Thursday, 7 May 2009
Our walk along Janpath and around the Rajpath area revealed the immense scale of Sir Edwin Lutyens’ plans for New Delhi: this must equal or surpass Paris, London and Washington in its pretense of grandeur. But the most powerful image was that of two Indias: the one with its massive boulevards and vast, imperial buildings including the triumphal arch; the other, right beside it, of grinding poverty, squalor and social deprivation. Right now, at the time of national, presidential elections, we wonder what, if anything, could be done? On our way to this elegant part of town, we passed the headquarters of the Marxist Party of India…
We gave ourselves a well-deserved pit-stop at a branch of Saravana Bhavan, a South Indian café where the Dil Kushi Lassi was just like the Rajasthani Makhania Lassi we used to rave about, with its candied fruit and rosewater. The flavour of this drink was satisfyingly sharp so as to pummel the tastebuds into submission!
We then formed the core of a tiny, but highly appreciative audience at a magnificent show: folk dances of India! To get there we hopped into a CNG and headed for a complex, which forms the centre of the Parsi community of Delhi. We thought about the Towers of Silence that Roma mentioned to us when we were in Mumbai: maybe they are here too? The Parsis do not normally cremate or bury their deceased loved ones. Instead they leave them on the rooftop where vultures may devour the corpses.
The folklore was truly excellent and we felt that our mission to connect with Indian music was accomplished! There were traditional dances from many of India’s states. The beautiful women, dressed in their colourful saris, completed the image of real India but also the men who, depending on which type of dance, wore turbans or were rapidly and rhythmically beating bongos. Accompanying these wonderful dancers was the tabla player, who was probably the best drummer we have ever heard! He is likely to be over seventy, but he certainly hasn’t lost any of his ability to control the dancers with intricate and brilliant cross-rhythms. Let’s not forget the gentleman singing who seemed to pitch his notes perfectly. The women looked very happy and their smiles shone out towards each other and also to the audience as they frantically spun themselves around in circles, interweaving between one another.
An unexpected talent was the solo ‘Devil Stick’ juggler, who used two thin drumsticks to control a larger baton as he whirled around the stage. It was amazing to see him angle his body precisely as he twirled the baton behind his back, under his legs and high into the air. This talented individual also was the star of another dancing act, more specifically a drumming duet. The two drummers were busting out complex rhythms whilst jumping majestically into the air and around in circles, with their heads closer to the floor than their feet at times. It was an all round superb performance!
As we left the building we were thrilled to shake the tabla player’s hand and congratulate him on providing such stunning music. “Danyavaad”, said Jon, which means thank you. He responded to us both, “Namaskar”.