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Fete de la Musique: Celebrating the summer solstice in the Marais #ParisBliss

Last evening on the longest day of 2017, I met the kids and mums on the banks of the Seine where they had been lounging for a while. We were facing the tip of the Ile Saint-Louis, the smaller of the two islands that are amidst the Seine in the centre of Paris. The idea was to make our way through the streets catching what we could of the citywide festival of music, where performances both organised and impromptu were to be the order of the day.

We started ambling down Rue St Paul past sun kissed facades. Turning left on Rue Saint Antoine, the mothers were ensnared by an eager fruit seller while the kids and me dove into the less conspicuous but absolutely breathtaking Church of St Paul St Louis. It was cool inside the church, a welcome respite from the sweaty heat outside. Aadyaa was thrilled to be able to light another candle at yet another church, her latest fixation as we explore Paris.



The Rue Sevigne frames the facade of the church beautifully. I caught this frame as I turned back to make sure Udai was behind me. There he is to the right of the frame cooling himself in front of one of the ventilation ducts (yes, we are amid a heat wave here)! The street also has some delightful shops with lovely and enticing facades. I was reminded of Ho Chi Minh City where I fell in love with the shops decor. I’m wondering if it was the Parisian influence or the other way around!!

Turning left onto Rue des Franc Bourgeois we saw a string of heritage buildings, many of them hotels. This area is within the Marais, where the epicentre of 17th century Parisian society was during the time of Henry IV. One can only imagine how the hotels, designed in classical style with front courtyards and back gardens, were at the heart of aristocratic life in those times!

The Musee Caranavalet is at the corner and a few others including the delightful little Jardin de l’hotel Lamoignon that popped up to our left. We had begun to see signages inviting us into various buildings hosting the Fete de la Musique. The EDM sounds streaming from the Uniqlo premises perked Udai up a bit, but my expression must have told him how enthusiastic I am about that genre of music. So we walked on.

Amidst the beautiful framed entrances and detailed stone masonry, we found another treasure, the Notre-Dame des Blancs-Manteaux. A sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary, there has been a church in existence here since 1258 though the present structure is more recent (1685). We sat inside absorbing the calmness and spirituality of the space. And just as we were leaving, the priest broke into the most melodious Latin incantations I have heard. Much credit, of course, to the acoustics of the church!


Our first musical encounter as part of the Fete was inside the premises of the Credit Municipal de Paris. A swing quartet if you please! Delightfully balanced and with strong vocals, this was a pleasure especially because of the scale of the little courtyard that made it an intimate experience. Watch the dancing and you’ll know what it felt like. Aadyaa and me joined in too briefly!


Next we heard young talent inside the historic premises of the Archives Nationales which used to be the Hotel de Rohan, one of the many 18th century mansions in Marais that used to belong to the Strasbourg bishops. Post the revolution, the building became the French government’s printing press and then the archives. The open to public courtyard was impressive as were the few performances we took in, featuring instrumental ensembles as well as opera singing!!



Our walk back to the Chatelet Metro comprised a pit stop to grab a drink and some dessert, a few more glimpses of interesting monuments framed by these historic streets (see the Tower of St Jacques below) and then we navigated our way through the growing crowds, hordes of people enjoying the fete, a giant outdoor party!!

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Sweet and sour escapades in Bali

This short trip to Bali presented a set of varied and interesting experiences. I had heard from friends and family about the quaint Balinese worship rituals and sure enough, the carved stone statues and beautifully decorated offerings to the Gods and demon spirits were everywhere. So was the tourist-oriented commerce with its plethora of souvenirs and knick-knacks, though the large number of designer clothing and accessory stores with high quality products and tasteful displays were the icing on the cake during our sojourns through Seminyak and Kuta. And, of course, there was the glorious sea!

We had done little advance planning for this trip, and I had the sense of floating from experience to experience over the three days we were in Bali. And because we had known each other so long, we were able to laugh at the imperfect decisions just as well as we savored the ones that turned out well. Which is just as travel ought to be, spontaneous and rich in detail, and stress free to boot! Presenting a set of small stories from our Bali sojourn….

The kindness of strangers

Bali offered us the perfect escape into anonymity, allowing us to have a reckless element to our capers on the beach. One evening, a couple of us were caught in strong currents and taken a tad further out to see than we had anticipated. Reaching the shore rather breathless (and a bit shaken) after a strenuous swim back, we were touched to find that the man from whom we were renting our deck chairs was already in the water, genuinely concerned for us and ready to get help!

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Laughing at ourselves

One night, we ventured into Kuta to sample the nightlife and got lost trying to walk our way to Hard Rock Hotel. Now this is hard to do in Kuta, which is small and linear, but clearly we have talent! After resorting to an exorbitant cab ride to get to our destination, we caught the last one and a half songs of a talented rock band at Centrestage, in Hard Rock Hotel. After the band wound up and we downed the drinks we had hastily ordered, we moved to Hard Rock Café, only to find that the live band there, the one producing screechy noises in a language that was hard to identify, was also on its last song. And so, much amused by our pathetic attempts to enjoy Kuta’s nightlife, we spent a few silent and awestruck moments on the beach, watching the bright moon and sparkling stars reflected in the rhythmic waves, before heading back to the hotel.

 

 

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For happy senses, go to the local Warungs

With two vegetarians in our midst, one of them prone to a number of allergies, we were slightly skeptical about food. We need not have been. We delighted in the local Warungs (equivalents of dhabas in India) as well as the streetside cafes and restaurants we found. The Warungs specialised in local Balinese and Indonesian food. Our first meal, in the tiny Warung opposite our hotel, was chosen from a limited menu but was deliciously prepared, happily customised and served with side dishes of conversation and friendliness! My favourite meal in Bali it was. Warung Ocha in Seminyak allowed you to pick what you wanted from a buffet and the most tasteful dishes were the salads and veggie stir fries.

There’s also a lot to be said for the highly developed sense of aesthetics in Bali and the sinple Warungs capture this well. In Ocha, the landscaping and interplay of indoor and oudoor spaces would put most high-end restaurants to shame! Warung Damar in Kuta was more upmarket and the beef redang and veggie gado gado were memorable. Dinner at La Sal, the Spanish eatery down the road, with its sense of space, stood out for its careful preparation and assembly.

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The aesthetics at Warung Ocha vetted the appetite, certainly!

Unexpected celebrity status

That Indian cinema is popular worldwide is not news. Two young girls who offered us a share of the their offerings at Tirta Empul giggled about Salman Khan and Shahrukh. But we were all rather surprised that soap operas from Indian television seemed to really capture the Balinese imagination.

Wayan, our taxi driver for the day trip we took to Mount Batur, had me down as his contact person. Even as we discussed how common his name was in Bali, he expressed how delighted he was to have met a person called Mukta in person! Now this was a bit strange, as mine isn’t a particularly common Indian name. He murmured something about Mukta being a character in a daily Hindi soap called Utaran that he watched (dubbed in Bahasa, of course). At the buffet lunch we ate that day, our server Putu (another common name in Bali), was ecstatic when I introduced myself. She beckoned to her friends in excitement, pointing to me and saying “Mukta Rathore, Mukta Rathore…” once again referring to the character in the soap. I sure did not expect to be a celebrity in Bali!

 

Remembering Geeta Dutt, missing daddy, enjoying the melancholy today

It’s her birth anniversary today. Geeta Dutt, whose voice influenced me deeply in my growing years, teaching me that its not the perfect tone and pitch but the soul that makes good music. I spent hours on end listening to the collection of Geeta Dutt songs we had on cassette. There was a small cassette player that I would use, not the larger music system that stood in my parents’ bedroom, where Hindustani classical music would play in the early hours of the morning and through the long evenings as well. The little cassette player was mostly left to my use and Geeta Dutt ruled the roost here. I remember the play-stop-rewind-play routine we used to pen down the lyrics of all her songs. Considering I had hardly any Hindi on me at the time (we lived in Bombay and I was fluent in English and Marathi only), I wonder what sense the words made to me, but I loved them nevertheless.

Geeta Dutt’s melancholy numbers appealed to me the most. I’m listening at this very moment to ‘Mera sundar sapna beet gaya‘, from Do Bhai, Music by SD Burman. The song is in Raag Bilawal and Annu Kapoor reminded me this morning, as I tuned into his radio show Suhaana Safar with Annu Kappor on my way to work, that the song was Geeta’s (she was then Geeta Roy) first solo break in 1947. Other favourites continue to be ‘Koi door se Aawaz de, Chale Aao..‘ from Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam (1962, Music by Hemant Kumar, Lyricist Shakeel Badayuni) and ‘Kaise koi jeeye‘(1964, Baadbaan, Music also by Hemant da) . The desolation and desperation that Geeta Dutt could bring into her voice left everything else far behind and took me, even then when I was not yet ten, into a very different world. A world where only emotion mattered.

Annu Kapoor signed off this morning’s show with the immortal ‘Vaqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam‘ (1959, Kaagaz ke phool, Music by SD Burman, Geeta Dutt was in her prime in Guru Dutt’s movies!). As Geeta Dutt’s voice came through over my car stereo, the tears began to flow. I remembered sitting on daddy’s lap as a child, my ears glued to his chest, hearing him sing along to the stereo. I would tilt my head to watch his face as he sang. His eyes shut, a smile on his lips, his face resplendent with peace and joy.

In his time, my daddy would have put modern day Bollywood fans to shame. When he was young, he used to watch the First Day First Show of as many Hindi film releases as he could. He could tell you not only the actor, producer and director for nerly every film released through the late ’50s and early ’70s, but also the music director, lyricist, playback singers, and many stories peppered with gossip about the affairs, the tiffs and the saucy politics of the Hindi film industry. But when the music played, he would not speak. He would be totally immersed.

In the last few weeks of his life, daddy would ask me to sit next to him and sing. And he would too, as much as he could. He told me the best thing he did was encourage me to learn music. He told me that my voice gave him the deepest possible pleasure.

He left us so many years ago, but the gaping hole he left behind will never be filled. No wonder the melancholy in Geeta Dutt’s filled me with a deep personal pain this morning. A pain I did not fully understand as a child, a pain that now fills me with despair but also tinges my moments with the sweetness of nostalgia.

Remembering Haarlem #1: Of music and dancing

One of the highlights of visiting my uncle and aunt in The Netherlands is the trip into the heart of Haarlem, the city where they live. Haarlem is a quaint town, the capital of the Noord Holland province and preserved beautifully in a manner typical of Dutch towns.

Haarlem has been in existence since Roman times and grew to become one of the most populated and influential cities in the Medieval times, a centre of trade inundated by Flemish merchants. Haarlem lost its prominent with Amsterdam’s rise during the Golden Age (17th-18th Century). Today, its essentially medieval layout and the visual richness of Gothic architecture is experienced strongly when you walk through it. We enjoyed getting lost in its streets, especially closer to the centre where many streets are quaint, narrow and exclusively pedestrian.

Late 18th century city map of Haarlem from Wikipedia

Late 18th century city map of Haarlem from Wikipedia

Wandering the quiet residential streets in Haarlem, where a surprise is right round the corner

Wandering the quiet residential streets in Haarlem, where a surprise is right round the corner

The explorers, taking it all in!

The explorers, taking it all in!

Our Haarlem expedition was just a couple of days before the FIFA mania began!

Our Haarlem expedition was just a couple of days before the FIFA mania began!

Architecture along the mainstreet

Architecture along the mainstreet

This is the sort of image that stays in your mind long after you leave Holland- cycles, people enjoying the outdoors, heritage and very well-designed road infrastructure!

This is the sort of image that stays in your mind long after you leave Holland- cycles, people enjoying the outdoors, heritage and very well-designed road infrastructure!

As you must do in a town like this, we gravitated slowly towards the Town Square or the Grote Markt. We knew we were close to this epicentre of Haarlem as soon as we began to hear the distinct music of the street organs and spot them, positioned on a corner or in the middle of a courtyard, people smiling at them as they walked by while some stood to appreciate their intricate facades. The Dutch street organ is a quaint sight, usually family owned and intricately decorated. They used to be all manually operated by an organ grinder but tend to be automated nowadays. I’ve seen them here and there in the cities of Holland before, but never a profusion of street organs like we saw on the Monday we decided to walk through Haarlem. It happened to be a long weekend thanks to the Christian festival of Pentecost or Pinkster. Through the morning, we watched residents and tourists descend into the centre of the city, and the organs seemed to swell in number too! The pictures below are each of/from a different street organ and all from the streets of Haarlem.

Particularly attractove for children

Particularly attractive for children

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Details are very interesting

Very much a part of the scenery

Very much a part of the scenery

 The sounds of the street organ changes the entire experience of walking down a narrow shopping street

The sounds of the street organ changes the entire experience of walking down a narrow shopping street

Udai spotted the back of one of the organs and thoush we can;t make sense of it, here's the documentation!

Udai spotted the back of one of the organs and though we can’t make sense of it, here’s the documentation!

Taking advantage of the shade under a tree to attract people on a hot hot day!

Taking advantage of the shade under a tree to attract people on a hot hot day!

Haarlem’s Grote Markt is a delight. The beautiful open space is dominated by the towering St. Bavo Cathedral, which you can see for miles around the city, and the beautiful Town Hall or Stadhuis at the other end. When we first reached, we thought the Cathedral was shut because of Pentecost (it wasn’t though and the St. Bavo experience is the stuff of another post!) and so, we sought to enjoy the activity in the square. And I’m so glad we did!

St. Bavo towers over the Grote Markt

St. Bavo towers over the Grote Markt

Lounging around. I loved watching the crowd at the square

Lounging around. I loved watching the crowd at the square

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Plenty of space to eat, drink, dance and hang out!

Plenty of space to eat, drink, dance and hang out! The Stadhuis is in the background

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The most fun thing we did was dance in the Silent Disco. You put on headphones and dance away. Those who watch could think you are crazy and will most certainly have a laugh. The kids and me went in, and then the kids did a second round once more, so kicked were they with the concept and experience! Udai kept wanting to bring the concept back to India (no noise pollution, wow!), only to be told they already have it on the beaches in Goa!

_DSC6315_DSC6317_DSC6316_DSC6325A band was performing in the middle of the Grote Markt, belting out mostly Latino music. As we sat there, sipping our drinks and trying out Poffertjes (A Dutch pancake with toppings, the most popular in summer being strawberries and cream!), a crowd began to gather. And dance! In a jiffy, Aadyaa had dragged me in and there we were, jumping about, surrounded by beautifully dressed couples doing the salsa and the meringue. Udai took the opportunity to polish off some new herring at another food stall.

An animated band

An animated band

With very enthusiastic dancers

With very enthusiastic dancers

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The best thing about events like this at truly public spaces is how genders, age groups and classes mix. Look at the children running freely in between the dancing couples!

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And whats better than dancing with papa?

And what’s better than dancing with papa?

Then came a church visit, a much-needed ice cream and a giant serving of the Dutch frites topped with mayonnaise and a long, long walk back along the canal and the forest till we reached home. A day well spent, steeped in music and dance, sunshine and conversation!

And before I wind up this long long post, here are my two ‘crowd’ clicks that I really like!

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My emotional bond with art is also my tool for positivity

I feel blessed today by my good fortune in finding not one, but two gurus to guide me through my journeys in art and self-development. For these are intrinsically linked and I see that clearly more than ever before in my life.

Let me back up. Culling out lessons from the experiences of friends, family and my own, dealing with the stresses of urban life and staying positive in the face of multiple pressures are the most oft repeated challenges we face. For those who put all their eggs in one basket, by choice or otherwise, it becomes vital to excel in their chosen area of concentration, whether its the home, the workplace or a serious hobby. My strategy has been to diversify my risks so to speak and is in line with the fact that i do have multiple interests and I may say talents that I can pursue. For many years, I focused on studying and music suffered. If I turned to music, a full time job would mean it would get little attention. If I left it, my guilt would kill me. I would stare longingly at salsa dancers and die to learn. I would go to performances all alone and cry bitter tears of remorse.

In my thirties, in the middle of struggling to balance home and career, raising young kids, something snapped inside me. On an impulse, I joined Shiamak Davar’s dance classes, after a gap of ten years! As I learnt to take time out for myself and got back to dance, my confidence grew. Three years later, I started learning kathak, for the first time in my life. I also tried various music teachers till I found my current guru. Between music and dance, both of which I pursue earnestly and purely for self-satisfaction, I found the self-confidence to explore new avenues at work, to think creatively, to approach problems with a positive attitude. If a particularly tough tukda (technical piece in kathak) can be mastered by being attentive and through practise, if my voice can hit that high note that eluded me last year, then issues at work can also be tackled.

Today, I find myself far more centred than I have ever been before. Even if things don’t go as planned, if I don’t meet my expectations in one area of my life, there are other things happening to compensate. I had this vital insight this weekend, that I had been deploying this as my stress management and positive thinking strategy! Whatever works, I guess!

This morning, I had the fortune of interacting with two talented artists. Nishi Singh, a kathak exponent of the Jaipur gharana who weaves the nuances of the Lucknow and Benares gharanas into her dance thanks to her training under several gurus was invited by my kathak guru ji Jayashree Acharya for a lecture demonstration with us students. We were doubly fortunate today to meet Vidushi Mamta Maharaj, daughter of Pandit Birju Maharaj, who also visited the studio. In watching her love for her art and her versatility-she played the tabla, sang and danced with equal ease-I was reminded that love and passion, and an immersion in the arts can bring a fluidity to life that mere hours of tutelage and practice cannot. Mamtaji’s message was one of emotion, of the need to connect to your art through your emotional side as much as through the intellectual side. To me, it is a validation of the emotional bond I have had with music and dance for years. There was a time when I would be ashamed of crying at a performance or being too emotional to sing on certain days when Masterji was too harsh in me. But now I know those were the signs that the bond is there for life.

I sit out hearing Udai go through his music lessons inside. There are days when I see his tears of frustration at not getting his notes right. And I hope with all my heart that he forms this bond just as I have!

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Music for the soul…A Word a Week Challenge

Music for the soul...A Word a Week Challenge

Engrossed performed and mesmerized audiences on Istiklal Street in Istanbul…a sight for sore eyes and sounds to fill your ears and soothe your soul.

Navigating cities can be hard! A Delhi Metro story

I was returning from Delhi on the metro on Friday evening. It was only four but the metro was quite packed. I got into a general compartment being quite sick of the scenario on the ladies reserved one! And I was glad. For a few stops later, an entire wedding band trooped in. They were being ushered in by a man who seemed really confident. A savvy dilliwala, I thought.
I stood all the way, but many of the bandwalas squatted on the floor of the coach. They had no idea it was not permitted and no one said anything to them either. Rather sad looking men they were, in grubby white uniforms with bright red accents. The uniform of the bandwala, another strange legacy of the Raj here in north India. Sometimes they whispered amongst themselves. But mostly they just sat and stared. I wondered about their lives. Where did they come from? Who taught them to play all these unusual instruments, the saxophone, the large drums, etc.
Once we crossed the M G Road station and the train was rather empty, I noticed the man who seemed in charge of them get rather agitated. He pulled out a piece if paper from his shirt pocket and looked around hopefully. I offered to help. On the paper I could see “park hotel” written in devnagari. I asked them to get off at huda city centre and cross the road. But I had a moment of doubt and asked to see the paper again, only to realise they needed to get to the City Park Hotel that was near the toll on NH8!
This hotel is not here, it’s on the jaipur highway, I told the man. A completely bewildered look. But this is gurgaon isn’t it? This is where we were told to go!
In the nick of time, on my insistence, they got off at Iffco Chowk, me shouting instructions to get to the highway and figure out how to reach! Poor bandwalas shuffled out with heavy feet and long faces. Another evening of escorting some happy groom and his gleeful family and perhaps drunk brethren to his wedding. I doubt it touched them, the glitz of the Great Indian Wedding, to which their jazzy red cummerbunds and gilded headgear adds south sparkle. I hope they got to the wedding in time. I hope they got paid enough. This is, after all, their time to make their bucks before they go back to languishing wherever they do for the rest of the year when not many people get married in this part if the country!
And I thought about how difficult it is for even a reasonable confident dilliwala. A guy who runs a band business or at least works as the band owners manager; if he can’t get around, what hope is there for an illiterate person, an outsider, an under confident traveller? Maybe the Delhi government should have services at bus stands and stations to help people navigate this city better. I envisage touch screens that make this networks simple to comprehend and bring smiles to those confused faces. I imagine an accessible city, a friendly city, a better city. It’s not enough to put in the infrastructure; we got to go one step further to make it usable, comprehensible, navigable to all.

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Warming to Craig as Bond, admiring the artistic confluence in ‘Skyfall’

Skyfall. I went to see the latest Bond movie this morning. For a 10AM show on a weekday, the hall was pretty full. So much for the holiday season being over, I thought!

Despite the rather dramatic starting sequence (it was absolutely delightful for me to see Daniel Craig tearing through those very endearing street of Istanbul that I visited this summer and literally fell in love with), Skyfall was rather evenly paced compared to the typical Bond film.

I found myself savoring some of the scenes, actually taking in the confluence of the very apt and clever background score and the brilliant cinematography that captured the essence of London, Shanghai and then Scotland so artistically. Specifically, the fight sequence inside the the Shanghai office building with the bizarre graphics forming the background, ostensibly one of the famous Shanghai neon displays, was a treat to watch. Bond and his opponent were shown in silhouette and their fight was choreographed as you would a contemporary dance sequence. Quite nice!

Towards the climax, the scenes are shot on the dark, stark Scottish moors. The quality of light in these scenes not only reflects the landscape around, but also the mood of the film at this point when hope has dimmed out and death seems imminent. I thought this bit was well done.

Perhaps its my perspective that’s changed, but I saw a distinct departure from gimmicks and antics and a greater focus on emotion in the movie. And, like a friend put it, the emotional and vulnerable side of Bond appealed hugely to me. I wonder if its the same for other emotional people, like me! Daniel Craig’s rugged looks combined with his ability to emote using very minimal and subtle changes in facial expressions and body language make for a powerful commentary on how an orphaned secret agent negotiates his trysts with danger and his allegiance to his country and employer, as well as as how he confront mortality, aging, defeat……

In this movie, I have warmed to Craig as Bond. Its taken me this long and I have been appreciative but ambivalent until now. Today, however, I must acknowledge that Pierce Brosnan (my favorite until now and the only other Bond I have followed, the rest being before my time in a sense) spent most of his time as Bond playing the fool and enjoying the gimmicks. His role as Bond often appeared like an extension of his role in TV drama Remington Steele (those of you saw that would get why this is funny). Craig is entirely different and his impact lies in his minimalist style, his perfectly chiseled, absolutely beautiful body and the values of loyalty, focus and perseverance that his character exhibits. Things do not come to him effortlessly and easily, he struggles and he wins because he does not have the option of losing, his defeat simply costs too much!

Of course, no review of Skyfall can go without mentioning the absolute brillinace of Adele’s rendition of the title number. Her voice captures so beautifully the struggle, the depair and the kindles hope by evoking the idea that humanity can stand together and fight the forces of evil and destruction. Words to remember and repeat to yourself everyday….

This is the end
Hold your breath and count to ten
Feel the earth move and then
Hear my heart burst again

For this is the end
I’ve drowned and dreamt this moment
So overdue I owe them
Swept away, I’m stolen

Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together

At skyfall
Sad skyfall

Skyfall is where we start
A thousand miles and poles apart
Where worlds collide and days are dark
You may have my number, you can take my name
But you’ll never have my heart

Let the sky fall (let the sky fall)
When it crumbles (when it crumbles)
We will stand tall (we will stand tall)
Face it all together
At skyfall

Where you go I go
What you see I see
I know I’d never be me
Without the security
Of your loving arms
Keeping me from harm
Put your hand in my hand
And we’ll stand

Let the sky fall (let the sky fall)
When it crumbles (when it crumbles)
We will stand tall (we will stand tall)
Face it all together
At skyfall

Let the sky fall
We will stand tall
At skyfall

Traditions still live on: A temple festival in Goa- Nov1

I am here in Goa for Tehelka’s Thinkfest. While this media blitzkrieg is being inaugurated at the posh Hyatt at Bambolim, I am sitting at a local temple near where my uncle lives, hearing some beautiful music!
Goa never fails to surprise.
Tonight, I have the opportunity to experience a temple festival of the Shri Pimpleshwar Dutta Mandir in Talegaon, a municipality close to Panjim, Goa’s capital city. Dattatreya is the Trimurti, the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh, much worshipped in these parts. The festival features three local singers, artists of some calibre and plenty of confidence. Akshay, a young vocalist blessed with a mellifluous voice impresses me with his confidence and complete mastery of sur. Tanvi Valavalkar, also young, excelled at devotional music and her classical training comes through in her strong renditions. An older lady, whose name I did not catch, leads the group and has been singing in temple festivals for some forty five years! They carry on the vocal tradition of this region that has produced famous musicians and singers including the famous Mangeshkars.
The master of ceremonies is a colorful personality who fills the interludes with devotional stories, and quotes from a variety of ports and saints in a truly dramatic and traditional style of oration. A crash refresher course in Marathi for sure!
Temple festivals have been a long standing tradition in these parts. It is always heartening to see the strong sense of community in Goa. Today, I see the young and old, men and women, entire families with kids, the rich and the poor, even the resident dog gathered here. Most are truly enjoying the music, some are getting exposure to it. The music is semi classical and offers an opportunity for upcoming artists to showcase their skills to a relatively non judgemental audience.
This is a society bound by convention, faith and common interests. Shared beliefs and ideologies. Shared spaces. Shared rituals. Shared enjoyment. A society in which the whole is a bit more than the sum of its parts.

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Finding happiness in dance: Vignettes from my kathak journey- Oct 15, 2012

My weekends are intensely cultural these days. That’s because I learn kathak on Saturday mornings and Hindustani classical vocals on Sunday afternoons. It’s been a long cherished dream for me to get back to both dance and music and once I had decided, there was no stopping me from soaking it all in!

Fortunately for me, I have found patient, good-natured and excellent gurus in Gurgaon. Learning under the tutelage of someone who not only excels at her art, but also is passionately in love with imparting its nuances to her students takes the experience of learning to a whole new level. I find that the informal interactions we have with our kathak guru Jayashree Acharya on art, culture, attitudes to life, how we deal with change in our society, values and a whole range of issues, have a direct bearing on our understanding of kathak as a dance form and the importance of pursuing and practicing the classical arts in modern urban Indian society.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of watching Jayashreeji perform at the India Habitat Centre as part of ‘Tasmai’, a festival organized by the Aakriti Foundation. What struck me, besides the mastery she has over her art form, was her high comfort level on stage, her easy interactions with the audience as well as with all her co-artists who were supporting her. I felt like I was part of her performance, not someone watching from the outside.

My guru, Jayashree Acharya. She is a disciple of the famed kathak exponent Pandit Birju Maharaj and a superb dancer and teacher herself. Photo: Avinash Pasricha

Her students, aged between six and fourteen perhaps, performed a dance ballet ‘Paratatva’ at Gurgaon’s Epicentre a couple of days later. In terms of the theme, Paratatva dwelt on the importance of balancing the five essential elements of nature as a way to ensure the continued prosperity of our world. The raw power and beauty of nature, its sounds and rythms, its cascades and cadences were beautifully expressed by the children who performed via a skilfully choreographed ballet. Subtle costumes representing the colours of the elements-grey, orange, blue, green, brown- and a melodious background score added to the impact.

A capture from the dance ballet Paratatva

I enjoyed the overall effect of the dance compositions I saw, but also revelled in the joy of understanding some of the intricacies and even recognizing patterns (both tukdas and footwork) that we have learnt. A friend asked me whether I would be on stage some day and I didn’t really know what to say. I’ve always been the sort of person who craves the spotlight. I’ve performed many times- music, dance, drama, elocution….through school and college. I fancied myself quite the star, the diva.

But now, in my thirties, life has taken on a very different rhythm, a very different meaning. I savor the pleasures of learning and being taught without the bother of that competitive edge nor the bitterness of regret or failure. I enjoy both music and dance as art forms as well as ways to give myself the me-time I need. I have high expectations of myself, but I do not set boundaries or deadlines that stress me out. Now, in this way, I am truly enjoying the classical arts as they deserve to be enjoyed. No wonder, the good old traditions of yore placed the student at the feet of the guru, to learn, evolve and grow, bit by bit, over many years till maturity was attained, and beyond.

Jayashreeji’s students receiving their guru’s love and blessings at the end of the show

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