CONCERT FOR INDIA’S ENVIRONMENT, Pune, India, Jan 2004
Creating the “Concert for India’s Environment”, Pune, India. 3rd Jan 2004
Two Key Meetings
The concert was the result of two extraordinary meetings. The first, early in 2001, was with Dr Erach Bharucha, surgeon, photographer, author, environmentalist and Director of the Bhartiya Vidyapeeth Institute of Environmental Education and Research (BVIEER), on the far side of Pune. At the time I was searching for recordings of Indian birdsong to use as background to the music on a CD project, and was told that there was indeed a gentleman who had compiled such recordings living in Koregaon Park – in fact just around the corner from me. He opened the door to this stranger, heard my request and was, within a minute or two, hunting out his last remaining tape copy and pressing it into my hands. It turned out that not only had he been all over India recording birds, but was also a wonderful wildlife photographer. Once he started telling me some of the stories that went with getting his shots over the previous fifty years, I was hooked -here was also a master storyteller! From that moment on we were friends and I determined to do something for him in return for the tape. He took me to see his brand new, environmentally friendly auditorium that he had built at the Institute. I promised then and there that I would inaugurate it for him musically.
Over the following years, with his love for – and deep understanding of – the wilderness in India, Erach became my guide and mentor to India’s environmental issues. He took me to areas on the fringes of Pune city that were still wild, where leopards could be still heard – and occasionally seen – in patches of primeval forest. It was an India I had little idea of, and as he began to explain the many issues facing local people living in such areas, where his Institute was introducing environmental awareness into the local schools, I found myself wanting to do something for this India too. (Erach video interview)
I am lucky enough to have seen some of the most lovely places in India since I first came in 1975. But no-one who visits as often as I do can fail to notice the increasing destruction of the forests, the pollution of the rivers and beaches, the growth of slums, the carving up of the countryside in the name of ‘development’. Erach helped me to understand that educating the current generation of children and youth will be the vital key if this is ever going to turn around – after all there are so many of them for one thing! And naturally they have higher material expectations than their parents and grandparents. How on earth is India going to support them? If our planned concert and film could raise awareness about the work of the dozens of groups in India focused on environmental education -all desperately underfunded! – I’d be happy.
The opportunity came about thanks to the second meeting. This was with Paul McCartney, who, as a result of buying and falling in love with my CD ‘Celtic Ragas’, invited me to play a concert at his wedding in Ireland in 2002. (a story told elsewhere) I formed the Celtic Ragas Band especially for the occasion, and afterwards, back in Pune, suggested to Erach that we try to repeat the same concert at his as-yet-un-inaugurated auditorium. Central to the plan was to invite Sir Paul and as many other ‘notables’ as possible to help raise awareness for the cause of conservation in India.
So, in the autumn of 2003, we start planning an ambitious multimedia concert. In addition to the music, we want visuals, ambient background sounds, schoolkids reading their own poems about nature, and it should all be filmed and recorded for posterity….. I’ve never done such a thing before and soon find myself at the center of an Indian whirlwind!
First things first: the music. Only two members of the band that played the McCartney wedding are not in Pune: guitarist Jamie and accordionist Sadhu. I’m fortunate to have Adarsha and Dinesh (on keyboards) to hand to replace them. We start rehearsals right away; we have lots of new material since that previous performance. The next priority is to audition child poets; fortunately BVIEER is connected to a local primary school with a very enthusiastic teacher. Hiring equipment and crew for sound, projection, lighting and audio recording equipment, as always, has to be done early. I need to find an event manager, a stage manager and stage decorators; two film cameramen; plus someone to arrange transport (the venue is right across the highly polluted city of Pune from where we, and many of our other foreign guests are staying at the Osho Commune; we will require four full-sized buses to bring them over). South Indian food will be served by my Tamil friends Shiva and Shruti (Shruti has to double up on this and be guest singer on two songs). I need to cook up a Powerpoint presentation of Erach’s photos to be projected behind the band and publicity material to attract local bigwigs and people of influence. All this without a budget!
Erach and I soon realize that we will have to schedule an extra, matinee performance, so that his staff and students, and the parents and friends of the poets and important locals who won’t be able to make the evening performance, can all see the show for free. We will have to set everything up the day before and then be down to the Institute early on the day itself.
As the big day nears I’m issuing invitations, and printing and selling tickets around the Osho Commune. Volunteers have jumped in to fill all the roles and I have five wonderful children to perform their poems. Derek Julien, legendary Indian guitarist since the ‘70s, has agreed to mix for us. Avesh (Osho’s driver) and Svargo will bring their skills and pro cameras to film it. The visuals have been shaped to fit the music (and vice versa!) Adarsha and I have whipped up two delicate new instrumentals; Shruti brings two songs in Hindi on the theme of nature and the seasons; the rest of the music will be from my recently-released CD ‘Karma Circles’.
Then on the eve of the gig our Artistic Director, who was to have flown in from London, emails to tell us that his mother has just died and won’t be coming. My partner Naveena jumps in, takes herself off her role as tanpura player in the band and begins tackling the Mac computer controlling the projector and the ambient sounds that are to be central to the overall ambience of the concert.
The ‘Stage Set Up’ film gives something of the flavour of those weeks. The bags under my eyes are pretty obvious!
At the end of it all we had our two concerts: one free, by invitation to staff and students at BVIEER and parents and friends of the schoolkids; the second at a nominal charge (we didn’t break even – Erach and I split the loss) to our ticket holders (Paul, sadly, was not among them!).
The full team headed down to the Institute early. From then on I was constantly on my mobile, calling back to Koregaon Park. Had the buses that had been arranged confirmed their arrival outside the Commune ready to pick up our audience? (Answer: no. In fact they would turn up an hour late). Any sign of the truck with Shiva, Shruti and the catering? (Answer: never turned up at all. Rush hire of alternative meant that the food arrived three hours late). Where was our Mac technician who was supposed to help us set up the projection? (Answer: stuck in traffic). I felt proud of my band – relaxed enough to improvise a new piece of music (heard in the ‘Stage Set Up’ film) even while chaos swirled around them. Indian girls were hand stitching and ironing backdrops; potted plants were being heaved into place in front of painted panels; Naveena was fighting with the recalcitrant Mac; schoolkids were being rehearsed for the umpteenth time about their cues and entrances.
Of course I had to finally put it down and pick up my sarod to play the afternoon show. From the moment Erach’s stunning images began to cascade across the screen behind me and my recordings of forest birds and stream sounds (two years previously I had got up at 4 am to go up a mountain in Sikkhim to record these before any traffic sound erupted from the town below) hushed the audience I felt immersed in an ambience of awe at nature’s beauty, and a silence that comes from being touched inside. The music followed effortlessly. The kids were way more confident than they had been in rehearsals. As I watched them I realized that probably the most touching part of the whole experience for me had been getting to know them. India is in good hands if they are typical of the new generation!
By the evening show we were wildly overtime. Shiva was still frantically serving dosas to hungry customers, who had had to wait hours for their buses to actually depart, and then endure an hour of traffic pollution. They then had to put up with the usual Indian speech-making (Erach mercifully kept his to the point!) and ‘felicitating’ before the music could begin. On the edges of the packed auditorium I noted the overflow of uninvited guests arriving to perch themselves on stairways, in doorways and on every available bit of exposed floor (there’s no need to rent a crowd in India – one will always spontaneously form!). The last speechmaker left the stage. I looked around at the band: everyone smiling? Good! Finally we could play.
The camaraderie inside a good band is a joy to be part of. When I look at the film of the concert today, I see the smiles being exchanged between us and remember just how good it felt to be amongst such loving friends. We had all learned our trade in the Osho Commune: music wasn’t for expressing ego desires to be special, or prove oneself; it was to dissolve into. I remember looking out into the audience too: Erach in the first row, beaming; the rest of the team, finally sitting after their labours; Western Osho sannyasins jumbled up with ordinary local Indians of all ages, all rapt on the audio and visual sensations emanating from the stage. I remember too the long pauses after each number, the audience so stunned that for a long moment they forgot to clap (greater praise than any amount of applause!).
Watch the CONCERT FILM