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!