Sunday, 4 September 2011

Can you hear the drums, Fanindra?

Apologies for the frankly appalling post title. Actually no, I take that back - gratuitous Abba references are nothing to apologise for. And this post is all about drums.

I'm just back from a very enjoyable evening in Hauz Khas with a friend of an old friend of mine from school (one of the advantages of growing up in multicultural Manchester is that friends of friends are to be found all over the place). He took me to the Delhi Drum Circle, where anyone with a drum can turn up to the park next to the madrassa and beat out some rhythms. It was a lot of fun (and made me think about buying a drum, which I've never really considered before) with a whole range of Delhi citizens of all ages:

(This was by far the most popular of the participants, a very stately and dignified old Sikh gentleman who got down and shook his thang like a teenager. Needless to say he was whooped and cheered to high heaven every time he did so.)

There were also some very impressive acrobatics from this chap who wielded a staff that was set alight at both ends:

The rhythms came thick, fast and fierce as the surrounding parkland gradually darkened, and the crowd pressed in around the drummers clapping and tapping along. There's something very primal about drumming, and it has a way of creating a feeling of unity among a group of strangers that has a magical quality to it. As we huddled together under the threatening monsoon skies, there was an undeniable power hanging over the crowd that had the circle of beating hands as its focus and that reflected in the eyes of everyone there. It was next to impossible not to move your body in some way, and while I didn't go much further than some appreciative foot tapping, we were treated to some pretty wild dancing from some of the ladies present:

...which inspired some to go to some effort to get a better view.

In some ways the evening was a reflection of the city. This is not traditional India: the Drum Circle concept originates in the USA, and as my new friend Rishneet pointed out, across much of the country the women having such a good time tonight would be castigated for their behaviour. Even the instruments were, for the most part, of African rather than Indian origin. But the Punjabi rhythms and the love of dancing are a quintessential part of the makeup of the country, so it's no surprise that the event has become so popular. So Delhi: a city subject to increasingly cosmopolitan influences, the face of a country with an increasingly global outlook, but with its cultural roots firmly entrenched despite centuries of foreign domination.

The evening was rounded off perfectly with dinner at the Gunpowder restaurant in Hauz Khas, which served up a fantastic Keralan fish curry and a paratha so light, fluffy and tasty that it rivalled those at my much-missed local restaurant in Peckham, Ganapati. Hauz Khas scores a hit again!


Glenn said...

Chris, fabulous post yet again - experiential reading. I have always been a bit apprehensive of taking a trip to India because of what I've heard from others, but your blog is inspiring me to make definite plans for a long overdue trip to India. Thanks.

Chris said...

Thanks Glenn! You really should come - I was the same for a very long time, I shied away from India thinking I'd just end up getting a horrible stomach bug and be overwhelmed by poverty. The reality is quite different (though I recommend caution with regard to the street food!). Let me know if your plans come to fruition :-)