Planet Haolewood

A toolbox, a change of underwear, and a surfboard.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Back to School

My arrival at the Vijnana Kala Vedi School of Traditional Indian Art in the little village or Aranmula coincided with the beginning of a ten-day festival at the local Hindu temple. The technicians in charge of amplifying the festival music were much more interested in volume than sound quality. Within the temple walls the music was so loud that I stayed at least 100 yards from the speakers at all times. To avoid the risk that those outside the temple might not be able to hear, they had set up loud speakers throughout the village. The loud speakers were set some distance apart from each other so sound reached one’s ears at different times. The cacophony was tremendous and they kept it up about 18 hours a day.

Aside from the near maddening and relentless racket of the festival, the village and the school were very pleasant. I shared a house provided by the school with two other students. Laurent was Swiss and studied tabla and cooking. Ludovic was French but lived in Ireland and studied Kalarippayattu, a martial art and Kathakali, a form of dance with striking costumes and make-up. They were kind enough speak English instead of French in my presence so that I would not be excluded from conversations. We sat on our balcony during the warm evenings and shared our stories while Ludovic rolled cigarettes.

For meals we gathered with the other fifteen students and ate delicious meals prepared by the school’s cooks and served on banana leaves. Each day I had one hour of woodcarving lessons and two hours of Karnatic singing. My singing teacher was Mr. Ravi, a jolly sixty year old whose diabetes had left him almost totally blind. He complained bitterly about the noise from the temple which made it hard for him to rely on his hearing to cross the street. He dictated long ragas from memory while I wrote them down in a notebook so I could practice them. My lessons began at 2:30 in a little hut near the area where we ate lunch. His blindness made it difficult for Mr. Ravi to get around so he usually hung around the area after lunch and waited until it was time for my lesson. With his belly full and the warm afternoon air, I often arrived to find him napping. I helped him arrange his things and we began our lessons.

On my second to last day at the school, I arrived again to find him napping but when I helped him up he was unusually sluggish and had trouble sitting up straight. I thought he was drowsy, but his strange state persisted until it became clear that something was seriously wrong. I went to get help and some of the school officials rushed him to the hospital. He seemed to be partially paralyzed on one side of his body. He remained hospitalized during the rest of my stay there but I don’t know what happened after that.

In the meantime I finished up the lotus flower I had been carving with the help of my instructor, Shagi. He drew the design on a block of wood and demonstrated how to use various shaped chisels to carve it. For someone accustomed to using power tools, it seemed laborious and imprecise, but the work was soothing to the mind.

The school had excellent Internet access which I used to arrange the next part of my trip.


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