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Jaisalmer Music Man

Indian Express 26. February.93 — Headline: Lathis, gas, and water cannon foiled BJP rally.

Article text: Scores were injured in pitched battles on the streets with security men firing rubber bullets, raining lathis, and repeatingly tear gasing people in different parts of the capital.”

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India – Rich got up at 6 o’clock this morning to call America and when he returned, I was told that the Delhi riots were front page news in the states. I got up and Rich packed for his imminent departure on the camel safari while I went and checked into another hotel for that evening. Rich left for his safari leaving me to wander the streets of Jaisalmer on my own for the day. I made it back to the fort to have a look at a 500-rupee room and tell them when we would be returning. Then I meandered over to one of the bastions and sat atop looking out over the city and writing. The view was fantastic. You got to look out across a sea of boxy sandstone buildings – the entire view giving you the feeling that no part of the city was planned. It was just built haphazardly. The view finally got the better of me and I exited the fort and went walking through the honeycombed mapped streets of Jaisalmer admiring each ornately carved balconies I passed. I wandered for about an hour until I hit the outskirts of town. The buildings were set farther apart and people were even parking their camels on the sidewalks outside their homes. I headed towards the tallest nearby hill assuming it to be the fort but when I climbed the steps to the summit, I was rewarded with the most amazing site. I could see the box-shaped sandstone buildings of city surrounding the base of a huge plateau. Above them, rising majestically out of the sea of disarray, set the fort atop its plateau. This was the first time, I stepped back and looked to the fort and it was amazing and incredibly imposing all at the same time. The fort towers over the city and is the one the most impressive sites I have seen in India. Amazing. I walked to the kilometer or so back to the base of the fort and sat in the chai shop resting from my sojurn.

As I was sitting there this man came and sat near me playing the “ratta-ta”. This instrument sounds exactly like that you’d expect to here in the book A Tale of Arabian Nights – no joke. It’s small, like a violin, a coconut shell at one end with a full set of metal strings going up a stick in the middle – each perfectly tuned. The bow looks like an archer’s bow and attached to the top of the arc are a bunch of bells which are jangled in time with the song being played. The music is soothing, not high pitched and piercing like most traditional Indian music.

The music man sat near me playing away and after a while I started chatting to him and buying him tea. After about 3 hours of our tea drinking, talking, and his playing, he asked me if, I would like to go to his house that evening to have dinner, meet his wife, and rehearsing what he played. As Rich was in the desert and I had nothing else to do, I agreed. I met Hari the music man’s name, at 6 p.m. and we walked through town to the outskirts to where he lived. We walked out the Fort gate to pass the markets through this wasteland to a rather deserted section of town where a mini city consisting of rudimentary made tents sat. Hari let me to one of the tents, pulled out a thin mattress for us to sit on and began to make a fire. This was his house, a quilt balanced on two poles opened at each end. He had three children, two daughters aged to 5 and 3 and one three-month-old son.

Upon our arrival the two little girls came running out of the tent to greet their father; amazing, this was the way they lived. When we arrived at his house, he was surprised his wife was not there. But he explained that they were filming a movie out in the desert and his wife had been chosen to be an extra in the film. Hence, she wasn’t done with the days shooting yet. We had tea and Hari’s brother and another friend came over and joined us. Hari is the teacher who teaches the others how to play and actually construct these instruments. Both his brother and friend said Hari was the best player and after hearing all three of them play I agreed. Hari pulled out his file of photographs and letters that people had sent him many who had visited his home. As soon as the sun had set, I sat there listening to Hari and his brother play for quite some time chatting to them whole time. After spending a couple of hours with Hari and his family, I thanked them for the evening bid them farewell, heading back to my room to sleep. I was leaving on my camel safari the next morning. I did talk to Hari about his possibility playing in our 500 rupee room, provided we could get it when we return from our safari.

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