Dhamaal

Monday evenings is Dhamaal night at the Prithvi Theatre in Juhu. Dhamaal means turmoil, frolic, and is a kind of song which is sung at the Holi festival. Basically, there were eight or so different performers and groups performing Shakespeare-inspired pieces for 10-15 minutes each. Sort of an open mic evening, except better, because they actually had to do an audition. Entrance was free, and the MC was a French-Indian guy.

The place was pretty much packed with about 200 people, mostly hip looking young people. The first performer was a very cute 10 year old boy doing a funny sketch, in English, about how William Shakespeare is actually an Indian guy. There were a number of pretty intense young men performing. Almost all the performances were in Hindi, but it was pretty interesting to me nevertheless. My Scottish expat friend and her French roommate were doing a scene in French, and even though probably hardly anyone in the audience understood a word, it was well received.

There was a very very good young actor doing a Hamlet scene in Hindi, and a very good older actor doing a scene from The Merchant of Venice twice, in two different ways (both with a fabulous colonial British accent). A smart-looking comedy scene had everyone cracking up, and there was a very weird slapstick scene of a bunch of guys pretending to be from Nagaland. Nagaland, a small province in the Northeast, has a number of indigenous tribes, so people were laughing before the troupe even entered the stage. So then they did this strange primitive dance thing around Romeo and Juliet, which sort of reminded me of how Native Americans used to be represented in very old American Western movies. Pretty dumb, a little scary, but generally harmless. It was a bit embarrassing, but people seemed to think it was very funny, which was sort of remarkable, given that the same audience obviously also had appreciated the very serious acting skills of the Hamlet guy.

Anyways, what do I know, after all, I could only get the acting and movements, and didn’t understand a word for the most part. But I will definitely be back to Dhamaal.

In other news, Ksenia is finally coming back tonight, so I am very excited!! Next week we will have our old trusted driver Deepak back. Apparently, he has a salaried job, but he seemed pretty eager to quit his job and work for us. He seemed really happy back when I picked up the Ambassador with him and was looking forward to driving it. Speaking of the Ambassador, I took it to my regular gas station today. They usually also check the oil and water, but what really cracks me up every time is that the guy there seems to like to burn his fingers. Every single time he checks on the oil, he burns his fingers, then laughs about it, and then reaches for a piece of tissue paper to wipe off the oil from the stick. Then he throws the paper on the floor, reaches for the water coolant container, burns his fingers again, and laughs again. It is very strange.

Speaking of throwing paper on the floor, last Sunday I was in a public park in Dadar to play some frisbee with some expats. As I was walking around a bit, I saw three different people throwing their plastic garbage on the floor. Just like that. The park accordingly looks pretty shitty. Another day some guy was throwing his empty plastic bottle out of his car while driving. Just like that. Ugh!

Today is a holiday, Dassehra, by the way. From what I gather, it is a festival in honor of the goddess Durga. Dassehra means ‘the tenth’ and it is celebrated at the end of the nine-nights Navaratri festival, during which hymns are recited to Durga. Apparently, Dassehra is a special holiday for brides and engaged people. All I can say is that somewhere in my neighborhood last night there was a big disco evening, and they played that incredibly awful song by Queens We Will Rock You. Over and over again.

Astad Deboo

Yesterday I went to the Prithvi Theatre in Juhu to see Astad Deboo, one of the few Indian modern dancers/choreographers. The Prithvi Theatre is quite an interesting venue; I had wanted to go see something there for a while. Tickets are only a bit more than a dollar, but unfortunately there were many empty seats, and probably not because the evening’s program leaflet was almost half the price of a ticket. I can’t say I loved it all, but it definitely had its moments. He is quite fascinating to watch, and the eight dancers (all of them deaf teenage girls) were very impressive.

Afterwards, I went to a place called Seijou, which had its regular French DJ evening. He wasn’t so great though, but the place is nice (and pretty much empty until midnight), despite the assembled collection of blinking red yellow green blue orange lightbulbs. Maybe those were leftovers from Ganpati, or maybe they are already preparing for Diwali or Christmas or something. Or maybe they thought it looked cool, which it didn’t.

In other news, I don’t know what my maid did today, but she must have done something to disturb my local cockroach population, because when I got home, there were five big and fat ones running around in the kitchen. The strategically placed can of NEW! HIT! COCKROACHES! came in handy though, so that was the end of that. Unfortunately, I also dropped my bowl of yummy Indian food, so there was a nasty mix of dead cockroaches and food on the kitchen floor, and me without any idea where the maid keeps the mop. I do remember her buying one, or at least asking for money for it, but I ended up using old issues of the Times of India, which gave it a nice original touch I felt.

I also ventured out onto the Western Express Highway for the first time in two weeks or so, just to see how the highway construction mafia is coming along. Not surprisingly, they are doing great, and so the highway still looks like one of the tougher stretches of the Paris-Dakar Rally. So I was thinking, if even a Texas DA can manage to finally get Tom DeLay by his balls and hopefully throw the guy in jail, I wonder how long it will take … But, ah well, I guess until then I will take the local roads to get to work. And this weekend I am set on getting out of town to Kashid, which is supposedly a very nice and quiet place, one of the nicest beaches outside of Goa, and only three or four hours outside of Mumbai.

British DJ

So for a week now I was looking forward to this British DJ coming to Mocha in Juhu. Mocha is of course the hipper version of the Barista coffee shops, and there’s one in Juhu. Actually, some people refer to Juhu as Juhu Beach, because, well, it does have a beach. Anyone going swimming there, and there are a few crazy ones, must be seriously suicidal, because the water is a dark brown soup of sewage and plastic bags, and the beach itself, although fairly large, is pretty firmly in the hand of hawkers, drug addicts, and a wild assortment of food stands. Nevertheless, the beach is crowded with people going for a leisurely stroll.

Across from the beach is Mocha. They usually have apple pie shakes and tiramisu and things like that, so I was curious to see how they turn this into a dance club for the occasion. Well, they didn’t really. The DJ wasn’t bad, and they even had beer (well, Foster’s), but apparently the crowd wasn’t very interested. Still, for some reason there was a waiting list for the airconditioned room, and even though there didn’t seem to be anybody in there, it took half an hour to get from the boiling hot outside space inside.

Apart from our Mumbai tour guide from San Francisco, there was another expat from work, plus a Canadian and a French/Austrian couple, so the expats were well represented and at times made up the majority of the dancing population. The decidedly best part, however, was the Indian lady, around 50, who sat down by herself at our table, pulled a little bottle of Jack Daniel’s out of her bag and proceeded to pour herself some into a plastic cup under the table. She very proudly announced that she was invited by the British Council to come to this event. And indeed, apparently the British Council thinks that India might need some development aid in the form of a DJ, because they were noted as the main sponsors of the event. Certainly, Mocha didn’t pay the DJ’s bills.

So it was all pretty relaxed and somewhat sad. But at least, there was no Bryan Adams or Led Zeppelin being played, so it was great. On the way home, I almost ran into a car with a mobile phone equipped driver who very lazily crossed the street without looking left or right, and I missed a riksha or two by a few inches, so all things considered, the evening included a bit of excitement as well.

Family Electrician

Well, against all odds, I actually got my car. The dealer called me Friday to tell me that I can pick it up at 5:30pm on Saturday. And, surprisingly enough, it actually was there, in all its beauty, ready to get picked up, and so I did. Of course, it quickly turned out that I had bought a piece of crap junk car, just like many Indians had told me. The door handles are pretty flimsy, the doors are close to impossible to lock from the inside, and the gear box is one clunky piece of mechanical engineering gone pretty wrong. And the engine sounds a bit like some badly underpowered 70s Oldsmobile, but I love this car with all its faults.

Sadly, I had to say Good Bye to my wonderful driver. We had developed a very nice relationship, and he turned out to be fantastic. He was pretty sad, but I told him that we will call him, when Ksenia comes back from NYC, because then we’ll need him again. The last couple of weeks, he had sometimes tried to teach me a bit of Hindi, so now I know that sticking your pinky finger into the air means going for a pee. And the main phrase he had learned from us was “a little bit”, because up until recently, he would always say “something something” instead. Whenever I thanked him at the end of the day, he would say “It is my duty, Sir” and laugh – at one point, when he had found me a place to buy TimeOut Mumbai, he actually said “It is my duty, Sir” and laughed like Ernie from Sesame Street, as if he was laughing about that phrase himself, which he probably didn’t. Or maybe he was, I don’t know.

Our maid also seems to be doing ok. Well, she came pretty late twice, and she left some laundry in the dryer instead of taking it out, but I don’t really care. She’s not bad, and I quite like her. Of course, the other day I made a bit of blunder when my landlord came over with his family electrician yet again, and I actually tried to introduce him to my maid. So when I asked him, have you met my maid, he looked at me as if I was out of my mind, and just said “I don’t know, if I did, I don’t remember her face.” Ooops. I guess I had forgotten that in some Indian households the maid never leaves the kitchen and actually sleeps on the kitchen floor.

The landlord by the way is a bit of a character himself. He had lived for a while in NYC, so he’s quite understanding about a number of things. But since our phoneline is still not working, he keeps bringing his electrician in, always repeating the same old and apparently cricially important story that this electrician works exclusively for his family, because it is very hard to find one in India, so he works exclusively for his family. Why the electrician keeps coming back for “full investigation of the problem” (quote my landlord), and nothing actually gets fixed, I don’t know, but that’s a different story. Bottom line is that the walls must be soaked with dampness and mold (the mold is actually showing everywhere on the walls), so the main fuse keeps blowing then and again, and one of the many switch panels is unusable, because turning any of its switches will make the lights go out in the whole apartment. The funny part is always that clearly the landlord is telling the electrician what he needs to do, because apparently the family electrician is not really an electrician. But the two of them keep showing up in my apartment unannounced, seemingly discussing the progress of their full investigation.

The landlord also told me that I can park the car on the little parking lot that’s part of the apartment building. There’s really not enough space for the six or seven cars standing around, so I asked him, how does it work, and whether it’s on a first come first serve basis, or what? He assured me, no problem, I can park, there are no designated parking spots. So when I tried, the watchman makes a few wild gestures, so I understand I should park on the other side of the building. Now, there is a very small elderly’s home in the ground floor of the building, so as soon as I park there, some young modern chap comes up to me telling me in a very important sounding tone that that parking space is reserved for the doctor. Of course, the doctor doesn’t live there, he just works there, if that. He probably just shows up then and again, because the home is pretty small, the size of my apartment. Anyways, but the parking space is for the doctor, very important. I am not in the mood to get into an argument with either the landlord or the neighbors, so I guess I will be parking on the street, which should be fine.

In other news, I finally found a very cool little club that’s the way little clubs should be like. It’s in a stinky little hotel that looks like it had seen better times. The club was nice and very laid back, people obviously just wanted to dance, so there were no posers, macho guys, or bimbos, like there are in so many clubs in any city you go. The music was pretty good as well, so I guess I will be going back there some time.

Oh, and very funny, I find, is this

Indian Dance

Last Saturday, just before Ksenia took off back to NYC (and actually was lucky enough to get out of the floods on time), we went to her Indian Classical Dance teacher’s performance. Ksenia had taken up classes a while ago with that teacher and is trying to get her foot and finger movements straight, which is quite a challenge. Of course, I know nothing about Indian Classical Dance, but basically, a lot of them, if not all, have religious roots, there is not just music, but also vocals, and it seems like the vocals tell a religios story, which is then acted out by dancing and by the all-important hand movements, where every single hand gesture has a very particular meaning. So if the hands and arms are one way, it means “Lion”, and held a slightly or not so slightly different way, it means “House”. Or something like that.

So the art is then in the execution of these movements, there really is not all that much space for interpretation – and improvisation or any other Western concept of dance is entirely foreign. Of course, in the West, art is most of the time all about me, myself, and I, so this is a whole different world. Apparently, if not for the Love Of God, then why bother dancing or being an artist? Unfortunately, if one has no clue what the story is, or what the hand gestures mean, or how they should look like, if executed correctly, then watching a performance like this, is a bit of a challenge. I can’t say I hated it, but I was definitely looking for the subtitles somewhere.

The teacher’s husband very helpfully spoke some introductory words at the beginning of each segment, but of course it was in Hindi, and I could only make out a Shiva here and a Vishnu there. My seat neighbor tried to translate a little bit, but it was pretty hopeless. The fact that these introductory words tended to drag into rather longish 15 minute monologues didn’t exactly help. But certainly the costumes were very colorful, and her student dancers very very cute and dedicated, and the whole thing had a nice family affair touch to it, even though it was performed in a real auditorium, with a light manager, a sound manager, etc. I didn’t quite get the light effects, becuse they were a bit like Disco, and it was too dark to take any good pictures during the performance, but maybe it was meant less for entertainment as for reflection and devotion, so I should shut up.

Surprisingly, maybe, my seat neighbor knew all the tunes and all the lyrics, and he was happily humming along. The teacher’s husband’s words also seemed to make an impression on the audience, and he spoke with a lot of pathos. In between, there were flowers and ovations, I suspect for the benefactors and supporters of the dance company, who were called on stage as well, gave a longish nice speech, and then went back to their seats. The auditorium was sadly empty, and a lot of people left early. The whole thing was over two hours long, and they started maybe one hour later than what the invitations had indicated. The Temptation hipsters would happily refer to that as Indian Stretching Time (IST), and I can’t argue with that.