Saturday, November 28, 2009

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.