Jul 24, 2014

North America Tour 2014, Part 1

Shri Rama Jayam

We left India on the 10th of April. In fact we had just returned from attending our Family Shri Ramar Temple Navami Celebrations and also just back from an Anubhuthi Fusion Concert at Hyderabad.
Raghu ji , Violin Vidhwan, arrived on the day of travel, and we were all assembled to leave at around 9PM. I think Amma had made Panneer and Fried Rice on the day we left. There were 8 big baggages in all, that included two custom made Mridangam boxes. For the very first time we were going to fly by Cathay Pacific, and the flight was via Hong Kong. I would say that the check in process was pretty hassle free (compared to the last year, when all our baggage was opened up for further inspection). Once we boarded the flight, the first thing we checked were the movie collections the flight offered. The movies selection was pretty disappointing, compared to Air India. There were just a couple of Malayalam Movies. Anyways, personally I had decided that I will not get my eyes red (from watching movies that is), like the last time.  The crew was indeed mostly Chinese, as expected. The Food provided was good. It really helped that I drank quite a lot of water and when we deplaned I did not have a red eye!!! Flying Cathay was definitely a nice experience.
First stop in the Tour was Hong Kong, and I sort of liked the landing scene. We had to spend a few hours there, and whilst we were there, Raghu and I decided to just check out the airport. I remember taking a flight of stairs which brought us in front of a wide array of shops that mostly sold Food and cosmetics among other things. We had this interesting conversation, and Raghu informed me that even though Hong Kong is not actually China, the place was itself controlled by China. He works in the HR management for his company and had some insight on all these details. Anyways, there was no Food we could buy, as they were all Mix (Veg and Non Veg) outlets, and we were also not really hungry.

The Tour was two months long and we were covering 25 cities in all. Over two months, we would have walked quite a few miles across airports, I am sure. Escalators and walkalators were adorable. We got so used to them that during rare circumstances when we did not have these facilities in some airport, we would miss them so badly.

The two black custom made Mridangam boxes was a master stroke. Only a Mridangist could tell you how concerned they would be about the instrument.  Just two Mridangams for 24 Concerts, within two months, in different weather conditions is a huge ask.  Approximately 5o times the Instrument would be loaded and unloaded by the baggage crew. For them, this is a daily task and God knows what the Instrument endured when it was handled so many times by different pairs of hands. I can now tell you that the box did hold up and the Instrument was very gracious and stayed fit for all the Concerts throughout the Tour. The very first indication of any wear and tear to the box was when we landed at Columbus, towards the latter part of the tour. One of the wheels had come off, but it did not compromise on the greater purpose for which the box was made, that is, to protect the Instrument. So, good job by the Calcutta Manufacturer and good decision to get the boxes.

So, here we are , flying from Hong Kong to Los Angeles. Flight was very comfortable and most importantly, travelling through Cathay to the West Coast, saved a lot of time. And landing at LA, as opposed to Chicago (if you travel by Air India), also saved a lot of time with all the formalities we go through when one lands in the US with a Visa. One of the things to remember when one travels is that Ignorance is Bliss, but not when you are unaware of the contents of a baggage you are carrying to the US!!!

With all the immigration (or emigration or whatever) formalities out of the way, we were looking forward to San Diego, one of our favorite destinations in the United States. The fact that our Cousin lives there (of course the family has relocated now to Atlanta) made it all the more interesting. Lakshman is my dad’s cousin sister’s son and also the grandson of the one and only Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. A laugh riot is guaranteed whenever we meet up with the family. The entire family is huge fans (like so many others in world) of my dad’s amazing sense of humor. I can never say enough, about how he manages to get people into splits of laughter. It is also true that the same joke will have only half the impact when somebody else recounts. Humor comes so easily to him (like , sort of a birth right), which is the only explanation I can think of.
With Laskhman Anna before the Concert

Lakshman Anna, Uma Manni and Maya are the great hosts with whom we actually stayed for the third time. This was our third Concert at San Diego, and we had stayed with them on earlier occasions too. Lakshman Anna was already there at the airport when we arrived, and he announced his presence by shouting “Koshava!!!!!” which is by far the most affectionate term he uses. After exchanging pleasantries (more words like Koshava , that is), we were on our way home. Had the first experience of loading so many baggages into the rear of the car. Big cars in America is the norm rather than the exception and the four of us squeezed in (major part of the car was occupied by the baggage) with Lakshman taking the wheel.
The San Diego Festival conducted by Indian Fine Arts, who were also sponsoring our Tour along with the Aradhana Committee of Cleveland, had already begun. One of the best Music Festivals in the United States that celebrates Indian Classical Music, the entire Event is so well organized. San Diego itself is such a gifted place, blessed with very pleasant weather round the year. The city is also home to many Indians and the Festival has grown leaps and bounds over the last few years. We were slated to Sing the next day, and as I had foreseen, the jet lag worked to our advantage. By around 9.30 PM, Western Time, sleep announced itself rather forcibly.

Concert Day! The Ragam Thanam Pallavi was in Ragam Bhageshri. The last two times in San Diego, the Ragas were Jog and Brindavana Saranga. I also remember  that we started the tour with a composition of Dr BalaMuraliKrishna, a Padha Varnam in Shanmukhapriya (Omkaara).

The feature of any North American Tour is generally that the weekends are filled with Concerts and one may take the weekdays to recover from all the loss of sleep that comes from hectic travelling during the weekend. This sort of works, mostly because things are so well organized. Roads are good and the airports have very good facilities. Most of the airports provide us with curbside check in facility, which was, God sent for us. With all the huge bags, this really came in handy. The vehicle could be parked just alongside the curb, and we merely had to quickly shift the baggage from the car to the check in point, generally manned by a couple of friendly persons. For the kind of baggage we were carrying 10-15 USD was reasonable tips, and we could just walk in to the flight. The key is not to worry about the point of time when we have to get down from the flight, claim our baggage, load them into the car, and unload them at the host’s place, not to forget that the next morning we are very likely (actually assured) of going through the same routine all over again. Having said that, travelling as a team is fun, and one hardly notices all this. There is so much of chit chat and wise cracks. Above all, the Musical Discussions and Insights that would happen in between all this is truly a great feeling.

The next destination was San Jose!


G. Ravichandran said...

Very nice to read about your tour... Waiting for the Part 2... GOD bless you...

Avneet said...

It was interesting to read your tour!!