I have heard Ravi Shankar play on the sitar. He has everything one can imagine: the personality of a singer, the mastery of his instrument, and the gift of innovation, which is rare in classical musicians.
He is immensely interested in the new. He has played with Yehudi Menuhin. No other Indian sitar player would be ready to do it because no such thing has ever happened before. Sitar with a violin!
Are you mad? But innovators are a little mad, that's why they are capable of innovation.
The so-called sane people live orthodox lives from breakfast till bed. Between bed and breakfast, nothing should be said. Not that I am afraid of saying it, I am talking about them. They live according to the rules. They follow lines.
But innovators have to go outside the rules. Sometimes one should insist on not following the lines, just for not following's sake, and it pays, believe me. It pays because it always brings you to a new territory, perhaps of your own being. The medium may be different but the person inside you, playing the sitar, or the violin, or the flute, is the same: different routes leading to the same point, different lines from the circle leading to the same center. Innovators are bound to be a little crazy, unconventional... and Ravi Shankar has been unconventional.
First: he is a pandit, a brahmin, and he married a Mohammedan girl! In India one cannot even dream of it - a brahmin marrying a Mohammedan girl! Ravi Shankar did it. But it was not just any Mohammedan girl, it was the daughter of his master. That was even more unconventional. That means for years he had been hiding it from his master. Of course the master immediately allowed the marriage, the moment he came to know. He not only allowed, he arranged the marriage.
He too was a revolutionary, of a far greater range than Ravi Shankar. Alauddin Khan was his name.
I had gone to see him with Masto. Masto used to take me to rare people. Alauddin Khan was
certainly one of the most unique people I have seen. He was very old. He died only after completing the century.
When I met him he was looking towards the ground. Masto didn't say anything either. I was a little puzzled. I pinched Masto, but he remained as if I had not pinched him. I pinched him harder, but still he remained as if nothing had happened. Then I really pinched him, and he said, "Ouch!"
Then I saw those eyes of Alauddin Khan - although he was so old you could read history in the lines of his face. He had seen the first revolution in India. That was in 1857, and he remembered it, so he must have been at least old enough to remember. And he had seen a whole century pass by, and all that he did this whole time was practice the sitar. Eight hours, ten hours, twelve hours each day; that's the classical Indian way. It's a discipline, and unless you practice it you soon lose the grip over it, it is so subtle. It is there only if you are in a certain state of preparedness, otherwise it is gone.
A master is reported to have once said, "If I don't practice for three days, the crowd notices it. If I don't practice for two days, the experts notice it. If I don't practice for one day, my disciples notice it. As far as I am concerned, I cannot stop for a single moment. I have to practice and practice, otherwise I immediately notice. Even in the morning, after a good sleep, I notice something is lost."
Indian classical music is a hard discipline, but if you impose it upon yourself, it gives you immense freedom. Of course, if you want to swim in the ocean, you have to practice. And if you want to fly in the sky, then naturally it is apparent that immense discipline is required, but it cannot be imposed by somebody else. Anything imposed becomes ugly. That's how the word "discipline" became ugly, because it has become associated with the father, the mother, the teacher, and all kinds of people who don't understand a single thing about discipline. They don't know the taste of it.
The master was saying, "If I don't practice even for a few hours, nobody notices, but of course I notice the difference." One has to continuously practice, and the more you practice, the more you become practiced in practice. It becomes easier. Slowly, slowly, a moment comes when discipline is no longer a practice, but enjoyment.
I am talking about classical music, not about my discipline. My discipline is enjoyment from the very beginning, or from the beginning of enjoyment. I will tell you about it later on....
I have heard Ravi Shankar many times. He has the touch, the magic touch, which very few people have in the world. It was by accident that he touched the sitar. Whatsoever he touched would have become his instrument. It is not the instrument, it is always the man. He fell in love with Alauddin's vibe, and Alauddin was of a far greater height - thousands of Ravi Shankars joined together, stitched together rather, could not reach to his height. Alauddin was certainly a rebel. Not only an innovator, but an original source of music. He brought many things to music.
Today, almost all the great musicians in India are his disciples. It is not without reason. All kinds of musicians would come just to touch Baba's feet: sitarists, dancers, flutists, actors, and whatnot.
That's how he was known, just as "Baba," because who would use his name, Alauddin?
When I saw him, he was already beyond ninety; naturally, he was a Baba. That simply became his name. And he was teaching all kinds of instruments to so many kinds of musicians. You could have
brought any instrument and you would have seen him play it as if he had done nothing else but play that instrument for his whole life.
He lived very close to the university where I was, just a few hours' journey away. I used to visit him once in a while, whenever there was no festival. I make this point because there were always festivals. I must have been the only one to ask him, "Baba, can you give me the dates when there are no festivals here?"
He looked at me and said, "So, now you have come to take even those away too." And with a smile he gave me three dates. There were only three days in the whole year when there was not a festival.
The reason was there were all kinds of musicians with him, Hindus, Mohammedans, Christians, and every festival happened there, and he allowed them all. He was, in a real sense, a patriarch, a patron saint.
I used to visit him on those three days, when he was alone, and there was no crowd around. I told him, "I don't want to disturb you. You can sit silently. If you want to play your veena it is up to you, or whatsoever. If you want to recite the KORAN, I would love it. I have come here just to be part of your milieu."
He wept like a child. It took me a little time to wipe his tears away and ask, "Have I hurt you?"
He said, "No, not at all. It just touched my heart so deeply that I could not find anything else to do but cry. And I know that I should not cry. I am so old and it is inappropriate, but has one to be appropriate all the time?"
I said, "No, at least not when I'm here." He started laughing, and the tears in his eyes, and the laughter on his face, both together, were such a joy.
Masto had brought me to him. Why? I will just say a few more things before I can answer it....
I have heard Vilayat Khan, another great sitarist, perhaps a little greater than Ravi Shankar, but he is not an innovator. He is utterly classical, but listening to him even I loved classical music. Ordinarily I don't love anything classical, but he plays so perfectly you cannot help yourself. You have to love it, it is not in your hands. Once a sitar is in his hands, you are not in your own hands. Vilayat Khan is pure classical music. He will not allow any pollution. He will not allow anything popular. I mean "pop," because in the West unless you say pop nobody will understand what is popular. It is just the old "popular" cut short - badly cut, bleeding.
I have heard Vilayat Khan, and I would like to tell you a story about one of my very rich disciples - that is circa 1970, because since then I have not heard anything of them. They are still there. I have inquired about their well-being, but sannyas has made so many people afraid, particularly the rich ones.
This family was one of the richest in India. I was amazed when the wife told me, "You are the only man to whom I can say it: for ten years I have been in love with Vilayat Khan."
I said, "What is wrong with that? Vilayat Khan? - nothing is wrong."
She said, "You don't understand. I don't mean his sitar, I mean him."
I said, "Of course - what would you do with his sitar without him?"
She hit her head with her hand and said, "Can't you understand anything at all?"
I said, "Looking at you, it seems not. But I do understand that you love Vilayat Khan. It is perfectly good. I am just saying that there is nothing wrong it it."
At first she looked at me in disbelief, because in India, if you say such a thing to a religious man - a Hindu wife falling in love with a Mohammedan musician, singer or dancer - you cannot have his blessing, that much is certain. He may not curse you, but most likely he will; even if he can forgive you, even that is too modern, ultra-modern.
"And," I said to her, "there is nothing wrong in it. Love, love whomsoever you want to love. And love knows no barriers of caste or creed."
She looked at me as if I were the one who had fallen in love, and she was the saint I was talking to.
I said, "You are looking at me as if I have fallen in love with him. That too is true. I also love the way he plays, but not the man." The man is arrogant, which is very common in artists.
Ravi Shankar is even more arrogant, perhaps because he is a brahmin too. That is like having two diseases together: classical music, and being a brahmin. And he has a third dimension to his disease too, because he married the great Alauddin's daughter; he is his son-in-law.
Alauddin was so respected that just to be his son-in-law was enough proof that you are great, a genius. But unfortunately for them, I had also heard Masto. And the moment I heard him I said, "If the world knew about you they would forget and also forgive all these Ravi Shankars and Vilayat Khans."
Masto said, "The world will never know about me. You will be my only listener."
You will be surprised to know that Masto played many instruments. He was really a versatile genius, a very fertile mind, and he could make anything beautiful out of anything. He painted, and as meaninglessly as even Picasso could not do, and as beautifully as certainly Picasso could not do.
But he simply destroyed his paintings saying, "I don't want to leave any footprints on the sands of time."
But sometimes he used to play music with Pagal Baba, so I asked him, "What about Baba?"
He said, "My sitar is reserved for you; not even Baba has heard it. Something else is reserved for Baba, so please don't ask me. You may not hear it."
Naturally I wanted to know what it was. I was curious, but I said to him, "I will keep my curiosity to myself. I will not ask anybody - although I could ask Baba, and he cannot lie to me. But I will not ask, that much I will promise you."
He laughed and said, "In that case, when Baba is no longer in the world, then I will also play that instrument for you, because only then can I play it to you or anybody, and not before."
And the day that Pagal Baba was no more, the first thing that came into my mind was, "What is that instrument? Now is the time...." I condemned myself, cursed myself, but what did it matter? The only thing that kept coming up for me again and again was, "What is Masto's instrument?"
Curiosity is something very deep in man. It was not the serpent who persuaded Eve, it was curiosity that persuaded her, and also Adam, and so on and so forth... up until now. I think it is going to go on for ever persuading people. They pursue curiosity. It is a strange phenomenon. Of course it was not a big deal. I had heard Masto play other instruments; perhaps he may be even more efficient on this one, but so what? A man has died and you are thinking about the instrument that Masto will now have to play for you... it's human.
It is good that people don't have windows in the top of their heads, otherwise everybody could see what is going on. Then there would be real trouble, because what they pretend to be on their face is totally different; it is only a persona, a mask. What are they within? - a current of a thousand things.
If we had windows in our heads it would be very difficult to live. But I entertained the idea. It would help tremendously for people to become silent, so that anybody else could look into their head and see that there is nothing to see. The silent ones could smile looking at their neighbors and say, "Look on, boys, look on. Look on as much as you want." But the head has no windows. It is completely sealed.
At Baba's death I thought only of Masto's instrument. Forgive me, but I have decided to tell the whole truth whatsoever it is. And mind you all, I am going to tell it howsoever long it takes - Devageet, Devaraj, and Ashu. It may take years for me to tell it and then I will tell you that you have to finish the book quickly, so don't go on piling it up.
Don't in any way depend upon tomorrows; just do it today. Only then will you be able to do it.
Unknowingly you have fallen into a trap. And you think that I am caught in a mousetrap? Forget it, man. I have got all three of you, and now the trap will become tighter every day; there is no escape.
Yes, one woman - who will come somewhere in the story because she means much to me - she told me something similar. She is strange in a way; everything she gave me was a first: the first watch, the first typewriter, the first car, the first tape recorder, the first camera. I cannot believe how she managed it, but everything was the first. I will tell you about her later on. Remind me when the time comes.
She told me that the only thing heavy on her heart is that when her husband's mother died she felt hungry.
I said, "What is wrong with feeling hungry?"
She said, "Do you think it is okay? My husband's mother is dead, lying dead in front of me, and I just felt so hungry, and was thinking only of good food: paratha, bhajia, pulau, rasogulla - I have never told anybody," she said to me, "because I thought nobody would forgive me."
I said, "There is nothing wrong in it. What can you do? You did not kill her. Anyway one has to start eating sooner or later, the sooner the better. And when one is about to eat, one thinks of what one would like."
She said, "Are you sure?"
I said, "How many times do I have to say it?"
At the time she told me, I again remembered how she must be feeling, because I remember Baba dying and the first thought that came to me - thoughts are really strange people... I had thought to myself, "What is the instrument that Masto plays?" Of course the moment I saw Masto I said, "Now...."
He said, "Okay."
No other word passed between us. He understood, and for the first time he played the veena for me. He had never played it to me before. It is a sort of guitar, but more complicated, and of course reaching to heights which even the sitar cannot reach, and also to depths which sitars leave only halfway.
I said, "The veena! Masto, you wanted to hide this experience from me?"
He said, "No, no, never. But when I was with Baba, and I had not yet known you, I had promised him on my own that I would not play this instrument for anybody else while he was alive. Now to me you are Pagal Baba. That's the way I will think of you always. Now I can play for you. I was not hiding anything from you, but you were not known to me at all when this promise was given. Now it is over."
For a moment I could not believe my own ears at how much he had been hiding. I said, "Masto, you know that it was not a good thing between two friends."
He looked down towards the earth and did not say anything. It was the first time in my life that I had seen him in that mood.
I said to him, "No. No need to be sorry, and no need to feel sad. What has happened has happened; it has nothing to do with us any more."
He said, "I was not sorry. I was ashamed. I know being sorry is very easy to wash away, but to be ashamed... you can wash it but again it is still there. You can wash it again, and it is there."
The feeling of shame only happens to those who are really great. It does not happen to ordinary people. They don't know what it means to be ashamed. I am suddenly reminded of one thing....
What is the time?
"Ten twenty-two, Bhagwan."
I was not reminded of the time. I am never reminded of the time, and you know it. Sometimes it becomes really too much. You are hungry, ready to run to Mariam... and I am still talking. Obviously you cannot stop me. Only I can stop myself. Not only that, I even tell you only to stop when I say "Stop." It is just an old habit. No, I was reminded of something else, not the time.
Masto was staying at my Nani's house. That was my guest house. In my father's house there was not even a place for the host, what to say of the guest? It was so overcrowded. I cannot believe that Noah's Ark was more overcrowded. All kinds of creatures were there - what a world! Yes, it was almost a world. But my Nani's house was almost empty; the way I like things, empty.
The English word "empty" is not the way to express what I want to say. The word is shunya - and please don't think of Doctor Eichling, because his name, the name given by me, is Shunyo. But poor Eichling seems to be Chinese or something. What kind of name is that: I-kling? He can't be an American, and when he shaved his beard off he looked exactly like a Chinese. Just by chance I came across him. I could not even recognize him.
I said, "What happened to you?"
Gudia reminded me, saying, "It is Shunyo."
I said, "It is good that you reminded me, otherwise I would have hit him. He looks exactly like a Chinese. Why have you cut off your beard?" I asked him.
He said, "Because I am going back to practice in America."
I said, "My God! Does one need to shave off one's beard to practice in America?"
In fact if you look into the history of medicine, all the great doctors for some unknown reason had beards. Perhaps they had no time to shave, or perhaps they had no wives, so who cares? I asked him, "Who gave you the idea that to be a doctor in America you have to cut off your beard? And from Shunyo you have become Doctor Eichling again? Are you a cat or something? They say a cat has nine lives, how many lives have you got, Mister Eichling?"
My Nani's house was really shunyo. It was so empty, as a temple should be. And she kept it so clean. I like Gudia for many reasons; one is that she keeps everything so clean. She even finds fault with me! And naturally, if she finds a fault - as far as cleanliness is concerned - I always agree with her. She has the same sensitivity as my Nani. Perhaps a man cannot have that quality which a woman has naturally. To see a woman unclean is very terrible. To see a man unclean is okay, one can tolerate it - after all, he is just a man. But a woman unknowingly keeps herself and her surroundings clean. And Gudia is English, proper English.
There are only two proper English people, Gudia and Sagar... in the whole world I mean.
My Nani was so concerned with cleanliness that as far as she was concerned, God was next to cleanliness. The whole day she was cleaning... for whom? Only I was there. I came in the evenings; by the morning I was gone. And the whole day the poor woman kept herself occupied with cleaning.
Once I asked her, "Don't you get tired? And nobody is telling you to do it all."
She said, "Cleaning has helped me so much. It has become almost a prayer. You are my guest. You don't live here anymore, do you? - you are a guest. I have to prepare my house for the guest" - in India they say, "The guest is the god...." She said, "You are my god."
I said, "Nani, are you mad? I am your god? You have never believed in any god."
She said, "I only believe in love, and I have found it. Now you are the only guest in my temple of love. I have to keep it as clean as I can."
Her house became a guest house, not only for me, but also for my guests. Whenever Masto would come, he used to stay in her house. And my Nani would serve whosoever I brought to her house as a guest, as if the person really meant a lot to her.
I said to her, "You need not be so concerned."
She said, "They are your guests, and so I have to take care, more care than I would take of my own guests."
I never saw my Nani talking to Masto. Once in a while I would see them sitting together, but I have never seen them talking. It was strange.
I asked her, "Why don't you talk with him? Don't you like him?"
She said, "I like him very much but there is nothing to say. I have nothing to ask; he has nothing to ask either. We simply nod heads and sit silently. It is so beautiful to sit silently. With you I talk. I have to ask so many things, and you have so many things to tell me. With you talking is beautiful."
I understood that they related in a different way. The way she and I related was different, and certainly not the only way. Since that day talking became less and less between us until it finally stopped. Then we used to sit for hours. Her house was really beautiful. It was just by the river, and the moment I say "river," something in my heart immediately starts singing songs.
I will never see that river again, but there is no need, because whenever I close my eyes I can see it.
I hear that now it is no longer the same beautiful place. Just near it many houses have arisen, shops have opened up; it has become a marketplace. No, I would not like to go. Even if I had to go there I would close my eyes just to see the beautiful place that it was - tall trees and a small temple... I can still hear the bell ringing.
Just the other day someone brought me a few bells, strange bells, the kind that are not known in most parts of the world. They are Tibetan. Although made in California, the design is Tibetan. Not only that, but even though they have been made in California they have certainly been improved.
Tibetan bells are ordinarily crude, but these are very refined, and made of glass. Let me describe them to you.
They are not like any bells you can conceive of. They are like plates, many plates strung together so that when the wind moves them they hit each other, and the sound is really worth hearing. They are beautiful bells. Once in a while California certainly makes some beautiful things. Otherwise they are all Californiacs. But once in a while they do something really nice.
I have seen many kinds of bells. One Tibetan lama in Kalimpong showed me a Tibetan bell which I will never forget. It is worth mentioning to you. Perhaps you may never see such a thing because those bells are part of the disappearing Tibet. Soon they will disappear completely. The bell I saw was certainly a strange one.
I had only seen bells in India and had always associated the word "bell" with the Indian bell. It is hung from the ceiling and there is a small stick inside which you strike against the side of the bell. It is to wake up the god who goes on falling asleep. I can understand the beauty of it, that even God has to be woken up, what to say of man? But this Tibetan bell was totally different. It had to be placed on the floor, not hung from the ceiling.
I said, "Is it a bell? It does not look like one."
The lama laughed, "Wait and see," he said. "It is not only a bell but a special bell."
And he brought a small round wooden handle from his bag. Then he started rubbing the handle around and around the inside of the so-called bell, which looked like a pot. After going round for a few times he hit the bell at a certain point, which was marked, and strange, the bell repeated the whole Tibetan mantra Om mani padme hum! I could not believe it when I heard it for the first time.
It repeated the mantra so clearly.
He said, "You will find this type of bell in every Tibetan monastery, because we cannot repeat the mantra as often as we should but we can at least make the bell repeat the mantra."
I said, "Great, so this is not a dumb bell."
He said, "Not at all. And if you hit it in the wrong place you will know that it also shouts. It will only repeat the mantra when you hit it in the right spot, otherwise it shrieks and screams, and makes all kinds of noise, but never the mantra."
I have been to Ladakh, a country between India and Tibet. Perhaps now Ladakh will become the most important religious country in the world, as Tibet once was. Tibet is finished, murdered, massacred. In Ladakh I saw those same bells but much bigger, houselike. You could go inside them and by holding the hanging rod, and then hitting with it at certain points, you could create any mantra you liked. It is only a question of knowing the language of the bell. It is almost like a computer.
What was I saying, Devageet?
"You were talking about how Nani never used to talk with Masto, they just used to sit silently...."
Right, so we should sit silently now... ten minutes for me. For God's sake, whether He exists or not, just relax.
Satyam shivam sundaram... I am not, and you are trying to reach me. Everybody can see. Do you see? I am not. Continue for just a few minutes, just two minutes, because I am waiting for something, so be alert. Yes.... Good....
No, Devageet. You would have been such a good wife, even I would laugh, but I am not supposed to.