Friday, October 22, 2010

Blog Oct. 22:

Home. It's overwhelming to be here. There is so much of everything. I find myself appreciating so many things I took for granted before going to India. Food everywhere, anytime you want it. Extravagance. Calm, orderly Toronto driving (seriously- it's all relative). So many places and ways to spend money. And so much money everywhere. Fancy shops, fancy cars, fancy houses. Even my own house (we rented a cute little bungalow two months before I left for India) is extra adorable. I love being home. It had truly made me grateful for the beautiful country I live in and also super aware that the majority of world doesn't have half of the luxury we accept as our own every day. We, the lucky, are a minority.

There were times in India when I was hungry. The food there, delicious as it was, did not agree with my system and I was basically living on cereal, nuts and juice for the last month and a half before coming home. I lost a lot of weight (hooray! but it wasn't the healthiest way of doing so). So, there was a morning when we drove into Chennai as everyone was on the road heading for work. What a mix of people. Villagers walking, carrying baskets on their heads, driving ox-carts, riding motorcycles, or non-villagers driving in cars, all down a dirt road in Tamil Nadu at 8am. It became apparent how not hungry I really was as, from inside our air-conditioned car, I watched a man who probably lived in a mud hut (let's hope not) with a walking stick supporting his emaciated frame.... walking to work. There's hungry, and then there's hungry. And he had a job to go to. There's hungry and then there's hungry... and then there's hungrier beggars on the street. The people who beg on the streets in Toronto may be hungry but the "untouchable" beggars on the streets of India are truly hungry. It really puts hunger into perspective. If I had been truly starving, I would have eaten the food that was making me sick with no hesitation. It makes you think before declaring that you're "starving" before heading to a meal.

After taking off from Chennai at 5:30 am, I actually got a little teary when the British Airways stewardess brought our breakfast. Airplane food (omelette, fried tomato, hash browns) has never tasted so good. During my layover at Heathrow I nearly kissed the ground. Instead I had a Starbucks coffee and sandwich. Yum! And seeing my beautiful country emerge from under the clouds, glowing in the autumn sunset as we descended into Pearson Airport was extremely moving. (It was kind of embarrassing to be so teary but the moment was pretty epic. And I hadn't slept for like a day or something.) But seeing my amazing boyfriend again at the airport was the best moment of all.

One thing I've realized being back in the west is how much of a media break I had while I was in India. T.V. commercials hit me like a brick. Burger and pizza cravings are slyly implanted in my subconscious before I know what's happening. It's crazy. I'm observing myself contemplating buying things and realizing that I just saw a commercial for that product a minute ago. T.V. is dangerous!

Another thing is the patience I suddenly have. I've always been a very impatient driver, TTC rider and crowd navigator. Now, it's like I'm on I.S.T. time still (India Stretchable Time). We'll see how long it lasts- hopefully a good long while because this is great for my blood pressure!

The jet lag is slowly dissipating and the fog is clearing. Now I'm left with the question "What next?"... Well, my amazing boyfriend asked me to marry him the moment we got home and I said yes! So... there's that!! We've got a wedding to plan. I've got an original music project to continue working on. Gigs to book. People to play music with and catch up with. Since this isn't a travel blog anymore, I'll be writing more about these upcoming projects and events. I'm still getting myself organized and figuring out where to start. But it's wonderful to be home and have all these things to explore next.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Post: Oct. 9

It's hard to believe that there is only one more sleep until my flight home. It's been an incredible adventure here. I think yesterday was the best day I've had in India this entire time.

The faculty (Manu Koch, Steve Jenkins, David Anderson and Jovol Bell) spent the day with Manu's sister, Julia, in Auroville and Pondicherry. Julia lives in Auroville (it's very random that he came to work only an hour away from Auroville). Auroville is a very special place. It's very beautiful with lots of open spaces and trees and wildlife. The air smells heavenly. If you want to read more about what makes Auroville so unique, check out We started out at the Matrimandir, a huge golden globe-like building surrounded by beautiful grounds. From a distance the building is reminiscient of Epcot Center but as you get closer you realize how unique it is. The place is a spiritual center and you can't take pictures inside the Matrmandir grounds, so words will have to suffice to describe it. The building is a sphere made up of gold (real gold) discs/panels. It hovers above the ground, supported by some amazing architectural engineering. The grounds are beautiful and peaceful. Right beside the globe there is an enormous and incredible banyan tree. These trees grow roots back into the ground from their enormously spread out branches so it looks like there are many trunks supporting the branches. It is very quiet as there is no talking allowed on the grounds, inside or out. At the entrance to the building we were asked to removed our shoes and put on some white socks that they supplied. To get to the top inner chamber of the Matrimandir, you ascend a winding marble staircase that eventually becomes a plushly carpeted winding path, the carpet probably there to muffle footfalls as you get closer to the inner chamber. There are four pillars (that match the compass points exactly) that support the globe from the inside. As we ascended the winding path we passed several small waterfalls trickling down the golden walls beneath panes of glass.

Finally, we reached the inner chamber. It's primarily a meditation room, with the four pillars surrounding an enormous crystal ball in the middle of the room (or at least I think it was crysal- or a very high quality glass). Above the crystal ball is a small, circular opening in the ceiling where a shaft of light comes down and passes through the ball all the way through the building to meet another smaller glass ball in a pond below the building. The room is completely white. As soon as we walked in I actually got a little emotional. it was unexpected- we had rushed our way to get there on time for the brief half hour visitors were allowed in, and suddenly there was this hushed peacefulness in this beautiful room with beautiful light and this subliminally tingling energy. It was the most silent I've heard India be, but it also spoke to me in the loudest way. We sat down on some cushions and I spent the next twenty minutes (which flew by) gazing at that shaft of light illuminating the crystal ball. The spirituality of the room was ambiguous- there is no fixed religion to Auroville (it is called "The City in Quest of Truth"). But it was so soothing and extremely peaceful- a well needed "zen" moment. After our time was up the lights flicked on and off as our cue to exit. I visited the banyan tree on the way out of the grounds. It was the first time I could walk around unharassed and enjoy the surrounding beauty.

Visitor's Center Cafe in Auroville

After that, we went for coffee at the visitor's center and I explored some of the shops nearby the cafe while Julia and the guys chilled out. The shops had beautiful handmade crafts, textiles, jewellery, soaps and many more things, all locally made in Auroville. Then we got our driver and headed just outside of Auroville with Julia leading the way on her motorcycle. There were some more shops there where I was able to do some more successful bargaining (thrilling/exhilarating/addictive!). Then we went for lunch at a pizzeria called Pronto's nearby the shops. I had my second exciting experience of the day in getting to the restaurant. While I was caught up in bargaining in a shop the guys headed over to the pizza place in the car. Julia came in as I was handing the cash to the shopkeeper and told me she had a surprise for me outside. The surprise turned out to be that we both would ride her motorcycle up the street to meet the guys. I was a little nervous but agreed to get on the back of the two-wheeler. It was actually really fun! I've been on the back of a friend's scooter in Toronto before but this was much different- driving down a dirt road in India, surrounded by jungle! Anyway, it was like a two-minute ride and then we were there. Had a nice meal, soaked in an India moment when an ox-cart went jangling by our patio, and then headed back out to the East Coast Road towards Pondicherry (this time I was in the car).

We did a bit more shopping in Pondicherry. What a contrast to peaceful, sweet-smelling Auroville! Honking cars, autorickshaws, two-wheelers, exhaust fumes, stench of the fish market assailed our senses as we got out of the car. We met up with Julia again once our shopping was done and all headed out on foot to the temple. I had seen on Manu's facebook photos that he had already been to the temple and was very excited to meet the temple elephant I had seen in his pictures. And suddenly, there was an elephant, right there in front of a huge temple. These temple elephants are common in major cities. If you give them a rupee, they'll bless you with their trunk. A great idea, in theory. Standing in front of him/her, all of the sudden the elephant seemed really, really big. It took me some time to screw up my courage and walk up to the elephant. This Asian elephant was adorned with bells and decorated with Hindu markings on his/her face. He/she regarded me and held out her/his trunk to put the coin inside. I dropped it in, cringing as the real scary part was coming. The elephant tried to brush the top of my head with her/his trunk but I involuntarily backed away and the trunk missed my head. That wouldn't do. So I tried again. I swear, this elephant knew I was scared and had compassion for me. It took my rupee and (I concentrated on standing my ground) very gently touched the top of my head with his/her trunk. And that was it. A very wise animal. Although I felt sad for that elephant- it must be a strange and boring existence to stand in one place all day and bless them. It was still amazing to witness and experience though. I watched as an elderly Indian woman in her sari walking through the street touched her/his trunk as she passed in a familiar yet reverent way. A true India experience.

Getting blessed by the temple elephant.

Exhilarated but incredibly hot, we walked down to the waterfront promenade and sat down on the rocks, watching the waves come in and enjoying the ocean breeze. We hung out there for some time, just talking or watching the waves in silence. The tide was coming in and the waves became quite spectacular. Sitting by the water is one of my favourite things to do, and the smell of the sea is one of my favourite smells. So it was blissful to be there, surrounded by good company.

We had dinner at the nearby Promenade Hotel for the last time and headed home. It was satisfying to end this whole experience with such a beautiful day. Tomorrow we leave for Chennai and then we fly home! I'm really looking forward to coming back to the fall colours and Thanksgiving dinner (my family is having ours next weekend- yay! thanks, family!!). I think this is my last entry written while in India. Crazy. Anyway, I'm grateful to have come and had this experience, to have met the people I've met and to have shared in the music here.

More soon...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Post: Oct. 7

Yikes, I haven't posted in 17 days! Sorry sorry sorry. We moved into the campus form Tapovan on Sep. 26 and things have been crazy busy since then. Here's the synopsis:

Last week on Sep. 29, the inauguration of the campus was celebrated by a brilliant performance by the SAM students. We, the faculty, were extremely proud of them- they totally rocked the formal black tie event. The ceremony/performance took place on SAM's rooftop terrace and the starlit atmosphere (with goats bleating away in the distance) made the occasion all the more special. The next day we travelled into Chennai to perform a faculty/student concert at the Egmore Museum Theatre. The theatre had this lovely musty smell that reminded me of old books and libraries. It was a circular theatre similar to University of Toronto's Convocation Hall, but on a smaller scale. A very cool venue. What made it cooler was the bat that flew in during soundcheck and stayed for the entire performance, gobbling up mosquitoes as it circled above us. The performance was a lot of fun and a great way to finish up the semester. The students performed really well for the second night in a row. I'll say again how proud I am to have watched them grow a develop into real musicians over the past two and a half months. That night felt like the unofficial end of the semester because over the next five days we would be teaching a five day workshop at SAM that would include 20 new students from all over India. Before telling that story, let me first describe the great food we had the day of the concert. We ate lunch at an American-style diner called "Sparky's". The owner and chef is from Orange County, California and he cooked us the best North American food I've ever had (or at least it tasted that way to our dhal-saturated palattes!) It was surreal to be in there, surrounded by lots of other foreigners. This place is the only restaurant of its kind in Chennai, so it attracts us westerners. The waiter knew what we were about to ask when we started asking if the water and ice cubes were filtered! I had a chicken burger with fries that truly melted in your mouth- I still can't stop thinking about it! So we played the concert with happy bellies, only to head out to the best vegetarian restaurant in Chennai after the performance. I can't remember the name, but it's the only restaurant in the city open past 11pm. I had a delicious crispy dosa with mint and coconut chutney and sambah on the side, plus the best mango lassi I've had in India. It was a great day- I headed back to the campus on a high.

We had the next day off before the workshop began on Saturday morning. The workshop was really for students who couldn't commit to a six month program due to work, school, etc.. It ran from Saturday to Wednesday (yesterday). It was really nice to meet and hear the new students- more great talent emerging from this country! It was even cooler to see the old crew of SAM students step up and re-affirm their musicianship skills beside the new crew. The faculty each taught two ensembles over the course of the workshop. Both my ensembles rocked, if I may say so with a slight personal bias. I taught my first group a song called "In Your Wild Garden", written by one of my favourite singers/composers, Josefine Cronholm. It's a deceptively difficult tune as it only contains three chords but is played in a straight eighth 5/4 time going to a 3/4 swing over the bridge. They loved the song and really pulled it off in performance. My second group did a song written by our singer, Maalavika Manoj, called "Deceptive". It was awesome to watch them perform it and rock out, and Maalavika (who is only sixteen years old and a natural talent) totally owned the stage while the rest of the band rocked out. Our vice-president, Shyam Rao, supported the students on the drums which was an even greater treat.

After last night's student performance, it was time to say goodbye to the students and many of the SAM employees that we've gotten to know and will truly miss. Thank goodness for things like facebook where we can easily keep in touch with friends halfway across the world. I'm sure that I'll be seeing some of these students under bright stage lights in the not-too-distant future.

Our last day of teaching being yesterday, last night I had multiple nightmares about packing and missing my flight home. We're leaving for Chennai plenty early on Sunday afternoon (my flight home isn't until 5:30 on Monday morning!). In the meantime, we're heading to Pondicherry and Auroville tomorrow to do some shopping and probably have a nice meal at Sat Sanga or the Promenade Hotel. Saturday will be packing day and Sunday will bring more goodbyes with my amazing faculty colleagues. We're all flying out of Chennai airport to our separate destinations in the wee hours of Monday morning. It has been an honour and privilege to perform and teach alongside these guys. I'm grateful to have had this experience, with all its ups and downs. I am, however, very much looking forward to coming back to the land of the silver birch, home of the Canadian bacon and cheeseburger.