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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Students’ Cultural Performances

Santa Claus is dancing on stage at the moment, with Ganesh, Krishna, and several Sikh, Kashmiri and Keralan dancers waiting their turn! I’m standing under a palm tree on the school assembly grounds in Bangalore, witnessing an amazing kaleidoscope of cultural presentations. Each day during the 15-20 minute morning assembly, a different class presents a short skit, song, or dance. The full participation is quite impressive, and every kid that steps up to the microphone (on stage in front of 2400 students) has their lines, or speech perfectly memorized.

Today they have expanded the program, as each 7th, 8th, and 9th grade section was assigned a specific holiday, traditional costume, or ceremonial dance to share. We spent an extra 2 hours outside, and saw dances from the Punjab, Kerala, Kashmir, and Karnataka. Traditional clothing from Arunachal Pradesh, Orissa, and Tamil Nadu… Diwali, Christmas, Holi, Onam, Eid, and other holidays traditions were demonstrated. I was very impressed with the students’ preparation and excitement in making their presentations, and also struck by the incredible diversity of this country, and of the students at my school.

The Kendriya Vidyalaya system is said to be one of the largest school “districts” in the world, with almost 1,000 schools scattered across India, serving 1 million students. The KV schools cater to children of civil servants, government employees, and military personnel, and have a nationally standardized curriculum, textbooks, and schedule. In theory, any child that gets transferred around India to a new city or military base, will jump right in on the same chapter in the same classes at the next KV they attend. In my first week of teaching, I’ve already had 2 students leave, and found that about 10 of my kids have only joined our school in the last few weeks.

With all the transferring around, each KV is like a little slice of India, with families from every state, religion, and language group all lumped together into a wonderfully diverse mixture. Most of my students speak 3 languages (Hindi, English, and their “home language”), and some speak 4 or 5. Todays cultural presentations really demonstrated the diversity that surrounds me every day… All of these costumes & all the dance moves are certainly personal traditions of several kids in each section. It was a real treat to see them having so much fun, and taking such pride in celebrating each others cultures!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Karnatic Temple Music

Well, I’ve had plenty of great days in Bangalore, but tonight was the first “magical” experience of our time in India. Yesterday Nagaraj took me downtown to the railway station to buy a timetable and check out the reservation system. We’re planning on several great train journeys, and wanted to get the inside scoop on advanced reservations. Alas, it was pouring rain, so we lingered inside and “took tea.” I bought a newspaper just for fun, and within it I found an ad for a concert at a Lakshmi temple the next day… What a karmic gift that was!

In the massive sprawl of Bangalore, this MahaLakshmi temple happened to be just 2 kms. Away… almost next door! Today is Lakshmi puja, where people make prayers and offerings to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. It is especially important for wives to make prayers for their husbands. I got to the temple early, and was invited to wash hands and feet, join in the procession of hundreds of devotees at the altar, and eat a meal prepared by the priests. Then I took a seat for the concert. I happened tos sit in the front row, next to Amith, one of the main performers.

What an exquisite experience… Sun setting and dusk falling, the light changing on the coconut palm fronds overhead, twinkling lights all over the temple, and the constant stream of hundreds and hundreds of people shuffling along into the temple itself. Then I looked up at the birds… no not birds, BATS were flying overhead, heading out at dusk to search for fruit. Massive fruit bats flapping on silent wings, 2 or 3 feet across, as the ¾ moon slipped out from behind the clouds.

And then the music… Oh my… 3 hours of truly exquisite artistic excellence… First was Pallavi Prasanna, a beautiful Karnatic vocalist, singing incredible ancient temple songs. Her voice, and pitch, and vocal control were astounding, as she danced up and down the scales, singing in Kannada. I was literally moved to tears.

Then came the father/son duo of Amith Nadig and BK Anantharam …. They both played mind-blowing high-speed flute, brilliantly supported by a violin player and phenomenal percussionist on the 2-sided drum (dholak?). These guys made me smile and laugh out loud! The ecstatic back and forth of the drum and flute was such a pleasure to watch… their interactions were playful and filled with joy, smiles and mischief. It seemed they were trying to out-do each other, or trick the other with a particularly frenzied riff…. But no one stumbled or ever missed a beat. As the man sitting next to me said after the final applause, “this music, good sir, is meant to take you to another world.” I bought the CD. Immediately after the performance, the violin player put down his instrument, pulled out his cell phone, and began text messaging…. Ahhhhh, Bangalore!

My camera had a “disc failure,” so I didn’t get any photos… And I may have lost most of my shots from this week… Oh well… the experience was divine, and I found out that this is the best time in Bangalore for “festival and temple music.” There are free concerts all week, not too far from my school, so I’m sure I’ll get a few more doses of this magical music! And while I’m at it, a few more dosas….

Eating in Bangalore!

photos and comments to come soon.....

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Most Heartfelt Welcome dear Mr. Paul!!!

Holy Toledo... My first visit to the school was incredible! Of course, all the staff that I bumped into were friendly and welcoming, introducing themselves with wonderful lyrical names that I promptly forgot. But then all of a sudden, I heard the sound of distant drumming! "Ahhh Mr. Paul, it is time for the students to greet you!" So we head out of the school office, down a gauntlet of cute kids in "scout" uniforms, all dancing and chanting welcome poems to me. Flowers were bestowed a few times, and we (the principal, teachers, and I) had to stop several times for yet another hopping circle of cute little boys or girls to finish their welcome dance. Then we approached the assembly ground, and saw the 2400 students all neatly lined up in perfect organized rows (they do this every morning... not just for me!). The daily assembly involves many different aged students, who come up on stage to lead the masses in the school prayer, the school pledge, and singing of the national anthem. Then they introduced me to thunderous applause... a teacher read my bio over the loudspeakers, and then handed the mic over to me. Fortunately i'd prepared a Hindi phrase or two, which must have pronounced somewhat correctly because the students went wild with cheers and laughter as i carefully said each phrase... Aap sapi-ko mera namaskar! (greetings to all of you) Muje yaha pahunchker bhot kushi huy hey! (i am so happy to be here) Muju tora tora Hindi bolta (...but i only speak tiny bit of Hindi.) They loved it!

I had a great day there, touring the school, meeting staff, and observing a few classes. Every kid in the hall greets me with "Hello Mr. Paul sir!" or "Good afternoon Sir!" They all want to shake my hand, and ask a thousand questions about me, my family, and California. A few kids even requested my autograph. I am certainly feeling incredibly welcomed by both staff and students! I start teaching on Monday.

First Day in BANGALORE!!!

Well, I arrived in Bangalore several hours ago, and have just found the nearest internet cafe down the street from my house. Out on the street (9pm) it is alive with horns, motorcycles, a few dogs and cows, and many folks walking in conversation.

My assigned "helper", Mr. Nagaraj, just dropped me off on his motorcycle, and headed home for the night. He and his 4-yr old son Siddarth came by at 7 to take me out to a nearby restaurant for dinner... Nagaraj driving, Siddarth sitting between his Daddy's legs on the gas tank, and me hanging on the back.... He informed me that "helmets in Bangalore are a must... it is compulsory!" But only for the drivers.... not the riders! So we zoomed through the busy streets,swerving and braking to avoid the chaotic traffic. He's been helping me to learn a few words of Hindi, and I accidentally taught him a few inappropriate English words when a huge bus almost flattened us. I don't think I'll be biking to work!

I got to Delhi on Weds, had an all day orientation session Thurs. with all 8 American exchange teachers... then today (Fri.) we all flew off to our respective cities. I'm the only one in Bangalore. Others are going to Delhi, Chennai, Pune, Hyderabad, etc...

First impressions of Bangalore from up in the air.... "It's so GREEN!" Huge trees everywhere and many coconut palms. Walking off the plane I rejoiced in the cooler climate..... Delhi was pretty stifling and hot! Bangalore is certainly humid and hot/warm, but reletive to Delhi it is quite nice! Then we got on a bus to take us from the plane to the terminal, and about 20 peoples cell phones began ringing... all those cute little electronic Mozart and Beethoven ditties chiming away, with 20 people all pulling out there phones and firing up conversations in 5 different languages! Nice climate, Palm Trees, and Cell Phones! Anyway, all of the people I've met have been wonderfully kind and helpful. Our house is big and will work out fine... after some cleaning and provisioning! Tomorrow I'm off to see the school, and to address the "morning assembly" of 2400 students! I'm not sure how much of a speech they'll be expecting, but I'm sure I can adapt! So far so good. I'll keep you posted!

Independence Day in New Delhi

Had a free evening, and so a few of us hopped in a rickshaw and headed for the Red Fort Region... Also visited the big mosque, and mingled with the seething masses emerging from evening prayer.... A sliver moon was setting over the domes and minarets, and the man at the gate would absolutely NOT let us in. "Please read sign kind sir. Mosque closing time is now." But each time we were chatting with him, 5 other folks would slip around him and enter. So we tried a few more times, and he always caught us! At dark the fireworks began, and went on and on and on for a couple of hours! Happy 60th year of Independence to India!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Last Family Day... for a few weeks...

August 7th was Karen's last day 0ff of work before I fly to India. We celebrated by going on a big family hike... up a mountain that both Eliza and Sylvie had been asking to climb. "If we only have time for one big peak this summer Dad, can it be Mt. Dana? We always see it, but we've never climbed it!" And so we did, getting a true "family alpine start" at the crack of 11 am!

It was a truly gorgeous spectacular mountain day, taking our time ascending the second highest peak in Yosemite. Lupin was strapped on Dad's back, but both Sylvie and Eliza hiked the entire way themselves. Eliza started out a bit grumpy, but after steadily improving views, countless sightings of cute pikas and marmots, and several strategic snack breaks, she kicked into high gear and I couldn't keep up with her. "I'll meet you at the top Dad," she yelled down, as she scampered over colorful rocks, picking a great route up through the talus. "Don't worry, I'll wait so we can get to the very top at the same time!" We had clear weather and astouding views... The breeze was almost balmy up top, and we lingered until almost 6pm. The girls presented Karen and I with the world premeire performance of the "Mt. Dana Dance," and begged us to let them stay on the summit overnight so we could watch the sunset and starshow.

But PIE was calling, so we reluctantly descended... as we were the last hikers to leave the summit, we had the entire mountain descent to ourselves in golden glowing light. A truly magical evening! We wrapped up the day by arriving back at the car at dark, and zipping off to TPR (tioga pass resort) for a hearty dinner of their famous pie a la mode. Sylvie said "this is the first time we ever had dessert for the dinner and the dessert... can we have dinner like this again sometime?" We assured them that any time they climb a 13,000 foot peak, we will definately celebrate with pie!

Then back to Karen's tent cabin in Tuolumne, where she read them stories, while I got the van packed up by midnight. A tearful farewell in the starry night, as I won't see Karen until Sept.1st in Bangalore. But it was the perfect "last day together" for our family...

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Learning from our Children....

While the Fulbright Orientation in DC was certainly filled with helpful sessions and inspiring speakers, the highlight for me was the "farewell dinner" and celebration. After many months of planning, preparing, and emailing, the reasons for and meaning of this exchange came into sharp focus for me...
After the final dinner, the teachers, spouses and families from each exchange country were invited to share a bit of their culture with everyone. Some groups sang folk songs and played traditional instruments, while others did a typical dance from their respective countries. Some performances were a bit rough, but that's to be expected given the busy conference schedule, lack of rehearsal time, and severe jet lag everyone was experiencing. It was a fun and heartwarming evening... all of these great people from around the world, jumping up on stage to share a bit of themselves and their culture.
But the best part was the kids... Children from all over the world, accompanying their teacher parents, had just met each other 3 days before. They came from Chile, Latvia, Mexico, and England... South Africa, France, the US, and India... Even with significant language barriers, they were having such a fantastic time together... holding hands, laughing, playing, crawling under the tables, and spontaneously hopping up on stage to dance to a particularly lively tune (...thanks Senegal!). Then, during a break in the performances, they grabbed the inflatable earth-balls off of each dinner table, and began a lively on-stage game of global volleyball. It was a beautiful thing to witness.
The primary goal of the many Fulbright programs is to "promote mutual understanding between people of the USA and other nations." Just watching those wonderful children assured me that this goal is indeed being achieved...

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Fulbright Conference in Washington DC

After 2 marvelous wacky days with Tboy and Marcella, Paul drove up to DC for the big orientation meeting. Imagine several hundred enthusiastic teachers all in one huge room, half from the US and half from 30 different countries. It has been great thus far, especially getting to meet Mrs. Rama Balaji, my Indian exchange partner, face to face after months of e-mailing.
We'll have a couple more days of meetings and small group sessions, then I'll fly back to Oakland to get the kids and head up to Tuolumne Meadows for our last couple of days together as a family. John and Carolyn's family have been caring for our kids, and my parents will pick them up for a couple of days too.... THANK YOU for making this possible!!! Karen is full-time up in Tuolumne, and we'll get a few days with her next week... then it's a packing and prepping FRENZY before I fly on August 13th. Karen and the girls will fly over to join me on August 31. I'm at the 2 week mark now.... Let the countdown begin!!! Yahoooooooo!!!!!