Sunday, February 22, 2009

Gypsy Soul

Penny and I have been kidnapped by two romantic Sufi-poet loving Indians and are still in Jaisalmer! We met them on the first night we landed here in Jaisalmer- one of them named Asharaf owns the internet cafe where I practically live and the other Ishaack owns the hotel where we have now moved to. Penny and Asharaf hit it off right away his cafe (SOCH- Spirit of Centre Harmony), and Ishaak was there also hanging out. Penny and I changed hotels immediately after our one night in the desert and ended up surprisingly at Ishaak's hotel "Hotel Haveli". So it has been a most curious arrangement.

Penny and I booked our tickets to Pushkar for the 22 and really planned on going. We want to get healthy (I still have a horrid cough that refuses to leave) and we are both really tired. We were at SOCH yesterday- I was doing some catch up emailing- Asharaf showed Penny a pamphlet called "Arabian Nights" that takes place out in the desert. His uncle runs the venue, and he was inviting us to go that evening. I was drawn to it immediately (obviously) as there was going to be a Rajasthani Band and dancers. Because I am not going to make it to Udaipur I'm itching to catch a traditional dance show so I was sold immediately. We changed our tickets to leave on the 23rd, did some shopping in the fort, had our palms read, went back to pack an overnight bag and we were off!

We were driven out to Sam - which is a huge sand dune area that is a very popular tourist spot out in the desert. Asharaf's uncle (Roger) owns a resort like complex with about 15 thatched huts around a bonfire area. There are 15 horses on site, and a really fun tractor for dune buggying in. It was scorching hot, so I retreated to my hut to have a rest and a shower to freshen up. Penny went on a horse ride through the dunes, and when I awoke Roger took me on a very insane tractor ride through the dunes, freaking out all the camel riders! I was bumping around like crazy, and it gave me a head ache afterwards...probably wasn't good for my whiplash ridden neck! Asharaf spirited Penny away on a beautiful Royal Enfield bike to watch the sunset, so I got really worried when I came back and she wasn't there...but she came back unscathed and bursting about the beautiful sunset they watched on top of the dunes.

The Rajastani band reminded me very much of the band from the movie "Latcho Drom". The lead singer (looked like Johnny Depp but gypsy style!) had a heartbreaking haunting voice, and the rest of the performers also played very well. They had a dohl drum, a harmonium, little wooden castanets sticks, a double wind flute, and a tabla in the band. I was sitting at the front on the ground and was held captive by the call and answer singing demonstrated by "Johnny Depp" and a young boy playing the castanets. There two dancers that performed, one was a transvestite dressed up in loads of makeup and a shiny golden costume (very common for gay men to dress up and perform as women here in the Rajasthan..apparently it brings good luck to the audience) and a very bored looking woman in sea foam green. The audience was a women's group from Delhi and they were having a very good time, shrieking, dancing, and laughing.

The sea foam green dancer piled on 7 metal pots on her head and danced around the fire, stood on 3 swords (edge up), and also stepped into a silver dish and hopped around with a heavy hip twist all with the pots on her head! It was pretty impressive, and was my favorite performance from her.

Asharaf told Roger that I was a bellydancer so Roger insisted that I get up and perform with the band. The band started off with a very funky dhol rhythm so that was easy to dance too, but then the band went wild! They were musically going all over the place so all I could do was choo-choo shimmy! So shimmied I did for about 5 minutes (basically till my legs fell off). It was fun dancing though, and it made me also realize how out of shape I have gotten here!

Penny also got up to dance to a little tune, and was exuberant after finishing- she hasn't belly danced in10 years and man is she a natural! It was at this point that a group of gypsies showed up- 3 women and a few other band members. One of the little girls got up to dance and she blew me away. She was also like the dancers out of Latcho Drom, she had a very cheeky style and moved with precision and grace. Dancing was so natural for her, and it oozed out of every pore. She demonstrated a crazy back bend, picking up a 100 Rs/ note with her teeth! Penny and I were enchanted and after she finished dancing, I went to sit with them and bowed at her feet!!
She is a tiny little thing, like the Rajasthani desert people, and wore beautiful seed bead jewellery around her neck. She had little puki shells on beaded strands on her chest, so when she shimmied they make a lovely deep twinkling noise. I was absolutely in love with her and even though we could not communicate, the feeling was definitely mutual. All of the guests left shortly after dinner, so we had the entire gypsy band and dancers to ourselves. There were 5 very drunk Indian men who showed up and dominated the group, requesting songs and dances and throwing money on the performers. It made me very angry to see these men with their huge bankrolls of notes tossing money on the ground for the gypsies to pick up. But the dancers ignored them mostly and Penny and I danced with them all night long, while the band played all sorts of ragas. My little gypsy girl was there with her mother (another tiny women wearing a beautiful magenta dress and was decorated with tribal jewellery) and her little cousin who was a saucy 13 yr old. I was en cloistered in their huddle of skirts, veils, all holding hands and was privy to their shy laughter and obvious annoyance at the drunk men. They would lean into me and rest their head in my shoulder or into my chest and laugh. It was so nice to be included in the gaggle of gypsy girls. We would get up and dance, swirling under the desert sky to the sad arpeggio of Johnny , the whining harmonium pitches and the thumping dohl drum. The girls seized me and marched me out the gate to the outside of the complex. I looked over my shoulder and waved goodbye to Penny and Asharaf...I was being kidnapped by the gypsies! We went outside and all started to dance, the girls doing some crude pelvic motions (imitating the drunk men) and us all collapsing in laughter. They then all spread out their skirts, gently sunk down into a squat and began to pee. I was only wearing a short dress and my leggings so I couldn't engage as gracefully as they did, and they all laughed when I tried! They looked so royal and I felt like an arse!
The drunk men requested some gypsy songs, so the girls broke into a fast but haunting song with lyrical voices with a strange range of notes. Tears sprung to my eyes, and my little gypsy girl grabbed my hand as she sang. They then burst into another one, and the little cousin kept laughing and moving her veil over her face so I assumed that it was a naughty song. The voices sailed over the still air, and I could feel the vibrations in the air from the tones they hit. It was very special, and I wish that I had a way of recording it.
They band and dancers stayed till after 1 and we danced and listened to the music till then. I had my own private Rajasthani band and dancers...what an experience! The band will be coming to Canada on tour in May, so hopefully they will make it to Vancouver. I'm dying to see them again! Johnny Dep wanted me to give me one of his Cd's in Jaisalmer the next day but sadly he didn't materialize. They are on YOUTUBE though, so when I locate the link then I'll post it so that you can see the band. Amazing.
Our driver ended up taking the gypsies back to their camp, and I was invited over and over again to come to the village in the morning to see them again. Ishaak promised them that we would come, so they left very happy. I gave the two girls my bangles, and my gypsy girl gave me one of hers, a red jewelled on. I went to sleep in my hut listening to the remnants of the band sing drunkenly with the drunk Indian men. The singing soon turned into loud snoring...and I was awake for the rest of the night coughing like crazy and trying to ignore the snoring!
Ishaak came to awake me at 6:30 am to watch the sunrise but I had just fallen asleep and was too tired to get out of bed. Penny woke me at 8:30 am saying that Roger was taking us back to Jaisalmer and that we had to go now. Roger had been on my case the whole night before about us staying there for the following night. He wanted to bring the best male bellydancer to the place and have him and I do a show together. Roger was very pushy and I was getting uncomfortable. I told Ishaak that Penny and I had a plan to leave to Pushkar the next day and that I wasn't going to stay for another night there. Ishaak told this to Roger, and Roger got very weird with us. But I didn't feel comfortable at all with Roger- he made quite a few comments to me on our tractor ride- and there was no way I was going to do a full bellydance show for free. So in the morning I had about 10 minutes to get ready and pack up my stuff and off we went. Roget told us that there was no way that we had time to stop in at the village to see the gypsy family, and I felt terrible. Penny and Asharaf followed our jeep back to Jaisalmer on the Enfield looking like a glamorous Bollywood couple. Penny had a light in her eyes that I have never seen before, and I felt that we should stay on another night in Jaisalmer. We got back to town and decided that we would stay on for 1 more night which made the boys very happy. Ishaak set us up in a room in his hotel for free and we all relaxed in the room for a couple of hours. Ishaak and I went to the market and hung out for a while. It was Asharaf's brother Sokat's 19th bday so we gathered him from the Internet cafe (where he spent all day working for Asharaf) and met up with Asharaf and Penny at this delicious pure veg restaurant. I quickly paid a visit to the Sai Baba temple that belts out tunes 24/7 on the way to the restaurant and had a little word with Durga- asking for a blessing as I was going to travel the next day. We enjoyed a lovely meal of chana, Kashmiri pilau, and saag paneer. Penny had picked up a colourful egg less birthday cake (the boys wanted to eat it before dinner!) and we all sang "Happy Birthday" to Sokat who had never had a birthday cake before! We had to remind the boys of the was such a lovely evening. I was starting to feel a bit sick again though and had to go home shortly after dinner. Ishaak wanted to read me some poetry he had written but I was wanting to go to bed.
I had such a lovely adventure in the desert and again was reminded that I need to be open to spontaneity.

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