Bengaluru and KGF… an unforgettable experience.

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Day 1

My flight had been delayed and after a tense wait at immigration with a passport that wouldn’t scan I was feeling pretty tired by the time I finally stepped onto Indian soil and into the enveloping Bengaluru heat. The ride through the city was a revealing first glimpse of India. I had described India in a song for the project as ‘colour and noise’, and that seemed an accurate description on first viewing. The vibrant colours of the ladies outfits complimented the beautiful flowers hanging from the trees, and car horns provided the soundtrack for the drive through the city as vehicles jostled for position on the busy roads. 

I was fortunate to be staying with my oldest friend and her family, now settled in Bengaluru. There is a magical quality to friendships that have lasted a lifetime, and stepping into her apartment time and country melted away, and we could have just as easily been little girls whispering at the front of an English church in our matching outfits, or teenagers on our first weekend away from parents in Scotland.

The children immediately welcomed me as a part of the furniture, and within hours I was being dressed by a 5 year old aspiring fashion designer in a makeshift outfit far more stylish than the one I had been travelling in! Over the coming week the family would prove to be the most generous and thoughtful hosts possible and with so many logistics to contend with for the project work, the success of anything achieved here is thanks to their support and encouragement.

That first day was a blur as I settled in to Bengaluru life, unsure what time (or day!) it was, my first ride on an auto rickshaw quickly snapping me out of my stupour as we weaved through the city’s streets, a frightening and exhilarating experience more real than any fairground ride could provide. 

Day 2

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Today we visited the new ‘Indian Music Experience’, a meticulously curated museum in the heart of the city that paid homage to the long history of music in India, and to its brightest stars. The stern security guards that manned the building showed a touching pride of place as they pointed out every last detail, determined that we should witness everything on offer. 

Day 3

I ventured out alone for the first time into the bustling market streets of Jayanagar and congratulated myself on my bartering skills as I picked up some gifts for family back home. I passed by a wizened old lady begging. I didn’t think of her again, but found that as I tried to sleep that night she appeared clear in my mind. It unsettled me, and I felt keenly the unfairness of birth, and how being born to my English family had immediately given me a tremendous advantage over others. She was still with me as I woke the next morning.

Day three also saw us celebrating Holi. It may not have been the riotous affair of the local bars and hotels, but the joy on the faces of the children as colour misted the air and stuck to our clothes was an experience I will never forget, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Day 4

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Today I was treated to lunch at a nearby hotel, its pool providing welcome relief from the searing heat. In the evening I met Pooja, an exceptional artist and performer who will be contributing her beautiful singing to our project. You can imagine my surprise on hearing she had studied in Plymouth and knew Cornwall well!

Day 5- KGF

On my fifth day in Bengaluru I woke at 3.30am filled with anticipation of my impending visit to KGF, an aircon induced thirst, and a serious annoyance that a mosquito had bitten me on the sole of my foot! By 8.30 I was on the road with the kind and thoughtful driver Pradeep and on my way to meet Mr Neal Joseph from the KGF School’s Foundation who had kindly offered to accompany me to the Kolar Gold Fields. I was interested to learn more about the KGF School’s Foundation as profits made from sales of our project CD will go to them and the Cornwall Heritage Trust. The more I heard the more blown away I was by this group of ex pupil’s passion and dedication to keeping the school at KGF going, and providing an education to children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. They fund teachers, uniforms, resources and much needed building repairs, and have planted extensively across the school grounds transforming the outdoor area for the children.  I saw the newly developed electronics program that offers education and training to school leavers, paving the way to employment opportunities. I came to the conclusion that the KGF School’s Foundation are a dedicated, self sufficient and frankly incredible group of people and if in any small way we can contribute to the work they are doing it would truly be a privilege to do so. If you would like to know more about their work check out their website by clicking here.

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Mr Joseph guided me through KGF, explaining the infrastructure of the mining communities and showing me buildings whose grandeur has now faded, and whose well maintained gardens are now dusty reminders of past glory days, a lack of water making it near impossible to retain the green and fertile areas that once bejewelled this remarkable place. I was fed a delicious lunch in Robertsonpet, and shown around the KGF club where I had the joy of meeting it’s manager Victor, and the wonderful Dr SriKumar who has helped us so much with our project. Dr SriKumar has devoted himself to preserving the history of  KGF and I wished I had more time to talk with him, a brief meeting only making me more determined that this would be the first of many visits.

My impression of KGF was that it is a beautiful place. Yes, I can see it is very different to what it once was, but it’s incredibly rich history and natural beauty shine through. Hearing Neal Joseph’s experience of growing up there, and the strong bonds that still bind its people throughout the world, I came to the conclusion that this is a truly unique place on earth. KGF’s future is uncertain, but the work of the KGF School’s Foundation is a beacon of hope and the legacy KGF has left in the lives of its people and its place in the history books in undeniable. Like Tom, I was touched by the warmth of its people and humbled by the generosity of their welcome.  This is already proving to be a lengthy blog, but you can read Tom’s blog here if you would like to hear more about KGF.

Day 6

Today I met with one of our collaborators Venky DC at his studio. He quickly had me settled in, and marvelling once more at the warmth and hospitality that seems to come so naturally to people here. We got to work on the tracks for the project album, and his skill, experience and professionalism were immediately evident. As well as working though the tracks I was also able to witness his skill on both Tabla and Harmonium and left the studio feeling certain the Indian side of the project is in safe hands.

Day 7

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The next morning, after a walk around the beautiful Lalbagh Botanic Gardens it was on to the second day of recording and today we joined forces with Carnatic singer Gayatri Chandrashekar who has also written a fascinating book on KGF. People often talk about the spirituality of India, and as I heard Gayatri and Venky sing I understood why. I was close to tears and incredibly moved by something far deeper than just the beautiful sounds they made.

After a very productive day of music making I travelled to a different part of the city to meet with Bridget White Kumar. Bridget has also written an excellent book on KGF and was delightful company, her skills as a well known chef evident in the snacks she provided! Bridget also writes an excellent blog on KGF which you can find by clicking here.

Day 8

As my time in India draws to a close, and I prepare for the long journey home, I feel it will take me several weeks to process all I have seen and done here. This is a country that leaves you breathless, a beautiful assault on the senses that changes you in ways you perhaps don’t fully appreciate until much later.

 When I think back to myself as a girl, too shy to talk to anyone at school and hiding behind my hair, I begin to understand why I’m left exhausted by meeting so many different people in such a short space of time. But I can genuinely say everyone I have met here has been truly wonderful. The Indian welcome is like nothing I’ve experienced before and I will never forget the kindness shown to me since I have been here. I have missed my family and my fellow band mates, but that has made me more determined that the next visit to India will be together. I love a good scheme, and this is one I will start putting into motion on my return to England. Thank you to everyone I’ve met in Bengaluru and KGF for welcoming me into your home, places I now love and will return to soon x

Tom reflects on his visit to KGF

On the day we officially launched Kolar’s Gold I happened to be halfway through my first visit to India, staying in Bangalore. As luck would have it a colleague in the UK had put me in touch with a wonderful couple, Frederick and Reeba, who are relations of his from Bangalore. They generously offered to take me and my wife Jill to KGF, the Kolar Gold Fields.

The morning of the launch saw us hurtling along the highway out of Bangalore in Frederick’s little blue car. Pulling off the motorway we traveled along unmade country roads between boulder-strewn hills, skinny livestock roaming in the fields between and regularly straying into the road. As we neared KGF Frederick told us that a house in this area costs the equivalent of 5-10 pence per month to rent.

 The hills receded and the fields became interspersed with miner’s cottages; small concrete dwellings of one or two rooms. Colourful stalls sprang up along the roadside, announcing our entry into KGF proper. The buildings, still very humble, began to display a markedly European influence as we pulled over to await our rendezvous with Pastor Benny, who Frederick had appointed as our local guide. We followed Benny’s van through KGF, past houses, churches and shops which spread out across the gently rolling countryside. Cresting a hill, we saw the first of many gaunt hoist towers which crown the disused mineshafts, gradually rusting away.

 A short way up a dusty track we stopped at Pastor Benny’s church, built by one of his forbears in the colonial era and pastored by subsequent generations of his family ever since. Stepping into the pleasantly cool interior we were greeted by Benny’s father who had been a mining safety inspector in the 60s. Like everyone we were to meet on this visit, Benny’s father spoke wistfully and at length on KGF’s glory days, when it had been at the forefront of technological and social advances. On the relationship between Indian and European residents, he was harder to draw. On the whole he painted a positive picture of a shared culture and pastimes; the ‘Britishers’ did indeed get all the best jobs and authority positions but also often shared in the dangers faced by the Tamil miners. Personally, he greatly appreciated the legacy of the British in terms of the impressive number of well attended churches dotted around KGF.

 ‘So would you say the two cultures rubbed along well?’ I asked

He nodded, ‘’Yes, of course.’

‘But would you say you were friends?’ Jill prodded, ‘Did you have British friends?’

He gave a small laugh and shook his head.

 I’ve heard ‘The British Raj’  variously being feted as a benevolent endeavour, benefiting both parties, and more recently vilified as callous, exploitative oppression. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the truth as expressed by the Indians I spoke to is somewhere in between. Those at KGF were incredibly proud of the advances their mixed community had made during the colonial era. There was much talk of technology, trains, roads and workers’ safety which obviously benefited the local workforce as well as the European former mine owners.

 With these thoughts whirring around my head, we set off on Benny’s tour of KGF. We drove down the track past Benny’s house, a gracious stone barn of a building which had been divided into small apartments for European mining families. Before Benny’s family moved in, his apartment had been occupied by an Italian family. On the other side of the road was a straggle of the one or two room concrete shelters which had housed the Tamil workers, unkempt and overgrown.

 The track wound down to a shaded valley housing the ‘Crushing House’, where machines used to pound the rock from the mine down into smaller fragments. Behind the massive rusty gates, and the grim security guard, towered an imposing stone building adorned with rusty fittings and a raised conveyer, spanning the valley, to transport the pounded stone to an unseen destination. When Benny was young, he would sit on the high bank listening to the great machines, watching the stream of rock emerge from the conveyer belt opening cut into the building’s gable.

 Joined by an inquisitive gaggle of local schoolboys, we wandered out of the valley and up to KGF train station. We stood around chatting to the boys (who spoke amazing English) and watching the goats wander over the tracks. Frederick told us that the train from KGF to Bangalore is one of the longest in the whole of Asia. There is now hardly any work in KGF, and so several thousand people cram onto the morning train to work in Bangalore each day, returning at 9 or 10pm.

 We hopped back in the car and went to look at several of the old shaft entrances – decaying iron headgear squatting over impossibly deep shafts guarded by unsmiling security guards. I tried to ignore the baleful gaze of one such custodian as I peered through the gates of ‘Edgar’s Shaft’. In front of the shaft was a small and much decayed lorry with a tank on the back. This, Benny explained, was the truck that brought water to the residents of KGF when he was young. Water is a big problem faced by KGF residents because the mines spread underground for miles and miles across the area, which means it is not possible to use bore holes.

At another of the shafts we could see a collection of rusted vehicles gradually being overcome by vegetation. Benny pointed out two old buses which in their way had both had quite a bearing on his life. One took him to school as a child, and the other was used to transport the gold out of KGF.

I found it really poignant walking around with this man – so many of his memories were given physical form in the buildings and machinery we saw. But they are all gradually decaying, reminders perhaps of happier times which have now past. Nowhere was this more obvious than at the KGF Club.

I was loitering outside trying to get a good photo when the uniformed caretaker approached our little group. To my surprise he offered to show us around and so we walked through the attractive gardens and up to the front door. 

Walking round the KGF club was fascinating, emotive and faintly disquieting. From what I could tell it is near enough preserved as it would have been when India became independent, but the custodians now have limited resources to maintain such a grand complex. 

As we were shown through the bar to the indoor badminton court, we were confronted with walls and walls of black and white photos of the KGF Club's leading lights. 

‘Have a look at the photos.' Said Benny 'You might find a relative!'

He might have been joking, but as I continued perusing the many photos of white men, I was all too aware that Benny's race would have initially prevented him from joining his club.

As our tour drew to a close I sat quietly in Frederick's car and tried to process all I'd seen. I don't really know what I'd expected, but it was certainly nothing like the potent mix of nostalgia, pride, poverty, beauty and ruin that I had found. In the midst of so many conflicting emotions there were some things I was completely clear on; in many ways KGF was one of the saddest places I have been to, but also it was one of the most beautiful and welcoming, with immeasurable pride in it's past and so much goodwill from all those who are connected with it. In short, I had well and truly fallen in love with this place.

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And....we're off....(almost)....!

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It has felt a long time coming but tomorrow our project ‘Kolar’s Gold’ will finally launch. You may have seen our posts in the past few months and wondered why we chose to wait until now to ‘officially’ begin the project?

We decided early on that it was important that we had a good understanding of the Kolar Gold Fields and its history before we began working on the creative elements of this project. We are in no way experts on the Kolar Gold Fields, but the past few months have been a labour of love as we have trawled through all the resources and information we could lay our hands on to build a better understanding of the place and its people. There is still much for us to learn and whilst the creative side will take center stage from this point, the research is ongoing and we look forward to what we will learn in the coming months.

It was also important to have all the logistical elements in place, recording across continents is no mean feat, so we needed to get musicians and recording facilities organised before we began work on the actual music.

We should probably admit though that we couldn’t quite resist starting to think about the music for this project, we are musicians after all ;-) There have been little clips of tunes and songs floating around our WhatsApp group for a while now as ideas started to flow. We will meet in a couple of weeks to begin working together on the music and are very excited to see what develops!

As I write, Tom is in India with his wife Jillian. During their trip they are visiting KGF, and Tom is meeting some of the Indian musicians we will be working with on the project. He is thoroughly enjoying his time there, despite initially over indulging in delicious curry!

We’ve said it before, and we will undoubtedly say it again, but this project would not have reached this point, or been possible at all, without all the help and support we have received from people in India, Cornwall and throughout the world. There are too many people to name individually here, but you know who you are, so -THANK YOU!!!

We hope you enjoy the new project folder on the website which will be available from tomorrow, 1st February. We appreciate there’s a lot of information to take in at once, but hopefully it’s easy enough to dip in and out of, or just make a cuppa, line up a few biscuits and immerse yourself in all things KGF :-)

We will keep you posted as the project progresses, we can’t thank you enough for all the support we have received, here’s to an exciting year!