Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Playing tabla with Rajhesh Vaidya in Apex NC, May 20 2011

I am going to be accompanying Kalaimani Rajhesh Vaidhya on tabla at an upcoming concert in the RTP area on May 20th. It's a rare opportunity for me to play with somebody of this caliber, so I am suitably nervous.

First let me get the logistical details out of the way:

Date: May 20, 2011 7:00 to 10:00 pm
Location, tickets, and directions to the show can be found here

Here is a writeup about the artist.

Kalaimamani Rajhesh Vaidhya was brought up in a rich musical environment. His father Shri K.M. Vaidyanathan was a stalwart both in Mridangam and Ghatam. His tutelage under Smt. Jeyalakshmi started at the tender age of six. He continued learning the finer nuances of music from Smt. Rama Nambinarayanan and his advanced training from the world-renowned carnatic veena maestro Shri Chitti Babu.

Rajhesh Vaidhya is not only a renowned musician in India, his fame and popularity spreads in all the musical stages around the world including Europe, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius, Canada, USA, and many more. He has also performed with the Switzerland based contemporary dance troupe “BEJART BALLET.”

Apart from his blistering speed, Rajhesh’s performance is distinguished by his use of electric and amplified strings. He will be performing fusion songs and some light classical music during this concert.


The one thing I am looking forward to is that I might get an opportunity to play fusion, which means not necessarily stay on tabla the entire time. I will blog about this a little bit more once the practices start and I start preparing for the show.

Monday, April 4, 2011

National pride and the world cup

India and Sri Lanka played in the cricket world cup this past Saturday. These days its important to mention which world cup because there are just so many of them. It was a well contested match and India won. This everybody knows.

When India beat Pakistan and booked their spot in the finals I had friendly banter from my multitude of Indian friends asking about the match on Saturday. After all having a spouse that's Indian meant I'd have to factor how and where I put my allegiance.

When I woke up on Saturday morning, we had already lost two wickets. Dilshan and Tharanga were out. I was using hitcric, which was an excellent find for me. Of course, on that day, there were 36,000 people watching on that one channel. My wife and daughter ambled in an hour later, and we were all sleepily watching cricket when something my wife said jarred me.

"Tell me something" she said "so do you support this team even though it is a Sinhalese team?"

It was always there, deep inside me. Perhaps I thought it was hidden in the recesses where just I could go examine it from time to time. Clearly it was visible to an extent that my wife and others saw it as well.

What is the source of national pride when you were kicked out of your homeland?

Sports is not politics. Sports is supposed to transcend politics. In much the same way that you do not read about debaucheries of authors or actors. You enjoy their craft and prose. These 11 men on the field were not politicians or masterminds of the genocide that occurred over the 27 years from the time that my family and I were evicted from Sri Lanka. I should have been able to enjoy this as a world cup final. Sports in its purity.

It's not always that easy.

We went to a friends house to watch the second half. Malinga took Tendulkar's wicket. I started chanting his name, only to be admonished quickly by the majority Indian audience in attendance.

"You can't do that" one of our friends playfully chided me. It was confusing for them to have a Sri Lankan in their midst. It was disrupting their flow.

Gambhir settled down. The runs started to pile up. Tea was served. Order was slowly restored. I started to enjoy the cricket again. It was my two favorite teams playing each other. After all, when Sri Lanka is not playing, I am an avid supporter of the Indian team.

The thoughts kept coming back though. I have visited India 13 times in the last 15 years. I have come to love the country and feel at home there. I have not returned to Sri Lanka since 1983.

Dhoni hit a stylish 6 and the match was over. Medals were handed out and Kumar Sangakkara made a very gracious acceptance speech. He was truly a great ambassador for Sri Lanka, and a sportsman. Yet as part of the speech when he said 'I would like to thank his excellency the President', I cringed. This was the man who was responsible for the war camps in the Vanni area. This is the man who declared victory, while subjugating mass numbers of Tamil people.

Ironically, this would be Muralitharan's exit. One of the greatest in cricket history not just in Sri Lanka but in the world, and a Tamil. The only Tamil player on the team. Not many notice this, but I'm sure the Sri Lankan Tamils do.

I do not have answers for my queries. I just know I have them.

I'm delighted for India. I feel for the Sri Lankans, especially Dilshan, as it was clearly how badly he wanted a world cup title.

Most of all, I grieve for the Tamil civilians who are still in a war zone, and now mostly forgotten, as the world moves on to the crisis du jour.

Cricket truly is an expression of the world at large.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Two weeks ago, a friend shared with me that he is going blind. It's a genetic issue. His father and uncle have a similar affliction. His retinae are dying from the inside out. At this point he has no peripheral vision and has trouble playing basketball. He'll gradually get tunnel vision, and by the time he is in his 50's he will no longer be able to see.

He's in his early 30s and he is good looking. He's carefree. A long haired hippie. Now he's married and careworn. There's anger and frustration in his voice. He is working really hard to remember all the things that are going well for him.

Today, I spoke to another friend that found out that his kidneys are no longer working. Well, they are at 8% capacity. He will need to go on dialysis, and get on a list for a kidney transplant.

I know the sayings about gratitude. It just feels fake to pray and say that I'm glad I have the basic necessities, and to then start my litany of why my life would be better if only I had this other set of things.

Until things like this happen.

I cannot imagine a weekly schedule that involves going to the hospital three times a week. I know I would not remember to hook myself up to a machine every night so that water could get pumped into my stomach and then pumped out.

I want to buy bigger and better television sets. I drool over blue ray, and HD. I salivate about the ipad2.

On the radio I hear about Sendai, Libya and the aftermath of Egypt. A country should not have to endure two nuclear disasters within one human lifespan.

Of course, I do not give thanks that there hasn't been a nuclear disaster where I live. I haven't felt gratitude that I now live in a place where I do not have to fear imminent civil war and violence.

Perhaps its time to start.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Welcome to the United States

We just went to India for 3 weeks. It was an amazing trip and there's lots to write about around it.

What's fresh in my mind tho is the re-entry to the United States.

We came in refreshed this time, thanks to a serendipitous upgrade to business class by our friends on Jet Airways. My daughter was asleep, so I carried her while my wife carted all our carryons. It was pre-emiment in a way, carrying a large weight as I moved towards customs and immigration.

They've done a lot to try and make entrance to the United States more friendly. There's still the distinction between US citizens and non, but the non are now called 'visitors' rather than foreigners or immigrants as the signs used to say in days past. There are large LED screens that show images of people smiling and saying hello. It's refreshing in a way. People forgot to move on in line because they were caught by the images flashing above them. This is also a commentary about how intoxicated we are by digital screens but that's a digression.

The immigration officials are also much friendlier. We went to one who had a yamakah on, and was joking with us while he stamped the passports.

So far so good.

Then you get into the baggage area, and the welcome starts.

I have travelled now to at least 15 airports, and the US is the only one I know of where interational airports charge you money to use a cart. A smart carte costs $5/use. For those of us who live in the US, its just a hit on the wallet. For foreigners, it makes it unusable. Yes they allow you to use credit cards - so what?

We got our luggage, paid our $5 fee and piled all our bags sky high on one cart. Lucky for us, one bag didn't arrive, because it was short checked and was (still is actually) sitting in Brussels airport.

Coming out of international and transferring to our domestic flight we got a full taste of New York hospitality. I dropped off the cart in front of the security line and heard a testy TSA rep barking at me.

'Excuse me Sir, SIR. No. That is not going to happen. I need you to move that cart out of the way so that others can move ahead in line.'

I was jetlagged, surprised and startled. My daughter was standing in front of the cart so I told her to move it out of the way.

'No. Not her. She can't do it.'

I looked at the woman as Rai pressed down on the handle bar and moved the cart out of the way.

'Yes she can' I said.

'Ok, she's strong' was the muttered response.

I do not usually say things in such situations, but today I was irritated.

'Maam, I'm sure you know a lot about airport security and rules' I said 'but please keep any opinions you have about my daughter to yourself.'

She was looking away. I was still angry. I think my daughter was nervous.

So as I handed the other lady our passports and boarding passes I said my final piece.

'I don't know what your story is, but I do not set my daughter up t fail'

So here I was, back on my way home, and I was completely thrown off by this one TSA woman who couldn't keep to herself.

In the past, I have told myself its because they work minimum wage jobs and get shouted at all day. They probably have tough lives at home and are just fighting to survive. All of that still remains true.

But I was still angry.

I thought about it all the way home, interjecting other retorts I might have made. I constructed an alternative conversation in my head about how it should have gone.

Finally I realized it was not worth the amount of time I was giving it.

So I figured I'd write it down. Hopefully that will bury it.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Time to start writing again

I make these intentions about writing. I read my intentions weeks later and I have not started. Weeks become months, and old friends come knocking and inquiring.

Where's that blog you were talking about?

Now I'm ashamed to give them the url again.

Yet I know its such a positive release when I come out here and speak my piece.

So I will start again. Slowly. Because when I start writing, I also read the writings of my friends.

I need both.

See you all in the blogosphere.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The majesty of Angkor Wat

Photos from our trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia in December of 2006.

The main reason for going to Siem Reap was to visit the Angkor Wat complex.


Like many of the breath taking structures that are awe inspiring because of size and span, the Angkor complex is preceded by a long approach. Likely this is so that you can take in the atmosphere and surroundings as you approach

angkor2006_ outercomplex_wall

One indicator of economic disparity was the shutter click quotient. While tourists carried multiple ways to take pictures, the locals made use of the local photographer to take a single picture to mark the memorable visit.

angkor2006_ portrait_photo

Dancers in costume waiting to be photographed with Angkor Wat in the background. While I suspect this was more a tourist trap by intent, I did not see any takers during our time there.

angkor2006_ dancers

The long corridors of the outer walls are filled end to end with Ramayana and Mahabharata etchings, as well as many other stories that I did not recognize. This is one of Hanuman

angkor2006_ hanuman

Statue heads on the outer walls lining the ramparts outside the complex

angkor2006_ gatefigures

Walking up and down these ramparts were these magnificent elephants. It was clear that the mahouts handling the elephants had a relationship with them. They were so comfortable and caring as they handled the beasts while they waited to ply riders up to the hilltemple adjacent to the main Angkor complex

angkor2006_ mshouts

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Jogyakarta travelogue: English lessons at Borobudur

December 20, 2009.

mumbai_jogya 304

I have always found people more fascinating than buildings. There are those (like my wife) who can spend days and weeks, sometimes even their entire lives, tracking down the hidden stories and clues that buildings offer us. Me? I prefer to watch the man making his monkey do tricks at the entrance of the Red Fort.

So it is a small surprise that I was only mildly enthused about visiting Borobudur during our Jogyakarta/Bali trip. Scoff if you must, and call me a philistine. After all, Borobudur is one of the hidden treasures of the world. Remind me that I said the same thing when we were first driving towards Angkor Wat during our December 2006 trip to Cambodia. The reality is that I was not excited about going to see this magnificent Mahayana Buddhist monument.

Even with this mild discontent, it is difficult to conceal that first moment when the vantage point opens up. The close to 1/2 mile long walk leading up to the majestic monument allows you to take in the enormity of the project, let it sink in slowly. And sink in it did. I was pleased that this was a perambulatory. It meant we would have to climb. At least there would be movement.

We traversed the first set of stairs and sat in the first level enclosure. As we did, three girls with a notebook approached us and asked us if they could speak to us. Being well trained South Asians with a suspicion for all strangers in big places, we tersely said no and walked away. As I sat and watched, I noticed that small clusters of kids were approaching tourists and foreigners as they came up that first set of stairs. It seemed like they were having a conversation.

I was curious.

When a group of six school girls approached us on the second level, I didn't shoo them away.

"Hello Mister, are you busy?"
"We are from xxxx school and we would like to practice English with you."
(I slowly started to understand but was still cautious)
The girl beamed and her friends quickly gathered. They pulled out a notebook and began to read out their practice questions.
"What is your name?"
"What is your favorite color?"
"How old are you?"

I tried to get my daughter to answer. She preferred to watch curiously.
I was waiting for a sell at some point during the conversation.
It never came.

After an enjoyable few minutes, the kids said thank you and left.

I was delighted.


We walked around taking in the myriad seated Buddha statues, many of which were decapitated


When the next group of kids showed up I was much more relaxed. I asked them questions back. Turns out the teachers in the local schools had discovered a novel way to get their kids to practice spoken English. Go mix with the natives. So they did these field trips to Borobudur and Prambanan, walked up to total strangers, and asked them questions in English.

Some kids had a ringleader. The rest would observe and nod. I tried a couple of times to make them all talk. Most of the kids had cameras, and wanted to take a picture of us. We said no the first couple of times but then realized they were going to show it to their teacher, and started saying yes. Soon we started taking pictures of the kids.

The most striking thing was how alive they were. I suppose all kids are. They are a constant rejuvenation wherever I go. No doubt their lives were not easy. But there, on that day, they were kids again, running around together, having fun doing a school assignment.


Clothed in burkas, totally modest and polite, they exhibited a childish joy when the shutter click moment came, flashing their peace signs.

As I took my Borobudur pictures, I found they sprang to life when I included the visitors. Even though it is believed that the temple was abandoned when the Javanese converted to Islam and the Hindu and Buddhist Kingdoms died out, it was clear that these modern Muslims still held a great curiousity and interest in the monument.

mumbai_jogya 331

I did two more English lessons that day. The last one was with a group of college kids. They ran over to us as I was waiting for my wife and daughter to return from a bathroom trip. The kids were smart, friendly and enthusiastic. It was clear they were Gen Y'ers. Everybody flashed their cell phones, and all grinned when I asked if they were on FaceBook.

"Of course!"

They told me that a fluent English speaker earned 25% more in a white collar job than a non-fluent speaker. The problem was that they had little opportunity to practice. This idea of practicing with tourists was recent. Had I more time, I would have loved to go and spend a few days at their college or school and just sit and talk to these kids. Perhaps they were practicing their English with me, but I was learning so much from them.

By the time I left the premises, I was sated. I had taken in one of the historical wonders of the world, and had spent time with the ones that would carry the future of this planet.

All in all, a good day.