30 December 2006

Home is Where the Drum Is

December 27, 2006Okay, one day in Varkala, and it’s a different story. Shades of Koh Chang, in fact. I arrived by train mid-morning, standing like a sardine in the second-class coach, then set out on foot in the hot glare through the streets of the town. One guest house I inquired about was full; I headed off down the road, trying to follow the signs and my map. A quick look at my pocket compass told me I was headed in exactly the wrong direction, so I flagged down an auto-rickshaw to take me to the “Government Guest House.” No vacancies there, either, so somewhat discouraged, I went by foot to the “Cliff Road” to seek out more guesthouses. The first likely place I came to, with Internet on the main floor and big clean rooms above, was available at a good price, so I parked my backpack there with a reservation for at least the one night, and continued on to the cliffside strip to explore further.

Think Dallas Road in Victoria, with a thatched-roof Cook St. village-cum-Government Street summer Sunday market, placed lengthwise along the cliff. Same size cliff and beach, only fine sand the whole length instead of pebbles; then raise the water temperature some 10 degrees C., boost the air to 30, and send the sun summer-high. That’s Varkala.

So far I still wasn’t convinced. But then after lunch in the Café Italiano, I saw “Drumming Lessons” on the sign of a café offering otherwise the usual list (travel services, money exchange, massage, email, food and drinks, etc.). I approached a likely fellow with an Afro and dark complexion, and he said his friend the djembe teacher was out of town till the 30th. But he said they jam every Friday, and I was welcome to join. When I asked about dununs, another friend at the café next door came to the rescue with the business card of a local Senegalese drummer who teaches drum, dance, and “African Yoga.”

I followed directions to “Master (Ken) Doumbia’s” house on my way home through the shady green back lanes to my “Sopanam” lodging. The house was quiet and the large gates were shut. Oh well, I thought, I’ll try again in the morning, when classes were advertised for 11:00. Then, after stopping by my guesthouse to confirm my stay for a week, and going to dinner, I walked back down to the strip to check out the scheduled tabla-and-flute concert at the Blue Moon. It wasn’t happening, so I stepped into the cybercafe to check out Ken’s website (http://www.westafricanroots.com/)for more info. There under “workshops” it seemed to indicate he’d be teaching in Senegal in December-January. I sent off an email inquiry just in case, then went home to start some editing work. Simultaneously, from a nearby location, some LOUD electronic music started up. A hip bungalow operation?, I wondered; it’s going to be a long week here. But not ten minutes into it, I heard on the cranked-up PA something about “the Africans.” Hmm, sounds like a wedding. There’s still a chance.

Sure enough, the unmistakable sounds of djembes and dununs pounded through the night air. I ran to the window and threw open the sash, and saw the lights of a house some 100 meters away where the drumming was clearly coming from. A five-minute walk put me through the open gates to a wedding party in progress, with three African drummers going full tilt (two on djembes and a third playing upright duns). I even got into the dancing action for their last piece, then introduced myself to Ken by saying I’d just sent him an email. Yes, he was teaching every day, and I was welcome to come at 11:00 the next morning. Then the DJ took over and some good funky dancing in the sand-covered yard followed. No place like home: drum and dance.

An hour later, back in my room as the pounding electronic beats continued flooding through my window, came the dubbed and repeated line, as if airmailed personally: “Destination is Canada . . . Destination is Canada.”


December 30, 2006Today in an email Ilana wrote, “I hope you find what you are looking for.” Exactly the words Nora told me when I left for Maui eight months ago. What does this mean to me--and why does it seem strange or even misplaced?

First of all, I need to consider the possibility that their assumption is correct. Then maybe I am searching for something without even realizing it.

From my point of view, I would rather say, “I’m simply doing what I feel impelled to do: to live in a warm place where I can swim and walk and work and play, in good health and congenial surroundings.”

Since there is no one location that I know of where I feel completely at home and satisfied in all the above requirements, however, that journey becomes an endless one, where each resting place presents its own compromises and limitations, serving well for a while but then giving way to the “search” for another place that might supply that missing element or two, without sacrificing the essential ingredients of the root quest, “happiness.”

Lately I find happiness in disparate moments . . .

--playing drums with Ken and the other students today, getting locked into a nice solid Kuku groove at tempo. There is so much to be aware of and to appreciate and to refine even while holding down the accompaniment, especially if there is a good lead drummer to support and follow. It is a pleasure for me to play with someone who is a “master” (whatever that relative term may mean), because my playing gravitates to the quality of those I play with. When I am in that groove of present flow and rhythm space, there is nowhere else I need to go.

--being invited by Ken to join him for performance at the Funky Art Café tomorrow night. I am always grateful for performance opportunities, and when they arise, it is a grace of serendipity that allows me to know that I am where I am supposed to be.

--walking after class in the company of ten-year-old drum student Mondyi, to his father’s shop, where I enjoyed a papaya-apple-lime-ginger smoothie and wheat grass juice, and met the family.

--sharing a lovely smile with a beautiful brown-skinned Indian woman flashing large white teeth, just outside the Ayurvedic Wellness Centre where they offer free consultations . . . only, not today.

--exploring the more remote stretches of beach and coastline to the south and north of the main Varkala cliff beach, this morning and afternoon. Also last night, I enjoyed the main beach under the light of the half moon, with hardly anyone else about. There is a freedom in solitude and in walking in natural places that gives me instant happiness, whole and sufficient in itself. The moving is almost a contradiction, because it seems a paradox to move from what is already perfect. Yet that perfection is not of the fixed variety; it may be doubtful, in fact, that any perfection is fixed or fixable; and so the perfection is rather, like the drum rhythm, in following the impulse of movement at the proper tempo, relaxed at whatever speed, in tune with the larger music.

--moving patiently through a high fever yesterday, too much sun giving way to a day of room-sheltered recuperation; then venturing out at night for a perfect nourishment of hot and sour chicken soup (and butter garlic nan bread), while watching The Motorcycle Diaries on the restaurant video; and finally catching by chance, at another restaurant, that missing tabla and flute concert. The drummer sat with a drum shaped like a bata but with heads like tablas; and he played it furiously like a tabla, with fingers flying, one hand at either end. The flute player meanwhile kept pace with a lovely characteristic Indian mode, sweet chromatic slides and trills, some melodic steps and some legato space, both going pretty much full tilt. Their music presented a great marriage of complexity, in the play of notes and flowing rhythms, and simplicity, in the apparent lack of arrangement. In such inspiration comes a kind of happiness that is not confined to the present experience, but carries beyond into future possibility.

1 comment:

George Awgerinos said...

The sound of the drum can bring someone in a meditative or even ecstatic state of being.
Drums were used in Sufi and
African rituals. Classic music or jazz have more effect on our emotional centers. The more refined the sound the strongest effect on humans(animals and plants)However all types of refined music are reflections of an inner higher sound that exists already within us.
If we learn to silence the mindflow we can hear the flow of the inner-sound