Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Shiny happy people holding hands"

An American in India

                  Exciting news! After about thirty years of protest, the people of Andhra Pradesh (the state with which the city of Hyderabad is located) have succeeded is breaking away into three smaller states. I am not very experienced with politics, however, it seems that by dividing into smaller states there is a wider dispersion of government aid among the people (though I am sure it is much more complicated than that!)
Either way, I am no longer in Andhra Pradesh, instead I am in Telangana state.

                   I have found that location plays an enormous role in the identifying of one's self. At least, this has been prevalent in my own personal experience. For example, it wasn't until I was registering with the local police that I began to identify myself as a 'foreigner'. Since then I have become very aware of the attention that is brought to me because of my skin color. This color pigmentocracy has its negative and positive effects. On one hand, I get the feeling that people (mostly young people) are interested in me and would like to chat and become friends. One the other hand I get the feeling that some people view me as a walking dollar sign. There is no telling how many times I have paid 'tourist' prices, though I am not complaining.

                To be clear I am not judging the people of Andhra (excuse me, Telangana), I am merely making observations. One of the most interesting interactions I have noticed is the way that young people socialize. There is not much difference from the socialization found in the U.S, except that young men are much more comfortable displaying their affection towards one another. It is quite common to see boys my age walking with their arms on each other shoulders, holding hands or even linking pinkies. My friends and family back home might see this as 'queer', though I assure you that this is an expression of friendship and compassion. It's quite beautiful in my opinion.

                An outstanding cultural experience occurred last weekend! My yoga theory teacher invited the entire class to her house for a Pooja in honor or Sri Krishna. Upon arrival I noticed that there were many people (maybe a hundred) congregating in and around a large beautiful house. As I took off my shoes and walked inside, I was immediately greeted by loud singing and jubilant dancing. Yashoda (my guru) gestured for me to join the circle of dancers and begin singing, chanting, and dancing. What a way to arrive! After the dancing subsided, a Brahman (scholar of Hinduism) adorned in lavish surroundings of flowers, pictures and fruits, gave a recitation of sacred text.

              Then Yashoda gave an outstanding performance of Kuchipudi dance, a traditional art form that depicts a story from Hindu texts. Yashoda's dance told of Lord Krishna saving the lives of his devotees by lifting a mountain to shield them from the lightning and rain of the God Indra. After the dance, Yashoda and her husband were seated together before the Brahman and recited a series of prayers. As we prayed, a man came around the room giving us each a handful of flowers that have been blessed by our previous chanting.

            One by one, each person dressed the idol of Krishna by placing their flowers, a spoonful of milk, and bit of orange dye directly on the idol that sat before the Brahman. When I went to reach for the dye I did so with my index finger. "Ohhh no no no!" said several men around the Brahman, "You must use your ring finger." I am still unsure as to the significance of the finger, but it was a funny exchange to say the least. I then took it upon myself to walk by the Brahman and bow as I touched his feet. He spoke in Hindi as he touched my head and gave me a banana. We then partook in the eating of prasad (food that has received the blessings of Krishna), and it was delicious! I have always enjoyed viewing and participating in different religious ceremonies and rituals, and this Pooja was extremely interesting and inspiring.

Nathan King (Granola Bear)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"We don't need no thought control" 

              School. The biggest surprise I've had so far regarding my studies in India, has been that I have actually enrolled in grad school. Whoops! This does not, however, seem to be an issue as I have been able to follow the lectures and comprehend the concepts. It has been quite interesting to observe the differences between my education experience in the states, and the way things are done here in Hyderabad.

            For the most part, teachers are given a very high level of respect. Students rarely, if ever, ask questions and would certainly not challenge the teacher in front of the class. My friend Dash, a theater teacher in Dehli, told me about how much honor is given to teachers; they are almost as revered as medical doctors. Student also are held in high esteem, for instance during a lecture yesterday a man came in with little cups of chai for everyone! Its the little things, you know? Assignments are also handled quite differently (though this may just be because I'm in grad school) , instead of frequent homework and in class assignments, there is often only a midterm and a final. As of now, these are my classes:

Yoga theory and practice
Quantitative research methodology
Basic writing
Applied anthropology and tribal welfare

       In my international hostel I am meeting some really amazing people from all over the world. Musicians, scientists, writers and philosophers have come from countries such as Dubai, Iceland, Afghanistan, Finland, Iran and Russia to study here in India. There have been an innumerable amount of fascinating cultural exchanges that are often times consisting of musical instruments and singing. I plan to post many pictures and vidies soon.

              For now, please enjoy this musical taste of south Indian carnatic music, provided by the Study in India Program. I did not record the whole performance, as the violin player (known as Violin Vasudevan) asked me to capture with his camera as well. Indian musicians speak often of moksha, which is a divine purpose or essence achieved by playing music. These gentlemen certainly brought the moksha last night. It was all I could do to keep from whistlin' and hollarin' as if I was in a jazz club.

Big Love,
Nathan King (Granola Bear)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me
For me, for me" 


The musical anthropologist 

                I feel inclined to give a little clarity as to my intentions with this blog. In addition to providing infotainment for my friendy friends and famajams, this blog is acting as somewhat of an 'experience vault' that I may revisit down the road to assist me in my research. What kind of research you ask?
Many of you may already know that the study of ethnomusicology tickles my fancy in many ways. I am fascinated with the way in which culture is expressed through music, and how one's understanding of  a culture's music can give great insight into many other facets of a given people's world view.

              India being the intensely complex culture that it is, there's SO much musical depth to explore. Let us begin on the surface with the pop culture scene. Before leaving the states I meant a very interesting young lady named Claire who spent several months in India quite recently. I had known that India's youth was strongly embracing western culture, and Claire clued me into some of the music that is really popular right now on the radio stations. So day three in India has yielded my first ethnomusicological excursion: KARAOKE NIGHT!

              As a musician, I was very pleased with the singing of the Hyderabadi people. These cat's got some pipes! I walked into the bar as Pearl Jam's Im still Alive was playing, and was convinced it was Eddie Vedder singing until I saw this young guy really rockin out and nailing that grungy vocal sound. The rest of the night just kept gettin' better as nostalgic jams from the 90's thrilled both international students as well as the locals. Literally every song that I heard was of western origin; absolutely no Bollywood or eastern pop of any sort was performed or played. Lady GaGa, The Cranberries, Linkin Park, Crazy Town, Micheal Jackson, Elvis?  Hyderabad knows how to party. 

I love this city, and I love all of you. Thanks for spreading the granola around; feel free to share this bear.

Nathan King (Granola Bear)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The journey begins...

"Though I've crossed one hundred thousand miles, I'm feeling very still."
                                                                                                                      - Bowie

                 Time is very strange, and even stranger is the interdependence of time and space. Nothing brings out this funky perception more than international travel. Flying into tomorrow, yet sleeping within yesterday can leave you feeling frazzle-dazzled and somewhat loopy. Through my thirty something hour journey to Hyderabad India from Chattanooga Tennessee in the U.S, I met so many extremely kind souls. Some helped me to make connections to music and art scenes in India, and others helped me to make connections to flights within foreign airports.

                 There have been bits of culture shock here and there, but what I find more interesting is what I like to call reverse culture shock. This is when you are surprised by similarities instead of differences. After only one day of observing I have a strong feeling that the peoples of India wish to be as westernized as the people of the Americas. Music, clothes, food and social graces of the west seem to be fully embraced by the Indian people. Whereas the mystic guru approach that westerners often identify with India appears to have very little popularity in today's modern culture.

     Granted I have only just arrived, so all of my observations so far have been mere first impressions and lack any great depth. I plan to explore this culture exchange in great detail in a later blog entry. For now, I would like to assure my friends and family that I have arrived safely, and that I am settling into my dorm nicely. Oh my Goddess, I am actually in India!!

Love and Light,
Nathan King (Granola Bear)