge me!), my electronic band with Jon Moniaci and Chris Peck. The audience was fantastic and asked questions that ranged from “What about Beethoven?” (Indeed!) and “Can you explain Resultant Harmony?” (a brilliant question really!!).
SteveOfMysore-FluteManAug4-12 (click on the link to read the article and see a hilarious photo)
We left unscathed from the 70 or so Music Society folks and went to Manu and Lalitha’s house for a feast. I can’t say what we had on this blog, but if you want to know….email me at email@example.com. Pretty amazing feast though, all in all!
The evening featured an AMAZING Veena concert at the same venue we went to last night- Vijay Raghavan. I call the place “Saraswati Hall”….with blinking Christmas lights and strobing effects from the ceiling fans, and amidst a terrible sound system, we heard a stunning concert that was filled with virtuosity and simplicity, sublimeness and humor. I was sitting next to Brittany when she almost fell out of her chair with elation as the Veena player did a pretty good (if unwitting) Leo Kottke or Ralph Towner impression. STELLAR.
We came back to enjoy my favorite thing in the world….Lalitha’s fabulous Pumpkin dish. I’ve made it many times, and will again as soon as I’m home.
We are winding down here. Only 4 days “left” (what does that mean?) and there are different stages of “Shop til you drop”, “I”m bored”, “I”m not done yet!”, “Oh no! We have a concert on Thursday! ACK!”, “I don’t want to ever leave” and “Get me outta here…I want cable tv and chicken”. It’s fun to see the diversity of approaches this year….as many as there are people. I for one am happy here. Very happy. And will be happy at home, too. Very happy. I guess that’s the whole point of “Atha Yoganusasam” ….literally NOW is the practice of Yoga. Thanks Patanjali for that precious gem.
(and scroll down to Day 22 to see a fun comparison between Monet and India!)
Things are VERY quiet around here. Most of the students went to COORG (“The Scotland of Karnataka!), while the rest of us stayed back to shop, practice, and go to the Bird Sanctuary. Our smaller group attended a lovely vocal concert tonight at a temple….amazing as always! Lunch was Palak Paneer (Spinach and Cheese) with my favorite Cabbage dish in the world. Yes I have the recipe and make it at home- more than my kids like, probably.
This evening’s concert was the best vocal concert we’ve heard. Amazing. We saw Krupa-ji (the dance teacher) there..she was ecstatic to see us, of course! Tomorrow a great Veena player will give a concert, and we’ll re-unite with the 1/2 or so of the group that went to “COORG” (the mountains, basically). More about that tomorrow!
(here’s where most of students are …Madekeri at COORG):
Amazing Vocal Concert:
Ryan-Emily-Kathryn and Shauna – deep in:
A busy day of lessons and “spoke Yoga” (where we follow each other instead of the Yogi- it’s his day off). The afternoon actually was kind of tricky for me…I had a sort of “freakout” in the local bizarre..uh…that’s bazaar…too many people grabbing me, and saying, “Sir! Sir! Sir!” wanting to sell me jewelry, woodcut elephant puzzles (i need 10 more!), bangles, bananas, or just wanting a handout. I froze.
I signaled my partner in crime here, Merilynne, and we shooed away to a rickshaw back home. I’m just not a tourist here anymore, and I can’t deal being treated like one. It’s no one’s fault, I suppose, but I don’t like being singled out. I know the students are a bit worn down by being “marked” in the street for commerce..it’s truly truly exhausting when it’s not simply infuriating.
There is much sweet bonding between the students – all quite platonic, but nonetheless warm and loving, especially considering the extremely intense nature of just being here in India, and the close quarters in which we live. We have all sacrificed alot of autonomy by being here, and that can (and will) take it’s toll. Nonetheless people remain more than civil, and are simply outright kind and considerate.
The evening moved into a sort of “amateur concert” with 2 young girls performing vocal music (around 8 and 12 years old), accompanied by a surprise guest- our Mrdangam Guru’s son, Abhi! The second half of the show was a Veena concert (an engineer from the U.S. who had studied for quite some time). Wonderful musicians from All-India Radio accompanied him on Mrdangam, Ghatam and Violin. This was the first exposure to Veena for most in the group, and now they are extremely keen on the Sunday concert by a real Veena Virtuoso!.
Us at the “Rock Concert!”:
(in the foreground is Ramesh, the great Ghatam player- and probably reincarnation of my Dad!)
Another wild and wooly day!!! Krishna’s Birthday!!! We celebrated by going to a Krishna Temple and seeing Prakash-ji’s students – 12 flute students – all perform. See below.
Lessons were up and running again today after yesterday’s break, and students are really going for it. A number of gurus have told me that they are truly shocked at the great progress the students have made in such a short time. I think people are in denial about how little time we have left (basically a week) and savoring every moment. For a highlight of our morning yoga class, here’s a picture of a grueling asana (sparse attendance today…people needed a physical/mental health day – or morning – of recovery; that’s fine!).
Krishna Temple with Ironic Mass Flute Playing!:
Jon and Michael do Puja:
Elly, Lizzie and Peter’s friend Anneka rock the SVYM Graduation Party!:
What is a usual day here (at this point in the program)?:
Grueling Yoga. Kathryn, Kirsten and Peter volunteering at a school, teaching an English class (for 2.5 hours!). A lecture from the ever-engaging “Balu”, the head of SVYM on Gita and Leadership (!). A fun class in “Intro to Conversational Kannada” by Dr. Swami. A lunch with Dr. Rao’s son (Punjabi food). Calvin going to the palace with (????) his neighbor from home! Us having a late night sharing of “roses and thorns” (what making you happy/miserable?). Me giving a “Gita for Westerners” lecture, and having deep conversations with the students. Early I gave a lec/dem on Ganesha Puja to Kirsten, and counseled a bunch of students who are really taking this trip to heart in the most beautiful way. And Merilynne went camisole (saree-wear!) hunting in Hebbal with Emily and Rachel – and…well…Nola, Kirsten and co. went to a Ganesha Temple to do Puja!
That, dear reader, is a “usual day”. Nothing special (hah!). Tomorrow is jam-packed. Everyone gets lessons, and then off to a concert. Look out- a few niggling health issues, including the Dance teacher taking a nasty fall. Let’s hope for the best……
Well…it’s almost too simple. This day was a kind of slow day. People did what they came here to do – take classes, be amongst friends, and go deep. It was a “free evening”, but that meant that the dancers (which now includes Ryan!) went to Krupa-ji’s brothers’ restaurant to eat Dhosas! A fun night out. Merilynne and I went to Rohit Setty’s home to visit with him and his family. Rohit was the man responsible for me being in Mysore – and introducing me to the wonderful Nagaraja Rao, with whom I founded this program 6 years ago. I was able to thank him over a wonderful meal, and wish him well on his Fulbright research involving assessment and training of Indian teachers - a truly fabulous project based here in Mysore. Rohit and family will fly back (get this!) one day before we do, to return to Ann Arbor. Crazy coincidences, and welcome to India.
In the news today, mingled with the Olympics, was the horrific news of the shooting in Wisconsin of many Sikh’s and a policeman at a temple there. We are truly saddened by this awful news from home – which hits us a little harder being here. We must work more for tolerance, and love, of those who we deem “foreign”. Congratulations to Barack Obama for noting that the Sikh’s are an important part of our American Family. Indeed we pray for their well-being and their souls during this truly sad time.
In more cheerful news – Rachel had an amazing and wonderful adventure at an Indian Hospital (NOT AN EMERGENCY!!). Merilynne helped out, and Rachel is just fine…no worries, and much happiness abounds.
Nola and Elly returned to the Women’s Shelter, where the try to fit in amongst the downtrodden women of India, no doubt bringing a wonderful pair of smiles to women who sorely need it. Bless them all.
Now…here is a lovely picture of me and Nagaraja Rao, 2 years ago, just to remember him:
Well…nothing really “new” to report…so I’ll use this entry to say how very very proud and amazed I am at this group of students. I would never disparage one group over another, or even think of voicing a preference for one years’ program – it’s impossible to even compare, really. Different people, personalities, sizes, even schools!
But this years’ group has sort of outdone itself by thinking outside the box, really pushing the edge of “what they came to do”. Case in point…I’ll list just a SAMPLING of some of the things going on here with the students…almost all by their own initiating:
•private visits to temples
•”double-dipping” (students studying dance and mrdangam, or vocal and Ghatam)
•Students volunteering at Women’s shelters and •Cerebral Palsy Centers
•Exploration of Ayurvedic Medicine – through massage and other things….
•Students seeking out community music organizations for “arts admin” research
•tons of reading about religion and spirituality
•students going to a “Ramadan Party”
This group is just digging and digging and digging for experiences beyond the obvious dance/music lessons and yoga. Tireless. Fearless. Open. Optimistic. Excited. Hungry.
I’m absolutely humbled to lead this fine group of people, with the extremely able help of Merilynne as well as the Program Director here in India, Sindhu. AMAZING.
As we await our “final days” in India, the students are diving in with abandon. It’s a bit dizzying to keep track of it all…but it’s a marvel! Yay them!
We’re BACK! We went to the Mascot Beach Hotel in Kannur, Kerala. Friday, after a grueling session of Yoga at 6, we left for Kerala, the land of 93% literacy (about 10% ahead of the U.S.! Why aren’t we studying their approach? Poor Detroit with it’s 46% literacy, and Newark and Philly and and and..). It was a 6-hour grueling drive, over super-bumpy roads, one-lane often (making it hard when a bus is basically coming straight at us from the other direction).
The students settled in nicely, walking to a nearby beach and enjoying a different approach to food (including fried chicken and fish, and, well, shakes!).
Saturday was filled with sleeping, watching the Olympics on TV (and rooting for Indian archery/shooting and badminton), and going to a far-away beach that was absolutely lovely. The group just “played” there (all but Jon, who was sick back at the hotel). Body surfing, frisbee throwing, and star-fish observing (Shauna has a monster shell collection now). People HAD FUN. It was a great release, really. Food at the hotel that PM was disappointing…me missed Manu and Lalitha so much!
This morning just about every student took a solitudinal moment beside the ocean to “reflect” and just “see”. It was lovely to observe this, and to play a part in this process. MohanRaj and Suresh, our drivers were amazing and wonderful – saving our lives at every turn, and looking out for our every need. Thyaga (Sacrafice) was apparent in their work ethic, and we really appreciated everything they did for us.
now…back to work!!! There is Music and Dance to Learn!! Enjoy the photos!
Girls in the Jungle on the Way (Brittany, Lizzy and Rachel):
Really…the view from our rooms:
Yesterday’s journey (4 hours of driving in the forests’ bumpy roads) took it’s toll on the group. Colds, Nausea, and Exhaustion claimed about a 1/3 of the group. Lessons were cancelled, practicing was on hiatus for some (even me!), and overall it felt like a kind of “day of recovery”. That’s ok!
On the other hand…it was a pretty fun day overall. Evan and Calvin bought wonderful things like Mysore Coffee (the BEST!), amazing books (Kabir poetry), a Ghatam (Evan’s Dharma instrument), and a wonderful Kolkata Harmonium (Calvin). The “Veena People” were treated lovingly by the Music Store, given tea, and given a completed and marvelous Veena (I think this will go to Kathryn, and Kirsten and Calvin are waiting for theirs…yikes!).
The evening was fantastic. We had a beautiful celebration of “Brother/Sister Day”, Raksha Bandhan. See photos below.
The Festival/Ritual consists of making brothers/sisters (and comes with a commitment to pray for them, or have them in your consciousness). It was all organized beautifully by our wonderful Ground Coordinator here, Sindhu Suresh!
This fabulous international event (one of a number of events we do as a group with our Indian friends) , was followed by a performance of the Indrajit portion of the Ramayana, by amazing traditional Shadow Puppeteers. I have seen this family perform now 5 times, and it’s absolutely fantastic. Hilarious! Violent! Noisy! CRAZY! The students loved it.
After a dinner of beets, Chinese noodles (I’m not kidding here) and what I call “Indian chicken wings” (Fried Gobi or Cauliflower), we retired joyfully.
A final note…there was a lovely rain today around 6pm, almost announcing the Festival and the Puppet show. A Double Rainbow followed the (sadly) short rain. After the Festival and the concert we were delighted with a Full Moon. Now…how many times have you seen a double rainbow and a full moon in the same day?
tomorrow…to Kerala!!! I’m not sure if I’ll have internet access …so if I disappear for a couple of days, don’t worry folks…you can look jealously at our beach photos on Sunday (our time)!!
SHADOW PUPPET MOVIES (the actors/singers are in the tent):
Shadow Puppet (CLICK THE LINK!! HURRY!)
Well, today was completely filled by going to see the 2 hospitals and schools run by Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement. These institutions are sheer miracles…and have, for me, achieved mythological status. The founders…the two Dr. Balusubramaniams (!) and Dr. Sitaram, plus the wives Bhindu (Balu’s wife) and Sridevi (Dr. Sitaram’s wife) are now all old friends (well…I’ve known them for 6 years now), and we were thrilled to see them (and I think they were tickled to see us as well…I hope!).
More to the point, though, was placing the larger mission of SVYM in context, and seeing some of the people who really make this organization swing, and some of the many people it serves.
Simply put – we went to the Hospital and the School in Sargur. The Hospital has it’s own “grid” with solar panels, it’s own organic farm, and is famous for it’s non-stigmatization of AIDS patients,. The school is a fantastic Montessori based school, and goes from Kindergarten to 10th Standard, with a huge success rate. (pictures below, of course).
Then we went to the heart of the SVYM, in the deep forest (or jungle), Kenchenahalli. There we toured the Ayurvedic hospital, drank Ayur. tea, chanted OMs and gained more meaning. Then – to the school where we ate Baba Ganoush-style Coconut Chutney and a simple meal with Chapatis, Rice, Sambar and Yogurt. Heaven. My students were rock stars with the little kids at both schools, and I’ll let you see it in the photos below. The trip was truly grueling for some of us (green at the gills), 2 hours at least both ways, but the tradition remained of watching Yellow Submarine in the van on the way back from the Hospitals/Schools. Yep…it’s that weird folks.
FYI…those that are worried about our Power Outtages…it’s in the North that they’re having HUGE Grid Problems…we’ve been lucky here. Again….if you depend on Hydro-Electric Power, and it doesn’t rain, you live in the dark. On the other hand..I’m pretty sure it’s worth it to live “in synch” with nature. Thanks for your worries….they are appreciated.
Tour of the Ayurvedic Hospital:
Fun in the Hemotology Lab at the Sargur Hospital with Dr. Sridevi:
Eavesdropping on the Kenchanahalli Schoolchildren (What’s your name! What’s your name!):
Kathryn gets a marriage proposal:
Lizzie, then Evan, with the Kids:
Rules for Education (MIND BLOWING):
Volunteering is going well….and photos should be forthcoming…but today was also filled with a wonderful Sun Salutation Series…try it yourself if you like…..upward back stretches, lower the hands to the toes, EkaPada, then DuePada (plank), Cobra, Downward Dog, EkaPada (other leg), Plank, Downward Dog, toe touches as before, then Namaste (standing) position. 3 of those? You’ll be sweaty if each Asana is 10 breaths long at least!
There was another visit for the Veena students to the music store, and they are making good progress…after a hectic visit yesterday. Good veenas need to be approved by great gurus…and that leads to complications. Calvin, Kirsten and Kathryn learned a whole “other” thing about being in India through all of this….pretty fun.
Meanwhile…the staff here at the Vivekananda Center had a Staff Program (they called it) – which consisted of all the staff members joining together to eat cake and sing Happy Birthday (Emily, Rachel, Ryan, Merilynne and I all attended). That was just the beginning….then the whole party moved outdoors to play “throw ball”, a version of Volleyball game consisting of literally THROWING the ball over a volleyball net, and people catching the ball, and throwing it back. Harder than it sounds…actually. Kabidi Kabadi was another game, played by guys chanting Kabadi-Kabadi non-stop until they tagged a member of the opposing team…or were tackled! Ryan played very well! Here’s the PRO version of the sport:
Then there was a tug of war between the men and the women. I won’t lie…it was close for a while there…but we guys prevailed. Hm.
(pics of this are forthcoming!).
Not so in the evening…when we had our now-famous “Ramayana Party”. Each year for the last 5 here in Mysore (this IS my 7th group in India) the students do a kind of “tag team” telling of the entire Ramayana. I only say “Rama was born a wealthy prince to King Dasharatha”, and they fill in the rest…I follow along with the outline, but they really tell it all – interrupting each other at any point they want – it’s utter chaos. This group insisted, however, that they act it out, and people were really excited about it. It went for over an hour, there was much laughter, excitement, death, love, and lots of monkeying around (okay okay, pun WAY intended).
Sita and Valmiki try to raise “the twins”…and teach them the entire Ramayana:
Tomorrow..the Jungle Hospitals and Schools!!!
Things are picking up!!!
Full sun salutations this morning made people pant and sweat…..downward dog has been interpreted here as a grueling physical feat as opposed to a “resting pose” that we think of in the West. Amazing.
I accompanied the Veena students (Kirsten, Kathryn and Calvin) to the music store. Horrendous haggling – nasty posturing and wheeling and dealing – we emerged with ONE veena for 3 students….argh, if you want to know more about the trip – ask them. Good Heavens, though! I felt like I was haggling for a scarf at the bazaar (or bizarre). Shameful.
The question of volunteering and giving back has born plentiful fruit instantly (24 hours after it was mentioned after the “interfaith service”). Elly and Nola are volunteering at the Women’s Shelter 2x a week now, and Emily and Rachel are volunteering at the Mysore “Spastic Society”. Ok…that sounds funny, it really isn’t…it’s a fantastic center for kids and adults with Cerebral Palsy. If you weren’t already proud of these fantastic young people – you should be now. I’m completely blown away by these developments. This is NOT why we came here…and it’s fantastic. I’m thrilled. Icing on an already pretty darn tasty cake.
Tonight we watch a movie on Swami Vivekananda – and the students are actually really excited for it. Imagine….people getting excited by a Hindu Philosopher. Ahhhhhhhhh India. I almost feel guilty that we’re not watching some silly Bollywood vehicle….but then again, this is where they’re at. God Bless Em.
Well..it’s inevitable…I got some nasty stomach thing that nixed me going to the Jagan Mohan Palace tonight to see the Bharata Natyam concert. Brittany recovered from her bug bite, Evan from his nasty cold…and THEY went, with Merilynne as the leader….this is much better. I”m happy that I have a completely healthy flock (what a worrywart I am, and now it’s my turn). People slept in, all but me and Brittany – we did Yoga at 7. Manu and Lalitha (our caterers) both were here for lunch, and brought some of my late friend Nagaraja Rao’s favorite dishes as a kind of memorial…it was very sweet. The students went to the zoo today, those silly tourists…as you can imagine a zoo in India has some pretty amazing…uh…things. It’s actually stellar and loads of fun. I look forward to hearing the stories and seeing the pictures (which I will share here, of course). We also celebrated some kind of “Sabbath” (well…it’s sort of a day off in India, too…so) by having an interfaith service. We chanted the Gayatri Mantra, said the “Prayers of the People” from the Episcopal Service, read a Bob Dylan rant in honor of Woody Guthrie (thanks Peter!) and heard a chilling version of “Kol Nidre” by Rachel, who is now dubbed “Billie High Holidays”. We also had a wonderful and deep 10-minute meditation, guided by yours very truly.
Afterwards we had a brief “Check-In” and Elly, Peter and Rachel (and others) expressed an interest in volunteering in some way, trying to “give back” to our lovely hosts here. I am reminded of the often-overlooked open hearts of this generation, and how willing they are to serve, help, and just be present to those in need. Desmond Tutu is right, we old people get cynical about the idea of Hope, and worse, we suspect that young people share that cynicism. Let us learn from these young people with such willing hands, and let’s hope that I can put them to good use…it will take a little infrastructural manipulation, but I think I can get them to the “jungle schools” in Kenchenahalli to work with the “tribal children”…..should be amazing and life changing for everybody on both sides!
Now….a word of advice…if you are tempted to practice Carnatic Singing within sniffing distance of a compost pile on a 90-degree day….DON”T. I’ll be fine. India teaches you a great and wonderful contradiction – you can be horribly uncomfortable and deeply happy all at the same time.
Whew…what a day! 2 lectures this morning, one on Yoga by the brilliant Dr. Taticharya, and the other by the equally brilliant Dr. Indira (from U. Of Mysore – U of M!). Both lectures stimulated a LOT of discussion after and during, and will invite more thinking and decompressing tomorrow, guaranteed. These are fine and brilliant authors and lectures, and we are lucky to have the blow our minds – year after year.
The afternoon was filled with lots of practicing, sleep and laundry, and the evening, yet aNOTHER amazing concert in another “music society hall”. The vocalist was decidedly understated, rich with Bhakti, and our dear Mrdangam teacher, Ramanujan, stunned us during the drum battle …..again!
Dinner had some wild “quiche” in sambar, complemented with a cucumber/corn and mung bean salad. We’re in heaven – and probably gaining pounds as we go. Goodness me.
Dr. Tatacharya esp. is a treat for the eyes as well as the mind/soul – see the photos below. Feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions about the trip, or comments about the blog.
Another “normal” day…yunno, Yoga at 6, a Dance/Flute/Voice/Mrdangam lesson, a concert in the evening followed by Eggplant Masala and Nola’s Card Tricks? Isn’t this how you spent YOUR day?
A few students were sick today, just nasty colds. For the most part a hearty and (still) cheery group of people. Down to the last student there was an interesting phenomenon…the gurus seemed to “pour it on” today. Some crazy combination of the fact that we have this weekend to practice, or we’ve proven that we’re serious to our teachers. Either way…there will be some serious practice at the hostel this weekend. I hear people wishing for more “down time” as well – time to just “be”, rest, and journal/meditate.
We attended another fantastic concert tonight, a young vocalist (S. Sangeetha, in her late 20′s) with our beloved Mrdangam teacher, Ramanujan – and his sidekick the affable Ramesh, on clay pot (Ghatam). It was a stunner, and people “put the talam” dutifully, as well – except for Lizzie who sketched wonderfully throughout the show (will share tomorrow!).
Veena students are excited about buying veenas on Monday – with the associative worries about shipping. It should be a fun task – veenas are huge!!! Tomorrow we get lectures on Gender/Caste and “Yoga” (the history, the meaning, and the types) – a free afternoon and another concert. Bolstered by now truly stunning food, we will prevail!
Lunch, for instance, was a crazy kaleidoscope of spicy beets, Raita, chana masala and more and more and more. It WAS the big Lalitha Festival, and we celebrated by eating yummy veggies, as Lalitha provided the blessing of food. Ironically, our cook is my good friend Lalitha. Go figure. We are inded, as I often pray, “lucky not to starve”, in the face of so many in the world going without.
Mike/Jon and Peter STUNNED by the Ghatam/Mrdangam duet- putting the talam as they listen dutifully to Guruji:
A picture of the stage – notice beautiful Krishna on the left -
…Just a short entry today to say that I’m shocked at how healthy this group is!!! As far as I know…EVERYONE is super-healthy, knock on wood!! The weekend is coming…who knows. Great concert tonight – Raghavendra Bellary, from All-India Radio (a singer). The students were ecstatic, especially seeing their beloved Mrdangam Guru jam out on the Ghatam (clay pot) in accompaniment. Tomorrow we will see another couple singers (Sangeetha and Archana) accompanied by Ramanujan-ji, our Mrdangam prof.
GOOD TIMES!!! This morning, btw, had one of the most difficult group renderings of “Downward Dog” (in Yoga) on record. Panting, groaning and moaning….geesh!! People are sleep-deprived, that doesn’t help.
We are also weathering the firing of our cook. Some students want spicier food, others are just trying to find their way into Indian cuisine 3x a day (have you ever done it?). I realize, with a group this big, that not everyone will be completely happy all the time, but we go with the best for the most…and we’ll get close! I think people are ready for the weekend, and we’ll really take it easy on Sunday especially – with lectures saturday morning and a concert in the evening! Whew…..
I think we’ve hit a certain stride. Students have found things to entertain themselves in the “in-between times” while they aren’t practicing, hitting the streets/shops, and going to lessons. There is Chess, Yahtzee, and lots of fun yakking going on – all good signs that we’ve formed a nice community of people that support each other. People are really digging into the harder topics, stressing personal spiritual paths, “Dharma”, and the rest. Good signs! Part of being here is having the permission to discuss such things without people looking at you like you’re losing it! Perhaps the whole point of being here IS to “lose your mind”, in certain sense anyway…..
Yoga continues to challenge, and the favorite part today seemed to be Shavasana – “Dead Body Pose”, where you lay on your back, still, for 15 minutes. Yogi-ji is going pretty quickly, and it’s tricky water for most of the group.
Outside a few wrinkles (way too spicy food, late rides, etc.), today was the first real “normal day”. The Mrdangam students began today, one day later than the rest, because their “rock-star” teacher was performing out of town. In return for their waiting, they’ll get to see him perform at least twice this week – and people are eagerly awaiting the 4 concerts awaiting us, all in the next 4 days!
Everybody is firmly ensconced in the work they came to do, practicing, being dumbfounded, challenged, and otherwise thrilled. The halls are filled with music. Beautiful.
Today Ramesh-ji, our Yogi, began the day with a short lecture on why Yoga matters, and proceeded to work us through 3-4 “simple” Asanas. There was groans, delight, aches and joy. He is a delightful man and Evan said he “emanated light”. Ahhhhh, India. I think we can see more clearly here.
Lessons and Clothes shopping occupied the day for most of us…having that first nervous lesson, and realizing that Indian Music (as Rachel put it succinctly) is difficult mentally AND physically. The mind-bending problem of listening and repeating, or rote learning, plus the very different sonic system, plus…well, jet lag! People are excited to get going finally, though.
The long-awaited trip to Paramapara finally came for most of us, and the students are now really bedecked for India. So many colors and variations of Sawaar Kameez, Pajamas, Kurtas, etc. I am reminded again how utterly monochromatic especially men’s fashion is in the States, and how comfortable Indian clothing is! We look great – seriously. More pics to come. God Bless Merilynne who led two huge shopping exhibitions downtown in the 85-degree intense sun. She’s a trooper!!
The highlight of the day for me, perhaps, was really seeing Emily in the hallway with her flute, in her new outfit from Parampara. I asked about her lesson today. Positively glowing, she said, “We played the same scale for an hour-and-a-half, it was fantastic!” Nuff said.
A busy week awaits, with now four straight nights of concerts (thurs thru sunday), as well as lectures on Cast/Gender and the History of Yoga coming up on Saturday morning. Action Packed!!!
The day seemed to start earlier than usual…with Yoga at 6:30 – Spoke Yoga – where everyone faces the middle and takes cues from the leader (me, in this case) about which Asana comes next. Its cheerful, a wonderful physical/spiritual/mental exercise in co-operation. Many levels of Yoga in the group..and that’s a good thing. Tomorrow we get the “real” Yogi – our Sutra-Chanting heavyweight from the Mysore Mandala (a group of Yogis from Mysore) named Ramesh. Friendly, intense, and extremely excellent. Where did Yoga come from, btw? Most accounts say…….you guessed it…….MYSORE.
After a break mid-morning, we met the gurus!! The students were so excited/shy/nervous/happy…and some had a seriously difficult time putting into words (or trivializing) their hopes for this trip. Sindhu (Our Program Director) and I gave short welcoming speeches, and we took a group picture. There are a ton of concerts already (3 this week – alREADY)…I”m thrilled/relieved.
The afternoon – after another feast of a lunch – consisted of another touristy event…going to Mysore’s famous Chamundi Hill and the Temple. We took a quick van ride up the hill, enjoying the gorgeous view and the quizzically empty Temple area. Then we trekked down to the Nandi Bull…where the drivers were to meet us. Alas it was not to be. About 90 minutes later, tons of walking up and down the mountain, and only to discover that the drivers just “couldn’t be interrupted” to come pick us up! A great lesson in detachment – don’t yell at the drivers, but respect the chain of command. No apology. Nothing. Hmph.
Acknowledge and move on! So we’re zonked and tired, and kudos to Shauna and Kirsten for rocking 1/2 a mountain on the dangerous steps. Tomorrow the lessons begin !! WHOOT!!
People seem chipper and unbelievably well-rested today, after the long slog to Mysore yesterday (and 4 of the group actually arrived in India yesterday early AM – crazy). Time is relative here, and the grogginess and elation of slow/fast time butting against itself is vertiginous and frustrating, thrilling and euphoric – uh, and more. Most of the group got up for breakfast, which was a lovely kind of Uppma and coconut chutney (reminds me of home, really) – and most went for walks “up the hill” to Hebbal – the village nearby. It’s the home of the ATM, the pharmacy, and the little store known as “More” (a real homage to newfound India hyper-capitalism).
After a FEAST of a lunch (about 7 choices!!), we announced that my favorite clothes store in the world – Parampara (meaning “Tradition”) was CLOSED at 2. We missed our big shopping adventure. I lost it…Merilynne saved the day and suggested everybody just “go downtown and see what happens”…which we did….People split off and shopped for clothes, books, and (wha?!?!) Peanut Butter. Everyone made it back untarnished after a severely dusty auto-rickshaw ride. I”m proud of everybody new to India in the last few days…brave and hearty souls, and great attitudes all around. Sneak a peak below…I’m in India with truly amazing and wonderful people!!
Tonight, well, WE DID THIS (see below). The joy and excitement of seeing the Palace light up, and the brass band struggle through Carnatic Music, was healing for me. It was Nagaraja Rao, with who I founded this program, who worked with the Palace to do this weekly illumination – which is nothing short of pure Magic (and outdoes Disney because, well, it’s REAL LIFE!). I think every little “inner little boy and girl” was pretty thrilled tonight at the palace. Again…a hair-raising mob of humanity to week through to get back to our rides, and then home – but we did it. Little victories…tomorrow the students meet their Gurus, and I lead “spoke Yoga” at 6:30. A non-stretchy old guy leading Yoga should be a contrast to Western idiot notion of Yoga as an importable fashion product. …… but Tuesday they will get the seriously real deal!!
All the chickens are in the henhouse!! Not that I didn’t think everyone would arrive….but they did. It’s always a major miracle somehow….this year with 15 people coming from all ends of the earth (well, almost…) it’s even more thrilling. So many levels and layers of interest, concern, intrigue and experience!! I came down for breakfast at 8:30 AM….I’m the only one from the U-M group in the Hotel Restaurant! 30 minutes later…every one was in the restaurant, chatting each other up, learning names and just sharing all kinds of fun stories. Parents- your young ‘uns have arrived!!!
Now we’re off to Mysore – 4.5 hours of dusty polluted roads (esp. the first 2 out of Bangalore…sheesh). We will see everything from big roadside temples and ashrams to big industrial compounds, shops, stores and tons of roaming animals…well, and lots of wild motorcyle riders, some with saris. Then we crash in Mysore at the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement Hostel. Home Sweet Home. I got pretty teary-eyed this morning thinking of returning there…so many memories and old friends (7 years of this for me) and I’m worried sick about everyone’s every little need….knowing that the staff there is huge, loving, and equally concerned. More soon.
Day 2 or 3- depending on one’s perspective. Peter missed his flight, a glitch with Rachel’s timing has a few people spinning here, and I”m fielding simple (mostly) requests for advice, comfort and overall calm. Meanwhile….rest, O Captain! Rest! Everything is actually just fine – it’s so good to be back, the familiarity is a little “funny” feeling, and what a delight to go down to breakfast and see Ryan, Kirsten and Jon chatting with Merilynne…or Evan fresh in- sitting in the lobby. It’s like we somehow just all “transported”…and that’s eXACTLY what we did. The simplicity of the day is overwhelming – sleep/meditate/practice singing/do yoga. LIFE HAS RETURNED TO NORMAL.
Yep. I’m gonna do a Blog for India 12. this is an INSANE little hello to everyone to kick off the fun. Enjoy the crew cut, yo. This is my ninth trip to India, and the 6th student group I’ve taken. WHOOT! Tomorrow’s the big day, big trip – 19 hours of flight time, commutes, utter “NON-TIME” experience. I make a huge list of things to do on the plane (downward dog! Meditate X 3! Read 200 p. of a Grady Service novel! “practice” my singing, practice my 150 Kannada words, 2 NY Times Sunday Crosswords – saved up all year long for this, play Boggle with Merilynne – of course!, and nap on Demand). That’s my main list. Let’s see how it holds up.
Stephen Rush has studied Carnatic Vocal Music with Sharada Kumar (USA), Shashi Kumar (Varanasi) and for the last 5 years with G.S. Rajalakshmi in Mysore (see photo below). He has produced an instructional video on South Indian Singing with Vidwan Kumar, and has learned over 20 Kritis in the last 4 years working with Vidwan Rajalakshmi as part of his “Summer Study in India” program.
This video (link above) shows the 13 students from the 2010 Program in Mysore, in performance as well as studying with their Gurus – in the homes of the Gurus. Video is 3.5 minutes long.