December 28, 2006
December 27, 2006
December 20, 2006
Here are some answers to questions a person going to attend Sawai Gandharva for the first time would have.
1. Is there a Sawai website?
Yes, there is... but it may not always have answers to your questions.
2. When is this festival held?
In 2006, it was held 7–11 Dec. As I understand, it is usually in the second week of December, ending usually on a Sunday.
3. Where is it held?
Since a few years the New English School, Ramanbaug has been hosting this festival. This school is quite close to the railway station.
4. Where are tickets available?
In 2006, they were available in some specified places in Pune from 1 December. The announcement about this was made in Pune newspapers and radio a week or so earlier. So you need help from a Pune-ite to get tickets. Also, only two tickets are given per head. However, tickets for Bharatiya baithak can be bought at the venue every day.
5. Are tickets available online?
Not that I know of.
6. How much do the tickets cost?
Rs 350 for the Bharatiya baithak; Rs 1600 season ticket (4 days) for chairs.
7. Any hotels close by where one can stay?
We were advised to stay in Hotel Shreyas (Apte Road) an affordable place, with a restaurant attached. It is not too far away from the concert venue. For the five-star hotel types, there is the Meredian, bang next to the railway station.
December 17, 2006
I can describe this experience using just one word that everyone understands very well: AWESOME. But I will go on to say that being part of this festival was to be part of what has become a tradition of excellence...excellence in music, excellence in organization, excellence in audience behaviour, and excellence in compering. It is sheer pleasure to witness such an event.
For musicians who are invited to perform here, it is an indication that they have ‘arrived’. They all do their best...and the knowledgeable audience passes instant judgement by their hearty applause...or lack of it.
The list of musicians this year was as below:
Day 1. Shailesh Bhagwat (Shahnai); Meena Phatarphekar; Dilshad/Saabir Khan (Sarangi); Shashwati Mandal; Ustad Raashid Khan.
Day 2. Kamlakar Naik from Goa (I loved his Sab jhoote jag ke yeh naate); Padma Deshpande (her naatyasangeet piece Roopbalee to narashaardool in Raag Kaafi is still ringing in my head); Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (wow!); Kaushiki Chakravarty (wow! wow!), and Pandit Jasraj (audiences love him!).
Day 3: Hema Upasani (very good); Manju Mehta (Sitar--played despite arthritis); Rahul Deshpande (wow! wow!) Debu Chowdhury (Sitar--very good); and Malini Rajurkar (as always, very good).
Day 4 morning: Parmeshwar Hegde; Rakesh Chaurasia (flute—his Pahadi dhun was oh! so melodious, with ghungroo sounds for added effect!) Asha Khadilkar (she’s good); and Madhav Gudi (voice and style just like Bhimsen Joshi).
Day 4 evening: Hemant Pendse; Anant Terdal (unique voice); Shubha Mudgal (what presence!); Amjad Ali Khan (wow!); and Deepak Maharaj (Kathak—very good, but it was like a lec-dem); The festival was supposed to end with Prabha Atre but she had a sore throat, so it ended with Bhimsen Joshi’s disciples singing Bhairavi. More about this treat in later paras.
I missed the first day, but attended the 2nd, 3rd and 4th days. At Sawai, I realised that one has to redefine one’s favourites, and add to their list of favourites...three newcomers stood out this year, and walked straight into the audience’s hearts: 25-year old Kaushiki Chakravarti, who sings brilliantly, is beautiful, and expressive (she must have stolen all 12,000 hearts!); Rahul Deshpande, who is someone to watch out for...his creativity and spontaneity are astounding; and Rakesh Chaurasia, nephew of Hariprasad Chaurasia, in whose hands the bansuri weaves melodious magic, much like it does in the hands of his uncle.
I discovered why some of the all-time greats are what they are: Pandit Jasraj, Shiv Kumar Sharma, and Amjad Ali Khan. They have mastered the art of enchanting audiences by their music, which is but an extension of their beings.
Other interesting aspects apart from the music itself: More than 10,000 people attended every day...on the last day, there must have been double that number!
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi came a few times...his car drove right in and he listened from the car. Many a musician said they prayed that he would sing next year.
One thing touched me very much. See photo. This man was led into and out of the concert place by this little boy (his grandson?) several times during the 3 days I attended.
The seating arrangements are amazing. Almost everyone gets to sit...either on sofas or chairs or on the ground in the baithak style. If someone sitting on the chairs goes away, the chair remains empty...no one comes and sits on it. Kudos to the discipline of the Sawai audiences!
There are food stalls behind, and in the lane outside, selling simple, tasty food. There are a few stalls selling music and related articles, such as books, Shruthi boxes, calendars, etc. It gave me immense happiness to buy a Shruthi box for my daughter from this sacred place...what’s more, the brand I was recommended to buy was Raagini—same as my daughter’s name!
A line about the compere Anand Deshmukh: he has a great voice; he uses just enough words; does not dominate the show; has a sense of humour; and gracefully fits into the Sawai Gandharva tradition of excellence.
The ending of this year’s festival was unique too. Bhimsen Joshi’s disciples (including son Srinivas Joshi and Madhavgudi) sang Jamuna ke teer (Bhairavi). It was a touching moment when Joshi’s contemporary, Pt. Firoz Dastur (now 87, very old and feeble, and hardly able to talk), suddenly began to sing along! The applause all around was thunderous!
I would not be exaggerating if I said that when one attends Sawai Gandharva, one gets a taste of what heaven must be like.
December 12, 2006
This one's called Abrus (Abrus precatorius). It has many other names: Jequirity, Crab’s Eye, Rosary Pea, etc. Some Indian names for Abrus are: Guriginja (Telugu), Kunni (Malayalam), Coondrimany (Tamil), Galaganji (Kannada), Ghungchi (Hindi), Kunch (Bengali), Gunj (Marathi).
I have seen jewellers using these attractive seeds to weigh gold and silver. Each seed has a remarkably uniform weight of 1/10th of a gram. The seed is highly poisonous. They look like ladybugs and are used in jewellery.
This splash of red is from the Coral bean seeds from the Coral bean tree (right), also called red sandalwood, sagaseed tree, red-bead tree, Raktakambal in Hindi (Adenanthera pavonina).
This one’s a family favourite. We collect these red seeds when we go for walks to Indira Park nearby. The red dots on brown earth make a very pretty sight. Children love collecting them.
December 01, 2006
See the tree, the forest, the field lush with crops, a stream dazzling i
Nothing happens unless you know how to dream. The Establishment is out to destroy, by remote control, all the brain cells that induce dreams. But some dreams manage to escape. I am after the dreams that have escaped from jail. The right to dream is what allows mankind to survive. If you end the right to dream — which the entire world and everyone is doing — you destroy the world. The right to dream should be the first fundamental right. The right to dream. [...]
There’s a story about Nanak — his father made him sit in a shop, told him to sell goods… dus, gyarah, barah, tera… tera, tera, tera... and he gave everything away. Everything is yours. With me, everything became tera… nothing touches the inside. Material things don’t touch me, I remain an outsider, I can’t always be an insider. Genuine warmth, real understanding, some friendship, a few strange things touch me, but I’m an outsider and an insider at the same time. [...]
Since the 1980s, I have been vocal about the daily injustice and exploitation faced by the most marginalised and dispossessed of our people: tribals, the landless rural poor who then turn into itinerant labour or pavement dwellers in cities. Through reports in newspapers, through petitions, court cases, letters to the authorities, participation in activist organisations and advocacy, through the grassroots journal I edit, Bortika, in which the dispossessed tell their own truths, and finally through my fiction, I have sought to bring the harsh reality of this ignored segment of India’s population to the notice of the nation, I have sought to include their forgotten and invisible history in the official history of the nation. I have said over and over, our Independence was false; there has been no Independence for these dispossessed peoples, still deprived of their most basic rights.
Let the people trace their hands over every alphabet until they can write for themselves:
I know, I can, I will.
How to save and protect one’s culture in these circumstances? Which culture do we protect? And what do we mean when we speak of Indian culture in the 21st century? What culture? Which India? Sixty years after our hard-won Independence, the khadi sari is India just as the mini skirt and the backless choli is. A bullock cart is India just as much as is the latest Toyota or Mercedes car. Illiteracy haunts us, yet the same India produces men and women at the forefront of medicine, science and technology. Eight-year-old children toil mercilessly, facing unimaginable working conditions and abuse as child labourers. That is India. On the other hand, there is another lot of eight-year-olds who spend their time in air-conditioned classrooms and call their mothers at lunch break using their personal mobile phones. That too is India. Satyam Shivam Sundaram is India. Choli ke peechchey kya hai is also India. The multiplex and the mega mall are India. The snake charmer and the maharishi — they too are India.
As we face the future, and as I stand here, invited to speak of my country’s culture before such an eminent gathering and at such an honourable occasion, I wish to share my dream of where I would like to see my India go. I have spoken of the fundamental right to dream. I would now like to exercise that right.
I dream of an India where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where knowledge is free. Where the world has not been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls. Where words come out of the depth of truth. Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection. Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way in the dreary sand of dead habit.
I dream of an India to which the world ‘backward’ does not and cannot ever apply. I wish to be Third World no more but First, the only world. I wish for children to be educated. I wish for women to step into the light. I wish for justice for the common man. Survival for the farmer. Homes for the poor. And hope for all. I wish for debts to cease. For poverty to vanish. For hunger to become a bad word that no one utters. I wish for the environment to be protected, to be loved and restored. I wish the land to be healed, the waters to be pure again. For the tiger to survive. I wish for self reliance, for self respect, for independence from the shackles of superstition. I wish for equal medical aid for all.
For light and water and a roof above every head. I wish for more and more books to be written, to be published, in every language there is in the country. Let the words pour out. Let the stories be told. Let the people read. Let them learn to read. To trace their fingers over every alphabet until they can spell their names. Their addresses. Until they can write for themselves: I know. I can. I will. Let us fight ignorance with knowledge. Let us battle hatred with logic. Let us slay evil with the sword of the pen.
I wish for no more satis, no more dowry deaths, no more honour killings, no more flesh being bought and sold. Let no more parents sell their children to survive. Let no more mothers drown their daughters in the dead of night. Let the downtrodden awake, let the forgotten faces and the muffled voices arise to claim their own. Let the pattern make room, let these new threads find place, let new colours set afire the tapestry. Set ablaze the future. Into that heaven of freedom, let my India awaken again and again. It is a big dream, I know. But not an impossible one.
When I speak of Indian culture, then, I speak of all this. Culture is what will take us into the future yet keep us in close contact with our roots, our history, our tradition, our heritage. Culture will let us take a quantum leap and land on the moon bur first, before all that, it must help us take a few small steps towards understanding ourselves better, towards knowing each other better. Culture must once again remind us to be a tolerant and truly secular people.
I have tried in my own way to give you a picture of this culture. But how am I to even to begin arriving at a definition that will be acceptable to all across an India that is so chaotic. So calm. So flexible. So rigid. So rich. So poor. So understanding. So easy to be misunderstood. After all, there are many Indias, as I say over and over again. Simultaneous. Even parallel.
And whose culture is it anyway? Yours? Mine? Theirs? There are so many ‘theirs’ in the land of my birth who have nothing but the harsh landscape of surviving from day to day. The dispossessed remain with us after six decades of becoming possessed of a freedom we all fought for. They all fought for.
I claim elsewhere to have always written about the ‘culture of the downtrodden’. How tall or short or true or false is this claim? The more I think and write and think some more, the harder it gets to arrive at a definition. I hesitate. I falter. I cling to the belief that for any culture as old and ancient as ours to have survived over time and in time, there could only be one basic common and acceptable core thought: humaneness. To accept each other’s right to be human with dignity.
This then is my fight. My dream. In my life and in my literature.”
(Thanks to Savitri who sent me the speech; photo of bead sellers above, taken by Sadhana at Tirupati Nov 2004)
November 23, 2006
But, start READING the book, and problems begin. First of all, it takes a very superficial and partial look at a diverse country. And then, on almost every page there are bloomers—mostly factual—and hilarious ones at that! Here are some of Ms Guthridge’s observations of India.
Page 1: The main languages (in India) are Hindi and English.
Page 12: There is not much work in the country, and so many Indians go and live in the cities. Just two pages later, on page 14, the author contradicts herself saying: In the small villages in the country people live close together and help each other. There is always work to do.
Page 13: Millions of children live on the street (see illustration).
Page 20: Rich children go to school by taxi. Poor children walk to school.
Page 24: There are not many cars in India. Most people are too poor to own a car.
Page 26: Trains are very crowded and never run on time. Some people travel on the roof. This costs nothing. (see illustration)
Page 34: Many Hindu gods take the form of animals. Because of this, Hindus do not eat meat. Page 35: The white cow is special to Hindus. Cows wander the streets eating from fruit and vegetable stalls. Even poor shop keepers do not mind.
Page 48: The Moguls loved to hunt. They killed many wild animals. Today there are reserves to protect the animals that are left.
Page 56: Indians love singing and dancing. The sitar, the tamboura and the tabla are heard at every festival and wedding, or in the market place.
Page 59: It is thought that one tiger is killed every day in India. Parts of the body are used to make medicine.
However, in all fairness, I would like to say that if this book had only drawings and no words, it would have been fantastic. Something like our own Mario Miranda’s book on Paris. Ms Guthridge is, without doubt, a highly talented illustrator.
There are five other books in this series, all by the same author: Travelling Solo to Vietnam, ...to France, ...to Morocco, ...to Japan, ...to Italy. I wonder how they READ.
November 17, 2006
The Indian name for this season is Hemanta-ritu—the time when it just begins to get cold and the sun begins to set earlier than before; suddenly 5.30 pm looks like 6.30 pm, and you want to go to bed early.
Here are the other Indian seasons...their names make the seasons sound so romantic; names we should have all been familiar with, but unfortunately are not.
1. Hemanta-ritu: mid-October to mid-December: Season /of deepening shadows.../slash /of/ wind/in frost-light/ a song/remembered/a scene/replayed/ it is getting cold now.
2. Shishira-ritu: mid-December to mid-February: Season/of ice and song.../snow sets on /ice /through /fog and rain/ the sometimes sun/sometimes /shines /flowers /sit pretty/it is shivering cold.
3. Vasanta-ritu: mid-February to mid-April: Season/of softening snows.../rivers rush/cold/swift/to touch the earth/warmth evaporates/and the sun/climbs/the /sky/it is the end of biting cold.
4. Greeshma-ritu: mid-April to mid-June: Season/of raging fire.../white/hot/blazing/only/sea breeze/and spectacular skies/permit relief/it is hot and hotter.
5. Varsha-ritu: mid-June to mid-August: Season/of pouring sky.../storm clouds/gather/sweep/across the land/conquest/follows/conquest/it is the monsoon.
6. Sharata-ritu: mid-August to mid-October: Season/of heavy stillness.../like a fruit plucked/too soon/like the air/charged/and/changing/it is cold and not cold/it is wet and not wet. (from the Tulika Diary of Seasons 2001)
Every one of these seasons brings with it, its own ambience, its own festivals, different in different states of India. Somehow, when the season changes, something new and different seems to happen...however subtle. There is change in the air, a new day seems to dawn bringing with it, new hope...
And let us remember that this happens in India, SIX times a year!
November 10, 2006
November 03, 2006
Enjoy them...after all, a picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words!
October 27, 2006
And of course, the question arose, why don’t we have something like this in India?
I got the answer to my question in February this year, when Vijay and I discovered Surabhi, a unique 121-year old traditional Telugu theatre group from Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh. The ‘theatre’ was a make-shift structure with an asbestos roof with kacha flooring with wooden benches to sit on. The play we saw was Maya Bazar, a mythological from the Mahabharata. It is the story of the romance between Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu and Balarama’s daughter Sashirekha, and how they are united against all odds by the rakshasha Ghatotkachaa (see photo) using his magic powers.
We had heard that Surabhi plays were spectacular, but we really did not know what to expect. And were we in for a surprise! In Maya Bazar, arrows fly on stage, meeting in mid-air, in a display of fireworks; one arrow causes a wall of fire, another brings down rain to put out the fire; a romantic song in a garden has real pigeons flying around; Narada actually descends from the clouds, singing. And when Ghatotkacha makes his appearance, the magic seems to begin all over again—carpets fly, laddus magically ascend into Ghatotkacha’s mouth; brooms rise up to give a beating to the baddies; a couch on which Sashirekha is lying down actually rises up and flies away!!
As more and more special effects unfolded before us, we were mesmerized...and kept exclaiming in wonder and disbelief at what was happening on stage. At the end of the play, both our children asked us if they could go to the play again! We went home and called up about 25 people, family and friends included, and invited them to the play the next weekend. The same reaction from them too... "That was out of this world...why didn’t we hear about Surabhi earlier?"
If people hadn’t heard about Surabhi, it is because this group of skilled performers have no means to get the right kind of publicity. They performed in Hyderabad, 5 days a week for six whole months, thanks to government patronage, but there was hardly any crowd despite the low priced ticket of Rs 15!
Surabhi was essentially a travelling rural theatre. Its decline began with the advent of cinema, and then TV. In its heyday, Surabhi had over 50 drama troupes, all in the same family—now it has just five. Threatened with closure every passing day, the Surabhi family struggles to make a living.
It is a typical story of simple, genuine people, with huge talent, being forgotten, while all the attention is on those pseudo-intellectuals with their ‘nothing-on-the-stage-you-have-to-imagine-it' kind of theatre, which corporate giants patronise, and for which people spend Rs 500-Rs 2000 per ticket, and clap even as they wonder why they are clapping!
Surabhi should not be allowed to die. They need patronage. If you live in India and want to help, please invite Surabhi (98485-80211 / 98490-26386) to perform in your town or city. And if you find them performing nearby, please spend Rs 15 per ticket for an awesome theatre experience.
For this is the India one must see, and be proud of.
Other interesting facts
• Surabhi was started in 1885 by Vanarasa Govindarao and Vanarasa Chinaramayya in Surabhi, a tiny hamlet near Rayachoti (another version mentions a remote Kadapa village—Sorugu), now in Kadapa district in Andhra Pradesh.
• Surabhi is unique also because it is a one-family theatre group in which every member of the family acts, including toddlers who are made to put on some make up and costumes, and walk up and down on the stage. There have apparently been cases when an older family member died on the stage, but the play went on without stopping.
• The name Surabhi comes from the Sanskrit shloka Shushstu Rabhathe Janaanandam, Ithi Surabhi, which literally means, "...because in Surabhi, people’s joy is easily obtained".
• In addition to Maya Bazar, they do other plays such as Sri Krishna Leelalu, Lava Kusa, Balanagamma, Bhakta Prahlada and Sri Veerabramhmamgari Jeevita Charita.
• The hugely successful movie Maya Bazar was inspired by Surabhi, and has the same kind of special effects that the Surabhi play has.
• At the time of writing, there has been a positive development—Surabhi has been invited by a cultural foundation to perform in Vishakapatnam, from 1 to 22 November (The Hindu, 18 October 2006).
October 20, 2006
When I born, I Black,
When I grow up, I Black,
When I go in Sun, I Black,
When I scared, I Black,
When I sick, I Black,
And when I die, I still black...
And you White fellow,
When you born, you pink,
When you grow up, you White,
When you go in Sun, you Red,
When you cold, you blue,
When you scared, you yellow,
When you sick, you Green,
And when you die, you Gray...
And you calling me colored???
The bird has been named after the Bugun tribe in whose land it was found. Says Mr Aasheesh Pittie, Hyderabad-based birdwatcher, The discovery of a new bird is really special, but when it’s a stunning species with no geographically close relatives and in a part of the world where bird collectors have sampled birds for more than a century, it’s nothing short of a miracle.
In a world where the front page is full of mishaps, such news, tucked away on the last, is really exhilerating. There is much to crib about, but one must rejoice in small happinesses.
Remembering an old friend
Talking about a new bird species, I remember fondly, an old friend, who has sadly, found its way into the endangered species list, all over the world. The good old sparrow.
On a trip to Nagarjuna Sagar recently, apart from the abundant water in River Krishna, I enjoyed looking at the several insects and birds that frequented the vast openness of Punnami, the guest house we stayed in. The canteen overlooked Krishna, with a glass separating the inside from the outside. The quiet was unbelievable after our daily dose of Himayatnagar’s increasing decible levels.
Suddenly, a house sparrow came hopping near the glass next to our table. It pecked at grains on the floor, hopped around on the back of the chair outside. A familiar sight, one would say. But, no longer, in the part of the world I live in, and in many others. The humble house sparrow, which had been a taken-for-granted part of my childhood, has been one of the casualties of changing lifestyles. They are gone! My children don’t know what they look like. The chirping of sparrows in the background of everyday life was so natural that one hardly noticed it. It has now been replaced by a doorbell simulation (which I hate, and which I judge people by...sorry!)...you press the switch and it goes, cheap, chip, chip chip, chip...!!
Subject of many a pittamma-kakkamma (sparrow-crow) story, pittamma was always the good bird, and the poor old kakamma always played the villian, much like Rajesh Khanna and Prem Chopra in the movies of the seventies! But unlike in the movies, looks like our little hero has been knocked out by the villain...that spoon-stealing, chapati-filching rascal—the crow—who’s still around. More on him another time, for he’s an intelligent and interesting character, and deserves a blog posting all to himself!
For now, I’ll say adieu, little sparrow...we miss having you around.
Links: Where have all the sparrows gone? by Vasudha, V., http://www.indiatogether.org/2005/aug/env-sparrow.htm)
Excitement for Ornithologists by K. Venkateshwarlu, http://www.hindu.com/2006/09/12/stories/2006091202072200.htm
Reference: Wondrous babbler, Editorial, The Hindu 13 October 2006.
This festival is a 9-day, all-women affair. Girls and women arrange flowers on a plate, stacking circular rows of different varieties of flowers available during the season, on top of which is placed some turmeric and a piece of dry coconut. This is worshipped as Bathukamma. Women stand in a circle and sing songs as they go around the colourful Bathukammas placed in the centre, clapping and dancing rhythmically. On the final day, they gather at temples next to a pond or a lake, again sing and dance, after which they put the Bathukammas in the water.
I returned to my world, my Kodak happy and full of bright hues, but with questions in my mind....I grew up on that very land, yet why is that I cannot have the kind of faith those women have? Why am I incapable of singing and dancing like them? Yet, why do I cling on...why can’t I just let go? In fact, why does it sometimes seem like I belong nowhere?
In India too, we have lorry drivers who love their vehicles so much that they personalize every inch of their lorries. You just need to look, and you will find every paint-able part of lorries painted in several bright colours with a variety of motifs, words, and messages. The words could be just a simple, ‘Please sound horn’ or a ‘Use dipper at night’. Sometimes they could be, in Hindi, Mera Bharat mahaan (My India is great), or in Telugu, Nidaname pradanamu (being slow is of importance). Very often you find names of gods and goddesses (Jai Hanuman) or those of popular films.
I have been thinking of blogging since some time, been reading others, but hesitating...and then, what the hell...I like to write; I like to share thoughts...so why not? Even if no one reads it, it'll be a place where I can keep my stuff.
I have figured out that I'll post some interesting photos that I take from my Kodak EasyShare CX7430, and some incidents, some thoughts, some observations of life, some funny stuff. But everything will be straight from the heart. No thinking, no intellectualizing. No whatifs...I hope I can handle that!
And, hopefully, no rules! This is my kingdom, and I am the king, queen, jester, everything. :)
There...I made a beginning! Let me click on 'Publish Post' and see what happens...