Hindi classes with Italian cultural center

I have been doing something for the past two months that I had not done before. I am working as a Hindi teacher with the students at Centro Risorse India center. I am giving walking classes which is very interesting and fun but sometimes it is really boring when I meet someone who is really beginner. I was asked to give walking classes by Marco, the chief of Centro Risorse India center, about two months ago but I was not really prepared for it because I had never done it before but Marco told me to just try it once and if I like it, they would give me more work.

I also had two-three free hours so I decided to go for it. I worked with a girl named Caterina first time. I took her out and we started talking in Hindi. But I thought that only general communication in Hindi would be no fun for the students so I thought why not make it interesting by choosing some topic about Benares or anything in India and talk about it and it worked very well. Caterina, a student from University of Venice was my first student and I took her out but I was a little nervous first day. I chose the topic ” History of Nagwa” for my first day of work. Nagwa is the neighborhood where Caterina lives.

We talked about Nagwa for a while and then we talked about a few controversial political and social issues of Nagwa and spent two hours only talking about them and finally the class was over. Now I have worked with many students after Caterina and I like this job but only when students know good enough Hindi to express themselves in Hindi. I like this job because its not only me who talks about India or Benares in front of a foreigner but I also get to learn about foreign countries and culture by talking with foreign students.

Once I got a student who just did not know any Hindi, it was super frustrating. I finally told her to work on Hindi grammar first and then contact me. The students I have worked with have given good feedback about my work and now the university wants to give me some kind of language and teaching training in Venice for a month which sounds exciting but I am not sure if I should go there because they want me to come to Italy in June when I want to go to America. I will see but if there will be any opportunity for me to visit neighboring countries of Italy after the training then I would love to go there.

Finally received Indian passport

I finally got my passport and believe me it took more than eleven months. I had applied for it last year in February and got it this year in January. I went through all the crazy bureaucracy and corruption. The whole process starting from buying the application to getting the passport in hand was full of giving bribing and craziness. Police was supposed to verify my documents by coming to my home and meeting me in person but I went to the police station and they asked me for Rs.600 and never came to my place.

LIU (Local Intelligence Unit which is very intelligent in asking for bribe and is crazy when it comes to do something real) was also supposed to verify me by coming to place and check my documents but I meet the officer in a hospital room where his wife was admitted. It was so funny that I got a call from one LIU officer saying that he had my documents for passport and he wanted to meet me. I asked him what time would he come to my place but he said that his wife was sick and was admitted in a hospital so he gave me address of this hospital and asked me to meet him there.

I went to the hospital and this crazy officer took me to the room where his wife was admitted. His wife was a really fat sick lady laying down on a bed. She had an ideal look of an Indian government corrupt officer’s wife whose husband gets a lot of bribe. This officer just looked at my documents and asked for Rs. 600 as bribe. My friends had suggested me to give him only Rs. 300 so I tried to bargain but he said that my Rs. 600 would be divided in equal parts to all the officers at LIU office and finally I gave him Rs. 600.

After taking money from me this crazy officer asked me to teach him English. It was so funny. I started laughing, I just did not know what to say him. I suggested him a few schools and just left the hospital. He told me something really interesting while I was talking with him in the hospital. I asked him why didn’t he come to my place to verify my address and documents and he said that they are mostly concerned about people with beard. He meant to say that they are mostly concerned about Muslims.

I was wondering if Hindus or other religion people could not be a terrorist. How can he think like that? There is no such country in the world where terrorism is not there and it is hard for me to believe that terrorism spreads without local help. All kinds of people, community and religion is involved in it. What if I was also a terrorist? It was sad to see the way LIU is working. We are so much affected by terrorism now and these institutions seem more responsible for it to me.

Josh Massad’s World Through Music

Josh with village kids

Josh with village kids

I am working with a musician named Josh Massad on a project called world through music which is about teaching music and other subjects through music. Josh travels all over the world and teach music to kids. When he works in the US, he teaches African and Indian music to American kids, when he is in Africa, he teaches Indian and American music to African kids and at present when he is in India, he is teaching African, American and Asian music to kids in Varanasi. He had contacted me about a month ago asking if I would like to work with him.

Josh teaching Kanjira

Josh teaching Kanjira

The project seemed interesting to me and I agreed to work with him. He wanted me to organize his performances at schools in Varanasi. I thought it would be good for Josh and his project if he gets to work with different kinds of schools and kids therefore I organized his performances at city schools, village schools, private schools, government schools, play schools and schools run by NGOs so almost 50 performances in 25 days. There are 25 performances at village schools where kids come from really poor families, 10 performances at NGO run training centers for girls, 10 performances at city schools and about 5 at NGO run schools.

Dancing with a kid

Dancing with a kid

I have organized a performance at a school for children of sex workers in Varanasi. Actually children of sex workers can not get admission in any school because they do not have any residential proof and any document talking about their father’s name and there is an NGO in Varanasi which started a school specially for children of sex workers and we will be working there as well. I have organized one performance with kids of my education program. I have organized a performance with day time bondage child laborers. Actually there are a lot of bondage child laborers in Mehdiganj and Lok Samiti runs evening classes for them and we have a performance with those kids also.

Josh teaching map

Josh teaching map

Josh carries a map and a few instruments from different parts of the world. First of all he talks about geography, he teaches about seven continents and countries in it and then show these continents and countries on a map and then he introduces all of his instruments and shows on map where they come from. It was so interesting to see that village kids did not have any knowledge of geography at all. They did not even know in which continent India was there or they could name states of India. I was shocked to see this but I hope Josh’s lessons would help them.

showing an Indonesian instrument

showing an Indonesian instrument

After introducing his instruments, Josh plays these instruments to kids and teach them African songs. He teaches different songs but the one song that he teaches at every school is a welcome song from Africa called Fanga Alafia, Ashe Ashe. Kids love this song. They sing the song together with Josh and enjoy it a lot. Josh teaches them different styles of clapping and sometimes he teaches some basic yoga techniques as well. The project is going well, kids are happy, josh is happy so I am also happy. Few teachers at some schools asked me why Josh is teaching African songs, they don’t think it is going to help kids in any way.

Kids also love to play the instruments

Kids also love to play the instruments

I just don’t expect kids to learn all of those Josh’s instruments and geography in one day but I am sure that Josh’s performances will at least create interest about world geography and music in the kids and if they just look at the map only once at their home, I will feel like the project is accomplished. Josh is planning to make a documentary about his work next year and he wants me to organize things for him. He is planning to start a mobile school in India and again he wants me to organize it. He wants to bring musicians from different places and travel with them and teach music and geography. It sounds really exciting and I am looking forward to it.

Shivratri 2010

Shiva and Parvati

Shiva and Parvati

It was Shivratri on the 12th and I was super excited for it. Shivratri is the biggest festival of Benares. Actually it is celebrated because it is wedding anniversary of Lord Shiva. There are more than six thousand temples in Varanasi but 11 out of them organize a wedding parade of Lord Shiva. The parade starts from different temples and end near Vishwanath temple (golden temple). The most popular and biggest parade starts with Mahamrityunjay temple and is the last parade of the day. I also went to see the parade with my friends and it was just awesome.

a character sitting on a horse

a character sitting on a horse

Since Bhang is associated with Lord Shiva and is part of Benares culture, most of the people of Benares consume a little bit of Bhang for the festival as blessing of Lord Shiva. They take a bath in the river Ganges, do some rituals at Shiva temples, offer bhang and later consume it as blessing of the temple. The whole city is decorated with lights, free bhang drinks are served everywhere, people come out…its so fun. I love this festival. It is said that all kinds of characters had participated in Lord Shiva’s wedding like Gods, Goddesses, ghosts, demons, devils, headless, crazy, lepers, one legged, one eyed, animals… so the wedding parade also had all kinds of characters.

Lord Shiva

Lord Shiva

There were people wearing masks of ghosts, someone was dressed as a God, someone was a Goddess, there were snake charmers, hijras, cows, bulls, goats, dogs, horses, elephants, people were smoking ganja…it was crazy. There was one guy dressed as Lord Shiva and was leading the parade. He was too high in bhang, actually he was almost sleeping while walking. I had seen the same guy at last year wedding parade also and I think they intentionally make him consume a lot of bhang because he was sleeping last year also. He was not able to walk, would get fainted sometimes. He either walking so slowly with his closed eyes, or was dancing or would get fainted. I am sure Lord Shiva did not get fainted when he was going to marry, but Benares makes people fainted by its bhang:)

Lord Shiva fainted

Lord Shiva fainted

He was carrying a trident and a Damru and was wearing a Dhatura garland. He would do Tandav dance for like a minute or a few seconds and then get fainted. People would start shouting Har Har Mahadev (chant of Lord Shiva) and Jago Baba (wake up baba, baba is another name of Lord Shiva in Benares) as he would get fainted or would fell asleep and again this guy would wake up and would start dancing. There were thousands of people shouting Har Har Mahadev, it was so loud and I was just loving it. I don’t really know he can someone be alive after consuming that much of bhang as he had consumed.

Bhang Thandai

Bhang Thandai

There was loud music, people were playing drums but the I loved the Nagada drum most. Nagada is also very Benares intrument and is used for wedding and cremation parade both. We are the champions of Nagada. Josh wanted to consume bhang and he did not ask me before buying it. He just went to a shop and bought a glass of bhang lassi and drank it. He thought that it would make him high immediately as alcohol does but in fact bhang takes sometime to react. After a while he asked me again to drink more bhang lassi and I took him to a good shop but I did not know that he already had consumed bhang before.

ghost

ghost

After finishing more than half glass of bhang lassi he said that bhang doesn’t make him high and I said that it would take some time. He asked me how much time and I said that at least 2 hours and then he told me that he had already drank a glass of bhang lassi about an hour ago. I told him not to drink his second glass but he said he could deal with it. I knew that two glasses of bhag was too much but he thought it would be okay for him. It has been more than 48 hours since he drank his second glass and he is still in his room sleeping. I asked him if he would like to drink another glass of bhang and he said never in his life again.

elephants were also there

elephants were also there

Many people have made several documentaries about Benares and its festivals but nobody has ever made any documentary about this festival. I was planning to film the festival but could not because I was busy with Josh’s project and I could not collect enough resources but now Josh wants to help me in making a documentary about this festival and I am really looking forward to it. I will try my best to make a movie about this festival and I know it will be super fun. The festival is over now and now I am excited for next year one. Har Har Mahadev.

Shivratri video

Nagada video

San Francisco guests at home

I hosted a couple from San Francisco for three weeks at my guest house. They arrived in Varanasi five weeks ago and stayed at a guest house near Assi ghat for two weeks but were not happy there as the bed in their room did not seem comfortable to them. They came to know about my guest house through Megan, my guest, whom they met in a cafeteria. Megan brought them at my place and they liked it and decided to stay here rest of their time in Varanasi. Both of them were physiologists from in San Francisco.

They wanted to learn Hindi and tabla in Varanasi. I introduced them to Indian classical music school next door and Uncle Sam liked them and decided to learn tabla there. Binit, the Hindi teacher, taught them Hindi. They seemed so interested in social work. Actually they were already working with Bal Ashram before coming to my place. Once I took them to Lok Samiti and showed them the work Lok Samiti is doing. I think they were so impressed by Lok Samiti’s work and asked Nandlal Master, president of Lok Samiti, to help him in his work.

Uncle Sam and Auntie Mar were really nice guests. They stayed only for three weeks at my place but we built such a strong relationship between us and I kind of miss them now. Uncle Sam gave me a net book which would be a great help to me as I can use it during power cuts and can carry it with me when I am travel.

Winning a television

I was watching news on India TV news channel today and it made remember of my best video of the day prize I had won on India TV three years ago. Actually once I and Lane went to see the untreated sewage discharge in Nagwa, Varanasi and Lane had a digital camera and used his camera and captured the video of the untreated sewage mixing in Ganga. Later I sent this video to India TV news channel and selected my video as best video of the day and I won a prize a color TV. I was so excited to have won this prize and actually I did not have a TV at that time and no money to buy it so the prize was really nice.

I contacted India TV and they asked me to send them a bank draft of Rs. 2300 which was supposed to be a tax which is given on lottery winning amount. I was so happy for the prize and I decided to give them Rs. 2300 as tax. I sent the money and then sent me a letter saying that I had won a TV and I could get it at the nearest Sansui TV store. Actually this latter was written on Sansui’s letterhead because Sansui was the sponsor of the program. They had mentioned their Varanasi office address on the letterhead and I went to the address mentioned.

When I arrived at the address, I came to know that the office was closed an year ago. I immediately contacted India TV again and they asked me to contact Sansui Mumbai office. I contacted Sansui Mumbai office and they asked me to contact their Lucknow office. I contacted Lucknow office and they asked me to contact them after a week. I contacted them again after a week and they told me that no Sansui dealer in Varanasi had the TV model I had won so I would have to wait again. I again contacted them after a week but same story.

I contacted India TV to make a complaint and they told me that their responsibility was only to collect money from me and send it to Sansui, that’s all, now it was Sansui’s responsibility to give me the TV. I was shocked to hear their answer. I told them that I would go to police if they don’t help me and they said I was free to do so. I was continously in touch with Sansui Mumbai office, Lucknow office, Varanasi dealers, India TV and nobody was helping me. The letter they had given me was only valid for three months and now I was going to pass this six months and I was really worried about it.

I called to the Sansui’s Lucknow and Mumbai office and told them that I was going to police and they also said it was up to me. Their Lucknow office would tell me again and again to contact them later and I just did not know what to do. Lucknow office was telling me that they were running in shortage of TVs because of the festival season. Finally I decided to go to the police to register my complaint so that I could have a written evidence of me contacting Sansui and India TV before expiration of the document. I went to my nearest police station and asked them to register my complaint.

But their response was more shocking than India TV and Sansui. The policemen told me that they did not know under which act they would register the complaint. I told them that my complaint should go under act for cheating but said they were not aware of such act. They asked me to contact the bigger police station. As I was about to leave the police station, one of the policemen sitting there called me and asked if I knew someone at the bigger police station and I said no. And then he told me that if I did not know anyone at the bigger police station, then my complaint would not be registered.

I was shocked to hear this. I finally gave up on this idea of registering a complaint and contacted Sansui’s Lucknow office again and I was pretending to be so polite with them this time. Finally after spending over six months I got my prize but I had to go to Lucknow to get it. I took an overnight train to Lucknow, got my prize there and brought it back by a bus. I am sure that I had spent more than Rs. 1500 on telephone calls and trip to Lucknow. I was not that excited for a color TV but I was more excited for a prize I had won but I had to go through some serious trouble to get it.

I have made several videos after this incident and I would have loved to send it to India TV but I just don’t want to do anymore because their approach after taking money from me was just as crazy as it could be. I just could not believe what India TV, Sansui and police did with me.