“It’s getting hot in here, so take off…” No, wait, don’t…

Mar.6 2013

Posted by Mumbai Music Residency – Bluefrog

The mercury has been teetering over the edge of 40°C over the past few days, so walking around and travelling on dusty un-air conditioned trains (the fans just blow the hot air and dirt around) hasn’t been particularly fun, but gallons of lemon and mint ice tea are helping me power through – I just realised how much sugar goes into ice tea, so I dread to think what it’s doing to my insides…

As well as the usual classes at the Gateway School (Special Educational Needs – SEN) this last week, I was asked to be their ‘Special Guest’ at Grandstand – kind of like a whole-school assembly. My brief was to ‘introduce opera’, PowerPoint presentation and all. Alas, technology failed and the school’s computer wouldn’t play any sound, but the children still stayed interested; I think the photos of funny costumes, and photo-shopped pictures of singing cats helped… I gave them a short performance of a few pieces and just about got some sound out of the computer to do an activity with them. One of the young boys then declared that I had ‘done a good job’, so I guess I did OK then.

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The classes at Gateway continue to go well. The kids are enjoying the activities and the school’s founder shadowed us this week, and was so keen that we are now planning a mini-school show for the children’s parents in April. The older kids are especially engaged in listening activities, which I found surprising as many of them have difficulties staying still and concentrating, but the music seems to give them something to focus on; they came up with some fantastical stories after listening to Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture and Verdi Dies Irae this week. I’ve surprised myself at how well I’ve been able to work the children here; I was a bit apprehensive, as I don’t have so much experience working with children who have special needs. I’ve learned that the fewer words you can use the better (probably something I should learn when writing!), how important gaining and maintaining eye-contact is, how effective touch can be, and to recognise when not to pursue a reluctant child to join in an activity – they will almost always come back in a minute or so.

The work with the Muktangen trainee teachers also continues to go well and we are now building up a good repertoire of songs, activities and musical knowledge. Pitching has improved, but bigger leaps are still a challenge; we have built up a good relationship though, and one mock withering look (perhaps à la Maggie Smith) is enough to let them know that we need to ‘try that once more’. It is now much easier to integrate instruments into songs, and they are becoming much more confident at volunteering to lead the group in Body Percussion and warm ups. They have also given me homework, which I shamefully forgot to do this week, so I now MUST learn a Hindi song to perform for them.

The Mewsic Govandi centre was a bit subdued to begin with this week, which I found a bit strange as they are usually climbing the walls when I come in, but I think they had just been tired out by their dance teacher (a very retro young man, who lives in the 80s and revels in doing the ‘Moonwalk’ at the drop of a hat… no comment). It turned out to be probably the most flowing and coherent session I’ve had there. The kids (about 35 this week) grasped everything quickly, and I even got them all to sing a tiny solo in one of the activities. They managed to learn four new songs, we made a ‘storm’ using body percussion, I introduced them to playing some percussion instruments and we even managed to sing a couple of songs in canon – which for these kids was a big step. I wasn’t sure they’d be able to manage it, but after a few rounds they were staying in time with each other and managed to hold their own group’s tune. A tiring but successful couple of hours! The trip home from Govandi wasn’t so successful as someone had decided to throw a bag of clothes on the tracks in front of a train (the one in front of us thankfully), causing a derailment and train tailbacks for hours. Many abandoned the train and walked, but seeing as I was about 18km from my room (with its fan and cold water…), I had little choice but sit it out.

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Sunday’s Mini Frog session was, once again not very well attended, but we had two very keen children who stayed for the full three hours and kept Priya and me very much on our toes. The dessert buffet table was also particularly good this week, which is always a good thing.

It was my birthday last week (turning the ripe old age of 26), and it coincided with an unexpected day off as the Muktangen schools were having an ‘Open Day’, so I filled it with some touristy things I have been meaning to get round to. The lady who bangs on my door every morning with breakfast wouldn’t allow me to sleep in, so I made my way to the Taj Hotel to treat myself to coffee at the Sea Lounge. The ‘muzak’ on offer there is a surprisingly good compilation of western classical music (no Eine Kleine Nachtsmusik here…), though clearly one of the waiters doesn’t like Ravel as whenever one of his pieces came on, it was hastily skipped to the next track.

I then went to the Tea Centre, which doesn’t seem to have been touched since the 1950s. The waiters come complete in black bow ties and the tables include a bell to get their attention with. I had some flowering Darjeeling (though it looked unsettlingly like a sea urchin), before walking alone a breezily, palm fringed Marine Drive, bordered on one side with a row of striking Art Deco apartment blocks, before reaching a surprisingly clean Chowpatty Beach, though I still wouldn’t recommend getting in the water…

I found a surprising patch of peace and serenity in Banganga Tank, probably the only place in the city that doesn’t come complete with a chorus of taxi horns. It is a sunken spring pool (the water is said to have sprung from the Ganges in the 1300s), with raised steps on all four sides used to dry clothes, and flanked by temples, palm tress and ancient fortified houses. The only sounds came from the honking of the two dozen geese, which have made the water their home (though that doesn’t deter people from coming to drink the greenish water…), or the unison flapping of 100 pairs of wings when the resident flock of pigeons spied something better on the other side of the complex (I wonder how birds manage to do that; is it a case of 1, 2, 3… GO).

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Before meeting Anna and Silviya for dinner at Pali Village Café, I went to Haji Ali for sunset. It is a mosque, built just off the seafront, and connected to the mainland by a slim walkway lined on one side by stalls selling gaudy souvenirs and huge soft toys, and on the other by an endless stream of beggars, each with an affliction worse than the previous. The mosque itself in undergoing restoration, but the white domes and minarets still look spectacular, and I have honestly never seen such a vivid sunset (well, maybe I have, but you forget these things); the whole sky was a deep red, with the sun slowly dropping into the equally red Arabian Sea.

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It’s exam season here, so the newspapers have been focussing on school textbooks, and, how, all too often, they are inadequate or full of mistakes (both factual and grammatical). A couple of my favourites included a statement from a Class 10 Biology textbook for ICSE students saying that “Poor standards of living and poverty do not provide any recreation other than sex”, and one from a Class 6 textbook for CBSE students, stating that “Your non-vegetarian food causes you to easily cheat, tell lies, forget promises, be dishonest, steal and commit sex crimes.” Ok then…

Nothing else of particular interest in the news this week (mostly impenetrable politics), but I found this photo of an elephant that was struck and killed by a train quite striking.

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I took a wander round Bhendi Bazaar, which is an area populated mostly by Dawoodi Bohra Muslims, distinctive because of the gold caps worn by the men and colourful, but almost Amish-designed garments worn by the women. I chose the best/worst time to go, as they were celebrating the 102nd birthday of their leader, who also happened to be driving round the area. Thousands upon thousands of people rushed out of various mosques, shouting and screaming, and running to catch a glimpse of him. I wasn’t actually clear until I asked someone later whether or not it was a riot that I found myself in the middle of. The area is well known for antiques, or ‘antiques’ as most are simply replicas. I was somehow coerced into buying a big bronze elephant bell thing… I think I like it…

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I was given a ticket to a concert of Rajasthani folk music, given by performers who normally perform devotional songs for wealthy Muslim and Mughal families in Jodhpur. The concert was interesting, not entirely my cup of tea (think six 70-year old men ‘singing’ in a style akin to Chinese opera…), but it was fairly unique (so I was told, so I’m glad that I went.

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On a final note, I made my first Indian cinema trip this week, and boy do they know how to do it. The food stands are endless and include fresh pancakes (need I say more), the seats recline, there is an interval (so no annoying people endlessly going to the toilet), and… you can get pizza delivered to your seat during the film. Someone please introduce this to the UK.

I will be meeting with a few other groups this week, and there is the possibility that I’ll be working with three new organisations; I’m not sure how I’ll fit it all into the week, but where there is a will there’s a way. Carol Main, the director of Live Music Now Scotland is coming to Mumbai this week, and will be coming with me to some of the sessions, as well as meeting with various people. I also need to start planning my trip to Delhi where I will be taking some workshops and meeting with a couple of youth performing organisations, so it’s still all go!

Eunuch curses this week: 2 (and very burly ones at that).

Written by Jamie Munn