Posts Tagged ‘Music’

My favorite -ollywood starts with a “B”

January 25, 2011

About a week ago, I went online and looked at a list of popular American songs for the first time since coming to India in July. Before leaving, my musical taste was undoubtedly pop-centric, with about 25 songs from July’s Top 40 among my favorites. So it was with mild shock that I realized I hadn’t heard a single song on January’s list. I know it’s in the nature of such lists to change often, but seriously, not one song?

I guess Bollywood has filled the void for me pretty well.

Since the New Year, I’ve dedicated myself to finding the Bollywood songs that I’d been hearing on the radio and humming to myself for months. Whereas in December just three Bollywood songs had a home in my iTunes library, over ten times as many have now joined them. And I haven’t even tapped into my host brother’s vast collection (yet).

Note that I refer to the music that populates the airwaves here as Bollywood music rather than Hindi music. The reason for this is twofold. “Bollywood” normally refers to the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry, but its movies are known worldwide for their heavily choreographed song and dance numbers. Unlike in America, the music and film industries of Bollywood are very closely intertwined. The majority of songs you’ll hear in India come from its movies – in fact, I don’t think I’ve heard a song that hasn’t.

And after listening to songs like I Hate Love Storys (sic), is it really fair to call these Hindi songs? Like their accompanying Bollywood scripts, an increasing number of songs have at least some English. In most cases, use of English is sparse – with only repeated phrases like “People on the floor” or “Oh girl, you’re mine” – but some songs are nearly half English. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to label these Hinglish songs. Then again, that wouldn’t be fair to the many songs still written in pure Hindi.

But for me, even the pure Hindi songs are no longer the garbled strings of sounds they once were.

Since the end of December, I’ve been taking private Hindi classes five times a week, and my rate of learning has skyrocketed. I can now read almost every character in the alphabet, and I’m able to write a one-paragraph self-introduction in Devanagari script. Speaking Hindi makes bargaining with rickshaw drivers a lot easier, and I keep shocking my Indian friends by tossing new Hindi words into our conversations.

But the real rewards of learning Hindi come in understanding the words that are spoken. Bollywood songs have truly been instrumental in my language learning process. Frequent are the instances when I’ll recognize a word, pull out my pocket dictionary, and see if I’ve guessed its meaning correctly. I guess you could say I read the dictionary for fun.

In full disclosure, I’ve since added eight of those Top 40 American songs.

But I have to admit, Bollywood music is the far more educational form of fun.


P.S. Here’s a sampling of Bollywood music for your enjoyment.

A. Pee Loon
B. Anjaana Anjaani Ki Kahani
C. Aal Izz Well
D. Udd Udd Dabangg
E. Sheila Ki Jawani

Bonus question: To which of the above songs did I perform a Bollywood dance in front of 100 people at a RYLA camp in November? The first person to answer correctly gets a prize(!) and a detailed explanation of the performance in context.


Christmas in India: Part seven

January 20, 2011

I have no idea what parades in India are supposed to be like, but I have a feeling they’re nothing like the one we were a part of Christmas night.

We’d just finished dinner, having eaten whilst someone else was putting on a mega-performance, this also a dance in front of hundreds of people. It was nice to watch casually, the pressure of performing having been transferred from our shoulders to theirs. We ambled away towards the bus after dessert, ready to ride back to Modern School and call it a night.

That’s when we were interrupted by the parade.

Actually its resemblance to a parade was minimal, but I can’t think of any other pithy word to describe the scene. A single flatbed truck was being led by a car with a power generator, its escort required so several large amps could blare Jingle Bells into the night on a continuous loop. A couple dozen Indians were standing on the back, dancing and handing out sweets quite generously to passerby. The truck itself was covered in Christmas-colored streamers, and decorated so that it no longer resembled something you’d find on a highway.

We got on board.

I hadn’t planned to see a parade this Christmas, let alone to be in one. But little about this Christmas had gone according to plan. Why plan when the enjoyable things always come on short notice? Despite the challenges of staying balanced on a moving vehicle (albeit a very slow one), we joined the spontaneous dance party, huddled together to keep each other from falling off. My mouth full of candy, my ears full of music, and my limbs doing everything possible to stay afloat the float, India had once again successfully overwhelmed my senses.

Music has been inseparable from and invaluable to our memories from this holiday. The songs from our performance set the tune for our Christmas Eve practice. The songs on Jakob’s laptop set the tune for our party at his house. Christmas carols set the tune for our ride to CP Club, and Christmas karaoke set the tune once we were there. Slow, nostalgic organ music set the tune for Midnight Mass, and fast, familiar music set the tune en route to Surabardi. Whenever, wherever, music was always with us to set the mood.

And now our mood was being set by an ear-assaulting, heart-pumping rendition of Jingle Bells. On a parade float. In India.

That ten-minute ride wasn’t the last we’d take that night, as the bus that would take us back to Modern School still awaited us. But it’s the one I’ll remember the most.


Christmas in India: Part six

January 18, 2011

I wish I could tell you our performance was a rousing success.

I wish I could tell you all the dance steps I’d forgotten came back to me as I performed. I wish I could tell you our yoga demonstration went off without a glitch. I wish I could tell you our musical performance was so mesmerizing the audience gave us a standing ovation.

Unfortunately, none of those wishes came true.

But we did get a curtain call.

Had you been backstage during our performance, unable to see the action on the other side of the curtain, you might have expected something catastrophic to happen during our performance. Maybe an overhead light would give way, and topple down onto the stage. Perhaps a pack of monkeys would be released, and chase us into the crowd. Minutes before our performance, we were clearly paying the price for our procrastination.

For all I knew, maybe a monkey had looted my bag – the red sash vital to my first costume was nowhere to be found. The Bengali dance was the second item on our program, and some changes to our costumes would have to be made if we were to perform as planned. I ran around desperately, searching for the sash backstage, but I didn’t run into any good luck.

The reason for my wardrobe malfunction had to do with my misunderstanding of the order of events. I’d wrongly assumed my other dance would be performed first, so I removed the dhoti-kurta I’d been wearing over the Maharashtran dance costume. When I realized the order was reversed, I put it back on. Somewhere in that costume shuffle, the sash was lost, and our group had no choice but to improvise.

I walked onstage about ten minutes before the performance to put our instruments in place. I couldn’t help but notice that with ten minutes until showtime, the gazebo was far from full, with over two-thirds of the 1500 seats still empty. So as I made my way onstage the second time – my hands on my hips and my feet in step with the music – it was with mild surprise that I found the room filled to capacity.

It’s a shame we didn’t give those people a better performance.

Unlike the inaugural kathak dance, which by all accounts went smoothly, our Bengali dance left significant room for improvement. Perhaps the audience didn’t notice our many errors, but we certainly did. In one particularly embarrassing stretch, my mind went blank for several seconds, and I could do little more than tap my feet in tune to the music. Often I found myself a half-second behind, perceptive to but not assured of the steps I was to take.

It wasn’t quite a debacle, but even the polite applause we received seemed too gracious. It was obvious that we’d learned the dance in three days.

Although I assume the ensuing Eastern dance in which five girls performed went well, I wouldn’t know. My mindset had been switched to the coming Maharashtran dance, my mediocre showing in the Bengali dance already forgotten. So it came as a surprise when I learned our musical performance was next on the program, not the final of our four dances. I removed my triangular dance hat and made my way on stage again, reassured that at least my second performance would be better than my first.

I have nothing memorable to report of our brief concert. The first few seconds of the tabla part were marked by volume trouble, but the sound was soon turned up accordingly. A tuned ear would have noticed split second differences in our coordination, and perhaps the crowd would rather have seen us play longer, but I can offer no complaints. The audience was our pacemaker, clapping along as we played tabla, and they were appreciative of our performance.

And the Maharashtran folk dance went even better. So much better, in fact, that the audience called for an encore. This required me to rush my props across the backstage as the girls began their bit and yell “Jordan!Jordan!Jordan!Jordan!Jordan!Jordan!” at the person closest to the entrance on stage left. My double-backstage-sprint was for naught, however, as the music faded out and the encore ended before I had the chance to come on stage once more.

But my sprints were just beginning, and so was our yoga demonstration. Once I ran to discard my costume, which I wouldn’t need for yoga, once I ran to stage right in the erroneous belief that was where I’d be entering, and once I ran back to stage left, realizing my mistake about two seconds too late.

It was a hectic start to a performance that left a lot to be desired.

We entered the stage without the plates that were to hold the petals, although that hardly mattered when we could just hold the flowers in our palms. After our initial “om”, a silence prevailed that had little to do with meditation. For about a minute, the accompanying music had nothing to accompany, and we could do little but softly chant “om” two or three times more. Until someone backstage found a microphone for Brii, she could say nothing, and even then, it took several seconds to get the volume turned on.

I can’t comment on the rest of the demonstration, because I had my eyes closed until my part at the end. It seemed to go well, though.

And then it was over. That was it. The end. Bas.

We couldn’t really celebrate until we were back in the cottage, our costumes un-costumed, our bangles-unbangled, the mess awaiting us inside un-made. But we’d made it through our performance unscarred and unfazed. All the mistakes we’d made were now in the past. At last, we had nothing to worry about except how to enjoy the evening ahead.

Back at the cottage, I decided to look through my backpack again.

You’ll never guess what red piece of fabric I found inside.


Christmas in India: Part two

January 12, 2011

I have no prevailing fear of rickshaw drivers, but it took until Christmas Eve for me to ride alone in an auto in India.

For five months, I’d gotten around without many rides in the three-wheeled, open-air miniature taxis that are found in abundance across India. My ride to Jakob’s house, where most of us would be congregating before dinner, was uneventful except for the fact it was the first auto-rickshaw I’d taken without a companion (or two or three). Heretofore, my bike had taken care of all my transportation needs in Nagpur, its convenience outweighing its relative slowness (and relative safety).

I was so full of sugar after my two-hour stopover at Jakob’s that I don’t even know why I ate dinner. In addition to the sweets Jakob’s host family had provided, Amanda had brought with her a huge tin of desserts she’d been sent for Christmas. By the time we left Jakob’s, I’d had peanut brittle and Skittles, Indian sweets and Rice Krispie treats, chocolates and chocolate-chip cookies. Our brief meeting had turned into yet another full-fledged food party.

At about 10, I got into Jakob’s car to go to the PC Club for dinner.

And so did 13 other people.

Allow me to put our ride in context before judging us. On the South Tour, some of us were among 18 fit onto a jeep after seeing a Kathakali dance. A couple days before, six girls squeezed into a rickshaw supposed to seat three. All facts that I know will have the parents reading this digging fingernails into their palms.

But that’s all nothing compared to what you’ll see on the streets of India everyday.

Two-wheelers are supposed to be two-seaters, but it’s common to see four people on one moped. I’ve seen rickshaws on national highways carrying over a dozen people. As for city buses, I don’t think there’s any limit on their capacity – you’ll often find them packed with 100 people or more.

As we drove to dinner, we broke out into song. What need was there for a radio? In the course of our 20-minute ride, I think I heard every Christmas song ever written. Everyone but the driver had heard Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer, O Christmas Tree, and Jingle Bell Rock. Hoarse, antsy, and considerably more hyper than usual owing to the night’s circumstances, we belted out the lyrics to the songs we knew – and hummed or whistled to the ones we didn’t. My voice was considerably more off-key than the others but what did that matter on a night like this?

The front windows were kept open as we drove. Although most of our faces were obscured, our voices rang through the open windows anyway. I wonder what the people on the streets thought as we passed them by. It was probably the most bizarre Christmas caroling they’d ever heard.

It was certainly nothing like riding alone in an auto.

And I loved it.


But the caroling didn’t end when we got out of the car (with some difficulty, as both finding the handles and refraining from toppling over each other posed problems). No, our Christmas Eve was just beginning.

CP Club is a classy, high-end establishment, the kind of place to which you only go for very special events. The pavilion was decorated for Christmas, with green and red festooned everywhere. We’d barely walked inside when we met Santa Claus – barely five feet tall, with a face and beard that quite literally seemed to be made of plastic. With most of the club situated outdoors, our voices didn’t carry that far – a fact which mattered when we discovered they had a karaoke machine.

Playing Christmas songs.

We rushed towards the microphone before we were shown to our seats. The first song I remember hearing was I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. For some reason, the word “kissing” had been changed to “tickling” in half the verses. Even for India’s high standards of censorship, that seemed a bit much.

But it was music. Christmas music. And that’s exactly what we needed.

Why was it so much easier to broadcast our voices in front of a couple hundred people on Christmas Eve than it would be to showcase our talents the next day? Some of us were more willing to come onstage than the others, but there was no pressure to perform here, no stage fright. One of a group of about eight, my back was to our audience as we sang, and most of the crowd was paying more attention to their immediate conversations than they were to us. There wasn’t a single butterfly in my stomach as I sang Jingle Bells, my voice alternating awfully between the two octaves in which I was capable of producing sounds.

Christmas karaoke came to an end, giving way to music videos for Ke$ha, Lady Gaga and Madonna songs. We snacked on cotton candy and popcorn, putting off dinner even as midnight drew closer. Our dinner was an appropriate one: instead of individual plates, we ordered several dishes and offered everyone at least a bite of each.

After a month of eating like this on the South Tour, how could our Christmas dinner have been any different?


Christmas in India: Part one

January 11, 2011

I knew before Christmas that the day’s events would probably be worthy of a blog entry. I was wrong. My Christmas was worthy of several blog entries. I’ve written nearly as much about a 40-hour stretch over three December days as I did on the 25-day South Tour. Enjoy!


It would sound better if I said we spent months preparing for Christmas Day.

It would sound better if I said we’d put in hours of arduous practice every week before the District Conference, that we’d diligently prepared and rehearsed for our presentation in front of 1,500 Rotarians, that the showcase of exchange students from Nagpur, Nasik, Bhopal, Indore, Jalgaon and Yavatmal would be flawless.

It would sound better, anyway. But the truth is that we learned just about everything we needed to know in less than a week.

The six of us from Nagpur (Anaïs, Dascha, Franziska [Germany], Jakob, Michelle and I) had been taking tabla and dance classes since August, and yoga classes since October – kind of.

Our tabla classes, which were supposed to last one hour three times a week, had dissolved into ten to twenty minute classes twice a week, if that. Our dance classes, which were supposed to be just as frequent as tabla, faced similar results as attendance slowly dwindled. We took drama/yoga classes for about two weeks in October, and had about five more classes in the days before the conference.

Much of what we did in those classes, too, wouldn’t apply to our Christmas Day presentation. In spite of this, we were to be performing four classical Indian dances, a musical fusion with tablas, flutes and drums, and a five-minute group demonstration of yoga. Save some of the tabla in the musical fusion, the entirety of our presentation had been learned since the end of the South Tour, much of it in the last two days. Jordan, Kelsey and Amanda had arrived from Indore and Bhopal on the 22nd, which lifted our spirits considerably, but they’d had only three days to learn their parts.

As our final practice began, we were still a long way from being ready to perform. Just before 1 p.m. on Christmas Eve, I biked to the flat where we always had yoga class, only to see Jakob riding away with our teacher. The location had apparently changed to Modern School, the site of our tabla and dance classes.

So I rode my bike to Modern School, and that’s where I spent the next four and a half hours.

Compared to the other practices, our dramatic yoga reenactment was coming along quite nicely. Brii was to be the yoga-goddess, and the other 12 of us were to file in and toss flower petals on her in worship. After sitting cross-legged and chanting “om”, we would then demonstrate various yoga positions while Brii explained them to the audience. The performance would conclude with us contorting ourselves once more as we constructed a human-temple through which Brii would walk at the end.

Except for Brii, who had several lines to memorize, yoga-acting looked like it would be a test of nothing more than our flexibility.

The same could not be said of music. Anaïs, Jakob and I had become adept at playing our 42-line, two minute main part – so long as we had a copy in front of us. But we still didn’t know what else would be going into the fusion, and how it would fit in. Olivia and Brii had been recruited in recent days to play “drums” with Jakob and I, which meant we’d be playing on two drums and two modified plastic buckets. Franziska and Jordan had learned what they’d be playing on flute, but how all three parts would fit together remained a mystery.

As for our four dances, I noticed a strong correlation between practice time and execution. None of the kathak I’d been learning since August helped me much, but I felt reasonably confident with the Maharashtran dance that I’d had ten days to practice. The same could not be said of the Bengali dance which I’d learned 48 hours before – a full half of the steps I was taking were erroneous or delayed.

Nevertheless, practice that day was transcended much more by Christmas cheer than stage fear. TV crews, photographers and journalists came to interview, photograph and film us. Jakob and I were interviewed by a TV reporter who asked us about our lives in India – in Hindi. The only responses I could give were “bahut acha” (Hindi for “very good”) when asked about Indian food and “Maha Laxshmi” (the huge festival at our house in September) when asked to name my favorite festival.

I’ll never know if our 30 seconds of fame found airtime. By the time I found myself in front of a TV once again, our interview was already yesterday’s news.

Our plan for what was left of Christmas Eve was to go to dinner as a group and attend midnight mass at one of the only churches in Nagpur. But our plan for the latter was in jeopardy.

Jakob’s host family, which would be taking us to a club for dinner, could provide transportation to the club and the church. But driving us back to our six respective homes at one or two in the morning was just not possible. We grew despondent as the sun set, and the possibility of Christmas without church dawned on us.

That’s when Pooja and Jagdish Khatri stepped up for us.

The problem of transportation would be resolved if all of us spent the night in one home. The Khatri’s home. Two rooms would be enough to accommodate all of us. Having us dropped in one place simplified the transportation situation considerably. It didn’t matter if they had a chimney or not. We had a plan.

Most Indians are very hospitable, but something about this gesture made it a little more meaningful.

Sharing your home on Christmas night just doesn’t compare to anything else.