February 16th 2016
Trying to pack a gift I was given of a stick made of sacred wood which only grows above 9,000 ft. It almost fits with my semi-acoustic sitar in a guitar case but not quite.It’s magic powers are meant to protect me so I better find a way to get it into the luggage. It was given to me by an extraordinary man I met in Mandvi. He runs a business dealing with volcanic material which can be used in cosmetics and medicine. His passion is music and he is a world class multi-instrumentalist. He owns a farm and gives away milk from his cows, and he also encourages and supports local people who are interested in music.
February 2nd 2016
This has been an amazing trip with so many chance encounters. In Agra I walked into a place and met a student of mine from 40yrs ago when I taught music in a girls college! Then while we were looking for the route to Usmanpur we asked an old man the way and he turned out to be a friend of my late father and came into the car and took us to the village! Then in Bhuj the mother of a dancer that I performed with recognised me at breakfast and her brother introduced me to a local blind musician! Just when I thought the trail might go cold.
January 31st 2016
Had a hectic week rushing around Agra, visiting my birthplace (placenta buried under the hand pump!), where we were mobbed as we visited the room where I was born and were shown around by old friends of my parents who remembered what happened to me when I lost my sight.
Then we drove to Delhi and joined 22 million people in a series of traffic jams. It was great meeting a and playing music with 5 blind musicians from the locality at the British Council Theatre. It has been quiet chilly, and the pollution is really intense so now we are happy to be in the warmer climate of Gujarat where I hope to find musicians from the Kachchh region.
January 24th 2016
We travelled by car to Agra where we have been extremely busy! We visited the school that Balu set up in 1976. It’s set in the most beautiful location next to a bird sanctuary. There we discovered a music teacher called Lalaram who is an excellent tabla player. We are presenting the school with a mini sitar suitable for children to learn on. We are returning to the school on Indian Independence day to celebrate with them. We are looking forward to doing a workshop in Delhi for the British Council later this week. And then we’ll be going to the desert in Gujurat to meet with more blind musicians from different tribal groups. Tune in for the next chapter!
January 17th 2016
After Chennai we had an amazing time in Bangalore or Bangaluru where we spent two days with the blind dancers of the Shree Ramana Maharishi Academy who Balu met and interviewed for Channel 4 when they came to the UK twenty years ago. So twenty years later a group of young dancers performed ‘Kuchipudi’ and ‘Baratha Natyam’ for us – dances that involved balancing pots of water on their heads and holding candles. Two young girls also blew us away with their powerful singing in unison and we would really love them all to be in our show in 2017. Cecile did some filming of the dancers performing together with Baluji and we captured some stunning images.
We also visited the Mitra Jyothi Institution for the blind where 3000 people receive training to enable them to live independent lives and earn a living. The director and founder, Madhu Singhal, is herself totally blind and a powerful leader who has received national recognition for her pioneering work. We hope to meet her again at the conference in the Punjab run by radio Undaan at the end of January,
Our next stop was Calcutta which was completely different in climate and atmosphere to south India. We arrived at night and jumped into an ancient yellow tin can taxi that charged through the crowded city to our hotel. Thankfully our driver was incredibly skilfull at dodging the obstacles that were coming at us from all directions! The following morning we searched the streets until we eventually located the studio of Saheb: Bongonet radio station. Saheb is himself totally blind and he arranged for us to meet North Indian singer and composer Sayani Palit. We were deeply moved by her performance of ‘Thumeri’ and regional folk songs and would be privileged to have her as part of Inner Vision India. Saheb suggested that we visit the school that he went to as they were going to be celebrating the birthday of Swami Vivekananda as part of National Youth day. So the following morning we spent several hours with a bewildered taxi driver looking for the Ramakrishna Mission Ashrama Blind Boys Academy. When we eventually arrived we were given an extensive tour of their outstanding facilities and attended a performance by their music students. The head teacher, Mr.Biswajit Ghosh, who is an ex pupil is very keen to support our project if it is performed in Calcutta.
From Calcutta we had a gruelling two day journey by plane and train to Jaipur via Delhi. We are now staying with our potential partner The Kawa Cultural Centre: https://kawaculturalcentre.wordpress.com/
We are working with the director Ustad Hameed Khan to develop our programme with artists from Rajasthan and the touring network within India. It’s much colder here but the air is cleaner and we hope to have a chance to explore the amazing surroundings. We arrived just in time to celebrate the massive annual kite festival that marks the transition of the sun from dhanu rashi (Sagittarius) to makara rashi (Capricorn), the day is considered auspicious – let’s hope it will be!!
January 6th 2016
Yesterday we were honoured to meet the great award-winning violinist M,Chandrashekeren. He welcomed us to his home where he was surrounded by dedicated students who have been working with him for many years, and medals and awards for his great contribution to South Indian music. Baluji, Thuy and Linda enjoyed an improvisation session with this wonderful man who really moved us with his extraordinary musical talent and warmth.
We were then lucky enough to meet the great vocalist Gayatri Sankaram. She was the first visually impaired woman to receive the most prestigious music award in India – the same award that Ravi Shankar received! It was really very special to hear her beautiful voice and then enjoy an improvisation session with her with Baluji playing electric sitar and Thuy playing keyboard.
So overall a fantastic final day in Chennai before moving on to Bangalore where the next chapter awaits us!
January 5th 2016
Yesterday we were lucky enough to meet Mr.Comagan and his band who became stars since they appeared in the Bollywood blockbuster Autograph! Mr.Comagan has played concerts all over the world but it is his dream to come to the UK. And it’s our dream to take him! We had a great time jamming with them at his home even though it took us a good part of two hours to in hair raising traffic to reach him!! But it was well worth the journey and his lovely wife made us welcome with home made Indian snacks and juice. They performed some of their songs and played with along with my sitar and Thuy ( our visually impaired pianist from the UK) played ‘It’s a Wonderful World’ which developed into a beautiful ensemble jam.
We had a wonderfully constructive meeting with Nandini and Priya, our partners at the British Council, who flew down from Delhi to meet us. They said we are the only Reimagine applicants to spend more than two weeks in India researching, and are very excited about the potential legacy of our project. This is very encouraging.
We’re looking forward to meeting the distinguished Carnatic violinist Dr.Chandrashekharan today on our last day in Chennai before moving on to Bangalore on the next stop of our tour!
January 4th 2016
We have landed in Chennai! – Our first destination for our research trip for our Reimagine India Project. It is hot! And the food is wonderful! Over the next 6 weeks we’ll be travelling all over the country in search of blind musicians from different parts of India to invite them back to the UK and integrate them into the Inner Vision Orchestra – an ambitious project and the vision of Baluji Shrivastav.
It’s our first time in Chennai but we are making friends fast! Everyone has been extremely welcoming. On our first day we visited the Nethrodaya blind school. It was very inspiring to meet its director and see the amazing work he is doing despite having limited resources. The students shared their wonderful singing skills with us and were excited about touching the electric sitar after Baluji played some music for them. We hope that we will be able to help the school by raising funds for them to employ a music teacher to work regularly in the school.
We’re looking forward to meeting more blind musicians in Chennai today before we head to Bangalore for the next chapter of our Indian adventure! Watch this space!…
October 22nd 2015
We have been beavering away, getting visas and tickets for our trip to India in the beginning of 2016, as part of the Re Imagine India programme funded by the Arts Council. This week we are listening to Tamil Folk songs – check them out for yourself – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7kIWCIADqc
We are hoping to find great visually impaired folk musicians from many different regional traditions to capture the vitality and variety of languages and instruments all over India.