Saturday, April 4, 2015

Tales of India

Here's a collection of short stories/memories recounting my adventures in India. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are happy. Some are sad. <-- Must have felt inspired momentarily by Dr. Seuss....

I'll start with my happiest memory(s). What kept me going sometimes when everything around me was in a state of utter chaos was dance, not belly dance, western dance. Mostly in traveling across USA I've used a website called Meetup to find new friends and enjoy mutually fun activities. I was so lonely when I first arrived that I looked up this website in hopes that there were any events I could go to in Mumbai. Lo and behold, I found a swing dance group. I was skeptical at first since I know the way Indian men treat white women so I wasn't sure I wanted to get to cuddly with any, even on the dance floor, so I called the moderator and we discussed the setup. After my first swing dance group I enjoyed it enough to come back and back and back :)  I attended a couple of salsa dances and the best of all was the blues dancing I did with the moderator himself. Not that I don't like salsa and swing, but I love blues and a good blues dance is hard to come by as a world wanderer. I looked forward to those weekends and prayed and hoped I wouldn't get a gig so I could go dancing! I'm happy to remember the smiles and laughs and good times we all shared on the dance floor!

One of the worst memories I had was when I was shopping on "Fashion Street". It's a sidewalk stall paradise of clothes and shoes and the day I went was packed. There were so many people you were always touching someone. I took great care to keep my purse locked and crossed over my body. After making a purchase in one stall I began to exit while still putting away my wallet and failed to be aware of my surroundings. What happened next angered me so much not because of what happened, but that I had let my guard down so it could. Because I was focused on my wallet and walking unawares a larger Indian took advantage to stand in just the right place and cup his hand so that I walked right into it. I was wearing a long loose fitting dress with a scarf (I always tried to dress conservatively when in public markets). His hand took my dress and forced it up inside of me where he gripped and hung on. My thinking was fast enough not to drop my wallet to fight but instead, hang on to my wallet with one hand and try to grab his wrist with another. His wrist was too fat for my hand to get all the way around though so he easily pulled away and ran into the crowd. He was gone from sight in less than 5 seconds. No one seemed to notice. Everyone kept walking despite how loudly I cursed and swore at him even after he had vanished. I will never forget that man and what he did even though it could have been a lot worse.

A typical busy shopping street.

One of the things I love to share from cruise ships are the stupid questions crew members are always being asked. Well, I had my fair share of those in India too. Here are my two favorites with a bit of back story for each.

~I have an electric violin that I usually take overseas to gigs. They prefer it and I prefer keeping my expensive handmade wood violin safe. The way any electric instrument works, whether a guitar (which is common in India) or a violin, is you plug a jack into the corresponding hole on the instrument to the sound console or wireless box you're wearing. Either way, you have to plug the instrument into a box to make sound. That's the simplest way of stating it. I got to a gig with my electric violin and was handed an acoustic clip on microphone. This was quite common and I had already started telling my manager over and over to make sure the sound people knew I needed a jack. This was the best time yet though. I explained to the sound crew (their job to know this information already) that you have to plug in an electric instrument. I told them the electric violin doesn't make much sound and makes a lot of scratchy sound if you try to mic it like an acoustic instrument. Invariably they always try for hours to figure that out, but this time as I was showing them the jack port on my violin they asked, "If we moved the acoustic mic closer to the jack port hole, will it make your violin sound louder?"  I just stood there with my mouth agape that a sound technician had just asked me such a stupid question. If you're not into electric instruments or sound than you wouldn't have any need to know, but if it's your JOB?!?!?!  Seriously?!?!  I laugh now, but when I'm supposed to perform and work with these people it's a nightmare beyond imagining.

~The hotels I was put up in were often a ways from the venue to save the client money. One evening, I got ready, waited an hour for the ride to show up after the time I'd been told, drove a half hour to the venue, spent an hour setting up the sound, and needed to go to the bathroom. There was no manager from my company nor any other company that had come with me so I walked over to the sound booth and asked where the restroom was. The man in charge called over one of the directors of the event and I asked him where there was a restroom. He then told me I looked fine and not to worry. I repeated my question and said, "I need to use the bathroom."  To this statement he then said (I kid you not), "We weren't informed that you would need any facilities. There are no bathrooms on this site." Really?  I have to tell you in advance that I'm a human being so I have to pee every few hours??!?!?!  They honestly had expected me to come, do a sound check, do a several hour show, and leave and never need a facility because I hadn't and my management hadn't requested one. They did find me a restroom outside of the event finally when I insisted that I wasn't going to last through several more hours on a stage so I survived, but learned in the future to make sure that they understood that I will need to pee at some point  during the hours I'm at the event so please make sure there is a restroom of some kind!

My favorite tulip toilets. Standing on these toilets is totally acceptable.
And then there was that time I played violin dressed as a mermaid. India is all about crazy.

Or dressed like a bride....western style at a Bollywood wedding. Makes perfect sense to me?!?!

The trains in India are famous, or should I say, infamous. They are a madness of chaos and danger. I road the trains several times. Sometimes alone but mostly with others. These are the stories of my first and last train ride.

The first ride I went with a friend similar in height and stature to me, but I led the way. We bought the tickets, found the platform and stood among the throngs of people waiting for a train to arrive. When the first train arrived there were so many people and we weren't at the correct car so we let it go. The crowds don't get smaller though, so I decided to push my way in since I was strong enough to do so. When the next train came along we spotted the women's car and I started shoving. I had my friends hand in one hand and I reached for the edge of the train car door (mind you, there is no actual door, it's just where the door would be if there was one). I grabbed on and held on. There were Indian women clawing my arm, hanging on my arm, but I held on. I got on the train but couldn't hang on to the train handle and pull my friend up with just one arm and she wasn't able to get up on her own so I was fortunate to be able to jump off just as the train was starting to move. When the next train came we managed a lot easier and once settled inside I noticed, my arm was bleeding and rashed. The women had scratched my arm to shreds and actually took out a chunk of skin trying to remove the obstacle I had placed in their way. I still have the scar to prove it....

The last train ride I took was with two other girls, one small but mighty and the other a tiny girl. We started our journey without any difficulty and without much people (for India). But by the time we reached our destination things were getting very crowded. We moved into position to get off the train before the crowd tried to get on, but in India, that is not enough. When the crowd is waiting to get on, if you want off, you have to jump before the train stops. I was behind the other two girls, and it was their first train ride....they didn't jump. With hoards of women trying to get on and one Indian woman blocking one girls way with a little baby, I took action. I grabbed one woman's arm that was on the top of the pole in the train and forcibly removed it and held it down and used her body as a shield so the other women behind her couldn't push forward. The small but might girl pushed her way out and I grabbed the tiny girls arm and shoved her through the small opening probably bruising her but successfully getting her off the train. Luckily there were no injuries from that particular ride, but it was yet another first memorable train ride for newbies to India and a suiting final ride for me.

This was during off time. You could actually see concrete!

I took this photo a few days after the train ride. The rash had subsided but the scar is there still today.
There are also the rare good memories of nearly forgetting where you are and glimpsing a happiness that was mostly forgotten. These two pics were taken on one such day at one such time.

One terrible thing that happened fairly early after I arrived in India, was a peg on my acoustic violin snapped in half due to the humidity. There was not one person in all of Mumbai that the company would find to actually fix it so I spent the remainder of my time with a violin peg box that looked like this....note the string wrapped around the replacement peg to help keep it stuck inside :'(

There is the time when all the mail that was delivered to your roommate was already open and when your box arrives, it too has been opened. To top it off, the delivery boys have the gall to come around and ask for tip money!!!  A lawless and blackmail driven country...grrr....

We can't forget all those mosquito bites! What post about India would be complete without them??  They are a constant skin irritation and health hazard.

And then there are those random memories that are just weird, like recalling walking into a temple and seeing this sign. What do you do with that? Seriously? I tried to take the picture without obviously pointing, but make sure you clearly read the first rule. What are they really going to do to check that you're following that rule??!!

My second gig went a little like this, I was booked for a 3 day exhibition performing and I had about 6 songs "learned" but was not confident at all.  We showed up late (per usual Indian standard - they even call it Indian slow time!) and I didn't start for hours. When I finally started I had classical music with me plus the few Bollywood songs I'd learned in a matter of a few days, so I asked him what I should start with and he directed me to play a few classical tunes first so I started playing and was told to stop during my second piece. I got off the stage and was told a celebrity was coming in so they were going to be making announcements so they wanted me to take a short break. I decided to walk with my manager to get some coffee while we waited. On the way, we passed the client who had hired me and he stopped me and asked why I was playing such sad music (In India, slow music is sad. It has nothing to do whether it's a major or minor key or the number of notes played but the speed of the bass). I said I understood and would change to the Bollywood tunes that he was more interested in hearing. My manager didn't say a word and just left me under the bus. After the celebrity had come and gone, I went to get back on the stage and someone else came to say no, no, wait. You can't get on the stage. After about an hour my manager ascertained that they now didn't have the license needed for an international performer. (They had hired me right?!?!) So I decided to try and use my down time wisely and put headphones in and "play" my electric violin in my chair on the side to practice. I was immediately stopped and told that I couldn't even look like a was playing, on stage or not. I spent over 8 hours at the venue that day and played a total of 10 minutes maximum. They never got the license so I didn't return the following two days (which was fine with me because I could practice at home). Welcome to messed up India.

Another gig I was at, I met the other musicians at the venue. We did an individual sound check and then proceeded to perform alone with piano free style accompaniment. The guitarist actually never played anything all night, with or without anyone else and at the end we were told to all just jam together on tunes that no one had ever heard except the pianist. The sax player didn't know how to jam and the guitarist couldn't play guitar so I was left stroking long slow bass notes on my violin for over an hour. Boy, that was a fun gig! At the end, everyone was so thrilled with the hideous jam session that we had done and even the management represented was trying to book it again. Their concept of good "music" is so skewed it's terrifying!!!

Another gig I was told to bring both my acoustic and electric violin. I clarified over the phone with both the manager from my company that booked the show and the manager that I would be working with at the event that there was no water anywhere around the stage so my acoustic would be safe. When I got to the venue I discovered I was playing just off the beach on the golf course of a resort. No water huh?!  I told the manager my acoustic wasn't coming out of it's case and he argued and argued that the Ukrainian girls played on acoustic violins on the beach so why couldn't I?  Trying to explain is futile since most people there have no concept of valuable items so I just refused to do so. When I finished playing that night my electric violin was so wet the water was standing on it in huge drops and my sheet music was wet to the touch and bending down under its own weight. I was so thankful I had stood my ground!  In addition to that particular ordeal, I played for the first time ever inside a huge clear hampster ball. They had to blow up the ball somewhat and then I very carefully stepped inside with my violin hunched over it to protect it while they blew it the rest of the way up and I played inside unable to hear or barely see anything outside. The ball was clear but the humidity created such a veil I wonder if anyone could see in as little as I could see out. Oh well, at least no kids or adults could touch or bother me! :)  I wish I'd been able to get a photo, but I can't take a pic very well myself and the manager there was so unhappy I wasn't playing my acoustic he wasn't about to do me any favors so I am pictureless ;(

And then there was the time that I got to the venue and the stage top was set so low that I couldn't be seen when I was standing under it so I had to stand in front of the stage for the first day so they could raise the side bars high enough for a "tall" girl. I was standing in high heels on a rocky/sandy ground underneath the very thin "grass" and lost half a toenail for my trouble :(  What I did for that company they still don't know...

One of my favorite gig memories is when I was told I was playing a duet with a really young Russian violinist who I found out was just visiting on a tourist visa and picking up work along the way. She could read music but not well so we had a rehearsal for a couple hours the day before the gig where I laid out the easiest duet scheme for the easiest pieces we had and asked her if she understood and needed any notes or anything. She said she was fine with the duet parts and just wanted to make copies of some of the sheet music I had to practice that night. So I went and copied the music with her manager and the next day we got to the hotel after hours of travel and about 2 hours before the gig she said, could you tell me what I'm playing again? I don't remember!!!  So I scrambled to play teacher and I told her and asked her to repeat it back for the 10 songs that we had to play as a duet. We were initially told to play 10 songs together and 8 songs a piece alone. When we got to the venue we were told, just play the duet songs. Ok, that's great! An hour later, Just play 8 songs together, 4 at a time. Even better! Then another half hour later it was reduced to 6 songs total. Whoo hoo! Right before we were ready to walk on stage we were told to just play two songs now and two songs later. Okie dokie!! We had traveled over six hours each way, had our hair and makeup done, plus the rehearsal the day before for a total of 4 songs (which 3 of them were terrible, but that's beside the point). What a waste.

There was the gig that I was called at 7 in the morning and told to be ready to leave at 10. At 10, I'm lying in bed having showered and packed and wishing to go back to sleep and I get the call the gig is cancelled. Best use of my morning ever! NOT

There was the gig I went to with my electric violin and they told me at the gig they wanted me to walk with an acoustic mic. I explained my electric instrument doesn't really make much sound without being plugged in and the sound it does make is scratchy and extremely difficult to mic without significant feedback. I waited around for about an hour hemming and hawing and asking when I was going to get my sound check. Right when I thought I was finally going to get it, I was all put together and on stage, the manager and head of the venue came over and said I must get off right away. I got off the stage and was told that they wanted me to be a surprise. I told them I needed a sound check. They didn't give me one. So when I started to walk the bride and groom in to the wedding hall and toward the stage (In India, white musicians are highly desirable to walk the couple down the aisle.) there was no sound whatsoever. I made it all the way to the stage and not a peep of sound. Of course, one of the mothers I'm assuming and the director of the wedding came over to say they couldn't hear me. I knew that and said it wasn't me. About that time the sound tech help came over to switch out my clip on mic for a over the ear mouth mic!!!  Seriously??? I put it on and continued my sound check/performance next to the wedding couple. That mic didn't work so they brought up a different sound box to plug the mic into. That didn't work so they brought up another mouth mic. That didn't work so they switched back to the original box. Mind you, I'd told them this wouldn't work from the moment I walked in the door. Finally, the director of the wedding told the sound guys to scrap the violinist next to the wedding couple and have me go plug in properly and play on the stage in the back. He walked by later and gave me a thumbs up as I was playing so I guess he was happy. That was my first time trying to mic an electric violin with a mouth mic. They try all the time in India to mic it with a clip on mic and will spend hours trying to get the feedback to cooperate. There is simply no understanding in sound tech crews of their job. Sad situation it is.

To illustrate the lack of knowledge when it comes to western music, the best example was my direct manager. He proclaimed frequently how he knew so much about music and was such an asset to the company because he was the only one that did. However, he couldn't read music, he didn't know what key signatures or time signatures were, and he couldn't even match two keys together if he heard them playing from a backing track and a you tube video. When I arrived in India, they didn't have anything but free terrible karaoke tracks for me to perform with. But they hadn't bothered to match the tracks to any music, written or otherwise. They just expected me to be able to figure it out on stage as I went. That might work if Bollywood music followed a formula like western classical or blues but there is no structure to Bollywood music and to top it off, the songs are extremely simple underneath so the tracks are often just repetitive bass notes that don't give you a clue as to where you are in the song. I spent more of my time searching for matching you tube videos and minus one tracks, taking dictation of the songs from you tube and trying to rewrite the few songs I found sheet music for to match the minus one tracks I'd been given.

How I spent many hours, cutting, copying, pasting, taping...

The biggest story is the car accident. It's also the reason I ended up leaving India. I wouldn't have left just because of the accident, but more because I was refused a proper hospital the day of the accident and also bullied to work the following day despite head injuries and left arm trauma. This is how it went.

I woke up at 7 the day before, ate a bagel and walked out the door at 8 to meet the driver. Discovered the driver(s) had been smoking in the car so immediately informed my manager via text that a new car was necessary if they didn't want my head dangerously stuck out the window for the following 6 hours.  The car was eventually switched and after picking up two more girls and other managers and another 3 girls and another car and getting me a white dress, we all left Mumbai at 10:30. I was thankful I'd brought crackers since the car didn't stop for lunch anywhere. Unfortunately, when we pulled in to the hotel at 4:30 I was told sound check was at 5, to freshen up and get ready to go because the venue was 15-20 minutes away. I said I needed to eat first. They said no. I said yes. They said there wasn't enough time. I said I can't work without food. I finally was given time to go to the restaurant in the hotel and order a bowl of dal (imagine a small bowl of thick lentil soup). While I ate, one of the managers kept coming over and telling me I had to leave now. I kept saying, I'm not finished. She said I was killing her. I told her I was killing my taste buds for her eating the dal so fast while it was so hot. She had to wait until I finished. Then we went to the venue. Odd place, an unfinished village on the beach with multiple stages and a huge beach resort area for food and entertainment. I got ready there since I wasn't given time at the hotel. After being rushed through that process as well, I was taken to my "stage". Turned out I was supposed to play on the grass near some tables. There was a sound tech there and we plugged in my violin and the sound that came out of the speakers was so hideous and painful I couldn't continue to play for the sound check. They switched wires and such and told me after a half hour that the violin I'd used successfully every time I'd ever played it including two nights prior, was broken and it was my fault. I was then told to just mime the songs. But since I didn't have music with the melodies, that wouldn't work. So they decided to have me mime with a saxophone player whose songs I'd never heard before. Luckily for me, I didn't have to refuse to do it because they hadn't paid the saxophonist yet and so she was refusing to play on her own right. So the sax player and I chit chatted for hours waiting to see what they would do. The management never returned. Hours later we left to get some food and then returned to the dressing rooms where I was again blamed for having a bad instrument, but I changed clothes back into comfy wear and sat outside on the loudest beach concert I've had the misfortune of hearing. After midnight we finally all packed up and returned to the hotel. When we arrived we were informed that instead of spending the night, we were going to pack and return to Mumbai and to be ready in an hour. I did as asked and when we finally left for Mumbai over 2 hours later, I tried to get comfy in the middle passenger side seat of the mini van for the long ride.

I was abruptly woken sometime in the wee morning while the sky was still pitch black by the screams of the tiny Indian woman sitting in the front passenger seat. With no glasses all I could make out was that her hand was reaching out at first. Then I realized that we were really close to a truck. Then I realized our car was somehow attached to that truck and it was dragging us down the road. It wasn't until the driver of the car separated us from the truck that I realized the corner had been in our car. The entirety of the front window was gone and the passenger door frame was bent so far back I couldn't open my door. It's amazing the girl didn't die or lose any limbs. It was pitch black as our car had no headlights and the truck had continued on its way. Our car was now just sitting in the middle of the highway where it had rolled to a stop. After the driver got out and tore the door frame away so I could get out and the other girls behind me, I realized I was covered in glass and I had no shoes to put on because they were also covered in glass. My glasses were also missing. When I stepped out of the car barefoot and very tentatively I found my glasses under the seat and walked to the edge of the road. I went to wipe some hair from my face and noticed my fingers were sticky. I walked back to the car and someone's cell phone was used for light to see the side of my face. It had been slashed open in my hair line and was bleeding down the side of my face. I was in fight mode though so I registered no pain there or anywhere else. It wasn't until half an hour or so later that my face started to really hurt and I realized the right side of my face was badly bruised. My jaw tightened and I could hardly speak. We went to a road side "hospital" where the Indian girl and my wounds were cleaned and bandaged (we were the only two hurt in the accident). It was there I discovered my left arm had also been cut open near the elbow.

After that "hospital", we continued the rest of the way to Mumbai where one of the managers from my company took me for a second opinion, but that doctor wouldn't touch me because I was American. So instead of taking me where I asked, a genuine hospital that I had already been to before with a friend so I knew where it was and that it was legit, I was forced to go to a neighborhood "doctor". I already knew this "doctor" was crack, but was also so tired and so hungry and so hurt that I just wanted to go home. At noon that next day I was finally taken home after no x-ray and no real examination. I'd told my manager that entire day that I was not doing the scheduled show for tomorrow but he continued to say I had no choice. When I got home I told a brief story to the three English speaking girls I lived with and went to sleep. I apparently slept through quite the row in the living room between two managers and the three girls. They fought for me and for themselves. They were told not to get in the way in regards to me. When I eventually woke up that evening they told me what had happened and I called my mom to tell her what had happened.

I knew I would need rest and healing. I also knew I wouldn't get it at the apartment. I was lucky to have a good friend I could stay with so I packed my bags and the next morning I headed out. That morning my phone also went nuts with my manager and everyone else asking why I wasn't home and if I wasn't home why I was refusing to work. Apparently the part about needing a left arm and normal jaw to play violin had escaped them.

When I realized it was going to be a constant daily, no hourly, fight until I finally worked I bought a ticket home. Knowing they would dock my pay for every show I didn't do so by the time I was healed there would be no pay check left anyway, it wasn't worth the fight for my health and my career.

I barely ate much for a week. With the gig, the accident, the traveling and not eating anything solid I was a mess when I arrived to my mom and dad in the USA, but I was so grateful to be safe I didn't care.

It took over a week to eat normal and I still have bruising weeks later, but I'm back to playing and soon back to performing.

Bloody and Bruised

There are more stories, and I may amend this post with a few from time to time and reshare it. But it's long enough for now. I hope you enjoyed reading the various aspects of my daily life in India and that it gave you a broader perspective of the country's entertainment side. Be forewarned, if anyone associated in any way with a company called CORPORATE EVENTS or INERTIA ENTERTAINMENT contacts you, RUN!!!!! It's the company I worked for and it's a nightmare of deceptive, selfish and greedy people. To leave you with a lasting impression, this is a picture of a text I received from management when I went to lunch (Indians eat lunch around 2 or 3 and sometimes as late as 4 if you notice the time stamp) and didn't hear my phone while I was in the rickshaw. Completely normal in the professional working world right?!

Now I'm off on my next travel adventure so soon you will see the predictably happy, picture filled posts from around the USA and the world beyond!

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