Last Days in Kolkata

India 2013

Saturday, March 9:

Pale, glistening and limp as lettuce left out of the fridge, Jonathan returns from the gig in Hyderbad looking like a bedraggled old hound. Achy fever, knotty stomach, head pain, gastric fireworks... You name it, he's got it. Since Tiffany is leaving today and vacating the living room, we decide to move me in there and give Jonathan and Shayna their room back.

Note the handy ceiling-mounted L-shaped curtain rod for privacy. Once the curtain is dropped, you put up a mosquito net inside and all is quite cozy. Also note the beautiful stone floors.

Today is a rest day: read, maybe nap, hang around the apartment and enjoy conversation with my fabulous new friends. It's really quite a lovely mix of personalities to be around, and it seems to work very well for them, too. It's rare to see two young men, brothers, involved in the same profession, living and working together, and getting along so well. Even more rare that their partners have become friends and all can coexist so compatibly. There's a balance here that seems to be both inspired and skillful. Such a delight to witness.

Much of the conversation this morning revolves around Sri Aurobindo. Each of them - as couples and as individuals - has a different degree of involvement and style of devotion. I ask a lot of questions and they are willing teachers. I spend part of the day reading a book that Jonathan gives me about Aurobindo, 'Mother' and the philosophy, and learn that the main idea seems to be an evolution of consciousness from matter to life, from vague, hidden awareness to fully awakened consciousness. This seems to be a thread that's been running through my trip, like the theme in a good novel. I am further convinced that "All roads lead to Rome." i.e. all religions (define that however you like) lead to a very similar "God". But, the individuality of each path (i.e. religion or philosophical framework) is not insignificant. We're human! We need a path to travel on to get where we're going. Simply beaming up is not yet an option. You want to walk through the forest? Prefer the sidewalk? A brisk jog? A slow, careful crawl? 18-speed bike? Auto rickshaw? A little of each depending on the day? The point is, stay on your path, and know it's YOURS. And for god's sake, please don't tell me my path won't take me Home, so I'd better come over to yours. In fact, my path is interfering with yours so you want to close mine down. Forcibly, if necessary!

Now, that's just the warpath. And if we don't give each other a little room, nobody's going nowhere. It's a crowded planet.

Just sayin'.

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This evening, Delia, Andrew and I leave Shayna at home to look after Jonathan and we go into the city. I need to pick up my new shirts from Mohammed & Mohammed at Badasahab Tailors before closing. I also need a new camera. The flash on my Canon has stopped working. I just bought a new SD card and card reader yesterday and now this. Will my camera troubles never stop? (oh! the irony. nudge nudge wink wink.) It's getting late, but we find an open camera shop. They don't have the Sony I want, but they do have a decent Canon for a fair price, so I compromise, thankful to have found something acceptable and knowing Dharamsala will certainly not have this much selection.


Sunday, March 10:

I awake to the sound of chanting and drums floating across the breeze from the fields to the east. If I didn't know I was in India, I'd say it was Native North American. Maybe Navajo. Up to the roof for a hazy sunrise of song - bird and human.

Dig out those headphones and join me on the roof for the sounds and sights of the nearby village.

What's all the fuss about? Today is Shivratri Day. Everything I read about the festivities talks about worshipping Shiva, decorating temples and even people "sending inspirational Shvratri SMS messages to their dear ones." I do see the lovely decorations, but also hear a lot of very loud music and some serious late-night partying.

After a leisurely breakfast, the four of us (Jon's still not feeling well) head over to Guru-ji's for a lesson. It's more like a classroom lecture/lab. About 15 of us are settled snugly and cross-legged on the floor in a studio room which has a separate entrance at the back of the house. A harmonium is hauled out and an ear training lesson begins. I think today's raag is called Yaman Kalyan. Shantanu plays a few notes from a "basket of phrases" that are permissible by the rules of this particular raag, and the students try to sing it back to him using the Indian solfege syllables. "sa re ga ma pa dha ni sa" = "do re mi fa so la ti do". Only this isn't Mary Martin singing about needles pulling thread and a drink with jam and bread. It's brain surgery via the ear.

Western music, as you may remember from your beloved Music Appreciation class in Grade 9, has three main elements - melody, harmony and rhythm. According to my less than novice knowledge, North Indian classical music only really bothers with two of them, rhythm and melody. So each element, over the centuries, has gotten way more attention and energy focused upon it. Both melody and rhythm are very complex and each note is laden with meaning derived from its context.

Sorry, I don't have any pictures of the lesson. If you've read last chapter, you know why.
Now, try it: sa re ga ma pa dha ni sa. C'mon. Sing! It's the same as do re mi...
And backwards: sa ni dha pa ma ga re sa.
GOOD! Now give a listen to a lesson...

(Musicians, please note: the ma - or Fa, or 4th - is sharp in this raag)

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After two and a half hours sitting cross-legged on the floor, my attention span has dwindled to babbling idiot status. Time for a bike ride into the eastern villages. It's like going back in time, if you subtract the motorbikes and the loudspeakers blaring the tinny urgent messages from the little temples. Kids playing in the roadside ditches, their moms eyeing me up and down as I stand by my bike trying to look inconspicuous. Fat chance. (Or is it slim chance?)

There are 2 or 3 small villages within a couple of kilometres of the Kays'.

On my bike ride, I come across 3 separate sandlot cricket games ...

...and pass by a gaggle of men at a cockfight. Must have been close to a hundred motorcycles.

By the time I get home, I'm hot and sweaty, with a nose full of black dust and my white pants (bad choice) brown. I wash body and clothes in the shower. Ahhh. Then, play a little music with Jonathan. I strum the tampura (drone) while he does his riyaz (practicing). Unfortunately, it's not the most inspired session: I'm stiff from all the sitting this morning, tired from the hot bike ride, Jon's still sick, and then there's the evening mosquito onslaught.

The mosquitos here are no joke. Here is Delia showing off her bites for the camera.


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One very nice thing about this late afternoon is a visit from housekeeper Chanda-di.

Here is Chanda-di and her daughter, Anamika. As if I wasn't already surrounded by enough feminine charm in the persons of Tiffany, Delia and Shayna! (Yes. Roll with those punches, Lou. Poor guy.)

Anamika is shy and I'm sure not all that used to seeing people like me.

This shot is taken 11 seconds later. I don't usually have to work this hard to crack a 3 year old.

Chanda-di was also shy in the beginning. But now all is good.

This evening, I take everyone out for dinner, excepting poor Jonathan, who is still feeling really sick. Andrew has recommended an excellent Bengali restaurant - Tero Parbon. He knows all the specialties and orders at least ten small dishes for the four of us to sample. We have a traditional Bengali meal, starting with a Bhaja (Fry), then Dal, Posto (Poppy seed paste), Channa (very soft Paneer), and finish with fish, fish and more fish. Bengali is a pretty subtle cuisine. Not as flashy and hot as Southern Indian, or the Punjabi stuff that's so plentiful in the West.

The idea of leaving my new friends tomorrow morning is made easier by the possibility of meeting up with them later. They're planning a bit of a tour - playing and vacation - that may take them to Dharamsala before I head home to Toronto. Here's hopin'.


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Next: One huge travel day. 1,500 km NW to New Delhi, then 500 km north to Pathankot, then 100 km East over the Himalayas to Dharamsala, home of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama and thousands of exiled Tibetans.

Happy reading.

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