Sunday, December 11, 2005

Festival Anticipation, Downtown Calcutta

Today is the first day of the festival. The first performance is at 10 a.m. and they continue on until 10 p.m. I believe there will be 3 tabla solo performances today. Yesterday was chaotic for Samarji and everyone else. I have a strong desire to help out, but the language barrier is difficult to overcome. Samarji looks tired. He told me that he has not slept for two days and he will not sleep tonight. I try to tell him not to worry about me at all and that I will be alright on my own so he can focus on the issues of the concert, but his heart is big, and I can tell that he is excited for me to be here. I will be walking to the auditorium at 8 a.m. and I hope to be able to lend a hand.
Yesterday was nice. I woke up early and went for a walk after breakfast. I felt comfortable and good walking the streets. I took some pictures, and just observed the day’s beginning. One of the unique things about Calcutta that stands out right away are all the flowers for sale. I am not sure if it is because of the season, or the region, but walking down the street you see rows of roses, orchids, carnations, and many other very colorful, ornately decorated flower arrangements. They cut the stems of the carnations and string them together to sell them in big bunches. I think I have seen them on temples and as decorations for wedding ceremonies. I wish I could take some home for my wife.
After the walk I went back to my room to wait for Samarji to call. He said he would send a car for me at 10 a.m., but I waited until 11 and tried to call him with no success, so I went to a cyber café across the street to contact my family back home. I used a program called skype.com and was able to talk to my wife using a headset plugged into the computer. The call was done completely over the Internet and was completely free. It was so nice to hear her voice. I messed up my calculation of the time change and called her at 1 a.m. her time. She still sounded happy to hear from me and we talked for 45 minutes. She told me it had snowed so bad in Michigan that all the schools and businesses were closed down on Friday. I laughed because people here have been complaining that it is now winter, even though it is 80 degrees during the day and in the high 60’s at night. I see people in sweaters and wearing scarves.
After hanging up with Jody I called my Dad. He was just laying down for bed and sounded really happy. He had just gotten done visiting with my sister who has returned from Namibia, Africa where she has been doing work for the Peace Corps for the past year and a half. I am excited to visit her when I get back from India. I am also glad that both of us are safely done with our travels.
The cyber café cost me 20 rupees (about 50 cents) and once I was done it was time for lunch. I wasn’t too worried about not hearing from Samarji. He is so busy with everything and all of his students have told me that they do not have enough manpower for all the last minutes tasks. Every time I offer to help they smile and say ‘good good’, and that is it. No briefing, no assignments, just smiles. Oh well. I would have liked to contact him and let him know I am fine, but instead I ate lunch and took a cab to the tabla flat. I figured that being self-sufficient is the best way to help out at this point.
When I got to the tabla flat, Samarji was not there, so I sat in the tabla shop and watched them make tablas for a while. One guy was stringing on the three layers of skin and the other was putting on the gobs. I wanted to ask so many questions, but yet again, smiles and nods would be the extent of our communication. After a while I went upstairs to the lesson room/headquarters and practiced tabla for about 2 hours. Samarji came and said, “Oh John, I am sorry…” I told him to please not worry and that I completely understand. I sat with him for a while as he assigned tasks for students to do. Everyone was rushing in and out. People were coming in with money and going out with tickets, the phones were ringing off the hook, and things seemed pretty serious. I just sat and observed. Suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, one of the students sat next to me and began talking in fluent English. I lit up like light bulb as I had my first real conversation amongst all the madness. I can’t remember the student’s Bengali name, but he said I can call him George. Samarji asked if I wanted to go with him to drop off some tickets to the press and I was happy to say yes.
Just like that, I found myself on the Calcutta metro subway headed towards downtown with my new friend George, talking up a storm and learning a ton of stuff about Calcutta. George was very excited to talk to me as well. He is doing his undergraduate studies in mechanical engineering and wishes to come to the U.S. to do his post grad work, but he knows nothing about any of the schools. I told him I would put him in contact with some of my friends at U of M and he was excited. We talked a lot as we went to three of the biggest newspapers in Calcutta. I remember one was called the Statesmen. George’s task was to deliver complimentary tickets to certain reporters so they come and cover the show. It was evening time and all three of the reporters had left already, but George left the tickets and said they would be back in the morning to get them. We had been walking a lot and I was beginning to crash because of jet lag, so after the tickets were delivered we stopped for a Thumbs-Up Cola and headed back.
When we got back it was absolute madness in the tabla flat. Women were putting together what looked to be welcome gifts for the artists, people were running in and out, there was lots of talking. I heard hammering up on the roof. They have been making Styrofoam art for the stage and now they were mounting it. It was absolute pandemonium. I offered to help one last time and when I got my usual response, I said I would go back to my room and see them in the morning. George helped me get a cab and I was home just in time for dinner, a shower and bed.

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