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.

Tourism in Amritsar

Lahore 23 Kms

Lahore 23 Kms

I went to Amritsar after submitting documents tour guide license at India tourism office at New Delhi. I had already heard a lot about the flag ceremony that takes place at Wagah India-Pakistan border and this was the main reason why I wanted visit Amritsar. I was supposed to arrive Amritsar on the evening of 9th but I arrived on the afternoon of 10th as my train was delayed by 17 hours. I just looked for a hotel near the railway station, put my stuff in my room and head immediately to Wagah because the parade was supposed to start at 4.30 Pm. I had enough time to reach Wagah before the parade starts, but I wanted to be there early to see what was going on.

Yea, but corrupest

Yea, but the most corrupt

The bus left me two kilometers before the border and then I had to take a rickshaw. There were a few things that I really wanted to do in Amritsar and watching people was one of them and that I why I decided to take a bus so that I can talk with more people and see them. The bus was completely full but fortunately I got a seat. I arrived at Wagah border at 3 o’clock but it was the trade time and the border entrance was not open for general public, only traders were allowed to enter to do their business. Wagah border was also like other tourist places in India.

These guys have really tough life

These guys have really tough life

There were not many shops but they a few restaurants and convenient stores and these shops had touts working for them. Several people came to me who wanted to eat or drink something at their brother’s restaurant but I think they did not know that I was from Benares where whole tourism industry is dependent on touts and I was very well aware of it. Anyways, I was not hungry at all so my rickshaw driver did not get any commission. Wagah border was the first place in India I had ever been where they were really taking care of the time.

BSF office at Wagah

BSF office at Wagah

The border was supposed to get closed for traders at 3.30 and it closed right at 3.30. After the border was closed for traders, tourists were asked to make a queue. I think there were around 3,000 people to attend the parade. There were a few rickshaws also who were telling that if someone goes with them, they will get the seat in front but I did not know how this was possible but actually it was true. There were two gates, about 500 meters away from each other. We were in queue at the first gate but the security check was in between the first and second gate. People were shouting Vande Matram and Bharat Mata ki jai and were so excited to get in.

When will we become perfect

What the hell is this?

It was all about arriving at the security check first in order to get a front seat at the parade place and rickshaws are definitely faster than normal walking speed. The first gate was opened at 4 o’clock and everybody started running to the second gate where there was a security check. Everybody was checked properly and were sent to the parade place. I was so happy to see the management but suddenly I saw something that again made me feel like we are still India. There were two policemen sitting on horses but again there was a dog standing next to them. What if the had a bomb inside his body?

BSF flag

BSF flag

I am never ever surprised to see wild animals just anywhere in India, even inside the government offices or just anywhere but near the high security zone? It was something that really surprised me. Well, the parade started at 4.30 and it was something that I am not going to forget in near future, maybe never. The parade was just awesome. There were about 3,000-4,000 people from India side but not many from Pakistan side. The Pakistan side sitting arrangement could also be seen from India side. I think there were hardly 300-400 people. I think it was just because they just don’t have as many people as us, after all we are over a billion people now.

You see this everywhere in Amritsar

You see this everywhere in Amritsar

People were shouting and jumping to encourage their side army. I was talking with locals about why such parade is organized and they told me that the idea behind it is to bring Indians and Pakistanis closer but I don’t think it is working that way. The Indian and Pakistani army men doing the parade were pretending to be so aggressive against each other and I think this is what people want to see. It was so fun. I liked it. The parade lasted for lasted for 45 minutes and finally flags were taken down from both sides and were kept in the offices.

One of the best things I had ever seen

One of the best things I had ever seen

After the parade ended and I was on my way back to the bus, I saw something that doubled my happiness. I saw females securing our border, it was really a great feeling to see females in our army. In a male dominant India society where most of women still manage only kitchen, it was a great feeling to see females securing ourselves and our border. I had already seen female police in the cities, and they look crazy and fat and lazy like male police but these females at the border seemed like they really work hard. They were managing the crowd and doing security check for females. But they were not only associated with females, they were managing male visitors as well.

Volunteers at the shoe stand

Volunteers at the shoe stand

They looked fit, they were confident, they were smart and they were really doing something. It was just amazing feeling to see them. After attending the parade I took a bus back to Amritsar and went to Swarn Mandir (Golden Temple). This temple was beautiful and really huge. I had already heard about Sikhs at the Gurudwaras cleaning the shoes of the visitors for religious reasons but I never thought that this tradition is really important for Sikhs. They had at least 10 huge shoe stands for visitors and they had volunteers working there to arrange shoes of the visitors. There were two people at each shoe stand and they seemed eager to manage the shoes.

The Golden temple

The Golden temple

Visitors don’t even needed to bring their shoes near the shoe stand, all they need to do is that take their shoes off and put it on the counter and then the volunteers would take the shoes and put them in stand. Visitors were not allowed to enter in the Golden temple without covering their head with any cloth. They had a counter where they were offering free small piece of clothes to the visitors. I also grabbed one and entered in the Golden temple. Amritsar was seriously cold. The maximum temperature was 10 degree and minimum was 0.8 on the day I was in Amritsar and walking barefoot on wet white marbled temple was making it more cold.

Langar at the Golden temple

Langar at the Golden temple

The temple was beautiful and was really huge. The temple was crowded but there was very good management so I never felt like it was too crowded. I went inside the temple, spent sometime watching people, reading wall writings and came back to hotel. I went to the Golden temple again next morning and this time I spent more time there. There was volunteer working going on everywhere. Somebody was cleaning the floor, somebody was helping with their Langar facility, somebody was distributing medicines, someone was cleaning the dishes…

No words for this

I spent almost 4 hours in the Golden temple, had my lunch in the Langar and finally headed to Jaliawala Bagh. This place is known for massacre of 2000 Indians during British Raj. Now this place is converted into a memorial where they have an art gallery, the well where 120 people fell down while trying to escape, the walls where bullet marks are still there and a few other things. This was an emotional place for of the visitors. I heard many people talking about how cruel the massacre was, of course it was. I spent about two hours there and then headed to Maharaja Ranjit Singh museum.

Bullet marks

Bullet marks

This museum was a new museum but it had no power backup in case of power cut. I arrived there around 2 o’clock but they asked me come after 3 o’clock as it was power cut that time and they did not have any power backup. It was crazy to see that the government had spent such a good amount of money to built that museum but they did not spend a little bit of money to buy a generator for power backup. I just wandered around the museum for an hour and then finally came to the museum at 3 o’clock. The museum was a good place to learn about Mahraja Ranjeet Singh’s life.

This was the last place I visited in Amritsar and I think that this trip was ver

Delhi-Lahore bus

Delhi-Lahore bus

y successful as I got to learn about Sikh religion and saw flag ceremony at Wagah border. Everything was just awesome in Amritsar except temperature. I knew that it was going to be cold but I did not know that it would be this cold. The maximum temperature was 10 degree Celsius and minimum temperature was 0.8 on the day I was in Amritsar means too cold for me. I went to the railway station to enquire about my train and came to know that my train was canceled due to fog.

This was the worst thing happened with me during this trip. I felt like I was stuck in Amritsar. I tried to get a ticket in another train coming to Varanasi but there was no reservation in it. Finally I bought a ticket to Delhi by bribing Rs. 50 to reservation clerk and booked another ticket from Delhi to Varanasi. I feel like two days were not enough for Amritsar. I would like to visit that place again someday in near future.

Child sponsorship in Varanasi

I came in contact with a Hungarian guy, Attila, who is a computer engineer in Hungary and volunteers for a Hungarian NGO (www.afroaid.hu). This NGO runs a child sponsorship program in Africa. Attila wanted to volunteer in Varanasi. He wanted to come to India next year with his wife for a year and was interested in the NGOs working with children. He was mostly interested in education programs for children. I took him to different NGOs and he was interested in working with few of them. I was already interested in working on the same kind of program so I just asked Attila if we could start our own program in Varanasi.

Attila liked this idea a lot. He said that he had very good experience of working with kids in Africa and would love to use his experience to establish the same kind of program in Varanasi. We talked about how we can start this program in Varanasi and decided to do some research first. We went to a few schools nearby to get an idea of estimated cost of the education fee for one child. Attila was interested in providing one meal everyday to the children so that they don’t have to waste time preparing their meal at home. We decided to start the program with 30 kids, 10 from the city area and 20 from the village area.

We visited Mehndiganj once because Lok Samiti has an education program and Attila wanted to see it. We visited Lok Samiti’s school and training centers. We talked with the kids and a few of them had terrible stories. Lok Samiti has a evening time classes for the day time child workers. I love this program, it is my favorite amongst all of their programs. Mehndiganj has a lot of child laborers and most of them are bonded laborers. It was really interesting to see the kids work for 12 hours a day but they still come for evening classes. I think there were more than 30 kids at the evening center.

The kids at the evening center were so innocent. They just did not know anything except what they had. They asked Attila if he had any goat at his home in Hungary, what did he grow up at his farms, how did he come to India, how much money does he make. The kids make about Rs. 1000 per month so it was very hard for Attila to answer this question. We visited a few of the training centers of Lok Samiti which is for the girls above 14 years of age. They get sewing, embroidery, dance and basic education training like reading and writing. The idea behind running such program is to make the girls self dependent.

We asked Nandlal Master, the president of Lok Samiti, to choose 20 kids from his education program who are poor but interested in continuing their education and whose parents are also supportive. We did the same thing in the city also. I knew of a few families who are really poor and want to send their kids to the school but they cannot afford it. We met twelve families and chose 10 kids who seemed interested in learning. We met a 12 year old girl who used to go a English medium private school but had to stop because of the financial problems.

I think she is the most impressive girl in our program. Her name is Rashmi and she went to the school up to 6th standard. My niece who also goes to the same school where Rashmi was going, told me about her. My niece told me that her teachers still talk about how smart Rashmi was and how she had to stop her education. We met her and I found her to be a really smart girl. She was the only girl who really knew what she wanted to become and she answered all the questions Attila asked her. Other kids also knew what they wanted to become but this girl was something different. Her mother was also very concerned about Rashmi’s education.

Attila asked her what she wanted to become and she said “engineer”. Attila asked what kind of engineer and Rashmi said “computer engineer”. Attila asked why and Rashmi said she wanted to develop some computer program that could help poor people. Neither Attila nor I were expecting that kind of answer from a 12 year old girl. All the kids whom we met were super interested in going to the schools but they were having problems. A few of them had already stopped going to school only because their parents could not afford it or there were a few kids who were smart enough to go to a good school but they were going to a government school which is just like passing time.

Finally we have chosen a few schools and we will send our kids to the nearest good school to their residence starting from March 2010. A few of the kids need basic English language training so that they don’t have any problem at English medium schools. We are working on organizing two hours of evening classes for the kids whom we have chosen for the program. Now thirty families have a hope from me because I was the local guy and I am completely dependent on Attila. Attila is back to Hungary now. He has already found few supporters and hopes to find supporters for all the kids.

We have decided to not have any office expenses until we have 50 kids. Attila will be living in Varanasi with his wife for one year and he will be managing the office work for the program. We have decided to not have an office so that all the money goes for the program. I feel so happy to be involved in this program and I am looking forward to work with Attila.