India–Let’s take a tour

If you’re a novice to India and are considering a visit–and you should be!–you may want to get an idea of where things are in order to start making sense of the place. Let’s spend a moment with a map of India’s states and take a tour.

Let’s start our virtual tour where India started, in Madhya Pradesh, whose Bhimbetka rock shelters boast the earliest evidence of human life in India. Madhya Pradesh, known as “the Heart of India” because of its location smack dab in the center of the continent, is also the heart of India’s most concentrated region of Hindi-speakers. (Five hundred million people in India speak Hindi.) In class we sing several songs in Hindi: “Baar Baar/Happy Birthday,” and two songs celebrating Diwali–“Diwali Aayee,” and the Diwali-celebrating raga, “Pah an Chunariya.”

From Madhya Pradesh we’ll head southwest to Maharashtra, home of Mumbai, India’s most populous city and the city with second highest population in the world (14 million — that’s a lot of people), In addition to being the center of India’s film industry, Bollywood, which we’ll all come to know and love over the course of this session, Mumbai (formerly
Bombay) spans several islands on India’s western coast, making it a logical home to the Marathi-language song we sing in class, “Whalhav re Nakhwa” which takes us on a boat, rowing out across the Indian ocean.

Next we go a little further down the western coast to Goa, long known as a haven for hippies and then ravers. Goa was a Portuguese colony for 450 years before the hippies descended, and today its culture retains a tinge of its Latin past. In class we sing “Ut Re Moora,” a waltz about losing your chickens, in Konkani, Goa’s primary language.

Just a bit further south, still hugging the Western coast of the continent, we find ourselves in Karnataka, home the bustling Bangalore, known as India’s Silicon Valley because of
its thriving hi-tech industry, and a center of Indian Carnatic classical music. In class we sing three songs in Kannada, Karnataka’s main language — “Naanu Batheen Jaathrege” which will take us to the fair, “Pickle Song,” which turns very quickly into a tickle song, and “Chukke Hakki,” which will inspire us to reach for the stars.

Moving on counterclockwise to the southern tip of India we find ourselves in Tamil Nadu, “the land of the Tamils,” India’s most literate and most urban state, and also among its most historically and culturally rich. In class we forget all that and sing in Tamil about our clothes (the “Tamil Folk Song”).

We continue our tour by going up the eastern coast where we land in Andhra Pradesh, known as “the rice bowl of India” because of its vast stretches of rice paddies. Though 95% of the people in Andhra Pradesh are Hindu, the state was once a center of Buddhist learning and is now home to one of India’s most signifigant Muslim populations, which lives in the state’s rapidly modernizing capital city, Hyderabad.

In class we sing “Chandamama,” a song about the sweet moon, in Telugu, the main language of Andhra Pradesh.

Move further up the eastern coast and eventually we get to West Bengal, which boasts Himalayan mountains (complete with their own awesome railway), the flood-prone Ganga Plains and the sprawling city Kolkata, also known as Calcutta, a city that has a reputation for poverty as well as for revolutionary zeal. West Bengal borders Bangladesh, and shares much of its language and urge for independence from India.

Our tour of India ends in Assam, a far northeastern Indian state nestled at the foot of the Himalayas between Bhutan and Bangladesh. Assam is a center of eco-tourism in India, promoting itself as the home of Bengal tigers, Asian elephants, and the almost-but-not-quite extinct one-horned Indian rhinoceros. In class we sing two songs in an old Assamese dialect, “All the Kids in the House,” a cheerful tune welcoming visitors, and “Hello Neh Neh,” which is less of a song than an excuse to tickle your hids.

That was quite a journey, and yet we missed so much! We didn’t go to Gujarat, birthplace of Gandhi. We didn’t visit Kerala to experience “the Good Life.” All that fun will have to wait for another day.

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