Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Swar Hi Ishwar Hain

“Swar hi Ishwar hain…. Through sound u can reach God….Sound is above Song, which is affected by language, story, state, literature etc” – Ustad Amjad Ali Khan.

I might be forgetting some of his words here but I cant forget the music which is still playing in my head. Today, I went for a concert of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, at the Vice Regal Lodge, Delhi University, organized by SPICMACAY. The concert started at 6 pm with Ust Amjad Ali Khan giving a few thoughts about swar and explaing the audience the difference between the Indian n Western music. He started off then with Raag Ganesh Kalyan. This raag was formed, as he fondly remembered, using a tune he was humming one day. He first sang the tune n then played the raag. The audience comprised of people from all ages, both Indians and foreigners. The Vice Regal Lodge lent an air of Victorian era to the ambience. The sound system and acoustics of the venue were good. The raag had many moments where the audience burst into clapping applauding the artists. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan was accompanied by Mithilesh Kumar Jha and Fateh Chand, both on the tabla.

The second raag of the evening was Raag Durga which is also known as Pahadi and is based on the folk songs of Himachal Pradesh. Between the raags he took a break and explained the audience why he needs to file his nails during a performance. The sarod strings are strung on a board made of stainless steel and does not have frets like the sitar or the guitar, much like the violin. He explained that the violin was played using finger tips and then demonstrated how the sarod would sound if played by the finger tips instead of nails.

Raag Durga was a very melodious with the distinct folk feel to it. In between he also indulged in a jugalbandi with the tabla artists who were equally talented. His histrionics left the audience in splits when he deliberately missed a note or two to which the tabla players had already committed.

From where I was sitting I had a very good view of Ustadji and it was a delight, not only to hear the music, but to watch him play as well. The movements of his head which matched the tempo of the music, the encouraging glances to the other artists and the little bits of info he gave about music.

The evening ended with a bhajan - ‘Vaishnav Jan’ which was played beautifully .. as if the sarod was speaking the words. Towards the end he also played ‘Raghupati Raghav’. I think I enjoyed this part of the performance the most. The songs were known and hence I could relate to them more easily as compared to the earlier ragas.

With thunderous applause the concert came to an end. The evening totally rocked. The event was dedicated to Ustad Bismillah Khan.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


It was my last weekend in Denmark and I was hell bent upon visiting Skagen - something which had been put away for a long time. How could I be in Denmark and not visit Skagen all this while? Thankfully the weather was kind and we did have some sunshine. So we gathered at the Aalborg Train Station and we got a discounted pass to travel to Skagen. The first train would take us to Fredrickshavn. From there we took another train to Skagen. The journey was fun with little talks, leg pulling etc.
Skagen station is an old but well maintained yellow building. Right outside the train station is the bus stop. We saw that the next bus to go to the beach was about 2 hrs away so we unanimously decided to hire bicycles. One of us didn’t know how to ride so we got a double bike for him and another guy. Got 11 bikes and pedaled off; in the wrong direction. It was not before 10 minutes when we realized we weren’t any closer to the beach. Change of direction.
The town of Skagen is beautiful. It is a part of the Jutland peninsula in northern Denmark. Most buildings in the old town are distinguished as low yellow houses with red tiled roofs providing a perfect backdrop to this charming place. Like most Danish towns this is a quaint little place with well preserved medieval buildings, cyclists, people chatting at the café tables. The town of Skagen has been the abode of many a Danish artists, especially painters, writers and even music composers. The picturesque locales makes this place really inspiring for these artists. The 60 km long coastline of Skagen is incomparable. The sea, the light, the air, the sand - Skagen and the elements seem to be inseparable.
En route we had to take a stop as two of our cyclists apparently got lost and had a lot of ground to cover. We took a break near this lighthouse (above) which we used as a landmark for signaling our location to those two guys. So while they cycled to this point we snacked on cakes, biscuits and namkeens. Soon we were joined by the lost cyclists and they took a short break. Meanwhile the rest of the guys tried their hand at the double bicycle which had caught everyone’s fantasy.
There is another lighthouse at Skagen which was constructed in 1850. Resumed our journey towards Grenen (The Branch), which is the base point and parked the cycles. From here you can either walk or take a ‘Sandmobile’, which is nothing but a tractor pulling a trailer, to the beach. We decided to walk. Popped up a few beers and started walking towards the beach. The flags of the four Nordic countries Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway (Missing - Iceland) Just outside a cafeteria at Grenen.
From Grenen it would take about 15 mins till the ‘point’, which is the northernmost part of Denmark. It is also the meeting point of North Sea (Skagerrak – the strair that separates Denmark from Norway) and Baltic Sea (Kattegat – The strait that separates Denamrk from Sweden), which is what makes Skagen so remarkable.
You can stand at this ‘point’ and notice the oceancurrents and waves coming from your left clashing with the ones from you right and creating a sort of sand carrying mist.
Walked a little in the waves and then we found a good spot and had lunch. Lazed around for a while and then we started a game of football. It soon dawned that no one of us was in good shape and stamina. Still we managed to play for about 45 mins after which there was just enough energy left to get back to the rest of the gang and lie down and have some beer.
Although the water was cold, we noticed that the temp in the North sea was marginally warmer. So it was decided that we take a plunge in the North sea. The temp was such that only 3 people finally decided to venture inside water. The water was cold and with each step it seemed to be getting colder. We reached a point where there was a kind of sand bank. We sat there and soaked some more sun. Finally we decided to get all wet and swim. Surprisingly, after this the water didn’t feel so cold and we stayed in it for about 15 mins.
Out of the water and finally soaked some sun, chatted with friends, drank beer and watched the ships at a distance. I remember spending a lot of time quiet on this trip as this was my last weekend in Denmark and I was kind of capturing the impressions in my mind. Something like soaking the feeling of being in Denmark for the last few days.
Enjoyed a Café au Lait at one of the cafes in the old town of Skagen and finally took the train back to Aalborg.
I *heart* Denmark !!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Homecoming

 I am still coming to terms with being back in India. I wonder how this short stint of 2 years has made me become so unaccustomed with the things around here. Sometimes to the point of embarrassment, when I tell people it’s very hot in here. Sounds too NRIsh. Anyways, since the airlines in Europe allow only 20kg luggage per person, I had to leave back a lot of stuff in Denmark. The first thing I did after landing in India was to go and buy myself slippers the next day. I headed to Paharganj. Took a rickshaw to ‘Cheh Tooti Chowk’ which cost 10 rupees. Indian economy is booming and the rickshaw-walas are also entitled to their fair share.

After the purchase of the slippers I couldn’t resist from visiting my fav jalebi shop which is at ‘Cheh Tooti Chowk’. For all you people, who love those thick succulent heavy jalebis with the sugar syrup dripping down and like to have them hot out of the wok, this is the place for you. So I head over to the two jalebi shops side by side and ask for 250 gms of jalebis. I note that the rate is Rs 50/- per kg from Rs 40/- last year. People keeping abreast with the growing economy - I smile to myself. Those two shops have been there since forever. They don’t have names but ask anyone and he will guide you to these shops. I remember the face of the cashier who also weighs the sweets n hands them out to the customers, but the rest of the people have changed. And even though it may be new faces, the person behind the wok will again be wearing the trademark baniyan.
As I dig my teeth into the first jalebi I see a Chinese/Korean/Japanese tourist stop and take pictures of the jalebiwalas with an expensive looking SLR. The batter being poured in perfect shape as the imartis are being made. It’s an art, the way the batter filled cloth is squeezed, the pattern emerges in the oil. Like the hands of some artist, the jalebiwalas hands move in constant, precise and calculated manner. He doesn’t have time to pose for pics. His job doesn’t offer him the luxury of making mistakes as not many people will be eager to eat a deformed imarti. People will buy a deformed piece of art more readily though.

Moving on from the Oriental tourist, I scan the area and see many more tourists. Paharganj is a fav amongst backpackers. You will find loads of them here at all times. Though all guidebooks recommend traveling to India from Oct – March, these people are here in the peak summer months and that too in Delhi. The temperature doesn’t offer them any respite. I hoped to see some Danish guys around, but there weren’t any. Don’t get me wrong, Danes are very fond of vacations and 3 weeks of vacation in summer and later in winter is a norm in the offices. But India doesn’t seem to be a fav destination as I came across very few people in Denmark who had visited India.

A young Caucasian lady is buying bangles at a shop, those big lac bangles. Another Caucasian couple is being led by a travel guide who tells them that he’s a student and does this as a part time job. An oriental couple with a map, trying to locate the New Delhi Railway Station perhaps. As I capture all these things happening in my surroundings I feel connected to these people in a strange way. Not long ago I was also in a similar position traveling in some country, where I was only for a small time. I had also roamed on the streets with a map in my hand. I was also buying souvenirs and sometimes cursing the weather.

The market offers these people what they want - Cheap accommodation, economical meals, travel agents, transport, communication, mineral water, toilet paper and a good amount of Indian culture.

Too much for my first day in India. I head home with my new slippers.

Monday, August 13, 2007

You know you'v been in Danmark too long if...

- You can say rød grød med fløde, Blåbærsyltetøj, and Angstskrig.
- You love salt lakrids.
- You think there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
- You cannot understand why not every type of meat can be put together on top of bread.
- You think it’s impolite to sit next to someone in a bus if there is a seat you can sit on by yourself.
- You honestly believe that the distance between Copenhagen and Aalborg is long.
- You can tell the difference between a Grøn Tuborg and a Carlsberg beer.
- The first thing you do on entering a bank/post office/pharmacy etc. is take a number. You accept that you will have to wait and take a number.
- When a stranger on the street smiles at you, you assume that:a. he is drunk;b. he is insane;c. he is an American;d. he is all of the above.
- It no longer seems excessive to spend 800 kr. on alcohol in a single night.
- You know that “religious holiday” means “let’s get pissed”.
- You use “Mmmm” as conversation filler.
- The word “yes” is an intake of breath.
- Traditional dinners may not necessarily mean a cooked meal.
- You forget how to open canned beer.
- You can’t remember when to say “please” and “excuse me”.
- Your wardrobe no longer has suits… but blue shirts, mustard colored sports jackets, and lots of denim.
- You don’t mind paying the same for a 200-metre bus ride as you do for going 10 kms.
- You don’t look twice at businessmen in dark suits wearing white sport socks.
- You start to believe that if it weren’t for Denmark’s efforts, the world would probably collapse.
- You find yourself more interested in the alcohol content than the name of the wine.
- You know the meaning of life has something to do with the word “hyggelig”.
- You wouldn’t dream of coming even 10 minutes early to a party.
- You find yourself lighting candles when you have guests - even if it is bright and sunny outside and 20 degrees C.

I came across this article on the internet and saved it to post it sometime when I leave Denmark.

Well folks, its goodbye Denmark. Saturday I flew back to India. The onsite deputation which was supposed to be for 6 months, lasted for 26 months. In the
course of time I came across many new people, visited many new places, learnt many new things. Whatever time was spent there was amazing and will probably be
remembered for a long time.

The weather was exceptionally good the last week that I spent in Denmark. On the 4th of August I went to Skagen with a few friends and we cycled, walked,
played football on the beach, dived in the sea and had a great time. (Will put up a post about it later). Thursday was a lovely farewell party by some
friends in Aalborg. Friday was another farewell party at office. Though I regret not being able to meet most of the client people since they were away on vacations.

With this comes the end of a long & lovely chapter in my life.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Egeskov Slot, Odense

This weekend I was off to visit the Egeskov Slot (castle) near Odense, which is about 400 Kms from Aalborg. The journey of 3 1/2 hrs was filled with fun and masti in the bus with the typical games like antakshari, Dumb , a small breakfast and lots of beer.

Egeskov estate is spread over 1131 hectares, with the castle n parks amounting to 20 hectares, and is located in the south of the island of Funen in Denmark. The castle is Europe's best preserved Renaissance water castle. Egeskov's history dates to the 14th century.

Through his marriage to Anne Trihuus in 1545, Frands Brockenhuus took over a large farm in the village of egeskov. Acquiring large areas inside and outside the parish through inheritance n purchase and in 1554 the manor was replaced by the existing castle.

The castle is a genuine moated castle built directly on the lake. According to the popular legend the oak piles on which the castle stands gave rise to the name. Egeskov in Danish means oak wood. The Count's War during which many of the manors were attcked by the peasants was probably the reason why Frands Brockenhuus wanted to build a castle which was, to all intents and purposes, inpenetrable. Egeskov reflects a time of unrest. In 1986 Count Claus Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Bille opened the castle itself to the public.
There are about 8 rooms open to the public of which The Hunting Room is the most popular. It was used as Count gregers Ahlefeldt-Laurvig-Bille's study and shows his great passion for hunting. Many of the game trophies are rare as the Impala below which has remarkably long horns (90 cms, while the normal is 50 cms). The room contains trophies brought back from British East Africa and the Congo - Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya of today.
From his jouneys in Africa, the Count brought back many souvenirs like these plus objects of ethnogrpahical interest like head dresses, jewellery and weapons. In The Hunting Gallery, many of the Count's trophies are displayed along with weapons from many countries. The Count was one of the most famous hunters in Denmark and one of the very few who were granted permission to hunt with bow n arrow. The trophies are displayed with the arrow that brought them down. In one corner is one of Egeskov's 'privies'. The castle was extremely luxurious for its time, with 17 lavotories.
The Victorian Room was furnished with typical items of furniture, brick-a-brac, curtains, carpets, upholstery from the Victorian period which were in the family's possession. The paintings and photographs show members of the family.
Titania's Palace is a palace made by English painter and officer Sir Nevile Wilkinson for his daughter. This palace took 15 years to build and has 3000 components collected from all over the world.

Egeskov's wooden man lies under the spire. Its is said that if he is to be removed from the cushion , Egeskov will sink in the moat on Christmas night. Because of this legend the family never used to celebrate Christmas at the castle. Traditonal Danish rice pudding is served to the wooden man so that he can share it with the castle elves and the human occupants can celebrate Christmas in the other rooms.

The Vintage Motorcycle Museum carries a collection of old bikes. A must see for any auto enthusiast.

The gardens around the castle are to enjoy the warm sunny afternoons with a picnic spread and to marvel such beautiful surroundings.

The picnic also had people from our comapny spread across Denmark. About 150 in all. A delicious Indian lunch followed by not so delicicious sweets and finally a group of 25 people returned back to Aalborg.