Yesterday was a good day – like a cultural sandwich. The crusts were formed by indian classical music & & folk dancing, with the filling a trip to the races. It began with a a rush for orange juice to acounter the effects of the previous nights drinking session. It was there, on the breezy rooftop of the modern lodge, that Malcolm, a bearded twenty-something from Athens, Georgia (US) & Rebecca, a salt-of-the-earth Irish lass from Tipperary agreed to join me on my kathak quest. We were joined in the morning by Owen, a handsome-in-that-Irish way traveller type from Cork – & Sebastian. I’d met him on my mission to get juice – a young, long haired Pole, resident in London & with appropriate cockneyisms chuck’d into his accented English. He’s in town to get a sitar mad – a two week process – & I said as there’s Sitar accompaniment to the kathak, he should come along. He did, & soon enough the five of us were sat in a lovely air conditioned auditorium. A couple of nights previously I’d seen Kathak for the first time & was blown away by its mix of dancing, tap dancing, rapping & all round wickedness. I was also given a flyer for todays’ Kathak marathon – twelve hours of non stop performance – & all for free. Infact, everything Ive been to more or less has been free. It seems the Indians see their high culture as a native binding force rather than a commercial elitists enterprise.
The best way to explain Kathak is just to show you it
After an hour or so of this, me & Becky walked back to the Modern Lodge & picked up Charlie & Pete. The latter’s a lovely guy who we met while watching the England cricket world cup. He’s a Londoner by trade, but for the last ten years he’s been living in a tiny village near Graus, in the foothills of Catalonia. He’s bought & is renovating a second house there & has said I go & visit him & stay in second house later in the year for a poetic retreat. Happy days. They got even happier down the race track. We arrived after a lovely walk across teh Maidan – the vast green, lung-like space of Calcutta – with a thousand Tendulkars all enacting the coming semi-final by many a home-made wicket. The walk to the course is dominated by the Victoria memorial – a beautiful domed marble affair & a constant reminder of empire – its like the Taj Mahal meets Saint Paul’s cathedral & positively glitters in the sunlight.
Entry to the course was only ten rupees, well worth it considering the grandeur of the five pavilions & the view of central Calcutta emerging from teh Maiden’s trees like New York rising from the clods of dust that formed after the dropping of the Twin Towers. O yeah – I guessed teh winner of 5 out of seven races – honests. The first two I was drawing the number from the cosmos. I tried it again for the third – but it came dead last – & again for the fourth, which fell in a flat race! I changed tack now, & queing at the window to place a bet on the fifth, I asked the guy in fron t for a tip for the next two races – followed his advice & won both of them. In the last race was a horse called Zillionaire – & feeling like one with my winnings backed it & won again! Great fun – Charlie won 150 rupees with a ten rupee place bet on a rank outsider, & Becky picked three winners. Inbetween races you can watch the horses be paraded & have a beer & banter with the locals. Great fun.
Come sunset came the second crust of mi culture butty, & we went to a classical music festival concert – where we listened to the haunting violinesque mantras of the sarangee, & teh wonerful guitar stuff of the saron. I swear down, this guy was playing stuff & I’m like, how the hell is he doing that – even the bendrix would have had to see, slightly nonchalantly with a tight curl at the corner of his mouth – ‘he’s not that bad actually!’ It’s got to be something down to the sheer seriousness of the musicians over here. Young boys are initiated at the age of 8 & become disciples, often & in some disciplines practising for thrity years before they are even allowed to perform. One of the singeing things – Dhurava – you have to practice the base note – sa – for two years!
Again, I’ll let the performance do the talking.
So after food, beers on the rooftop & a crack with the Irish – what was a very fine day finished. Today, me & Charlie are off to an Alfred Hitchcock film festival….
28 / 3 / 11