India 2001 Travel Diary, Part 14

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© 2001 Giles Orr

Friday 25 May 2001, 0700

Nayan Ghosh and his tabla player.

The sitar performance yesterday was the highlight of a thoroughly enjoyable day. Nayan Ghosh is, unlike the dancers (my opinion), a real professional. And he and his tabla-playing student were clearly enjoying what they were doing. He explained the structures of the music (10 or 16 beat cycles, Ragas written for different times of day, and for different seasons ...) and played for us. I've never wanted to buy a CD of sitar music before, but I sure as hell do now. He's an astonishing player.

At National College, where we're having lectures these days. Apparently the bus blew a tire. The bus owner drove eight or nine of us here in his Toyota "Qualis" (a sport utility vehicle). If he has to shuttle all of us, it's going to take a while.

Lunch yesterday was at a cafe very near the college. Buffet line, took a while to get us all through. The food was quite good.

Because it took so long to have lunch, the visit to Fab India was quite short. But that didn't prevent several people from buying clothes. Phil is wearing (and looking very good in) a kurta.

Me and Sushmita Sen.

The film studio was a hell of a drive. But it was very interesting. They had a lot of sets, and some of us (myself included) had our pictures taken with Sushmita Sen (Miss India 1994, Miss Universe, and now working in Bollywood movies). We got to watch rehearsals on a shoot - the starlet drove up in her Mercedes several times as the director watched. And yelled, and threw his walkie-talkie.

Our "Federalism and Secularism" speaker is going now. He lost me a couple minutes ago, when he started naming dozens of political groups.

1510

The morning's second speaker was somewhat disorganized. He showed a short (five minutes?) tape, an incomprehensible cut-together mix of bits of Bollywood films, most of which looked absurd out of context. Was that the intention? Film people here know that Bollywood is formulaic and absurd compared even to Hollywood. He talked for two minutes then showed a longer, very low quality set of clips that showed the development of Bollywood film. Then he took questions. Nice guy, but apparently he hadn't had time to spend on the presentation, or he spent it all on video editing.

Bettye and Catherine and I made a rushed trip to an internet cafe (access speeds of 6-7 kb/s!), where I e-mailed Bill my request to stay a week to go to Nepal. He won't see it until about 1930 my time. Who knows what he'll say: my absence for another week will cause hassles, unfortunately.

The three of us went on to catch up with the others at McDonalds. Yes, McDonalds. Some of us (myself included) wanted to go to see how different it was. The veggie burger was actually quite good, with a hint of Indian spicing. We were told they don't serve beef at all (in the land of the sacred cow) but the lamb burger is popular. The fries and shakes were pretty much the same.

The group then split in several directions, some (or most) to Fab India, a few of us (including me) back to the hotel. As the Fab India people loaded into auto-rickshaws, several very young (ten? twelve?) grubby female beggars, carrying even younger children, tried to get at them. We were right out front of McDonalds, and a security guard I assume was associated with McDonalds threatened them several times with a billy club. One girl I saw cowered and moved a few feet, but as soon as he lowered the club, she looked around and grinned. For those of us returning to the hotel, the walk from McDonalds to the bus was extremely trying: those beggar children followed us five or six blocks, pulling at our pants and shirts. At one point I swung behind me to dislodge one of them who was holding on to me. Not hard, but I felt an edge of irritation, even violence, in that swing that really unnerved me. Marc admitted that was the most unpleasant such experience he'd ever had.

At 1630 some people are going to another dance performance. I've had enough, I'm going to wander this neighbourhood. I have to be here at 1930, 1945, or 2000 depending who you listen to. We're having dinner and a party at "The Club" tonight, and we were told to all be there.

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