Wednesday, November 7, 2007

from Ajmer to Pushkar & the music of the Saregama family

Arrived at Pushkar yesterday in the early evening yesterday, only to see the hill on the other side of the lake burning vividly. The fire stopped itself after a few hours of downcircled patterns. Or stopped by human hands. Who knows.

But first some Ajmer stuff.
The last 2 days of our 7 day Ajmer stay, we were guests at the Singh family with father Purfinder inviting us, all through the web magic of CS. To our surprise we even got a whole house to ourselves, as we could have a vacant house of a friend of the Singh family a few miles down the road, inbetween rocky dusty mountains. We couldn't believe our luck.

It was certainly welcome as our double room at the humble hotel Bhola got a bit too small and messy after spending nearly a week there, being cramped together and belly aching the way we were. We stayed long enough in the hotel that the staff seemed to hold us in awe for being around in Ajmer all this time, since any other tourists merely spent a night there on their way to Puskhar. They probably thought weird of us, so we played our roles well too in a few confusing scenario's. Like when Hindu god pics are hung around in the hotel restaurant with mickey mouse and donald duck right next to it, it was faith that we had to play with it. Ah well, nothing exciting but it kept us as the hotel's favorite tourist pets that everyone had to come and see. So they did and they every day or so, som staffmember brought a friend along, stuttering some random words in English. It was fun for most of the times, if the mood fitted, which it didn't always in our cramped and digestive state.
Ok, back to that sad sad moment of departure. On leaving we had to shake the hands of every staff member present, so that was a pretty genuine experience in itself on hotelling in Ajmer. Yeah, I kinda write this with a certain irony attached to it, not to make fun of the kind hotel staff in any way, but more aimed at ourself for fooling around during our stay. They didn't mind us either, I think.

Oh yes, the Singh family. Purfinder, the father of the house, prepares young Rajasthani men to get into the military. For this their physical condition must be above standard and they receive basic education on maths, general knowledge and hindu. Most of the are from poor families in small villages and they hope to get accepted by the army through these preparations so they can get a good job. In India, working in the military gives a high status within society and offers good chances for a career. We were well looked after by the family, perhaps too well as we even got tea delivered in the morning to the K9 house. Not to mention all the gorgeous homecooked veggie dishes and pancakes made by Purfinder's sweet wife at every time of the day, the good advice we got about travelling in India. Also how we got picked up many times and delivered as human packets to our point of destination. For all this, we thank the Singhs for their hospitality.

The city people in Ajmer (500.000 inhabitants) seem to have a certain complex about neighbouring village Pushkar (33.000 inhabitants), as the tourists only come through Ajmer as a stopover, not to spend time there. Every day people wanted to refer us to Pushkar or help us to get there and we always got confused stares when we said that we stayed in Ajmer for a few days. Many times we hearf *why you here?* or shouts of *hey friend, this Ajmer, not Pushkar*. Yes, the positivity gleamed.
It kinda was like a deja-vu of the Delhi experience in our first week. C'mon people of Ajmer, take some pride in your city...even when it's a smoggy, traffic congested and not so exciting place. We met loads of good people here. So there, our praise for Ajmer!

We didn't only dwell around doing nothing, being fed and pampered. Earlier last week we had met Dewara Saregama at the post office, who invited us to his mountain home to come and listen to his family playing. We had not even started looking for Rajasthani musicians, so meeting Dewara came by perfect coincidence and we were happy to come and visit him and his family on tuesday evening to get things started for the musical project. We didn't know what to expect but it turned out as an amazing evening. Descending from a bloodline of court musicians, dating 300-400 years back, Dewara told us that the Saregama caste always had music and painting as their prime skill since mughul times up to now. We took a taxi to their house, located in the hills on the outskirts of Ajmer. The family lives in a small yet cosy house, tucked away on the side of a mountain and whitened to keep it cool inside from the sun. Father, mother, grandmother, son and 2 daughters all live together in 3 small rooms. For once there was none of the luxury that we experienced at other Indian homes and we felt warmed and humble to be invited by these kind people who didn't have much to share, except the skill of their music and art. When we entered the house, Dewara and his daughters first showed us their colorful paintings and detailed pencil drawings, which were done in different styles and techniques. Not just some, but a whole mountain of stacked prints. Beautiful creations, as a skillful glance toward the upcoming music session. After some talking about the methods, the meanings and so on, the father, son and daughters picked up the instruments. Father Dewara on harmonium and singing, his son on the tabla and daughters on the shruti's and vocals. One after the other traditional Rajasthani raga was played as these amazing sounds echoed in the small room, while Dewara sang in a deep drone-pitched voice to glide from one floating tone to the other in the cunning vocal tradition known to Rajasthan. Daughter Sharwa had won a folk singing contest in Ajmer the year before and she soon proved why, as her soothing voice leaped into a higher pitch with little nuances and added side shrieks. And then she still excused herself for not having prepared nor practiced the weeks before.
The variety of the raga's played, was intense and towards the end the father also picked up a ragged guitar that he had set in a special Indian semi-open tuning. He played in such a way that it sounded inbetween Arabic and classical Indian styles. Only to add more unique quality to their earnest folk sound. After the session the daughters started making food for us whether we were hungry or not. We couldn't refuse this kind gesture dressed in a nicely scented meal and we looked on how they were rolling fresh chappatis and making a nice spicy pepper-onion curry. Ofcourse it tasted great, it felt mighty yummy in the tummy.

They even invited us to celebrate Divali with them in their Ajmer mountain house. Divali is tomorrow and is like the Indian equivalent to christmas, because there are little flickering lights everywhere in the streets, on the houses and kids are setting off firecrackers and rockets in the streets. It will be nice to celebrate divali with them, especially after that great evening on tuesday. We'll have to see if we can get back to Pushkar, as there might be no buses or taxi's if everyone is at home celebrating it.... or we just relax and sleep in their little house, as Dewara initially offered.

Later this week we will return to them to record a longer session, as tuesday evening was more of an introduction to get to know each other. Also my audio set-up for the microphones didn't work good in every song, so it's better that we re-record some songs and more new songs. We hope to turn this into a proper album for them and give them all recordings, as they don't have any clear recordings of their songs nor the recording equipment to do it themselves. It would be even better if we can help them getting it released properly on a European/US label! All is open. More about this soon.

In light of all this, the hospitality in India has been really sincere and superb so far and can not be compared to our own western hemispheres. Here a family will take you in as a guest while all members of family take such good care for that you feel like being part of the family. It's a very inclusive feeling you get from all the sharing. Feels good.

On Pushkar: as I opened our iron balcony door, a red arsed monkey jumped away onto the electrical wire pole. He showed me his teeth. I think he didn't liked me, just a guess. The whole family of monkeys were on the other side of the alley and the local people below threw stones at them as they don't like the monkeys either. Monkeys have also learned to throw stones at people. Lucy from London, who we met this morning (well, 2 Lucy's even), found out the hard way a few days ago, getting a nice shower of rocks by the cheeky ones.
There are 2 types of monkeys here. One type are the red arsed monkeys, who look like smaller baboons. The other are the blackfaced monkeys, who seem more holy and like to spend time down at the holy lake. They seem less aggressive too as people can walk around them. Hmmm, but to trust any of these monkey here? nah.....

Ok, pics galore.
This time Ajmer, the folk session and even Pushkar pics taken this morning.

Errr, one last one of Delhi, a bigger pic of the red fort! Just for Ian.

the veggie tent camp. just around the corner of our hotel.

no travel is easy here, at least they're honest about it. rock on. :)

kid selling nuts that look like peppers. actually taste like a watery chestnuts. yum.

gypsy grandmother with smaller pile

here be wild piggies in the city centre alleys.

open sewers. here we saw a wild pig eating a sewer rat, alive.

skillful man who makes/restores vintage harmoniums in his workshop. guess I'll just have to get one.

view from the red Jain temple in central Ajmer.

golden room in the Jain temple. golden tower which is like the heaven of the Jains
Here more about the Hindu sect of Jains and Jainism. And yeah, the signs ofcourse resemble something completely different than the obvious.

Bagh park next to the Ana Sagar lake

Maarten enjoying Ana Sagar lake view

side view lake of temples, built by Shah Jahan in 1600's.

lone boy at temple corner

sweet gypsy kids, wanting to have their picture taken

view from lake to the hills nearby

new Jain temple outside Ajmer, where Hari Singh and his friend took us by motorbike.

golden door to temple

massive buddha inside

chaiwallah (tea vendor) Maretane Rayka. Raika gypsy and proud of it. He reminded me of friend Valery.

view from our borrowed K9 house

farm field behind the Singh's house

Singh family and us

the Saregama family in session

smiling dadi-ji (grandmother) who was humming along next to us

M at work

Pushkar: blackface monkeys next to the holy lake where pilgrims can bathe


Pushkar view to one of the many temples on hill


Rik said...

Wauw! :) I'm very very curious about the Saregara music, that must have been such an amazing experience. Sounds like a parallel universe to me. Makes me fantasize about visiting a place like Staphorst in the Bible Belt here, and then running into a family who brings you their carefully fermented age-old tradition of improvisatorily mingling bits of Bach, gregorian plainchant and clog dances, with grandpa speaking in tongues and a rhythmically barking family dog. :)

SebCatLitter said...

hey dude, hah get working on your staphorst recordings then before these traditions vanish ;)
hmmm, for some reason I reckon you might like to hear Lomax' southern sacred harp recordings:

yesterday we spent a whole day with the Dewara Saregara family, from early morning till midnight for recording music, relaxing and getting fed good dal curry and chappatis :)
but the sounds, amazing stuff! and with their 95 year old granny also singing an old folk song in her best weary voice. tres vintage and jawdropping stuff.

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