Diary of a trip to India, 1994

Train journey from Kolkata to Burdwan, February 1994

In 1994, Andrew Downes, Head of the School of Creative Studies at Birmingham Conservatoire, went to India in order to develop links between the Conservatoire and the University of Burdwan. His Sonata for Violin and Piano also received its Indian premiere at this time. Below you can read the correspondence relating to the trip as well as newspaper articles, and Andrew's own diary and photos of the trip.

Correspondence between Indian Music Congress and Andrew Downes about forging links between Birmingham Conservatoire and University of Burdwan, India, in 1994 prior to his trip:

Newspaper articles about the trip and the collaboration:

Itinerary for the trip:

Andrew's Diary:

left Heathrow 2pm
called at Paris


arrived Dhaka 7.30am
Long wait (3 hrs)

Driven absolutely madly through Dhaka on an old bus, overtaking both sides of the traffic. 

Taken to a damp hotel .. shared room for a few hours with a Dr, from Calcutta, but now working as a neuro-surgeon in Swansea!

Strange lunch .. rice with chicken soup … I was very suspicious of it!

Then told plane would not be till 9.30pm!

Went for walk in Dhaka …
Like walking into the Bible!
Terrible poverty, beggars, heat, palm trees, dust, old market with live animals etc.

A complete culture shock for me .. horrible, but strangely beautiful .. very green and wet, hence mosquitoes!



Arrived Calcutta. 

One of my cases, the one with all my medicines, course documents etc, had not arrived!

After lots of hassle, form filling etc, met Adi and Jimmy (Jimmy Majoo - friend of John Mayer).

Calcutta, February 1994:

Took Gillian and John to Jimmy’s then to Adi’s house, 99 Park St.
Very comfortable, immensely generous.



1)   Airport to collect case (phone 1st)
2)   City office to reserve flight.
3)   Change travellers ch.




Beautiful meal .. cauliflower cheese and soya croquettes.


1)   confirmed return flight at Biman

2)   Calcutta School of music wants affiliation, staff/student exch. Mrs Chowna writing official letter … I will repy.


Into Calcutta! 
Went to Cottage Industries to buy family presents then HMV shop to get Indian Classical tapes.

Then to see John Mayer’s birthplace. I don’t know what to say! How can someone from such outrageous squalor have done what he’s done … he’s wonderful!
But the dreadful squalor is still there, worse than ever due to more population.
How can we help to change this.
I’ll never forget it!
I feel very humble considering my own background.
Evening meal at Jimmy’s Calcutta Club and Chinese Rest.

Andrew Downes right, Gillian Mayer in red, John Mayer in blue.

Andrew Downes left next to John Mayer and Gillian Mayer

Rehearsal Cal. S O M

Calcutta School of Music:

Long Discussion with Mrs Joshan Chowna, Head.
Exch. Prog. (she’s writing letter)

1)  They send most promising students to B’ham, probably in Junior School. Adi Gazder will audition them. (put in letter … help design form with Cons. Logo)
2)  We send staff to develop various aspects of their work, e.g. Strings, Piano, Wind, Brass, COMPOSITION, synthesis, percussion etc.

Suggested staff:
J Ross
J Hilton
M Riley
P Martin (Pno + comp)
(Put in letter: any talented pupils resident in Calcutta can apply)

3)  We must get new sponsorship manager to make this top priority. Wonderful for our international image – 

Evening concert …
Premiere violin sonata wonderful!

Read Andrew's talk just before the premiere

Party at Homa + Adi
Gorgeous food

Review of the concert:


Train Calcutta – Burdwan.
Beautiful countryside.

Room at university basic but pretty … mosquito net needed!

Initial discussions with Jayshri Banerjee

Read Andrew Downes' account of the Gardens of Burdwan

Burdwan University:


Congress inauguration
Conservatoire joined for a year!
(we should pay for life membership.)

An enormous number of very boring speeches!

Lunch box .. very nice

I was then asked to chair the afternoon symposium/seminar on music criticism.

I did this … it’s very difficult to keep anyone to the point at all, and they’re very long winded, but lovely.
Still, very good for the Conservatoire abroad!

Right to left: John Mayer, Andrew Downes, Jayshri Banerjee

Back by rickshaw!

Dreadfully bumpy.


Finally got through to Cynth!
JM + I gave talk to congress. Inc. Movt III Symphony 3. Large + enthusiastic audience inc. man who wants me to go to Jaipur!

Read Andrew's notes for the talk


8.30am Breakfast in park with Vice-Chancellor
Very fruitful .. they are very keen to develop a Collaborative Association with us. I have a letter from Jayshri Banerjee to this effect. This plus her CV to be tabled, together with my report (Calcutta Sch. Of Music + Burdwan) at Faculty Board.
reply Jayshri letter, enclose report + invite her in October to inspect facilities, instruments, teaching etc.
PETER KNIGHT invite Vice-Chancellor.

Vice Chancellor’s son plays Guitar … John will audition him (I can say I have!) + report to me whether he’s suitable for Conservatoire
I hope so!

Include in report suggest Jonathan Mayer to be first student … needs to become joint first Comp/Sitar with me/Clem. 3rdyear in Burdwan


13/2 COnt.
Dreadful journey back to Calcutta. No seats on train 2½ hrs, terrible haggle over paying coolie, + with taxi driver who then drove very madly.
Harrington Mansions like a Shangri-la!.


Met Roy Chowdhury
Sitar player
Head of Sitar Calcutta School of Music

Wants to give Master Class/Sitar recital sometime between Oct 15 – Nov 15.

Delicate due to Jayshri coming?


14/2 (Cont)
Lunch at Adi/Homer’s
Beautiful beef curry.
Taxi to Airport
Great hassle at Calc. airport due to me not finding computer printout of reconfirm.
They told me I'd have to go back to Calcutta!.
Then I found the printout.
Nice flight to Dhaka, then wait from 10pm – 5am for London flight. Decided to stay in airport, + not risk a hotel or a drive to it!

Articles in University of Central England's Newsline, and in ISM Journal following Andrew's return:

Return to 'About Andrew Downes'

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