On Friday I played at David Hall in Fort Cochin.
David Hall was built in 1695 by the Dutch East India Company. It became residence of the Dutch governor, Hendrick Adrian Van Rheede tot Drakestein. The ‘David’ of David Hall comes from a later occupant, a Jewish businessman called David Koder.
Today David Hall is an art gallery, one of the venues of the Kochi Muziris Biennale. The garden outside, has a cafe that makes the best wood-fired pizzas in all of Cochin, and the stage on which I played.
There were about 150 people in the audience, some standing at the back after the chairs ran out. The next day, The Hindu carried a lovely interview. But the most unexpected part of the experience was walking around Fort Kochi and finding posters of myself on every street corner!
I gave my first guitar exam when I was in Class X. Most of October and November that year I’d cycle to St Cecilia’s School of Music early morning and practise on Fr Vincy’s guitar. And after, on the way to school, I’d pass these buffaloes walking slowly on one of the by-lanes that connect the Command Hospital to Sholapur Highway. Some days they’d be a cowherd walking close, with a stick in his hand. But most of the time the buffaloes seemed to be on their own, sure of their way home.
Certain songs belong to certain people. Smells are a bit like that too. Eucalyptus oil always gives me visuals of the rest rooms at the Ooty Club. Petrol puts me in the backseat of a car on a day so hot its almost claustrophobic.
Several times a week I pass buffaloes walking across a road in Pune Camp. They cross in the same way, slowly, unaware of the traffic jam behind them. When I’m in the car, I’ll tap the steering wheel muttering, “come on, come on… move move move,” aware that no one but me will notice my impatience or care. I think of how if my grandmother was sitting next to me, she would say, “You know what your Ajja called buffaloes on the road? Brake inspectors.”
But when I’m not in the car with the windows drawn up and the AC on, if I’m on the street or in an auto rickshaw or riding a bike, then that particular water buffalo smell changes reality for a moment. For a fraction of a second, I’m cycling in my uniform, fingers tingling after an hour’s worth of guitar practise, rushing to get to school before the bell for assembly rings.
A few months ago, I got a whole lot of these cards made.
Printed on one side on thick A6 paper, they work a bit like, and are the same size as post cards. The plan was to sell them: a set of 3, couriered anywhere in India for Rs200. But I never got around to it.
Instead, I started carrying a few along with me, writing notes at the back and distributing them: thank you messages, birthday wishes, happy Thursday couplets, rhymes, limericks… As a small surprise, sometimes I’d leave them lying about for friends to find. This didn’t always work. While Remuna called me as soon as she discovered a note in her microwave and Chandan pinned the thank you note I left on his office pin board, I never did find out whether Shruti found hers.
I do have a few left. The price is the same: Rs200 for the set. Let me know if you’d like a set.
The other day I saw a small boy standing in a crate of onions. It was outside a kirana store. His mother was sitting by him, sorting the big onions from the small. His brother was near by, playing with a ball and occasionally threw it at him, making him cry out aloud.
Neha says she wouldn’t mind standing in a crate of onions. I guess I wouldn’t have minded either.
A couple of years ago, I heard a story from my uncle that had obviously been repeated over and over and now came to define that age in my life to that part of my family. Different anecdotes live with different relatives. Some always think of me as a baby looking and pointing at stars and talking about myself in the third person. This one though, was about how when I was two or maybe three years old, I loved onions so much that I wanted to give one to my mother on her birthday.
When Samantha Chardin realized there are no outdoor opera music videos, she decided that the world needed one.
It all began when her friend approached her for a project. “I’d written and directed a play for us two years ago. I chose Don Giovanni because it’s one of the top ten most performed operas in the world and would be recognizable even to a non-opera crowd. She convinced me to sing an aria of my own and we thought we’d film my video if there was time,” Sam told me. The arias she chose to sing were of Donna Anna, the female lead Mozart set against Don Giovanni.
At the time Sam first got in touch, she had just had a baby. She was in New Zealand then and Paula had introduced us on email. Sam and her family have since moved away. They travelled in the month of August and now they’ve relocated to Edmonton, Canada.
Or sai, chi l’onore is the moment Donna Anna recognizes Don Giovanni. He is the masked man who attacked her, raped her and killed her father. In the original Mozart, she cries out to her fiancé, begging him to seek vengeance. Sam plays it a little differently. This is just Donna Anna, no fiancé, calling out with fury, looking for more than justice, vowing to avenge her father’s death.
Here’s more about how the project began.
All of a sudden I feel like practising. I’ve got Bach’s BWV 998 in front of me. The music doesn’t include any dances, so it’s not really a suite. It’s a set of three – prelude, fugue and allegro – written for the lute, easily transcribed for guitar.
I don’t think I’ll ever get to the fugue or the allegro. I think I’ll be happy with playing just the prelude. Even alone, it is very pretty. Here’s how Jason Vieaux does it:
The reason his thumb nail looks so long (and sturdy) is because it isn’t really a nail. Jason Vieaux uses a ping-pong ball. “Not an entire ping-pong ball, mind you. That would be weird. No, a crescent-moon-shaped portion of a ping-pong ball cemented underneath a smaller length of my actual thumbnail via Krazy Glue.”
Yesterday I went to watch my friends perform. It was a small Bharatnatyam dance recital in their society club house. The entire recital was an encore. Apparently the program they put up for Ganesh Chaturthi was so well received that they were called back for one more, this show.
Varsha almost always writes about dance performances. She wrote about preparing for the one on Ganesh Chaturthi and how that turned out, and about this one too.
Yesterday, we performed again.
We were early.
The audience was late.
We started half an hour late, after our lovely organiser called out on the mike to the society and large, “Green Acres, come on, wake up! Get up and come to the clubhouse!”…
A few months ago I got a mail from Sam saying she’s doing an opera music video and asked whether I’d be interested in playing guitar for it. The mail came with three attachments of an aria from Don Giovanni (Non Mi Dir) – one track with orchestral backing, one track with just vocal parts, and the orchestral score. “Don’t let the fact that it’s Mozart scare you off as it has some others I’ve approached!” she wrote.
Samantha Chardin is an opera singer. She was in New Zealand and friends with my friend Paula who gave her my email address. This project was something Sam and her friends were doing on an absolute shoe-string budget and I had complete musical freedom.
I hadn’t practiced for about a year and knew it was going to take me a while to get through the sheet music. I opened the score and found it was in F Major. Now, that’s not a big deal for most instruments. For an out-of-practice guitarist, it’s a bit like going to the gym for the first time in months and doing a 100 squats.
So I tuned the guitar up half a step, and started frantically looking for someone or a program or anything that would help me transcribe the score to my new tuning, rather than actually trying out the piece. The day of the deadline I gave up and just started recording.
I record at night. That’s when it’s most quiet outside. I switch off the fan, shut the doors and windows of my room and record. This track took about 7 hours and 4 litres of water – it was the middle of March. I turned off the mic when birds started waking up, rendered the mp3, emailed it and went to sleep.
Sam and her team shot the video in May. They filmed outdoors on the beach along New Zealand’s west coast, a setting unheard of for opera. Here’s the link to Don Giovanni in Aotearoa (Mozart in New Zealand): http://videos.samchardin.com/
And here’s how Non Mi Dir turned out:
I spent most of the morning on a cycle taking photos in the city.
All the mandaps were shut. There were no loudspeakers. There were no bright lights. No aarti, no dholtasha, no dancing.
Tomorrow is Ganesh Chaturthi. Things will change.
This weekend I went to the mochi to get new hinges put on my Crocs. He was done in less than 5 minutes, thought for a few moments and then asked for Rs10.
“Do those things on your cycle work?”
“And what does this do?”
“It’s a cycle computer. It tells you how fast you’re going and how far you’ve travelled.”
“Really? Did it come with the cycle?”
“No. I bought it later.”
“And where is the cycle from?”
“Karve Road. You get these in lots of shops.
“How much was it?”
“I paid Rs12,500, but that was three years ago. It probably costs more now. Do you want a ride?”
“No no. It’s okay. You know, I fix bags too. If you need a zip replaced, bring your bag to me.”