Jan 17, 2014

Hippie drum circle

Wow, what an amazing day. I was walking along in one of the alleys near here and I heard drumming coming from one of the shops as I passed. I stopped and looked inside. Two men were sitting on the floor banging away on a pair of djembe drums. The teacher was Indian. The student was Korean. I saw many drums, guitars, sitars, flutes, and tabla around the room. The walls were covered in hand lettered thank you posters, all in Korean or Chinese characters.

The djembe teacher smiled at me, and I mean he really smiled. A lot of shopkeepers smile at you to get you to come into the shop and buy something, but this smile wasn't like that. He was just having fun. He waved me over and put the djembe into my hand. 

I have to back up a bit here and explain something that happened about six months ago. Back in Halifax, I was in the basement of the Dal Arts centre when I saw a poster advertising Varanasi-style tabla. The teacher was a professor at McGill. I wrote to him to ask if there was anywhere to learn tabla on this trip I was planning. He wrote back kindly to say, here's the mobile number for a musician named Pandit Kishor Mishra. I called Pandit Kishor Mishra, and he said I would be "welcome, welcome, welcome” in Varanasi, and to call him when I arrived. I didn't realize until later what I'd done was rather like calling up Ravi Shankar and asking him to give me a couple of pointers. I was embarrassed and didn't call again. 

Flash forward again to today, when I'm sitting in this shop and I've just joined the hippie drum circle. Two more Korean students came in, wanting to learn tabla and sitar. So our djembe teacher called his brothers, who specialize in tabla and sitar lessons. 

Now, these shops are tiny. Picture six people sitting cross-legged on carpets and cushions in a cement room with the footprint of a king size bed. That's how big it was inside. That's how close I was when the sitar teacher and the tabla teacher began to show off, and I don't know if you've ever been right inside a joyful piece of Indian classical music but I can't even begin to describe how wonderful it was. 

Then of course all four students applauded and got down to the business of learning how to do it ourselves. It was a real challenge but everyone had a great time. I got to play the tabla and boy was it hard. 

We spent about two hours there and finally were about to leave. Our tabla teacher asked what our names are, because everybody got so excited we skipped over that bit. We students introduced ourselves. And then I said, "what's your name?"

"It's difficult," he says. So I ask him to write it down on a page of my notebook and he writes down Shrikant Mishra. "All the Mishras are musicians," he says. Which reminds me (and I say to myself, no way, this is India, there are over a billion people here, that's like asking if I know Susie from Vancouver...) and I say, "Do you know a Pandit Kishor Mishra?"

And this young man just looks at me and smiles a little bit and says, "Yes. He is my grandfather."


  1. That is an amazing story!! And on Day 3 of your trip, too. Thanks for the posting.

  2. wow what an incredible experience!!!