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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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