01/12/2010

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A Story from India

The Commonwealth Games in Delhi has put the spotlight on India, provoking thoughts and inspiring travel to the Sub-Continent.


Chauffeured cars, tuk tuks, elephant rides and slow trains will introduce you to storybook characters at every turn.The backdrop may be one of the great bustling cities of Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata.A flight away are the slowboats of Kerela's backwaters and the expansive beaches of Goa.If things are getting too hot you may head north into the hillstations of the Himalaya.For those in need of the spiritual the scene may be the holy city of Varanasi on the River Ganges, the Golden Temple of Amritsar, or a simple ayudervic retreat.As your tale unfolds a sitar and tabla play a lament to a chance encounter amongst the palaces and forts of Rajasthan, meanwhile back at the Taj Mahal....

Anyone who travels to India will return with a story, and here is mine.

In the late 1990's a friend, Kevin, and myself travelled around Southern India.Towards the end of our trip we arrived in the old French colonial coastal town of Pondicherry, in the state of Tamil Nadu.After checking in at a small hotel we wandered towards the sea front and were approached by an Indian gentleman, who asked us if we wanted to appear in a film.Eyebrows raised, curiosity engaged, we listened to his pitch.

We were taken to meet a film director who explained that he was making an historical film about a Tamil poet and independence fighter, Subramanya Bharathi, who was active in the late 19th, early 20th centuries.The hero was attempting to liberate his people from French colonial rule.Our roles in Bharati were to be Frenchmen in a Military band, dutifully performing the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.An actor playing the Tamil poet hero would then make a rousing speech directed at a French colonial administrator.We knew this would be a pivotal point in the film so we resolved to put any misgivings we may have in playing Frenchmen aside.

For our services the director offered to pay the sum of 200 rupees a piece.We only had one question, where do we get changed ?

We were driven to a costume trailer near the seafront and kitted out in white French military uniforms, complete with pillbox hats.Kevin was handed a trumpet and I was issued with a snare drum.We stepped onto the seafront promenade location which was now surrounded by several hundred locals, all vying for the best viewing position.It was a real film set, cameras, lights, technicians, the big time.We then met the rest of our band, two Belgians on a cornet and a trombone.

After two rehearsals we went for a take.The French national anthem was played off camera as  I drummed off beat and the brass section mimed unconvincingly.The Belgians sniggered as Kevin and I looked resigned to ending up on the editing room floor.

It was thirsty work and the crowd were expectant, so time for a break to alter camera position and for a runner to bring us cool drinks.The director's assistant came over to give us some encouragement.Perhaps it hadn't been such a good idea to employ two unknown Belgians and Englishmen from the streets of Pondicherry.

Good to go for one more take and we were now in character, Kevin became le trompettiste and I, le batteur. This time synchronised with the music, stomachs in, shoulders back, chests out, we transformed into a marching band.The Tamil independence hero entered the scene and made his rousing speech and the only Frenchman on set playing a colonial administrator, looked astonished.

It was a wrap. Applause all round and feeling pretty good about things we retired to the costume trailer, military service over and each one of us 200 rupees richer.

Dinner that evening was with the rest of the cast - the two genial Belgian chaps and the Frenchman with his paparazzi girlfriend, who had taken some 'on location' photos.I have a couple somewhere in an old shoebox.

A decade later I can report Kevin never picked up another trumpet and my snare drumming days for the French military fortunately never turned into anything more.As for the Belgians, we never heard from them again.

Everyone should escape to India once in their life and return with their own tale to tell.

A few friends will be now be laughing, thinking ''not this story again ''.
I promise that's it, until the next time....

Mark Rawn

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