Tuesday, May 31, 2011

the two Madhukars

Once upon a time, long ago, I used to record talks of my master, Ramesh Balsekar. After nine months, I had collected a big chunk of tapes. So when Madhukar Thompson, a fellow seeker who had been to Papaji ( Poonjaji from Lucknow) asked me to lend him the tapes for writing a book on Ramesh's teaching, I happily obliged him. I remember quite clearly that Madhukar was clean shaven bald headed.

I always thought Madhukar was rather arrogant and when he ended up as a 'Guru' I was not surprised.

Once upon a time, not long ago, after Ramesh had passed away, I got a request from a friend for those tapes, as they wanted to build an audio archive of Ramesh's talks. I searched on facebook for a Madhukar. There he was, as Madhukar ji, been to Papaji, teaching advaita, etc. I was a bit taken aback to see an excessively sweet expression on his bald frame, but I thought, what the hell, people change.

I then messaged him, asking him if I can have the tapes back. I waited a couple of days, and thought, its been so long, he has probably trashed them. I was quite prepared for a 'sorry, but I don't remember where I kept them', response.

His reply drove me up the wall.

'I have transformed totally since I last met you. So I am afraid I cant help you with anything to do with my past life.'

I was too pissed off to even reply. Past life indeed. How irresponsible! How maddening. How anti- spirit of spirituality!

Now, a couple of days ago, I read on fb that Madhukar has passed away in a road accident. I was dismayed. There go my tapes, I thought. Out of curiosity, I go to his facebook page, and there he is, happily posting some stupid photographs and feel good messages of peace, etc. One more life? Transformation again? Face-booking from heaven? ( wouldn't that be heavenly?)

So I write on the status of the death post : If this is him, (Madhukar ji's link), he is still posting.

And I get a reply, 'No this ain't him. This is his website. '

And I see this grey haired, self assured Madhukar looking straight at me. Yup, he is been to Papaji too, teaches advaita too, has written many books too.

Papaji, why did you like the name Madhukar so much?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

malwa yatra page c : one gurubitten to another

When our eyes met, something happened.
something was said.
something was acknowledged.
but what?

She had long dreadlocks. my second thought when I saw her, 'why doesn't she comb her hair?'
and I realize, with a start, that she has done the equivalent of what I did long back
: shaving my head.
she had done away with combing her hair!

Parvati Baul, the singing and dancing sadhak from bengal. I talk to her about Shree Ramakrishna, one of my first obsessions.
'Yes, we shall talk about Ramakrishna. I love him.'

What more can one say about him after this?

I hear her story during an informal talk during a sleepy afternoon. ( Most afternoons were sleepy in Malwa, probably that's why I didn't feel the heat at all ).

Paravati: I have been with two gurus. The first one taught me seven songs in seven years. The second one taught me forty songs in a day. I tried running away to south India to escape being a baul. But I was hunted down and packed back to Calcutta.

Question: Why did you transit between two gurus?

Parvati: Well, the first one told me to go to the second one. The second guru was ninety seven when I met him. He had no intention to take on one more disciple, let alone a woman disciple. First of all, he was so difficult to track down. I would reach a village and they would tell me, he has just left. Again and again. Finally, I had to bribe the women of a village with a song, so that they keep him till I come the next morning.
'I will have to check with my wife. If she does not like you, then the answer is no,' this is what the master told me when I met him and asked him to teach me.
I waited outside their house in the wilderness and was finally called inside for the verdict. As I get up to go inside, I realized that I was almost sitting on a scorpion.
'You can hang around for a few days. Only, we have no space for you inside the house. You will have to sleep outside. And we have no extra blanket either.'
They thought I would run away. But I had given my word to my earlier guru.

A guru is someone who gives you Chunawti. Challenge.

And so I slept with scorpions without a blanket for a month, after which I was allowed to sleep inside the house. After three years of learning songs after songs, my second guru passed away at the age of hundred. I asked him if he would like me to stay by his samadhi and sing and dance by myself, which I like the most. He said no chance, I have to go out and dance for the world. I have to tell them that one can go deep in something without fear.

You can ask me questions now, but keep them related to the Guru-disciple relationship. It's my favorite topic."

Question: How does one know when to trust a Guru?

Parvati: Trust is actually a thing about yourself than the other. If you trust yourself, you will know when to trust the guru. It is very important to surrender to your art form, a surrender which has rigor and discipline. Its no use learning two songs from here, two from there. Immersing yourself totally in one tradition gives you a halo, an aura of protection when you are performing.

Don't expect another Ramakrishna to come to you. Those days were different. To live in this world, the Guru has to pick up some dust off the earth. The same dust that makes your body, makes the Guru's body. And once you have accepted someone, he is like your own life. "

And then she looked across two rows of heads at me and said, 'Even if your Guru goes to a prostitute, do not shake in your adherence.'

Now I know what the look said.
the mad scorpion who bit her.
was the Guru.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

malwa yatra page d

Mukhtiar Ali: Mukesh is my favorite singer. He sings straight, almost toneless. Look at this song, its almost like a conversations, its so simple.

Have you ever noticed that in all these singing competition programs on tv, no one ever sings Mukesh? Thats because the simplicity in Mukesh's singing is very deceptive. He is not an easy singer to sing. He is good for listening, for crying, thats all. And that is his style.

Me: I have heard Mukesh most when I was seventeen years old. I used to spend entire evenings all alone, crying and listening to Mukesh.

friend: Why did you cry but?

Mukhtiar : She was seventeen years old, now, why would she cry?

freind : not because of the inflation, surely.

All of us laugh. Here is a lovely song by Mukhtiar Ali.


Friend: So how many times have you made people cry?

Mukhtiar: I haven't kept a count, but yes, that is the true clap.

I: And do you cry while you sing?

Mukhtiar: Oh, I cry a lot. mein to bahut rota hu.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Malwa Yatra page B

Interview with makeshift band:

After singing till 4 a m, the next morning I pounce upon the makeshift band for an interview.

Look, Niraj says, 'Leave us alone. We haven't even brushed our teeth yet.'
'Then brush your teeth, guys. You want some toothpaste? '

Five minutes later, M: So you want to sing only Kabir?'
N: Yup.
M: hmm. Kaafi gehri chot hui hai.
N: chot to hote hi rehti hai.
m: mere paas ilaaz hai is chot ka.
n: sach?
m:Sau takaa sach. aazmaoge?

at this point sunny starts shining.

s: lets sing for her.
they sing me a song.
its beautiful.

night satsang;

makeshift band is called to sing last, at 3 30am. I walk to the bus to wake them p. I have to bribe N with a cigarette to get him off his ass.

i walk into the audience, between the entire janta and the stage, as Prahladji introduces makeshift band, joking about how these new people take so much time with their new instruments.

I offer my bottle of water to Sunny and I roll it on the stage towards him. he drinks the water, I get busy picking up flowers from the floor below, from the garlands of the night.

As they start singing, I hurl a bunch of flowers at them.

(to be continued in page c )

on the road, in the song

Malwa Kabir Yatra 2011. Glimpses.

Kailash Kher: I am not an artist

Day 1, Luniyakhedi.
We have just arrived, and the heat hits us like a blast. An ice-gola fellow with a stall is standing in front of Prahladji's house, surrounded by thirsty people under the burning hot sun. I fight the temptation to buy a gola and go inside. Shantiji, Prahladji's wife, greets me warmly and offers me a khus ka gola. 'Khus beats the heat,' she says. How can I refuse?
I slurp on a green sweet ice and watch Kailash Kher give a bath to his cute little son, Kabir.
Night, Satsang. Kailash Kher shares the manch with Prahladji and Kaluram. Kailash tells us how a cd was once stuck in his car stereo for three months. Only that cd would play, again and again. Guess whose cd it was? Prahladji's of course.
He tells us that he has come here to listen, not to sing. He sings, nevertheless, but not before this disclaimer:
"I am not an artist here. I am a devotee who is calling out to the Lord. So don't judge my song, just sit back and enjoy."
As if you had to say that, Kailash.
When he got up and left, some of the villagers crowded around him, trying to touch his feet.
Kailash responded with a joke, 'What have you lost? Kuch khoya apne yahaan?'

I am amazed.
Day two: I have gone to pick up an artiste from Turkey, Latif Bolat. In the ride back from the airport,
Latif tells me about Turkey's kabir-like mystic, Yunus Emre. Latif is very enthused about sharing the Turkish dervish with India and taking Kabir to his country.

'Turkey needs to re-open itself to Indian culture, we have so much in common. In fact, Sufism started out with mystics walking all the way to the Indus valley.
He believes that Sufism was the direct result of the first Sufi, Mansoor's travel to Indus, mingling with the sadhus here, and then coming back.
"Analhaq! (I am the truth)", Mansoor answered, when the occupant of the door he knocked inquired, Who is there?' That he was hanged for this 'blasphemy', was another matter. A lot of Sufis caught the gist of this mahavakya and started singing and dancing.

Below is a translation of a poem Latif sings for us.

Seyyid Seyfullah Nizamoglu (16th C)

The Path of Amazement

I cannot say who it is I am

I am amazed, I am amazed!

I cannot call this self 'myself'

I am amazed, I am amazed!

Who is in my eyes seeing?

Who is in my heart enduring?

Who is inhaling and exhaling?

I am amazed, I am amazed!

Who is speaking with my tongue?

Who is listening with my ears?

Who is understanding with my mind?

I am amazed, I am amazed!

Who is stepping with these feet?

Who is tasting with my mouth?

Who is chewing and who swallowing?

I am amazed, I am amazed!

Who holds these riches in his hand?

Who is the one throwing them away?

Who is buying and who selling?

I am amazed, I am amazed!

Why is there life coursing below my skin?

Why are my eyes bloodshot from crying?

Why this religion, why this faith?

I am amazed, I am amazed!

O Seyyid Nizamoglu, hear this:

Everything comes from the One.

Abandon yourself to this mighty beauty

I am amazed, I am amazed!

The flying ghost
Day three, Luniyakhedi, Prahladji's house.
We are all sitting on his first floor verandah and having our meals when a sudden sand storm blew on us and our paper plates went helter skelter in the tornado.
Bhanwari Devi's ( the soulful folk singer from Rajasthan) son Kishan in conversation with a local, as I eavesdropped.
Kishan: Do you know how this sand storm arises?
Local : Of course I do. It's an angry ghost.
Kishan: Look where my paper plate is flying. High in the sky. Full power this ghost is.

When onions fell out of the camera person's dupatta.
Those of you who have lived in hot temperatures, specially in childhood, must be aware of the cooling powers of raw onion. Most of us have had to submit mutely to grandmothers rubbing onion juice on our feet to ward off a sunstroke. Since I was in charge of the medical kit, half a kg of onions were packed in my bag.
Whenever anyone complained of the heat, I would hand over an onion and tell them to either rub it on their bare feet or at least carry it with them. Even smelling an onion can stop a nose bleed. And that's how the onion fell out of the camera person's dupatta.

The fast slow down number.
Makeshift band, the young manzil gang from Delhi, came up with a new, fast version of the song, 'Halke gaadi Haanko.' (drive slowly).
I quite enjoyed the beat, in spite of the seeming contradiction. Prahladji came upto Niraj on the stage and hugged him, saying that the lyrics are far more important than the tune, and as long as the song is heard, the purpose is served.

Niraj has promised to upload the song on his facebook page. My favorite of their songs was Ekela mat chod jo banjara re (dont leave me alone, o traveler). Niraj would half close his eyes and sway as he sang. Here is a link, to banjara, not so well recorded, but as Prahladji said, the lyrics are the loaded material.

on the road, in the song

We were two buses full. Both were overflowing with song. We stop for a chai. Its hot inside the bus, its not cooler outside either. As I walk back to the bus with the chai in my hand, I see Mooralala Marwada sitting on the road, in the shadow of the bus, happily humming a song by himself. Mooralala is always happy to sing.
I sit next to him, and am surprised to hear him sing, 'Jara Halke Gaadi Haanko'. We try to sing the whole song, and together we remember most of the words.
The next couple of hours in the bus are spent in learning this song by heart. Mooralala has a problem with the phrase, 'Bilakh bilakh kar chidiya royi, bichad gayi meri jodi'.
He would instead sing, ' Dagaj Dagaj kar chidiya royi, ...'
'Its bilakh bilakh, bhai. Crying her heart out.'
'Yes yes. Bilakh Bilakh kar, chidiya royi, chichad gayi meri jodi.'
Finally, I dig out a pen. 'Lets write it down, ' I offer.
He shakes his head, 'I cant even sign my name, ' he says, 'If I was educated, I would have reached places by now. But never mind, its quite perfect, the way it is. No point in going faster. Let the road flow smoothly. Let there be spaces between us. If we try to compete, there will be a crowd. Jara halke gaadi haanko, mere Raam Gadi wale...'

Tujhe hai showk milne ka,
to har dum, lu lagata jaa

A song I know since two decades. Prahladji is busy, tired and always surrounded by people. But I get him alone on the fifth night.
'Please sing this song for me, Prahladji.'
'Which song? I don't know this song.'
I have recorded this song in his own voice on my mobile during the web archive editing work I do at the Kabir project.
I play the song on my cell and refresh his memory.
'Oh, this one?
Ok, I will sing it. Let me listen once more, I forget the words....'

...Two nights later, I hear this song on the speakers, and I run towards the stage, with tears in my eyes. The latter part of the song, however, has changed drastically. From Mansoor mastana, it is now Kabir who is calling out, suno bhai sadho...

Note: I would like to invite all of you who were in those buses, to write in your experiences, the high points and the low ones of the yatra, from your favorite music to how you felt when we were kicked out of the dharamshala after sleeping for less than an hour...