Day 150: Sitar and The Art of Living

Trip Start Jun 19, 2008
Trip End Dec 17, 2008

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

 Well, obviously we have been home for a while now, we got home on December 5th.   We left in such a hurry, that I didn't have time to finish up the last of our adventures in India.   Don't worry I didn't forget! School here at Davis takes a lot more time up than I remembered. In India I didn't have to go to class so I didn't mind writing, now I have to write all the time; my brain is tired!
Way back in August, if you can remember that far back, we went to Varanasi.   It's a town on the Ganges that is considered holy because it is where the Buddha gave his first sermon at Deer Park and it's where the Holist Rivers in India converge into the biggest Ganges that empties into the Bay of Bengal.
Anyways while we were there we went to a very touristy (but fun) place for dinner, where they had a guy playing the sitar accompanied by a man playing tabla.   A sitar is a wooden instrument about 4 feet tall, with about 16 strings.   One sits while playing it, and strums it, kind of like a guitar, but with a different pick on your index finger.   Well, I was inspired to play it.  I thought it would be the coolest thing if I came back from India knowing how to play a new instrument.
Fast forward to November.  We had just gotten back from our trek and we were back in Delhi celebrating Diwali (when we went to our friends' house for a party and were feed gross Indian sweets and I thought I was going to vomit).   Well I got a little sick.  My stomach was upset, I couldn't eat anything, I wasn't going to the bathroom.   My stomach hurt so bad that I couldn't sleep.  So on the third day, I went next door to the doctors and she said that I had food poisoning, and that I should pick up some antibiotics and some pain killers.   So I went down the street to the pharmacy and picked up some medicine along with splurging on some juice (which was relatively expensive) and some chicken broth.   It took me less than a half an hour to do all this. The best thing about it? It SO CHEAP.  The doctor charged me 150 Rs for the appointment and 3 days worth of the medications (antibiotics, anti-nausea pills and painkillers) were only 80 Rs.  So total 230 Rs, about $4.75! It made me wonder how in a country where so many things were messed up it seems like their health care system seems to be so much more efficient. I didn't even have to make an appointment or get a prescription or wait for it to be filled! I just had to walk to the corner.
Anyways, the point of this is that it kind of put me out of commission for about two weeks.  I couldn't do much except lay in bed.  I got pretty sick of this after awhile and I remembered our time in Varanasi, so then I picked up the quest to learn the sitar. I started with the guide book, which gave me the number of a music shop.   I called about three before I got someone who spoke English and had sitars.   He gave me a number of a directory which would tell me the listing of people who teach sitar.   I called them and they gave me a list of about 11 music teachers.   About half of them didn't pick up.  A quarter was disconnected numbers.   One was a daycare center.  The second to last number picked up, and he was a sitar teacher.   His name is Surjit, and he became my sitar teacher.
Looking back at it, it was a great deal (although at the time I was fighting with myself), the experience I had was out of this world.  The first lesson I had was around the first week of November.   He charged $10 for a one hour lesson. He would drive to my apartment at around 8 o'clock and he loaned me an extra sitar to practice with.   In the beginning I had about three lessons a day.  I wrote this down in my journal about the first lesson: "I had my first sitar lesson! It was so great, but also really hard.  It's hard to push down the strings, they are really thick and hurt my fingers;  it was so great to be learning something that I was actually interested in.  The sitar has something like 15 strings, and they are at different levels, it's really complicated.  But my teacher was just perfect.  He and old Sikh man, and very serious about music.  He kept telling me that I was very good at the sitar, and that he hopes that I like it, and want to keep playing.  Even if he was exaggerating so that I would want to continue to take lessons I don't care.  Amongst all the bad things in this country, if somebody wants to share a talent with me and make a living off of it, that's the least sin.  By the way, he said he said he doesn't charge to teach music, but only for time and transportation and to eat, because to charge to teach music is a SIN.  He was really great, and really professional.  I finally found this guy, and I'm really pleased.  We're going to have lessons twice a week until I leave in December.  He said by the end of it I will be able to play a couple of pieces.
I was also considering buying a sitar.  I think it'd be such a cool souvenir, and then I could keep practicing when I get home.  The lessons are $10 each (for one hour) and twice a week for the rest of the 6 weeks is $120.  Which I think is a great deal to learn an instrument.  A sitar, however, is quite expensive.  He said off the top of his head it could be like $200.  Plus I need a nice hard case so that I could take it home in.  So now I have something that I want to do, but I feel guilty for spending the money.  I mean I have it (sort of) but I just like my nice cushion so that when I get back to Davis I don't have to worry about money.  I just really don't want to have to ask my parents for money (even though I probably will for groceries when I get back).
I just have to tell myself that I will really regret it if I don't get one..."

Obviously I was really excited, and I had good reason to be. After about the first week my teacher mentioned this organization called The Art of Living.   It's an international organization (there is a branch in Santa Cruz) and its main focus is to teach people who to meditate and control stress.   They were having a weeklong meditation retreat in Delhi (southern Delhi, technically a subtown called Noida), at the end of November.  But to top it all off, on the Friday they were going to have a concert, a sitar concert.   In fact, they were going to try to break the world record with the most number of sitarists in one concert.   So they were actively recruiting people, and the only prerequisite to play in the concert was to be able to play the three songs that they were to play in the concert.   Obviously, I was on a mission.  All of November I spent playing sitar, hanging around Delhi, playing more sitar, and finishing up my papers for class.   By the end of November, a man came to the house to hear my play and approve me for the concert, and he said I could.  
This then sent me on another quest; every person in the concert had to wear an all-white outfit.  So I had to go to Old Delhi, get some fabric, then go to the tailor and describe an all-white outfit.   I even picked out some gold ribbon to go along the cuffs and collar, all in Hindi might I add.
The concert was on Friday November 21.  So the whole week before that I had to go to rehearsal with my teacher and his other students.   Well, of course I wasn't feeling that good that week.  Andrew and I were at the end of our trip and the night before the first rehearsal we decided to splurge and order Dominos pizza.  Well, there hadn't been much cheese in my diet, and that much cheese on the pizza didn't go down well.   First I had to take the forty five minute metro to the southern end of Delhi to my teacher's house.  By the end of that I really had to use the restroom.   When I got there, they were having lunch so I politely slurped down some potatoes and rice.   I still hadn't had a chance to use the restroom (I didn't want to ask where it was), when my teacher's sister, who was also his student, suggested that we practice before the rehearsal.   So we went into the bedroom, it was only a one bedroom apartment with an attached bath, and sat on the floor and began to play.  He actually had the same laptop that I do, so that was kind of weird.
Things got a lot weirder after that though.   First, my teacher said that we were playing well, and that he was going to take a shower.   So while his sister (and his mother for that matter) and I were sitting in the bedroom, be began to take off his turban.   For some reason, this really freaked me out.  Imagine seeing somebody every day, and they always wear something.   Then you see them take it off. It's weird.  Then, we took off his shirt. Don't forget, we're all sitting in this room, and he's being really nonchalant about it too, like it was no problem that he's taking off his clothes.  Maybe it's because he considered me family, but I just thought it was too funny, so I just concentrated on playing.  He would even correct us while undressing, telling us we were playing to fast or slow.   It was just hilarious, I had to do everything to stare at my music and not look up or else I'd burst into laughter, which would have been even more awkward.   So then finally he was down to his boxers, and he went into the bathroom and took a shower.   He had mentioned before that he only takes cold showers, for religious reasons.   Well it must have been really cold, because he was yelping and coughing and snorting and making all kinds of weird noises.   Of course, nobody seemed to think twice about it.
I was too embarrassed to try to use his bathroom after that.   Finally, after another forty five minutes in the car to the actual rehearsal, I got to a port-a-potty, which was actually a lot cleaner than the ones in the U.S.  It became increasingly apparent to me that the people in India who can afford to play sitar obviously have money.   So that meant that everything at the rehearsals was really nice.   They fed us lunch and dinner (I didn't have to pay anything.   In fact, they paid me to play in the concert! 500 Rs!)  Everything was super clean and everybody was super nice. That doesn't mean that they are organized.   What was supposed to be an hour long rehearsal, turned into a four hour long rehearsal.   All I remember is that I left the house that morning at 9 am and didn't get back until 11 pm.   It was horrible.  All while making embarrassing runs to the porta-potty. 
The next day I had to get up and do it all over again.   For some reason my stomach still wasn't doing to good, it must have been all that sterile food from the day before.   Either way, but the time I got to his house I had to use the bathroom, like immediately.   So I gave in and asked him to use it.  The bathroom door didn't really shut all the way, you just kind of closed it and there was a gap between the door frame and the door.   And the bathroom was all white tiles, and it was a small little box of a room.   What I am trying to convey is that it echoed, a lot.  So while I'm sitting in the bathroom, sick, you know where I'm going with this.   The family could hear everything. I know they could.  I almost couldn't help myself from laughing right then and there because it was too embarrassing it was funny. Almost like a Seinfeld episode, but in India. It was just too funny.   So then I came out of the bathroom, expecting them to ignore it. But instead, they were all looking at me concerned.  "Is everything okay?"   I almost died of laughter.  They were genuinely concerned though, so I just said "Yes, I'm okay but my stomach is upset." They obviously thought differently.  They fed me bananas and curd (which is supposed to help your stomach) and we went to the pharmacy to get something.   A was fine within the hour.  For the rest of the time I kept eating bananas and curd, with muesli, which would have to be the one food thing that I really miss from India.   I'm sure if I looked hard enough I could find it here, but I haven't really tried it yet.  Curd is like a really sour version of plain yogurt, which families in India usually make every morning and they have it with every meal.   The sister thought it was funny that we buy yogurt from the store "in little boxes" as she put it.
I got through that rehearsal, and another student's family took me home.   They were really nice.  They all had snacks, like sodas and waters and this cool fried potato thing that I didn't catch the name of but was really good.   I felt bad that I didn't have anything to share.  In the car ride home, I felt the most like I was at home that I probably did in all of India.   It was a typical middle class family, mom, dad, kids, kids' friends.   They were all joking.  The little girl had a balloon that she was banging against the chair and annoying the Dad.  I felt like the one thing that we didn't get out of India was the middle class experience, but that was because they are so cut off from the rest of India that it is hard to make that connection.  
The next day was the rehearsal.   I had to leave earlier in the morning (feeling fine).   I had told the rest of the Californians that I was in this concert and about six said that they would like to come and watch (it was free).   So they rented a taxi and set a meeting time.  Well, apparently world got out that I was going to break a world record that night and about twenty five of our group showed up.   They quickly called the cab company and rented a minibus instead of a van.   I was really surprised to see everybody at the gate and they all came in, and got little VIP passes.   It seems like everybody had a good time.  We played a song, and then of course they had to bog it down with a bunch of meditation stuff, which was funny.   Everybody had to put their arms over their heads and say ommmmm and peace and stuff.   Unfortunately they did the whole presentation in Hindi, so we couldn't really understand it.   But eventually they got back to the music and we finished out songs.   We took the bus back home and Andrew informed me that he had been throwing up all day. This was the first time he threw up in India, actually, and it was so close to the end.   He said it was because we had been apart for the past two days, and he gets sick if we aren't together all the time.   I guess that's sweet?
Afterwards about 12 of my closest friends and I decided to go out to dinner at one of our favorite places Momo King.   It was a lot of fun and everybody was really impressed with the concert, and everybody thought my all white outfit was a crack up.   They said I should wear it on the plain home and say now that I've been to India I'm enlightened and I only wear white all the time (I didn't... but it would have been funny).  
Later that week I got a certificate saying that I participated in the event, and that I helped break the world record.   Of course they didn't know how to spell Heather so instead they put Haider, which cracked me up.   Hopefully the next Guiness Book of World Records will have the event in it, I'll probably buy the book if it does, and you know to show the future grandkids that I broke a world record.
PS.  I did end up buying a sitar, and I'm really glad I did.   My sister gave me the money for it for Christmas, because she said that if I didn't I'd regret it (and then she wouldn't have to figure out what to buy me).   Right now the sitar is in the living room, right next to the TV.   I don't play it everyday like I used to but I still remember how, and I have pulled it out a couple of times.   I like the memories more than anything else.  Plus its GORGEOUS and just looking at it is nice.
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bradandjan on

Day 150
Haider, Great update, thanks! I loved the text and photos but especially enjoyed the videos. Music has always been a very important part of your life!

Love you, Dad

pilgrim2 on

Accolades and Kudos!
Great job putting together this last blog entry; great job playing the sitar in public, setting a new record and, mostly, doing it well, with style and elan. You will look back with increasing joy at the way you traveled, how many places you saw, how many friends you made and how much they enjoyed meeting you and Andrew, how much fun you had, how satisfying it was to learn Hindi so well, to see those mountains as you did, to see so many things that most tourists don't see, and how you overcame pesky discomforts and inconveniences to make it an incredible journey.

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