08 October 2009

election day

next tuesday, october 13th, is the date of state assembly elections here in maharastra (the state that mumbai is in), and things are ramping up. there are banners hanging overhead, election trucks driving all around town blaring slogans from loudspeakers, and today there were even firecrackers going off in the streets near a rally.
it’s the first state elections since the terror attacks of last october 26th, so it’s a big deal.

the main 2 contenders are the congress party, the party of ghandi, which has run india for most of its independence, and the right-wing coalition of BJP and Shiv Sena, who are both Hindu nationalist parties. they are reactionary parties, reacting both to the occasional corruption found in the congress party, and to the terror attacks. congress has been accused of nepotism, as many of its national leaders have come from one family, the nehru/gandhi family (that gandhi is no relation to mahatma gandh) they have produced the first indian prime minister, nehru, and his daughter sonia, and then her son rajiv. in part, this happened because indira and rajiv were both assassinated, and the people looked to relatives to take over in those times of crisis. rajiv’s wife sonia is a leader in the party, and even though she was italian-born, the indian supreme court ruled she could be PM, but she didn’t want to be, and after all the assassinations, who can blame her. still, she’s big in the congress party, and she hand picked the current PM. and her son rahul is young, but rising quickly, and everyone expects him to be PM eventually.
the BJP/Shiv Sena alliance is, as i said, a hindu nationalist coalition, meaning they think india should be for hindus, which means not for christians and especially not for muslims. every once in a while, they tear down a mosque which was built on the site of a destroyed hindu temple, to rebuild the temple, which leads to riots and unrest and violence. mahatma gandhi would have hated them, he wanted india to be a democracy for everyone, and he in turn was killed by a radical hindu who didn’t think so, just like rabin in israel was killed by a radical jewish assasin for trying to make peace with the palestinians.
because of last year’s terror attacks, shiv sena has gained a lot of followers, and many people think they will take control of the state assembly. in turn, as they’ve gotten more popular, they have mellowed their stance, promising to be a party of all the people, not just hindus. but they are still very scary to some people.
election day is not only a national holiday, it’s also a dry day; no beer or alcohol is allowed to be sold. a good idea, as the parties will no doubt get raucous as the night goes on. it’ll be interesting to see the results.

06 October 2009

Ode to Joy

I went to hear the Symphony of India perform Beethoven’s 9th Symphony last saturday night. it took place at the National Center for the Performing Arts, which puts on shows of all kinds, from classical music and opera to traditional Indian dance and music, to classic movies from hollywood and bollywood. I had heard of the organization, so when i was online i looked for their website and checked out their calendar, and to my amazement saw that they were doing the 9th the following week. i’m a big fan of the 9th, it’s the greatest symphony ever, my favorite at least (with Stravinski’s Le Sacre du Printemps a distant second), it’s a masterpiece, a work of genius, it’s said to have restored many people’s faith. i called the theater and they were way sold out, but they said if i came the night of the show they surely would be able to find me a ticket. so i made my way down there.
it’s in the south of the city, close to the Oberoi Hotel (where Bill Clinton likes to stay, where some of the worst events of last year’s terrorist attack took place), in a nice part of town, in a cluster of buildings near the water. there’a a long pathway by the water, it’s very popular with locals. to get there, first i took a rick to the Bandra local train station, to catch a commuter train south. the Khar station is closer, but Bandra’s on the express line, with far fewer stops. I went all the way to the end, to Churchgate station, and found a taxi waiting at a stand outside. (auto-rickshaws are not allowed that far south, so you have to take one of the ubiquitous black taxis that roam around down there.) I told the driver “NCPA” and he took off. when we got to the general vicinity, it took a while to locate the box office. as it was, i had to walk a bit around the buildings to find it. but i did, and asked for one ticket for tonight, and they gave me the best seat they had. it was a reserved seat of one of the NCPA board members, maybe the 2nd best seat in the house, literally. about 15 rows back, in the first row of the main section, right where the sound came together, and with a perfect view. it was amazing to be inside the theater, a fancy, clean auditorium that would have not been out of place in London. indeed, all the people around me were very dressed up and spoke in the british-accented english found in the upper levels of educated indian society. the woman next to me was very friendly and struck up a conversation. she was on the board of directors of the NCPA, and seemed to know everyone in the place, as many of them greeted her on their way in. she was curious about my work here, and we spoke about music, and how great the seats were. she was surprised to see me in mine, of course, because she knew the board member who usually sits there, who apparently called at the last minute to cancel. we had a nice chat until the pre-concert talk began.
the gentleman gave a very competent introduction to the piece, to the time and place of its conception, to the stories about how raucous the applause was at the premier, so that police in vienna came rushing into the theater thinking something was wrong, and how beethoven, being completely deaf by then, was turned around by one of the singers to see the audience on its feet. following that talk was a little ceremony where the chorus director and president of the board and some others gave and received tokens of appreciation from each other and the conductor, as this was the last concert of the season. it turns out that the chorus was the Kazakhstan National Choir, who apparently travelled here on their own expense to perform the piece, so they gave the director of the chorus a plaque, and the director of the chorus gave the president of the board a ceremonial kazakhstani robe and hat, which was bright red, and he put on to great fanfare, saying something about winter coming up. then, to my great surprise and amusement, the gentleman who gave the talk and the president of the board and the kazakhstani choir director came to my row, said hello to my neighbor, and took their seats a few spots down from me. and then the real fun started.
the symphony comprises 4 movements, the last of which is the famous choral movement ode to joy, sung as solos and as a large chorus. the solos are famously difficult to sing (as are the instrumental parts to play), especially the soprano part. the first 3 sections are also incredibly beautiful, and by the end you’ve been through it all, driving sections and slow, elegant sections, beauty and loss, irony and joy.
the orchestra performed amazingly, the soloists were excellent, and the choir was fantastic. the sound came together so beautifully where i was sitting, and hearing it live, you could imagine the first performance in 1824 and so many other since then. the thing about hearing it live, as opposed to a recording, is that you can hear the extreme dynamic variation. on a CD, the difference between the softest and loudest possible sounds in the same recording is much smaller than in real life. i don’t mean turning the volume up or down, i mean at the same volume, how loud or soft can different parts be. on a recording they’re squeezed down to avoid distortion, but in real life, the louds are all-encompassing and the softs are delicate, with an orchestra and chorus of that size. this piece in particular has a huge dynamic range, and to go from the gentle softs to the exhilarating louds is incredible. there are even moments of total silence, and to me those can be the most beautiful parts of a song (for an example, check out the silence at 5:15 in this version of He’s Gone, from a Dead show I saw in Oakland, it’s utterly devastating). and when the 4th movement came, and they started singing, and it gets big and loud and amazing, i could hardly stay in my seat. at the end, we applauded like mad, like they must have in vienna, and i looked over at the president of the board, mouthed “wow”, expressing my extreme approval. i stayed in the theater as long as i could, and ended up meeting the one who gave the talk, and the president of the board and the Norwegian soprano who was going to sing in one of next year’s performances. after, i took a walk along the water outside, feeling like i had been touched by pure beauty, in love with all the locals who were out there, young adults out with friends and lovers. i was feeling grateful for the experience. i called my wife to share the moment with her, and then took a cab all the way back home. that was the first time i had seen the 9th live, and i was glad to have done so here.

05 October 2009

refrigerator? i hardly even know her!

got a refrigerator the other day, and all i can say is, what a great invention. a couple days before i went with my landlord to an appliance store, picked one out, and left a deposit. they delivered it and it works like a charm. between that and my gas range, i can actually start cooking. the range is attached to a big gas canister, and there are two burners, but only one of them works, but that’s okay so far. (the landlord promises to get that fixed, that and a couple other things which need work, it’s all happening, gradually.) you turn the gas on, then hold a flame to it to ignite. i made tea this morning! went shopping a couple days ago for tea and sugar and milk and cereal, and this morning i made tea. yum. i know it’s simple but i’ll move on from there. coffee, soup, ready-made-meals, fried eggs and toast, there’s a whole world of homemade food that’s opening up to me! amazing. actually, i might look for a microwave. could come in handy.

been playing a little online poker lately. if i think about how much money i’m spending here, rent is 500 (US$10) per day; i’m spending about that much every day on food and other expenses; and electricity, internet and other incidentals work out to less than 200 rupes a day, 4 bucks. calculated that way, if i make only $25 a day playing poker online, i can pretty much sustain myself here indefinitely. (i realize the risks, and, it probably won’t work out, but it’s really fun to think about.) i play almost exclusively in pot limit omaha hi/lo tournaments (although i should really try ring games, that’s where the money is, but i love playing in tournaments and i tend to do adequately. i’ve actually won about $250 in the last couple days (had a great game where i finished 2nd out of 96, and i also won a couple 9-person games), and i finished just out of the money in another 35 player tourney. it’s fun but also quite stressful, big decisions to make every few seconds. we’ll see how it goes, but if i can win or place in 1 tournament a day, and not lose more than 3 or 4, that would be plenty. at the very least i will try not to lose anything!