Posts Tagged ‘Time’

Tabla, Tirakita, and avoiding the Indian timepass

August 20, 2010

Ti ra ki ta
Ti ra ki ta
Ti ra ki ta
Ti ra ki ta

For the past two weeks, three other Rotary students and I have been learning the tabla, an instrument made of two classical, audially diverse Indian drums.

During inbound orientation, all Rotary students were told to choose between the tabla, the Indian flute, and the harmonium. Given my lack of musical talents, tabla seemed easiest. It’s just two drums, right?

Suffice to say, I’ve needed all the practice I can get.

At the moment, I’ve only learned to make five sounds. But when you add the sounds I’ve found on my own, double that. When you add the combinations from those, it makes about 30.

I could do more math, but my teacher, Ravi Satfale, makes quantifying the sounds from the tabla rather useless.

Suddenly, the flute seems kind of easy, doesn’t it?

Except there’s one more thing: playing the tabla is really, really fun.

Ke ke ti ra ki ta
Ke ke ti ra ki ta
Ke ke ti ra ki ta
Ke ke ti ra ki ta

We started with the basics. Tirakita is the foundation for much of the music the tabla makes. As we began, I made many mistakes. I’d hit the wrong note or I’d mix up the order. My fingers would be in the wrong position. My legs would be crossed improperly because I was wearing the wrong pants.

After some time, though, we’ve gotten into a rhythm. Like a train approaching full speed, my fingers move faster across the goatskin. When tirakita no longer gives me trouble, we add ke ke’s and ge ge’s. With enough practice, in come the ta ta‘s. Together, ta ta and ge ge make dhe dhe.

The more I immerse myself in tabla, the easier it is to play. At first, every note made me think – I was self-conscious of every note. My mistakes came when I allowed tabla to become part of my subconscious.

But it is impossible to master the tabla without allowing yourself to use your subconscious. The more you repeat an activity, the less you have to think about it. A few days ago, I noticed I could play tirakita without any thought. Same with an added ke ke. And ge ge.

Tabla had become a part of my subconscious.

Ke ke ti ra ki ta/ Ge ge ti ra ki ta
Ke ke ti ra ki ta/ Ta ta ti ra ki ta
Ke ke ti ra ki ta/ Dha dha ti ra ki ta
Ta ta ti ra ki ta/ Dha dha dhin dhin dha

One month ago, I stepped on a plane in Chicago and stepped off another in India. Having spent over four weeks here, I’ve become accustomed to the customs which once baffled me.

I stare at the cows, goats and dogs in the street about as much as they stare at me. Bathing with soap and a bucket of tepid water has lost its original novelty. The omnipresent honking and orderly meandering of the roads’ cars, bikes and motorbikes no longer makes me flinch.

I keep reading books and articles that say I’m supposed to feel disoriented, depressed and uncomfortable by this point in my exchange. The funny thing is, I’m not. Does that mean something’s wrong with me?


Maybe the time for culture shock is later. Maybe I haven’t yet met enough people to relieve me of my ease. Maybe, a couple months from now, I’ll write something scathing and sad that makes me want to leave my second home for my first.

It’s for times like those that I don’t want to get caught in a timepass. Indians use “timepass” to express that they aren’t doing much – just passing the time.

I want to avoid the timepass. Not that boredom is inherently bad, but with exchange students, there’s a correlation between boredom and homesickness. The less I walk around aimlessly, the less I walk around glum.

Remember this, future-Chris: When you do find yourself in a timepass, at least there’s something fun you can do to pass the time.

Ti ra
Ki ta


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Pune, cricket, and transportation in India

August 8, 2010

I’m dedicating this blog entry to my grandma, in honor of her birthday last week. Happy (belated) birthday!


Why do we only get 24 hours in a day?

I wish I had more time for this blog. I’d like to be able to post a new entry every day. This last week has been so busy, I’ve been clamoring to share everything I’ve done immediately after I’ve done it.

The irony is bittersweet. When I have less free time, it means I’m busy, doing something I want to share. But the less time I have that’s free, the less time I have to write.

Let’s get caught up.

I’ve spent the last five days in Pune, a large city 880 kilometers from Nagpur. The second largest city in Maharashtra, Pune is beautiful. Tall, green, coconut trees line many of the streets. I stayed at the house of my host dad’s brother with his wife, his sons Prajyot and Saket, my host mom and dad, my host brother Mayank, and a German Shepherd named Rocky.

School doesn’t start for about two weeks, but I’ve been doing something interesting every day. On Thursday we visited Sinhagad, a fort just outside Pune. Words do little good in describing the view from the top of the hill. I’ll post pictures from that trip here soon.

Twice, I played cricket in the alley beside the house with Prajyot, Saket and one of Prajyot’s friends. To play, you only need a ball, a bat, two tires and two people. Prajyot, eight, enjoys cricket about as much as I enjoyed baseball at that age. As we played, Prajyot frequently hit the ball into the neighbors’ yards, just as I did with wiffle balls in my backyard in Champaign.

I’ve found the learning curve for cricket to be short. With the game on TV, in the newspapers and in the streets most of the year, it’s hard not to immerse in cricket. Just as my fondness for baseball was parlayed into baseballbaseballbaseball, you now may as well turn to me and say cricketcricketcricket at any mention of the sport.

This morning I got back into Nagpur after an overnight train ride with Mayank and my host mom and dad. (Saket took a bus back on Thursday.) The contrast between that ride and the Indigo flight into Pune was vast. Tuesday’s one hour flight was uneventful – I doubt the rectangular bags by each seat reading “Get Well Soon” are ever used.

The return trip, however, was a 16-hour affair. Even the relatively less-crowded AC sleeper car we were on had nine beds in a nook of about 18 cubic meters. Do the math.

That said, I enjoyed the experience. As I stared out the window at the cities, the trees, and the fields of sugar, I felt a part of India. From 30,000 feet at night, India hides behind the clouds, with only the city lights shining through. From the ground, India is close. You’re pulled in. As the train rattled along, India no longer seemed a faraway place. It was, and is, a second home.

In Pune, I had access to the internet only once in five days, but I didn’t miss it, save for this blog and those of you reading it. Keep asking questions. So long as I have the time and the internet connection, I won’t stop writing.


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Why you don’t need to be sad when I leave

July 4, 2010

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.Ferris Bueller

Tomorrow, I will take my bike for a routine ride through Champaign, as I have for years.

In four days, I will get in the car and attend a four-day conference in Michigan to learn about my trip to India.

In 16 days, I will drive to O’Hare, board a plane, and leave for 11 months.

That leaves me 11 days before I put my bags in the trunk, pet my cat one last time, and wave goodbye for 11 months to the seasonal drifts of snow, scores of orange-clad Illini fans, and almost everyone I’ve ever known.

But is that cause for sadness? Heck no! At least not for me.

See, I live life with a Carpe Diem mentality. What’s there one day often won’t be there the next. In the case of this trip, my departure is an inevitability. Life is good, if you try hard enough to enjoy it.

What saddens me is that there are so many people that don’t.

Pettiness invades the fabric of our daily lives. Squabbles overtake the beauty of an ordinary day. Grudges are made, left to simmer, and left alone. We spend our time letting what we can’t affect, affect us. And we’re left with no time.

Does everyone do this? Of course not. But sometimes those people want to share their misfortunes with others, failing to put their misfortunes into perspective. They become so preoccupied with their dislikes, that they lose sight of all there is to like.

So I prefer to use my time to enjoy what life gives me to enjoy. And use what’s left to share it with others.

I’ve been lucky to have a plethora of free time this summer. I’ve lived in the moment the most I’ve been able to since I was seven. I’ve realized, and continue to realize, that each moment in Champaign could be my last – at least for a while.

Going to Wrigley Field for a Cubs game is a special occasion in itself, especially when I’m allowed to walk on the field. But it’s even more special when I know I won’t be following baseball for a full year. The same goes for tennis practices, eating homemade pasta, and watching Toy Story 3 in 3D.

The lasts are coming. The last time I’ll play Madden NFL 06 on my trusty old PS2. The last time I’ll head over to The Union to work on my Rotary Powerpoint. The last time I’ll look out my living room window and watch a squirrel bound across the yard as I lay down by the register to cool off.

But those lasts aren’t sad. Because I’ve enjoyed almost every moment I’ve had recently, be they the first, 81st, or last of their kind. When you live life to its fullest, you have no regrets.

I have no regrets as I prepare to leave. I’m not sad. If anything, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have gotten to know so many of you so well. Sure, a new life is beginning, but for no reason does my old one have to go anywhere. If you’ve touched my life in some way, I’ll take the memories of you wherever I go. Never forget that I will never forget you.

That’s why you don’t need to be sad when I leave.

Happy Fourth everyone!


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