Thursday, September 28, 2006

[09-24] Dance

Over the last week, I have been extremely fortunate to see two stage shows. The first was put on my Sonali’s mother and was traditional Gujarati dances and the second was put on by the Government of Gujarat and was the kick-off event for Vibrant Gujarat Navrati Festival 2006.

I believe I have seen a stage show in India before, but it was soo many years ago that I don’t even remember it, so I could these as my first.

I was really looking forward to seeing Sonali’s show because I would get to see how raas-garba stage performances are done in Gujarat. I knew that there were different from what the Indian diaspora has made raas-garba (more so raas) into in the States, so it would be interesting to see. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the show. I really became aware of how we have blended styles and steps together and lumped it all under the name of garba without recognizing the diversity of the dance style itself. Garba is done is many many different way with each region having its own distinct style, yet in North America, particularly at the collegiate level, we simply call it garba and say that it represents all of Gujarat. It was interesting to see different types of moves that I use in my choreography sprinkled over different dances, it really was a testament to that fact that all the stuff I know is a mix of different styles. As I watched the dances, I knew I could do them myself, but when it comes to choreography, its funny how you only remember a small set of moves. It would be have great to participate in the dance so the moves would become muscle memory and engrained in my choreography as I would have done them over and over again at practices.

Many of the dances that I saw wouldn’t work for competition and probably would bore a lot of people, but that does not devalue the art or its beauty. While watching the show, I really felt a desire to learn how each dance really is done, what the differences are, etc and bring that knowledge back to the States to raise people’s awareness about it. The music was performed live at the show by the group that performs at all Chokshi parivar events and as usual were incredible.

The Vibrant Gujarat show was my first large scale stage show- on the scale of what is done for Filmfare awards, etc. The audience was HUGE. It began with a beam show to invoke Mataji, which was really enjoyable, followed by a segment on Gujarati dances. Initially a few dances were performed with mcs coming in between songs to explain the background of garba. I had difficulty understanding it all, but would love to have that info, especially for Satrang. Then there was an 11 garbo non-stop piece, where they showcased different Gujarati garbas from across the state. They had over 150 dances on stage at all times. One dance would be in the middle, while all the other styles, in their own costumes and moves, would dance to that song around the sides. You really had to pick a focus and watch that. The all-guys dance was simple in terms of the quantity of moves, but very powerful. I tried to learn the moves from watching, but definitely cannot remember everything.

The Gujarat piece was followed by 8 dances from different countries, which was a lot of fun to watch. The people I was with were getting bored from these dances, especially because it would be 6-10 people on a stage that was formerly occupied by over 150 dancers. The Indonesian dance (Rampai Aceh) was an absolute delight. The little boys from Nepal were charming, there did the Ramchandra, which to some degree is similar to raas. The level of precision and synchronization varied from group to group. The Isreali group performed modern dance, which they called platform. The Sri Lankan group did a jugalbandhi between Bharatnatyam and Kandoi (I think that’s what its called, the dancers would similar outfits to what the Sri Lankan group wore at Indus Culture Show, but the moves were much more intricate- that dance style requires as much training as any Indian classical style).

After the international dances, came the Unity through Diversity dance, which represented 13 different states of India. Again the stage was FILLED with dancers in different costumes, doing their own moves to whatever music was playing for each state’s dance. There were classical dances- Kathakali, Kathak, Mohiniattam and a wide variety of folk dances. The dancers from Orissa wore outfits similar to that of Odissi, but their dance was extremely acrobatic and required immense flexibility. They would write the name of the style on the screen as they were performed, but there was so much other stuff to see that I didn’t pay attention to it.

Lastly, there was a 1 lakh deevo aarti to Mataji. All the performers on stage had deevas and many woman were carrying the large tower of deevos on their head and then each audience member was given a deevo also for aarti.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the show. It was EXACTLY what I’ve wanted to see for years. I finally got to see so many different dance styles that I have read about live, done by people from the states that have been doing them for years. Granted there is differences between stage performances and the dances as they are done by the people on the ground, but nonetheless there is authenticity to the music and moves. In the Unity through Diversity piece, they did was Anita tried to show two years also with different dance styles coming together, but with one musical piece.

What I saw, really is what we have been trying to convey through Satrang. The diversity and vibrancy of India through its dances. It’s a shame that there is this immense lack of awareness of the diversity of dance in India in North America, but that really is because the skills to train and teach people in these styles isn’t readily available.

The shows gave me a newfound appreciation for the aunties who choreograph dances for Fogana, the traditional way. They really are trying to preserve the rich artistic heritage that Gujarat has in North America. At the collegiate level, we really have butchered a lot of dance styles, but its not necessarily because of ignorance or conscientious effort. Teachers don’t exist or aren’t affordable. People who have learned one dance styles once will go out and teach it to others in attempt to share, but of course things are going to be lost in the translation. When dance is taught without teaching about its history, significance, etc, it goes from being an art to recreation. I still remember all the times I would be saddened by the fact that dance is not considered an art, but recreation by so many of my peers.

But what does that mean for me? I can’t simply critique and not be active myself. If I believe that knowledge of these styles is dying then I took much educate myself in order to share the knowledge. I remember reading the little information that is available on the net about different Gujarati and Indian folk dances, but without seeing them the repetition of that information is not as effective as it can be.

But do I necessarily want to become a traditionalist? There is a beauty to how at the collegiate level, students have made traditional dances their own by meshing it with local cultural influences. More people are interested in dance because of this transformation. Where do you strike the balance?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

[09-20] Great Day

What a day. The day started off with Wednesday Meditation. I have not been good about meditating so it was very nice to be in a space conducive to meditation. Today we began our 36 week discussion on the Sarve Dharma prathna. Comprise of 36 words, the prathna is equivalent to doing jaap on a mala, each word has been carefully chosen and has immense meaning behind it. For the next 36 weeks, we are going to discuss one word. Today we began with word 1: Aum. We are considering putting up the discussion on e-seva and hoping others will share their thoughts on the word also.

After meditation, I headed with Brenda to Vastu Shilp Foundation. Brenda is a volunteer from Ireland who is in Ahmedabad for 8 weeks. For a long time she has had this desire to visit India and unexplicable connection to India. She cannot pinpoint where or when this desire came into being and that too is not important. One story I love to share about Brenda (since I heard it yesterday) is that she thought that everyone had this desire to visit India. When she found that that very few, in fact almost no one had this desire, she was extremely shocked. She is really enjoying her experience here and I have no doubts that she will be back for a longer period of time.

The Vastu Shilp Foundation is an organization started by Shri Balkrishna Doshi- India’s most famous architect. We had a pleasure of meeting Yatinbhai Pandya, who heads up the research side of the foundation. An absolutely incredible individual, I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. He does research and interpretation of traditional Indian architecture and techniques to understand the reasoning behind the design of different built environments. India has incredible buildings that were built based on a science and understanding of the natural environment. There are many many practices that are good from traditional techniques and also those that are not good. The Vastu Shilp Foundation works to identify the good practices and implement them in the practice of design of built spaces. India is full of structures that work in harmony with the environment and there are countless design elements that have evolved and been honed to the local context. Yet soooo many modern structure mimic Western architecture and design features which are not conducive to the local context. For example, putting the long side of the building east-west makes sense in a cool environment as it increases the solar radiation received by the building, increasing internal temperature, but in a hot climate, you want to lower the inner temperature so such a design feature doesn’t make sense. They have examined many sustainable and green design features, old and new and try to incorporate them into the practice wherever appropriate. As Yatinbhai said, and I fully agree, the impetus is on the professional community to become raise an awareness of the importance of using appropriate technologies (suitable to local context) rarely that merely mimicking what one sees elsewhere. To raise another’s awareness, one must be educated oneself, so Vastu Shilp Foundation seeks out and/or develops locally appropriate alternatives, which are economically competitive with existing practices. The Vastu Shilp Foundation designed ESI-Sughad’s campus and the Manav Sadhna Community Center and has made both spaces demonstration units for various technologies and ideas.

ESI-Sughad is a very green building- a civil and environmental engineer’s ideal built space. Wastewater and sullage is reused. Organic waste is composted and/or turned into bio-gas. Rainwater is harvested. Water is recycled. Nature and built spaces live in harmony and co-exist. There is greenery, passive cooling and natural ventilation and the space is made from as much recycled material as possible.

For 1.5 years, Yatinbhai worked with two European organizations to make products from waste. They are created bricks from fly ash (a readily available waste product) that are stronger and financial equivalent to existing bricks, walls out of discarded glass bottles, tiles out of ceramic waste pieces, doors from vegetable crates and jute bags and soooooo much more. The products are very useful, financially affordable (or cheaper than equivalent products), do not require a large skill set to produce and are using what is currently considered waste. The work they have done can transform communities and provide alternative income sources for the poor. The opportunities are countless, now it’s a question of implementing the ideas and creating manufacturing and distribution systems. Some markets for the different products already exist, the supply must be created.

The principles and values with which the foundation operates are incredible. I can think of soooo many architecture students and/or green civil engineers who would love to see and hear all about their work. If you want to know more, def holler.

The thing that I really really enjoyed about the foundation is the fact that they are trying to close the gap between research and practice and incorporate so many ideas and concepts that are being researched and developed all over the country and world. For example, it was the foundation that told ESI about root system treatment of wastewater, etc and now Sughad transforms its WW into toilet flushing water. It is incredibly important to get the layperson motivated to go green and there are financial incentives to do so. By educating themselves about such options and presenting them to the clients, the foundation is slowly creating a green revolution in building design and at the same time transforming the way in which the built environment is looked at with regards to the natural environment.

In the afternoon, after spending some time with Brenda, I worked a bit with Karishma on a project she thought of yesterday. Last time Karishma volunteered at MS, she took back Gramshree and MS products to sell at the WashU diwali show. A bunch of us were sitting around and thinking how it would be a great thing to try again. Also so many volunteers come through MS, if they took back stuff to sell, the market that these products would reach would grow immensely. All of us volunteers sitting around could see these products doing really well in our college communities.

In the evening, I attended a Gujarati folk dance stage show that some family friends were participating in. It was my first exposure to traditional Gujrati folk dance in India. We def have made a lot of changes to real Gujarati folk dances in the US and Canada, particularly at the collegiate level. Fogana still remains traditional in many ways, but collegiate comp def not. I really enjoyed the show. Part of this was because of a new thing that I am trying to do in my life- which is trying to be a space of joy and happiness and as much as possible. The movements and more importantly the music was very vibrant. I really tried to put myself in a space of happiness, which isn’t that hard considering dance is involved. Not surprisingly, in light of this perspective or space, I wasn’t as critical as I usually am of the dances and really enjoyed myself.

The musicians are simply incredible. This group is always the one that performs at events with the Chokshi parivar and they are amazing. Just as I was transfixed at Manojkaka’s bhajan, I was transfixed by the music and musicians today. Very powerful.

The day was really powerful.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

[09-16] Happy Birthday Seju!

So it's my little sister's birthday! Happy Birthday Sej! (she's not so little). As has been the case for the last 4 years, for the 5th year in a row I am not around physically to share the day with her, but that doesn't mean I can't celebrate right.

What better way to celebrate than to spread some joy and compassion. So that's what I did. It's Saturday, which means that there is Saturday Special today at MS and I'm at home because of chikungunia (which I've essentially recovered from, but I'm recuperating from yesterday's day trip to Patan - which was AWESOME) so I have some time to go out and share the love.

I had a wonderful conversation with a grandfather and grandson who were out in the heat selling chunna chor? (I don't know what its called- the cornflakes with tomatoes, marchu and lemon juice?). They are now going to feed some poor kids/elderly chunna chor to mark Sej's birthday.

I "baked". Found a no-bake cookie recipe online so we made coconut-chocolate cookies (taste like macaroons) which turned great! and then distributed chocolates to the kids at Saturday Special and the Ashramshala. The kids sang happy birthday with soooo much enthusiasm and love, I know Sej got the message (or dilmail =).

So in the MS parivar, when there is a birthday, we celebrate by sharing the good qualities of the birthday person. In keeping with that tradition.

My sister- she's the gaam ni maasi, the one who knows the world. Sej has this exceptional talent (which she inherits from my mom) of remembering everyone and every experience she has with others. Introduce her to a desi and 99.99% that within a few minutes she'll find a way that she's somehow connected to them. But just remembering names is not the end of it. If you're a friend of this girl, you've had a bonding session with her at some point and she remembers every detail of your life. She's goes way out of her way for her friends and even strangers. I really have learned a lot from her, especially when it comes to maintaining relationships. Lots of the things I do for others are inspired by her actions and of course the mass emails to friends- I literally copied her on that. Always smiling, full of compassion and exudes a magnetic force that draws people to her- that's Sejal.

[09-15] Patan

Day trip to Patan with MS and Gramshree highlights:

Sun temple at Modhera is absolutely gorgeous. The Surya Kund or Ram Kund is a tank that literally reminded me of Paheli and the song Laaga re Jaal Laaga. The Surya Kund like all kunds has steps to go to the tank in the middle from all four sides. Along the steps to the bottom are 108 mini temples (108 = number of beads in a mala also). After people bathed in the water, they would go around and pray at each of the 108 temples in the Kund before going through the sabha hall to the temple itself. The temple represents the pinnancle of Solanki architecture. All the structures are made from beautifully carved sandstone. Literally an amazing place to take some gorgeous pictures. The bright colours of people's outfits looked stunning against the sandstone. (This was the day I didn't have my camera on me..., but others took pictures, I just done have them yet).

Lage Raho Munnabhai is an AWESOME movie. Very well done. It's funny and imparts great lessons. Even though we all work with organizations that rest on Gandhian principles, its easy to forget the power of Gandhian principles. This movie was a perfect shot in the arm of energy. The dialogues are great and you're continually laughing. When we came out, we began to pick up the trash in the plaza. The looks on the shopkeepers' faces were priceless. So many people have seen the film and then walked through the plaza, but I doubt they started picking up the trash afterwards... =)

Rani-ni-Vav or the Queen's Stepwell. Commissioned by the queen as a memorial to the late Bhimdev Maharaj (who had the sun temple constructed), the stepwell is a masterpiece. Again gorgeous carvings. Unlike a tank, a step well has stairs on up to 3 sides leading to the well. Rani-ni-vav has steps on one side. The step-well is 7 stories deep and due to passive cooling is incredibly cool as you move down into the step-well - a welcome relief from the hot day.

Patan's Patola. Incredible artform that exists only in Patan. There used to be approximate 800 weavers, now there is 7-8. Its takes 4 people 3-4 months to make one sari. Each piece is only made by order, each thread in the design is hand dyed. The method for dyeing for each design was done atleast 150 years ago (some designs are older). A small handkerchief costs Rs. 15,000. The pieces are created by crossing weaving two threads- the horizontal and vertical one. Each thread has been pre-dyed to create the pattern. (I'm not explaining myself very well so check out the website). Very cool.

Playing antakshari on the bus was also a lot of fun. Boys vs Girls. THe guys are a lot of fun to play against. They all sing as a group, are very loud and have a ton of fun, which makes the whole experience a lot of fun too.

Overall, the day was my first day doing any touristy thing in Gujarat and it was a lot of fun. The history of this state is incredible and its been a very long time since I've seen any ancient Indian architecture. The experience of seeing places that are not in use is very different from visiting those in use (ie. temples such as that in Dwarka). I'm excited for India Guide: Gujarat to come out and have an even greater appreciation for all the knowledge Anjali has about Gujarat.

I'll put up pictures one day. sorry.

[09-10] Chikungunia

Yessiree, came down with my first boute of illness in India - chikungunia.

Thankfully, I had a mild case. My joints were not completely stiff, I was mobile, it just felt like I had arthritis for a few days. Fever and headaches went away after two days and lots of pills. I essentially slept for 3 days straight. But I am better now =)

Was out of commission for the week, but ready to start the week =)

[09-08] Dancing in the Rain

Playing in the rain is a LOT of fun. We just had a flash storm and it was awesome. I didn’t get a chance to play much, since we were trying to keep Sansui inside and Raghu was cold, but rain really has magical properties. A few weeks ago, when I was going to my Kaka’s via bus from Gandhi Ashram, there was a large downpour. The gulley to his house was a lake. It was sooooo much fun to walk through it to get to his house.

Rain truly is awesome.

Think about it. It’s nature’s love. Plants grow so much better with rain water than they ever do with water that we take from other sources. After the first rainfall beautiful plants and grasses grow.

Rain- Nature’s love

Dance in it.

[09-07] Bubbles Bursting

I came to India with the mentality that I’m not here to change India, but India will change me. Keep an open mind, but more importantly keep an open heart. The recognition that I will not change the world is an important one, but remembering that in your day to day life is much easier said than done. Keep an open mind, keep an open heart- again something that is easier said than done.

I’ve been in Ahmedabad for six weeks now and slowing the bubbles are starting to burst around my head. In retrospect, I can say though I may have had a slightly better understanding of what it means to do service work in a developing world, I’m no more enlightened than the person next to me. I’d heard the stories and was on hand aware of what to expect, but the story is completely different when you’re the main character.

I’m so surprised, yet not surprised that I got caught up in the traps. Well maybe they aren’t traps, but necessary steps that every NRI has to go through. It takes more than just knowledge of what is likely to happen to come out of a mentality and way of thinking that we have been trained in.

Bubble number 1: India is not the US or Canada

Well duh.. no brainer right. In the N. America, we work on an external clock- deadlines, due dates, etc. In fact, as Indians we often complain about IST and get frustrated with it, though we all follow it… tyranny of the majority is our justification. Everything in India works on a much slower pace. It simply takes longer to get things done. For someone who is used to deadlines, likes to get things done and over it-this is a slightly difficult concept to become okay with.

Organization is not everything. A lot of work that I have been involved with isn’t formally structured. People kind of flow and things get done. But from an outsider perspective there is a lack of efficiency, etc. It takes some clarity of mind and untraining of the mind to recognize that there is some rhythm and organization to the seemingly unstructured flow.

It’s a very difficult process to untrain the mind. There are ties when I wonder if I am seeing things in certain ways because of my North American background or because there actually is something wrong. Slowly I’ll learn. As a person who likes to do, its been a challenging process to simply look, listen and learn, but as with any change in behaviour, etc, this is my sadhna. It is a practice that will take time.

There is a really awesome practice at MS that on someone’s birthday, we talk about that person’s gunas or positive attributes. I could see how it would be a challenging process on the part of the birthday person to make sure that the conversation does not inflate one’s ego. The process is not for that person. The process is a space to reflect and think about what one has learned from that person and to share that with others. With the people we see every day, work with all the time, it can be easy to forget to recognize what we are learning from them so this provides that space. In addition each person learns different things from the same person. We each share a personal and unique interaction and this is a space to share those experiences. I have found this process really powerful. Sahil was here for 6 weeks or so, I got a chance to interact with him for about 3 weeks. It wasn’t as if we had hours long conversations, but I still learned from him and I didn’t recognize that really until we spoke about him when he was leaving. As others shared what they learned, I thought about it and realized what I had learned. Sahil is really good at adjusting. I didn’t know this, but while he was MS, he never complained to other people, he just went with the flow and did stuff. He shared some of his frustrations with me, but not with MS staff. He adjusted to the culture at MS. Until other MS shared their experiences, I didn’t realize how much he adjusted, thus I learned from Sahil how to manage expectations and adjust. Anjali- I had only known her for a few days when it was her birthday, but already I had learned a lot from her. Bhaskar’s birthday was a few days ago and again the sharing was so powerful. You really get insight into people and are reminded again of how cool each person is, which sadly can be something that we can forget.

Bubble 2: Subconcious desire to skip the difficult steps that come between where I am know and who I want to become

Sounds weird and is sort of difficult to explain. I am surrounded by people who exude pure love. They are well on the path to knowing themselves and being present at all times. I want to shed agyan and negativity and be in state of constant harmony, but you can’t just get there in an instance. It’s a process that involves a lot of suffering after all suffering is for the purification of the soul. It takes effort and practice. No matter what I know or say, until I go thru the trials and tribulations which are inevitable, I won’t really understand and knowledge will remain knowledge and not become wisdom.

Plenty of other bubbles are bursting. The process is well underway.

It’s amusing on one hand to see how quickly I can fall back into old habits and thought patterns. Literally at one point, I was thinking, I could change this place around. That’s when someone had to come and ask me: did you come to change an organization, did you come to change people or did you come to change yourself? I had entered this spiral that veered off the path of truth which I have set out upon and forgot one of the things that the preamble to my blog says. Luckily I am surrounded by people who will guide me on my path. For their guidance, watchful eye, I am utterly thankful. Truly blessed to have so many around who care and will/are shining beacons for me when I get lost in the darkness.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Anarben's story- part 2

I have learned that if I want to do something for the community, I need to change my habits.

I have learned and grown not necessarily from seva work itself, but from the people. And its not just the communities and people that I am working to serve, but volunteers also. One big thing to learn from NRI volunteers is openness. For example, a few years back, two Indicorps fellows were working at Manav Sadhna. Anjali and Bindi had prepared a survey form for the tekra and were discussing it with each other. They didn’t notice me behind, when one of them said, “If we show this to Anarben, she’s only going to find faults in it.”

For a second, I was hurt, but then I began to think. Instead of taking it as an insult, this was an opportunity to look at myself. If this was the perception they have of me, I need to change. So in that instance, I resolved not to say anything negative about that form and ultimately, I even helped them do some of the surveying using the exact form they created. From them, I became aware of the fact that I did not show my appreciation or gratitude and have made more of an effort to do so.

The community has also taught me many lessons. I’ll give you an example from a walk that Jayesh and I participated in along the Narmada. One evening, we were told to find our own food. If we couldn’t find food, we’d have to go hungry. Jayesh and I decided that we were going to eat with the poorest family we could find. So we set out on our search. Along the way, we found a family sitting under a tree. They were cutting wood. The family was from out of town, had no home and was very poor. We began to play with the kids, made them a swing off the tree and became friends with them. Through the kids, we were able to connect to the family. We told the family that we would eat with them that evening and they were absolutely thrilled. We set a time to come back and went on exploring.

In the evening, we set out to meet the family. We bought some vegetables, etc thinking that we would all cook and then eat together. Since the family was poor, we expected that they would be a shak made of potatoes and onions, so we bought greens. When we came back to the tree, we couldn’t believe our eyes. The family had beautifully cleaned an area, lined the edge with branches and logs and prepared it for our dinner. The food was already cooked and the shak was made of green vegetables! Jayesh and I could barely eat because we had tears in our eyes.

As we ate with them, I couldn’t help but think about how middle class society and myself included feed people. The entire evening was so full of love and the family had put their heart into the food. When people come over to eat, do we feed them with love? If someone well-to-do is coming over, we prepare a lavish meal with a variety of dishes, but what if the person coming to eat is poor? Had I ever fed anyone with so much love??

From that day, I resolved to feed every person who came into my house with love. Rich or poor, I was not going to see a difference. Since then, we have fed countless people. They are always people coming and going in our home now, even when we are not there, people come and eat in our home.

[Scribe's note: This is absolutely true. Living with Jayeshmama and Anarmami over the last few weeks, I have seen a countless number of people come in and out of the home. Each person is treated with the same amount of love and respect and fed with pure love.]