In the Gem Store, Jaipur, April 7, 2011
After driving for eight hours through the desperately poor areas from Delhi to Jaipur, Bill is obviously shaken. “That was really something,” he says, as we get off the bus. And I, stretching my legs, agree. “Yeah, that was a long time on a bus.”
After a tour of the gem merchant’s shop, I find a comfortable place to sit because I won’t be shopping. I happen to sit beside a table filled with books, and I pick up the top one, which turns out to be an illustrated history of Indian miniatures. One of the clerks comes over and puts his hand on mine. “No,” he says, going through the stack until he finds the one he’s looking for. “No, thank you,” I tell him, “This the one I want to read. I’m interested in Indian miniatures.” “No,” he insists. “This one.” “Okay.”
It’s a collection of poorly printed mediocre watercolor illustrations beside extended quotations from the Vedas. I almost immediately take out my notebook and begin to copy down my favorite passages.
from The Book of Doctrines
is all we have, or need
But thou, want not! ask not! find full reward
Of doing, right in right! Let right deeds be
Thy motive, not the fruit which comes from them.
And live in action! Labor! Make things acts
aroused no more, conquer this
in midnight’s gloom.
from The Book of Virtue in Work
For thought is art and fancy.
“Lakshmi and Ganesh”
from Bhagavad Gita
He that abstains
to help the rolling wheels of this great world
… lives a lost life….
“Arriving at the Amber Fort”
The fool … thinks “This I did.”
And “That I wrought,” but …
A better-lessoned mind …
Standeth aloof even from his acts.
Krishna: Look on me …
I am not bound to any toil, no height
Awaits to scale, no gift remains to gain
Yet last here! and, if I acted not—
Earnest and Watchful—those who look to me
For guidance, sinking back to sloth again
Because I slumbered, would decline for good
Bill is an ex-Air Force captain who served two terms in Viet Nam and one in Cambodia, and he’s found me easy to talk to. On the bus he asks me what I was reading in the gem store, “It seemed like you were getting a lot out of it.” I tell him it was selections from the Vedas. “The what?” he laughs. I explain that it’s the Hindu bible—it contains a lot of their holy stories. He asks me what my favorite part was and I tell him that the opening was pretty spectacular. It’s about the necessity to take action, to speak up, to risk your life for what you believe in. It begins with Krishna—who is a god—standing in a chariot with a king named Arjuna. Two armies are assembled on either side of a field, and Krishna has commanded Arjuna to give the command to begin the battle. Arjuna looks across the field and sees his uncles and cousins, and he realizes that he is about to start a war that will annihilate both sides of the same family. And everyone on both sides is somebody’s father, husband, or son—it will be husband killing husband, and son killing father and father killing son. And he sees behind them the thousands upon thousands of wives and daughters and mothers grieving for those who are about to die, and he sees the madness on both sides as the losing side is overrun.
And Arjuna sees how the many suffer for the few’s pleasures, and he sees how many lifetimes have come and gone without a moment of free will or understanding for anyone. And he sees that he is playing a part that was written for him too—and that he, like them, was asleep and subject to the whims of forces set in motion long ago, forces that have nothing to do with him personally.
And he sees how even at its very end, even after a deepest level of truth is revealed to someone about to die, how little all the wit and wisdom amounts to in the end. It would have been better if he knew nothing, if he was still asleep. And what if there are other visions beyond this one, awakenings that leap as far as this one from the last? What if to awaken is only to lose yourself inside another dream?
And Arjuna is angry that they put him to sleep in the first place and he’s angry that they’ve waited until it was too late to do anything about it to wake him. And why wake him at all if only to show him that there is nothing that can be done even if he wanted to?
And Arjuna sees in the smoke above the field the God of War, whose hunger has grown so great that a slaughter of this magnitude is now required to satisfy him. And he sees the many generations of wars that will follow and how each one will be bigger than the one before. And he sees that the power of the gods comes from feasting on our greatest strengths—by enriching him, we make ourselves poor. And Arjuna decides that although nothing could be done, he will no longer willingly participate. And he decides to speak his mind, even though it will put him in danger and benefit nothing.
So he tells Krishna that he will not give the command. He says that instead he will walk into the mountains and find a cave and meditate without food or water until he dies. He says that from that moment on he will take no action, even to protect himself. And Arjuna puts down his sword and challenges Krishna to kill him on the spot for refusing the will of a god.
And Krishna says, “Hey, I’m a god and I was here before mankind began and I will be here when he is no more, and I can see the whole play from beginning to end … and I’m still working my ass off down here.” And he calls Arjuna a coward. How dare he deny free will when he uses it to defy a God! Not to act is to act. One charitable deed can redeem all mankind. Why question the motivation if climbing the mountain itself is good for the heart? Sometimes the loss of a simple kindness gives birth to great tragedy. And even if we see that nothing can be done, we can still encourage others. Would it not be better—even at the chance of doing something wrong or wasting time—to spend what little time we have left assisting others, in the best ways we know how in every moment, learning as we go forward? Who could deny this to be true?
After a long silence Bill laughs and says, So, what Krishna is asking of Arjuna is what he’s demonstrating himself.
Yes, I laugh and slap my hands together. That’s it exactly.
Non-Classical Music of India, Part 2
1. Xandria: Return to India
Xandria’s connections to India are very slight, as they are actually a German symphonic metal band. But it just feels right.
2. A.R. Rahman & Chinmayee: Tere Bina
Chinmayee Sripada (born 1984) is a singer and voice actor for the South Indian film industry, as well as CEO of a translation services company called Blue Elephant, that she founded at the age of 21. She has a BS in Psychology. “Tere Mina” is from the film “Guru,” whose score was composed by A.R. Rahman, which became a big hit in India.
Allahrakka Rahman (born 1966) is the most famous Bollywood film composer and one of the world’s all-time top selling recording artists. In 2009, Time magazine declared him the world’s most prominent and prolific film composer in its list of the World’s Most Influential People. He has won two Academy Awards, two Grammies, and is known by the nickname Music Storm in his native India. His father R.K. Shekhar was a film composer and conductor. At the age of nine during a recording session where he was playing keyboards for his father’s orchestra, Allahrakka played a tune on a piano that his father developed into a complete song. Shortly after that his father died. At the age of eleven he began performing for the Malayalam composer M.K. Arjunan, and played on world tours with Zakir Hussain and L. Shankar. He converted to Islam at the age of 23 after an illness almost killed his younger sister. He built the best recording studio in India and in 1987 he began composing film scores. His was awarded Best Music Director at the Indian National Film Awards for his first film score. He was the first Asian to win an Academy Award (for “Slumdog Millionaire”). He scored the film version of “Rockstar.” He has performed with Michael Jackson, and worked with Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Michael Bolton, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the Royal Philiharmonic Orchestra. He composed the music for the Finnish theater production of “The Lord of the Rings” in 2004 and has performed for President Obama and as part of the “We Are the World 25 Haiti” in 2010. He was 20% of the “world supergroup” SuperHeavy with Mick Jagger, Dave Stewart, Joss Stone, and Damian Marley, and composed a song for the London Olympics opening ceremony in 2012. His daughter Ameen sings on Rahman’s soundtrack to the film “Couples Retreat.”\
3. Suneeta Rao: Oye Badshah
Suneeta Rao (born 1967) is an Indian singer, dancer, and actress. Her music career began in 1989, and she is one of India’s most successful pop singers. She has also acted Off Broadway.
4. Lucky Ali: Teri Yaadein
Lucky Ali (born 1958) is an India pop singer and actor, born to the Bollywood comedian Mehmood. He is a strict Muslim and is currently married to a former Miss England (his third marriage). He has bred horses, been an oil rigger, sold carpets, and been an organic farmer.
5. Rekha Bharadwaj: Lakad
Rekha Bharadwaj is a film singer who released her first album in 2002.
6. Mehi: Freedia
No information available.
7. Shabz: The Madness of Love
Shabz is a DJ popular in the India Underground music scene.
8. Varano: Universal Rhythm
No information available.
9. Sporto Kantes: Fx
No information available.
10. Ravi Shankar: Veenaa-Murali
Ravi Shankar was an Indian sitarist and composer who was born Robindro Shaunkor Chowdhury in Veranasi, on April 7, 1920. He died in San Diego, California on December 11th 2012. He was the youngest of seven brothers in a Bengali Brahmin family. His father divorced his mother while practicing law abroad, and Ravi did not meet his father until he was eight years old. Shankar shortened the Sanskrit version of his first name—Ravindra—to Ravi, or sun. At the age of ten he left home to travel with his brother Uday’s dance group, joining them as a dancer when he was 13. In the mid-1930s, the group toured Europe (where Ravi taught himself French) and then the United States, where he discovered Western classical music, jazz, and cinema. Shankar left the troupe when he was 18 to study sitar with Allauddin Khan, which is where he met Khan’s son, Ali Akbar Khan, and his future first wife, Khan’s daughter Annapurna Devi. From 1949 to 1956 he was the musical director of All India Radio, and in the mid-1950s he began to score Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, which made him internationally famous. His work with Yehudi Menuhin in the 1950s led to an American tour, where he signed with Angel Records. The Byrds recorded at the same studio and began to incorporate some of his sounds into their music, and they introduced their friend George Harrison of the Beatles to Shankar’s music. Harrison (who produced the track included here) bought a sitar and used it in recording of “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)” in 1965, and later studied the sitar with Shankar in India in 1966. In 1967, Shankar performed at Monterey Pop Festival and won a Grammy Award for West Meets East, a recording with Yehudi Menuhin. In 1969 he scored the film Charly (making him the first Indian musician to score a western film) and performed at Woodstock. In 1970, Shankar became chairman of the department of Indian Music at California Institute of Arts, and he performed at the Concert for Bangladesh organized by George Harrison in 1971. Shankar suffered a heart attack while on tour in 1974. In 1982 he received an Oscar nomination for his score of the film Gandhi. From 1986 to 1992 he served as a member of Rajya Sabha, the upper chamber of the Parliament of India, and in 1999 he was awarded India’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna. He performed into his nineties, often appearing with his daughter Anoushka Shankar, whom he taught to play sitar. He performed his final concert, accompanied by Anoushka, on the 4th of November 2012 at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, California. He died 38 days later in a hospital in southern California.
Article written by Randy Roark
Newtopia staff writer RANDY ROARK worked with Allen Ginsberg for the last 17 years of his life, first as an apprentice, then as his teaching assistant, and finally transcribing and editing 28,000 pages of Ginsberg’s poetry lectures, currently available on-line through the Ginsberg trust. Following Ginsberg’s death, he worked with artist Stan Brakhage, producing art events featuring his films until his death. Since 1998 he has worked with Sounds True as a producer, where he has edited artists such as Alex Grey, writers including William Burroughs and Robert Anton Wilson, and a wide variety of spiritual teachers, including Alan Watts, Krishnamurti, Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron, and Lakota Elder Joseph Marshall.