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Published: September 5th 2009
Over the past few days I’ve been alternately living the dream, and just plain living.
Living the dream, I played clarinet at the home of the most accomplished and respected sitar player in Nepal on Wednesday morning. Every morning he plays his sitar; he doesn’t speak, and anyone is welcome to join him on their own instruments, and the focus is 100% music. Wednesday the group consisted of myself on clarinet, a tabla player who has been studying with Nepal’s master tabla teacher for 10 years, a bamboo flute player, and the sitar professor. We played a theme and improvisations, and a full morning raga. I felt an incredible organic connection with the other players, and together we created something truly inspiring out of the vibrations in the air. Supposedly this happens daily—I’ll have to investigate.
With my madal teacher I’ve started learning full Nepali folk songs—form, lyrics, rhythm, melody. Soon I’ll be able to sing and accompany myself. The goal is to learn at least 25 such songs in the next 10 months.
My Nepali language skills are improving, though I still have a while to go before I’m fully conversational. I can put together sentences, talk
about likes and dislikes, present, past, and limited future tense, present progressive tense (still working on it—learned it yesterday), sequences of events, questions: who, what, where, when, and why, and a limited amount of conversation topics. I feel like the things I learned last week are becoming more comfortable, and I’m eager to expand my vocabulary.
Yesterday I started tabla lessons. Te te, te te ka, ka te te, te te ka ta, ki ta ta ka, ki ta ta ka ti ra ki ta. The dream—unthinkable a year ago. My teacher has been studying for over ten years with the best, most famous tabla player in Nepal, he’s an excellent player, and he’s about my age. I anticipate an excellent friendship coming up.
Yesterday I also went to a Nepali classical music concert. This concert happens every full moon at the Hindu temple Pashupatinath, and features 5 or more performing groups. Yesterday a couple of light classical singers performed with harmonium, tampura, and tabla, then a classical singer did a full raga, followed by the Ray Charles of Nepal—a blind sarod master who also played a full raga, with a bamboo flute player performing the final raga
of the night. My tabla teacher played with the sarod and flute players, so he was able to get me a backstage seat, and he insisted that I record the concert. I now have over an hour of excellent Nepali classical music on recording.
Otherwise, I’ve been just plain living (translate: dealing with inconveniences). First, the nose piece of my first pair of glasses broke, so now I’m on my backup pair. I know it will be no big deal to get them fixed, I just don’t like the thought of doing it. I’ll deal with that when my language gets better. Next, I still haven’t been able to get internet set up in my apartment. So far I’ve done everything at a café that takes 20 minutes to walk to and has a spotty connection itself. Supposedly the internet cable in my apartment is active, but I haven’t been able to connect. I’ll take the problem to the Fulbright office soon. Next, I haven’t figured out the correct ratio of water to rice in my rice cooker yet. A minor problem, but it will be nice to eventually cook rice rather than rice soup.
The final inconvenience
I’m dealing with at the moment requires some background story. This week has been the time of a great festival here in Kathmandu. Called Indra Jatra, it celebrates a time when the god Indra came down to the Kathmandu Valley to pick a jasmine flower for his mother. While Indra was picking this flower, he was caught by the man who owned the meadow and was taken to jail. When the people realized they had jailed a god they immediately let him go, and in return Indra promised to spread dew over the ground and take all of the souls to heaven who had died in the past year. Since then there has been a great celebration each year to mark the event. The Durbar Square in Kathmandu fills with bands and Gurkha soldiers and masked dancers and enormous crowds and a big pole is erected and the Kumari (girl revered as a living goddess) makes an appearance. Naturally attracted to festivals and celebrations and music and dancing, I joined the crowds and watched the event. Unfortunately for me, there was at least one thief in the crowd, and rather than stealing my wallet (which I protected fiercely), he stole
my insulin pump. My insulin pump is the last thing I ever expected to be stolen. It’s not worth anything to other people, and it’s connected directly to my body. This crafty individual managed to break the tubing line without my knowing, and take off with the prize at the end, again, without my knowing. When the crowd dispersed a bit I noticed it was missing and immediately filed a report at the embassy; it remains to be seen what happens now. This isn’t an emergency—I have plenty of insulin and other supplies, and my wellness isn’t compromised at all. On the scale of convenience, however, this is probably the worst thing that could’ve happened—pumps are expensive, my backup only lasts 6 months, and I’ll be here for 10.
Otherwise, the festival was a lot of fun, and I took plenty of pictures and video of the celebration.
Sunday will be my first visit to area schools with the sitar professor. I’ll bring my voice recorder and conduct some interviews, and this music education project will start bringing in some real research data. Exciting! I’ll report what happens.
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