Saturday, November 28, 2009

Bangalore & the Havaldars

Thursday I took an afternoon train to Bangalore to visit with Dr. Nagarajrao Havaldar, the Hindustani classical singer I met last fall in Chicago. Havaldar had very kindly arranged for a hotel room near his home, and his son picked me up at the train to take me there. After a nice visit with son Omkarnath, we went off to Havaldar’s place for dinner. After some conversation, his younger son gave a wonderful demo on the tables, and then Havaldar offered the use of his “Magic Jack” (an internet phone) to talk to Virginia back home! Dinner was strictly vegetarian, but the food was all made from scratch with fresh ingredients by his wife, Sudha. I was very glad to have had some practice eating rasam rice and curd rice with Dr. Kausalya! While I didn’t embarrass myself too badly, they did kindly provide a spoon for future meals!!

On Friday, Omkar picked me up for some morning shopping. We started by browsing at an electronic musical instrument shop they often use—and I saw an electric veena for the first time in my life! I got a new flash memory card for the camera and went looking for some good books, but didn’t find much. We stopped at a really good shop for CDs and DVDs, though, and Omkar helped me pick out some good Hindustani classical recordings, since I don’t know the artists for the northern stuff as well as for the Carnatic music. Even though Bangalore is in south India, it is unusual in this regard—the Mysore maharajahs encouraged both Hindustani and Carnatic styles. Where most of India favors one or the other, both continue to be practiced here. Then it was back to Havaldar’s place for lunch and more talk. I asked him to tell me how he came to study with his gurus, and he gave me the whole story of his life as a musicians. It was wonderful! Havaldar is not only a gifted and knowledgeable practitioner, he is also a historian and storyteller at heart (with advanced degrees in both history and music!), and he knows countless stories about his gurus and all of the great Hindustani artists. He keeps talking about putting these in book form, and I can’t wait till he does! After watching a video of a performance by one of his gurus, it was back to the hotel for a rest. That evening I went back as a guest at a group lessons given by Omkar for some younger students. Virginia is dying to see the video recording of this; she is very curious to see how their work with younger students compares with Suzuki method! The room was full with four young students and their parents! The lesson proceeds in the traditional manner—the guru sings a phrase and the students answer. If they don’t quite get it, the teacher repeats it. If they’re way off, the teacher breaks the phrase into smaller chunks and students repeat those till they get it. Gradually they put together longer and longer sections. Part of the focus is on learning the melodic figures associated with a given raga, part is on learning actual tunes. After a nice home-cooked potluck dinner with the assembled parents and students (men in one room, women in another, and children who knows where!), it was back to the hotel where I stayed up too late watching TV movies!

Saturday morning Havaldar picked me up after breakfast for a driving tour of Bangalore. Once known as the “Garden City,” Bangalore has become a very busy, crowded city whose formerly-tree-lined streets have given way to the influx of people from all over India looking for work in the burgeoning IT industry (and cooler weather!). We stood still in traffic at several spots trying to get into the heart of the city to see Cubbon Park with its many government buildings, including the Karnataka state house and High Court buildings. Then it was off to one of the most unique concert halls I’ve ever seen—Chowdiah Hall (named for a great local musician) is build in the shape of a violin lying on its back! The hollow body houses the auditorium, surrounded by glassed-in hallways on all sides. There are side entrances with small courtyards at the waist of the instrument (between the upper and lower bouts), and the neck and fingerboard (there are even strings and pegs!) shelter a walkway that leads from a drive-up/drop-off spot (under the scroll) to the main entrance (where the neck is attached to the body). Just inside the entrance is a big picture of Chowdiah himself with a painting of the trinity or Carnatic music (Tyagaraja, Sastri, Dikshitar) displayed prominently nearby. Omkar will be giving the lead-off concert at their annual music festival in just a few days! Then it was home for lunch and more conversation, this time peppered with recordings and talk about some of Havaldar’s favorite movie songs (before going to college, he used to sing a lot of those songs for family and friends)! After taking some rest at the hotel it was back to see a lesson with a senior student, a fellow who is working full time at a very good job, but who is passionate about music. This time I got to see Havaldar himself at work with a student. Very enlightening! Dinner this night was my favorite of all. There was a really delicious dal dish, and we also had a small variety of eggplant that was very tasty. Good stuff!

Sunday was my last day in Bangalore, and it was a fitting finale! Havaldar picked me up again and we visited a book shop with a better selection of scholarly books than Omkar and I had found at Sapna. From there we went to see the work of a local painter who has worked closely with Havaldar, G. Jagadish. He does lovely work in several genres, including nature, religious themes, Rajasthani folk, and even abstract. He is also interested in interdisciplinary work, and has frequently been the guest artist at concerts, where he draws at his easel while the music plays! By an auspicious coincidence (again!?), we came in while Dr. Aralumallige Parthasarathy was visiting the studio. Havaldar had just loaned me a copy of this man’s biography of Purandara Dasaru, perhaps the greatest of south Indian composer-musician-saints, and the one who is often said to have “created” Carnatic classical music. Parthasarathy is especially interested in the spiritual side of his subject, and as a parting gift he presented me a copy of his latest book, an explanation and interpretation of the thousand names of Vishnu. No surprise that these three, artist, literary scholar, and musician have found each other—they all shar a common interest in art as a spiritual discipline! Then home for a tour of the new flat they are buying. Their flat just isn’t big enough for three practicing musicians to teach and rehearse, so they’re just now completing the paperwork to purchase a place that opened up in their building for use as a studio for their foundation. This will give much-needed flexibility, and even a guest room for people like me—next time! They dropped me off at the lovely Lalbagh gardens, a huge green-space built by Tipu Sultan and later expanded by the Brits. It was a lovely place to hang out on a Sunday afternoon, and it was just a ten-minute walk from there to the hotel. I rested, packed my bags, checked out, and waited for my ride to the concert. We must have traveled to the far northeast side of town to a small hall in one of the suburbs. They concretize about once a week, and they like to perform in various locations around town. It was a superb concert! Havaldar is a master, and his maturity and depth of expression were evident throughout! Omkar took the role of his backup vocalist. It is a difficult role. Even when you would like to shine, you have to stay in the background and make the lead vocalist sound good (though Havaldar needed no help with that!). It’s like being the guy on the volleyball team who sets up the ball so someone else can smash it. After the concert we had to pay respects to a family Havaldar hasn’t seen for awhile, and then off to dinner at the concert host’s home. Very nice time, but before I knew it, Havaldar said it was time to head for the train. He gave me a hug and paid a porter to make sure I (and my bags) got safely on the train.

If I have a new sister in Dr. Kausalya, I have a new brother in Dr. Havaldar. His generosity continues to amaze me. At one point during my visit he asked if it would be possible to do some kind of residency at Elmhurst College during one of his annual visits to Chicago. It didn’t take long to figure out how that might work! I teach a special topics course in music history every other year, and I’ve been threatening for some time to make Indian music the topic some year. That course comes up next in fall of 2011, and to do that course with an artist like Dr. Havaldar in residence would be phenomenal. He could talk about the great musicians and their music, he could explain raga and tala and other theoretical concepts, he could discuss the history and traditions of his music, and he could give singing lessons to the group and to individuals. What would have been an interesting course now looks to become a phenomenal experience for Elmhurst music majors! I am again humbled and amazed to be one the receiving end of such generosity, especially when (as I see it) I am giving so little in return. Still, this is a relationship I am growing to cherish more and more, and I sense once again the depth of our mutual understanding of music. We use different words and understand theoretical concepts in different ways, but when it comes to grasping deep musical expression and the depth of spirituality inherent in music, we are very much on the same page. I can’t wait to see him again next October and to begin making plans for 2011!!


After so many night trains, it’s always nice to take one in the daylight. As you get into northwestern Tamil-Nadu and cross the line into Karnataka, there are progressively more hills to see, some of them big, bald rocks jutting skyward out of the plain. Shatabdhi trains are very nice—you have A/C, they bring you a newspaper, some tea, and even a meal! There was a long stop in Bangalore, where it seemed like EVERYbody got off the train, and very few got back on. Bangalore certainly seems to be THE major destination for many travelers to this reason, especially the business types, as I might have guessed if I had stopped to think about it. So it was a nice quiet ride from there to Mysore, where I was immediately struck by the city’s beauty. The heavy traffic I’ve become accustomed to in Chennai was non-existent. The streets are lovely and tree-lined, and they do a nice job of keeping the place cleaned up (still not to Western standards, but sparkling compared to most places I’ve been in India).

I checked into the Green Hotel, an eco-friendly place that has converted a former palace (albeit a small one!) into a very nice hotel. There are only half a dozen (rather expensive) rooms in the “palace” itself, but there are plenty more in the adjacent garden house, a large, modern concrete structure. Rooms were simpler than I expected, but comfortable enough. No A/C, but it’s cooler in Mysore (thankfully!) and I never needed it. Spent Tuesday seeing the sights in Mysore, including the Jaganmohan Palace art gallery, the Maharajah’s Palace, St. Philomena Church, and Chamundi Hill with its temple, views of the city, and huge nandi. I also decided to splurge and have lunch at another former palace, built by the Maharajahs for the viceroy. It’s now a luxury hotel, and it was worth the splurge (expensive meal!) to see the inside of the place. They even had live musicians in the dining room! Best of all was the Maharajah’s palace, a very extensive, lavishly gaudy set of buildings in the middle of a large, walled campus with temples, shops, and a large central square. As with many tourist sites in India, foreigners pay a hefty admission fee, but there are occasional benefits. I was glad I turned down the guide who asked if I wanted assistance when I got to the palace itself and discovered that audio tours were free for foreigners! It was similar to the device we used at Westminster Abbey last March—put on the headset, punch in the number for each stop on the tour, and the device tells you all about it … in a very stiff British accent (maybe the same fellow who narrated the Westminster Abbey audio tour!). Some of the rooms inside the palace are really spectacular, the wedding hall, for instance, and the 30-odd murals that line many walls depict the Dassara festival that takes place every September/October (I couldn’t go because I was giving that paper in Tiruchi). Sadly, no pictures were allowed inside the palace buildings, but I was able to take a lot of photos out on the palace grounds.

On Wednesday it was off to Srirangapatna to see the sites related to time of Haider Ali and his son Tipu Sultan, Muslim rulers who displaced the Mysore maharajahs for 20-odd years in the late 1700s, and who provided perhaps the only serious resistance to the British in that century. They won quite a few battles against the Brits, forcing big concessions from them until Tipu Sultan was defeated himself (and killed in battle). Their island fortress in the middle of the Kaveri River stands in ruins now with remnants of the walls standing along many river banks. Within the fort walls you can see the mosque they built, the old Hindu temple, the water gate where the British managed to sneak into the fort undetected, and a couple of old prisons. Outside the walls are the tomb Tipu Sultan built for his father and mother (and where he himself is buried) and a little shrine at the southwesternmost tip of the island where the river is reunited and flows on through Tamil-Nadu (and Thanjavur!) to the Bay of Bengal. Most interesting of all is Tipu Sultan’s summer palace, where painted murals depict several battles and their defeat of the British! One in particular shows the British completely surrounded by the Indians (and French!). The Brits have looks of fear in their eyes, the British commander is sitting in a palanquin biting his nails, and even the horses look fearful! After a reasonably priced buffet lunch at another nice hotel, the Metropole (where they were playing Shostakovich in the background—who’d a thunk!?!), I took in a little-known museum on the Mysore University campus. It’s a museum of folk art, the Jayalakshmi Vilas, and it has an incredibly extensive collection of things from all over Karnataka and beyond. Since it’s a university collection, however, there’s not a lot of funding to provide museum-quality displays. Some things are very well labeled and/or very well displayed—the leather shadow puppets that are mounted and backlit to reveal an incredible riot of colors and patterns, for instance—but most of the signage was in the Kannada language only, and in many rooms, display items were clustered together right out in the middle of the floor, and many unframed paintings were lined up along a wall and resting on the floor. In spite of that, this is one of the very best collections of folk art I’ve seen in south India. Good stuff. Too bad nobody seems to know about it; judging by the guest book, I was the first visitor in the last 5 or 6 days!

I also did some shopping and vowed to visit only the government-run shops, but I ran into trouble with a driver who wanted to take me to every place but the one I really wanted to see (especially since they get a cut if you buy from certain shops). There’s a government emporium called Cauvery Arts & Crafts, but he took me to a place called Kauvery. It seemed like it was in the wrong part of town, so I asked if this was Sayyaji Rao Rd. He said he thought it was, and the doorman at the shop was happy to lie and say it was. I saw a sign inside that said something about the government of Karnataka, so I stopped being so suspicious and looked around. I should have continued to be suspicious, since the service was waaay too attentive for a government shop. The driver then took me to a couple of other locations of the same shop around town (none of which were on Sayyaji Rao Rd.). I ended up with a souvenir and a couple of souvenirs Christmas gifts, but it wasn’t till the end of the second day that we crossed the real Sayyaji Rao Rd., and there in big letters was the sign for the real Cauvery Emporium! The driver sheepishly asked if I wanted to stop, but by then I had to get to the university museum or not see it at all. Oh, well … grrr! At least he managed to find me a really good bookstore with Indian classical CDs and DVDs!!

Outside lectures, Mahabalipuram, Pondicherry

Looks like the time between blog entries has been increasing. If I wait this long again before my next entry, I’ll be home again with nothing but cold weather and good times with family to report!

So I made some mention earlier of long empty spaces filling in. Well .,, things got sooooo busy I’ve hardly had time to think about a blog! The lecture at University of Madras went very well. There were so many questions from students (and from Dr. Premeela herself) that I only got halfway through my talk, but since it was on the history of jazz, it was not hard to find a good stopping point. And the visit at A.R. Rahman’s K.M. Music Conservatory also went well. We met Dr. Jyothi and the managing director, Dr. Srinivasan, an interesting and very able fellow who spends half of his time in the U.S. as director of Miami University’s (Ohio) world music program and doing artist-in-residence spots at University of North Texas and other schools. Before I knew it, I had an invitation to lecture at KM as well—on American minimalism! Rahman is looking to build up a base of trained musicians right here in Chennai, folks who know Western, Indian, and world musics with equal fluency, and Srini has done a great job of bulking up the curriculum to accomplish that. The place was really buzzing with activity, students practicing, etc., reminiscent of music schools back home! That lecture also went very well with lots of questions and interaction with students. I was lucky I even had a video clip to play! Srini didn’t tell me till afterwards that Philip Glass is a friend! Probably just as well—I would have worried about it otherwise. Sounds like Srini is willing to give a nice talk to our students in January with lots of video of his work with Rahman. Should be very good!

The next day it was off to Mahabalipuram and Pondicherry. I’ve been to Mahablipuram many times, so I assumed there wasn’t much new to see, but we ended up seeing 2 or 3 cave temples I had not visited previously, and it was a gloriously sunny day after so much monsoon rain. The only problem came when one of the group leaders, a woman, told one of the hawkers, a man, to buzz off. He took such offence that he followed us for 20+ minutes, shouting at the leader and even telling Suri he shouldn’t be guiding our group! Very awkward, and a shame Suri was not able to reach any of his friends on the local police force. Got to see the Shore Temple as the sun was going down. The light was quite lovely! Our hotel’s main virtue was its proximity to the Shore Temple, but the bed was very uncomfortable and the remote control did nothing to keep the A/C from making the room colder and colder and colder. I had to manually get up and turn the unit on or off when it got to hot or too cold! An early morning walk to the beach to watch the waves helped a bit!

Then it was off to Pondicherry. As a former French colony, it’s a “union territory,” and you need a special permit to enter. The drivers had not told Suri that they did not already possess the necessary permits, so we waited on the roadside outside Pondi while they drove off to purchase them. As a result we were late for our visit to the Sri Aurobindo Society’s beach facility, but they were able to accommodate our late schedule. After a brief talk about the society’s aims (with lots of leading questions for the students), we had a simple but nutritious lunch at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a large, fairly modern facility equipped to feed hundreds and hundreds of followers of Aurobindo and “the Mother.” If I was expecting something akin to the Beatles’ experience at Rishikesh, this was not it! After lunch we checked in at the beachfront hotel run by the Aurobindo Society, a clean, comfortable, and VERY inexpensive place to stay. Suri had a fourth floor room with no A/C but a spectacular view of the ocean. I was on the first floor with A/C and a view of the garden. Hmmm … who got the better deal? While the group went off and pursued their own afternoon agenda, Suri and Juby and I went off to see Pondi. Stopped at a very nice Fabindia, had afternoon tea at a nice little coffee shop, and then found a few more shops in the business district. After a rest at the guest house, Suri and I were going to find a nice French restaurant, but by the time we were ready to go, the rain was coming down in sheets from the direction of the ocean. We found just enough of a break to walk over to Le Club, only to find a gi-normous puddle covering half the street in front of the entrance. We debated wading through the puddle, but on noticing that the puddle was likely flowing down the steps into the restaurant entrance (a few steps below street level), we decided to hail a motor rickshaw and find another place nearby … as the rains whipped in with renewed energy. The place nearby was not French, but the food was good enough, and we were happy to be out of the rain.

Next morning one of Suri’s friends took me to Auroville, the utopian community founded by “the Mother” and her followers around 1970 or so. This fellow lives there, and he took me on a driving tour followed by a stop at the visitor’s center where we were also able to check out some shops and have a spot of tea. We ran into the Furman group again at the shops, and after meeting their Auroville host (a musician!), my guide took me back to Pondi to a place where we could get a nice French meal. There may be more authentic French places in Pondi, but this was “close enough for jazz,” and we had a nice time. Then it was back to MCC by car (the Furman group was staying an extra day) so I could catch an early morning train to Mysore. I repacked my bags, found a bit of mold on some leather items (the monsoon was not over yet!), got part of a night’s sleep, drove into the city, and boarded the Shatabdhi Express to Mysore.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Which way to the internet?

For over two months I’ve been waiting for the monsoon rains and the cooler temperatures they would bring. I was eager to experience a monsoon here in India, much as Indians coming to the U.S. are eager to experience snow. I imagined that with cooler weather I could extend my daily walks and visit West Tambaram’s shopping district on more regular basis, or just plain spend more time outdoors again. Somewhere in the midst of these longings lurked a suspicion that the monsoon would not be as simple as all that, but the romance of the monsoon swept away any such doubts. Well … the monsoon is here. If there were any questions about it last week when we got two days of rain followed by a couple of days of sun, they have now been answered. It rains off and on during the daylight hours, sometimes a hard rain, sometimes a drizzle (with or without sunshine!), and sometimes a dry spell (again with or without sunshine!). During the night the rain is continuous, and strong enough that I can hear the patter outside even with the A/C running. Indians often describe the temperatures here as hot, hotter, and hottest; for the past week it’s been rainy, rainier, and rainiest!

Has the monsoon lived up to my expectations? Yes and no. Though delayed by a week or two, it seems to be a good strong monsoon so far. Some of the local reservoirs are filling up again, and the local fauna is certainly reviving. This is the water this region will need for a whole year, so they need a lot of it. It’s certainly fascinating to watch the effects of the rains—how the campus animals respond, some of the new insects that have appeared, and the frequent disruptions to traffic due to “waterlogging,” the deep puddles that cover most of a street when drains are clogged or it’s just plain raining faster than the drains can carry it away. But I suspect the fascination may wear off long before the rains stop. If I was a prisoner to the heat in my first two months, now I am a prisoner to the rain. I can certainly get out and around in the breaks between rains, but I really don’t want to get caught in the midst of a drenching rain, where even the umbrella provides little protection when the wind whips the rain in every direction. That might have felt good when it was 95+ outside, but with daytime temperatures now running in the low to mid 80s, that doesn’t sound so appealing. Curiously, this feels quite cool, and I am sometimes tempted to put on another layer. Back in the U.S., temps in the mid-80s would be feeling a bit hot to me, but I realize I have gradually been adjusting to India’s heat. I’ve noticed that I’ve been notching the A/C up a degree every few weeks or so. But where I welcomed the cool breeze that accompanied the occasional strong storm in September or October, now it almost feels too cool (though not nearly so cool as Ooty!!).

Then there’s the humidity. It’s actually cool enough that I wouldn’t need to run the A/C regularly, but I leave it on anyway to take some of the humidity out of the air. Between the rain and the humidity, laundry has also become a problem. The dhobi can wash the clothes no problem, but finding a dry spell long enough to dry them out is a real problem, and for the last couple of days things never seem to dry out completely. The bath towel that was always dry the next morning is now damp, so I’m alternating towels and turning on the ceiling fan to help dry them and my hand wash items faster. (I hope the dhobi can do some of my laundry today again!) And then there’s the internet. With the few rainstorms we had earlier this fall (is it still fall? it’s certainly not winter here!), I noticed that internet service was often disrupted. With the monsoons, amplify that disruption by tenfold at the very least. Day before last it went out mid-afternoon and stayed out for the rest of the day. Yesterday I had internet for 20 minutes late in the afternoon, and it hasn’t been back on since (though there may also be some problem with the wireless router compounding the service interruptions!). I have come to rely on the internet here, whether for lecture preparation or to check the news back home or to look something up or whatever. When it’s not working, I quickly run out of things to do here! You can only read the newspaper or do puzzles for so long. So when one of the visiting scholars (from St. Olaf!) called yesterday to ask if I was busy, I told her the internet was down and I was a bit stir-crazy—come on over!

On the other hand, when the internet works, it allows many good things to happen. One of the highlights this week was my second grandchild’s third birthday. I had to get up early in the morning to Skype her, but the connection was working fine that day. I got to help them sing happy birthday and watch Kele-De blow out the candles on her cake. Not quite the same as being there, but pretty darn good! It’s not everyday you get to attend a birthday party from halfway around the world!! Kele-De’s older sister, Skiaya (now all of four years old!), is getting the hang of the daytime here/nighttime there thing, but I didn’t even try to explain that I was calling them the morning after Kele-De’s birthday! Gives a whole new meaning to belated birthday greetings!

I may yet reach some kind of personal truce with the monsoon, but I’m starting to feel somewhat frustrated and hampered by the limits it places on me. Long walks to West Tambaram may yet happen ... once the monsoon rains finish up ... whenever that will be! But it looks like it’s not going to slow things down too much. After Virginia left, I was starting to wonder what I would do with myself in an empty guest house with three weeks of break between MCC’s two semesters (they’re taking exams this week, on days when the exams don’t get postponed due to the heavy rains!). Well … I’m not wondering anymore. I finally scheduled my travel to Mysore and Bangalore, the most important cities in the southern state of Karnataka. That will eat up the final week of my break. Then my long-lost friend Kingsley showed up on Sunday and invited me to come to the University of Madras for a visit to the Music Department. Arrangements were made, and Mathivanan took me there Wednesday on the way to a concert. I got to meet the department chair, Dr. Premeela, a lovely person, and she brought me in to meet briefly with the students of her department. I talked a bit about Elmhurst College and we had tea back in Premeela’s office. She wants me to come down this Monday to give a lecture on American music, with emphasis on jazz, and there is also talk of a dance performance on Wednesday, a possible Saturday workshop for her students, her upcoming concert (she is a vocalist), and a scholarly conference at the tail end of December. I even got to meet Sowmya, who is now working on a doctorate at Madras University. I heard her sing in the U.S., and in 2007 we saw one of her concerts and took our students for a group voice lesson and tour at the Carnatica Foundation she helps to run. Unless I hear otherwise, the lecture is all arranged. It will fit perfectly into the trip Mathivan and I were already planning for Monday to visit A.R. Rahman’s school and studio. So we’ll start with the lecture, visit Rahman’s place, and then go hear an evening concert by Aruna Sairam. We’ve been trying to set up a visit to the university for some time, but it can be difficult to engineer such things from way out in the suburbs. I’m glad it’s finally happening; it’s always good to make contact with musicians in Chennai!

Two more pieces to help fill in the schedule—Sunday night, I’ll join some choir people, including Suri, Vimal, Juby, and Anand, along with Mike and Anne from St. Olaf, and we’ll go hear Handel’s oratorio, Israel in Egypt. I met the director when I visited Emmanuel Methodist Church a month or so ago, and they’ll be doing it with orchestra, a real rarity here in Chennai. I’ll be fascinated to hear what they do with it! Strange to think of this kind of performance here in India, but if it’s anything like the choral performances I hear at Emmanuel, this should be a very good performance. Can’t wait! And Suri had a brilliant idea. For two month, he’s been planning to take me down to Pondicherry some weekend, but things have been busy for all of us. Finally he says, Why don’t you come down with the Furman group next weekend? We checked it out with Claude and Veena, so it’s all set. I’ll ride down with them, spend a night in Mahabalipuram, spend the next night in Pondicherry, and then return by car on Sunday (earlier than the group) since I have to leave for Mysore very early Monday morning. Should be good!

So I thought I’d have long, dull stretches with the occasional trip into the city to break the monotony. Now it looks like I’ll be so busy for the next few weeks that I’ll be looking for breaks to catch some rest! I think I worried for naught. And once I get back to town, there will be 2nd semester lectures to give, December Season concerts to attend … and I guess I’ll even need to think about packing for the trip home. Yikes!


To say that life at the guest house has changed completely would be a huge understatement. The group from Furman University (South Carolina) arrived last Sunday morning, and the guest house is now full—of people, activity, and a kind of constant hum. There are two Furman faculty members here with a group of sixteen students, exactly the same sized group Lynn and I will bring in January. I can’t help but think ahead to the experience we will have, and it’s good to see that this size group fits very nicely into the guest house with room to spare. Somehow they’ve managed to get all sixteen into the upstairs apartments, but since we’ll have more men (six, they have only one!), I think we’ll want to put some of our group in the double-room suite on the ground floor. Either way, this will be a big improvement over the group of 23 students we brought in 2007. With 16, there’s room for everybody to stay in the guest house, and there’s room for everybody to eat in the dining room. It’s also much easier for everybody to get to know each other!

What a transformation! I have occasionally grumbled about feelings of loneliness here at the guest house, especially at meal times, but I have plenty of company at meal times and ample opportunity for conversations on the porch or in the dining room at odd hours of day or evening. These are really nice people, and it’s been especially good to get to know the group leaders, Claude and Veena. But wait, it gets better! Nowadays, whenever there’s a group here, they bring in a chef and a couple of assistants from one of the local hotels (Taj Connemara, I believe). The food from the canteen has been quite good, on the whole, far better than many college cafeteria meals I’ve had back in the states. But the cooks for the Furman group are really wonderful. The flavors, the preparation, and the variety of dishes at every meal are great. I am going to get fat if I don’t watch out! And since the same team will be here in January, our students are in for a treat! Nice to have such a pleasant surprise.

The other night I was sitting on the porch reading my newspaper when a pair of Americans walked in to chat with the Furman faculty and some students. Part way into the conversation I began to hear frequent references to St. Olaf. Finally my curiosity got the better of me and I said, Did I hear you say St. Olaf? I’m an Ole! Well, first Mike and then Anne came over to introduce themselves and chat a bit. They are both professors in the Biology department at St. Olaf, and they are here as Fulbright scholars to teach at MCC for the second semester and to travel, make contacts with Indian scientists, and so on—similar to what I’ve been doing. They went back to the Furman group, so after a short while I pulled up a chair to join the conversation, and we had a lovely time. Talk about a “small world.” As I thought back on it, I realize that somebody some time back had mentioned a visit by St. Olaf faculty, but there was no context, and at that point it was a ways off. Now that they’re here, it will be really nice to have such tangible contact with an important part of my life back home. They also know Dr. Gabriel, since he was a visiting Kierkegaard Scholar at St. Olaf just three years ago, so we’ve got a regular St. Olaf club being established here at MCC. What fun! We’re heading into Chennai Sunday evening for a concert (Handel’s Israel in Egypt … with an orchestra!), and it looks like we’ll even have a Thanksgiving dinner together, something I didn’t think I’d be able to celebrate here! Juby commented the other day that it was good to see me looking so happy. I guess it’s good to have people around; I’m more of a social being than I give myself credit for. I think I’m going to like the next few weeks very much … very much indeed!