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A Poet's Progress, Randy Roark

A Poet’s Progress: Jaipur and Varanasi, April 2011


25 01 New Delhi Train Station-1 Train Station, New Delhi


The Maharajah of Jaipur died the day before we arrived and everything in the whole state has shut down for two days of mourning.

After lunch, we walk downtown and come upon a funeral filling the center of town. There are floats pulled by pick-up trucks, brightly painted elephants, musicians and costumes, honking cars and tuk-tuks and bell-ringing cyclists and snarling motorcycles spilling onto the sidewalks. I’ve left my camera back in my room so I drift away from the group and find a place above the crowd where I can see the whole panorama.

Two local boys pretend to take photos of the Americans taking photos of the parade. When it becomes clear that the Americans don’t know that they are being mocked, the boys move closer, waving and yelling at the Americans in Hindi. They wave the teenage girl and her grandmother together and push the other Americans into a circle behind them. When they have everyone together, they back up and make an elaborate show of getting just the right shot, and then one of them shouts “Smile!” and they pretend to take photos. But just as the group is breaking up, the boys decide they don’t like their photographs and want to shoot another one. This time they pose the Americans facing directly into the sun and bark at them to “Smile!” When they do, the two boys lean forward, pointing their cameras directly at the young girl’s breasts and bare thighs, and run off, laughing and pushing on each other’s shoulder. None of the Americans are smiling now. The young girl asks of no one in particular, “I wonder why they wanted our photos? Hadn’t they seen Americans before?”

25 02 Veranasi, from the GangesVeranasi, from the Ganges

Banaras (Varanasi) is older than history, older than tradition,
older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.
Mark Twain, 1897

 25 03 Shiva Temple, Ghats, Katmandu, Nepal

Shiva Temple, Ghats, Katmandu, Nepal

The Pilgrim

Moving with the crowd to the ghats,
following the incandescent lights,
the Ganges darkens as the sun dissolves.

I sit on the damp steps beside those who have
crawled here and can crawl no farther,
the ones too old to stand,

and those who rest here before
trying to make their way closer
falling forward, bewildered by everything.

25 04 Khajarahu Tableau-1Khajarahu Tableau

Returned to Ash


I’ve worked my way down curving granite alleys
smelling of tobacco, chrysanthemums, grilled lamb,
yellow incandescence and smoky ghats,

past kneeling pilgrims washing their foreheads
with ashes on the banks of the Ganges,
whispering mantras, grey lips trembling,

silver censors swinging over our heads,
white smoke and ragged prayer flags
snapping green-yellow-blue,

pushing my way into the center
where the night is so white that the pilgrims
cast no shadows, getting out by going in.

II. Goodnight, Irene

I rest my hand on the moving river
and see my ghostly reflection
floating, first a white forearm,

then the outline of a shoulder,
and in the darkness where a mouth
would be a voice began to speak:

“I created all of it, but life
has a will of its own
like a boat inside a river.

Everything equally is and is not.
The best of it is happenstance,
and the worst of it is happenstance too.”

I light a handful of sandalwood
and slip the last photo I have of you—
summer at the lake, your hair was short,

under the beeswax and chrysanthemums
of the flower boat I release into the Ganges
as the current lifts it from my fingers.

25 05 I'll See You in My DreamsI’ll See You in My Dreams

Modern India Music, Part III
(Click to view all videos)

Kuldeep Manak: Heer

Kuldeep Manak was a Punjabi singer (11/15/51-11/30/11) born Latif Muhammad in the village of Jalal in Indian Punjab. His ancestors were the designated cantors of Kirtan for Maharaja Hira Singh and his father was also a singer. One of his brothers is a devotional singer and the other is a Tantric priest. His son Yudhvir is also a singer. In 1968, at the age of 17, he recorded a song that was a smash hit, and built a career as a Punjabi film actor and singer. He unsuccessfully ran for parliament in 1996.

Badmarsh: Easin’ In

Badmarsh (“rascal” in Hindi) worked at a reggae studio in London and was a DJ at Labyrinth in London for over five years. This song was credited solely to Badmarsh on a cassette I bought in Delhi, but Badmarsh usually records with a partner and I imagine this should be credited to Shri as well.

Skeewif: The Bone Part One

Skeewif is a duo who has recorded under several names, mostly notably Shaft, under whose name they released “Wassuup!” a collage of the Budweiser advertisement and Rick James’ “Super Freak.” As Skeewif they have mixed for Bjork and produced Schooly D.

Nicolas Conte: Dossier Omega

Nicolas Conte is an Italian DJ, producer, guitarist, and acid jazz bandleader working in several international styles. Here he incorporates melodies from ethnic Indian music.

Fusing Naked Beats: Zoastrian Star

Fusing Naked Beats describes themselves as a Cosmic Asian funk band using Indian and Arabic beats. They were nominated for Best Asian Underground Act in 2008 and Best Alternative Act in 2009 at the UK Asian Music Awards.

Sonu Nigam, Aftab Sabri, Hashim Sabri: Tumese Milke Dilka Jo Haal

Sonu Nigam is a singer and actor born on July 30, 1973, in Faridabad, Haryana, India. His father was also a popular singer and Sonu first sang onstage with his father at the age of four. Sonu was formally trained by classical singer Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan. His solo career began at 19, singing for the film companies in Mumbai. His music career was failing until he became the host of a singing talent competition show on Indian TV—Sa Re Ga Ma—which became immensely popular in 1995. His 1999 album Deewana is one of India’s most successful albums. He has released pop albums in Hindi, Oriya, Punjabi, English, and most successfully in Kannada, and has released both Hindu and Islamic devotional albums, and an album based on Buddha’s teachings. Nigram also released a tribute to Michael Jackson, and collaborated with Britney Spears on a remix of her “I Wanna Go.” In November 2007, at the inauguration of Harvard University’s new president, Nigam sang Mahatma Gandhi‘s favorite holy song, “Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye,” with the Harvard College Chorale. He has alsos performed with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

Aftab and Hashimm Sabri—the Sabri Brothers—were born to Ghulam Ali Khan, a famous classical vocalist of India.

Nuphlo: Heer

Nuphlo is an Asian electronic music producer, who is also part of The Nasha Experience—an alternative music collective based in London—with partners Sukh Knight, Ges-E, and Osmani.

Indian Ocean: Melancholic Ecstasy

Indian Ocean is a pioneering Indian fusion rock band formed in New Delhi in 1990. They are described in Wikipedia as “Indo-rock fusion with jazz-spiced rhythms that integrates shlokas, sufism, environmentalism, mythology and revolution.” Rather than having to work with record labels, the musicians now release their music for free, relying on concerts and sponsorships to generate revenue. One of their earliest sponsors was Johnnie Walker whiskey. One member sold his electric guitar in order to finance their first demo recording. They came out of that session with seven completed songs for a total of 45 minutes of finished material. These recordings got them a recording deal with HMV. It took a year in the studio to record their first album, which went on to become the best selling record by an Indian band. On Christmas Day 2009, founding member Asheem Chakravarty—percussionist and improvising vocalist—died of a heart attack. He has not been replaced and the band has not recorded or performed since his death.

A. R. Rahman: Mumbai Theme Tune

See Newtopia column for February 2013 in the Newtopia Archives.

Rajeshwari Sachdev: Maavan Te Tiyan

Rajeshwari Sachdev is a Hindi film actress born in Mumbai on April 14, 1975. She won the National Film Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work in Sardari Begum in 1996. She also appeared in Little Buddha in 1993.

25 06 Buddhist Monks Visit the GangesBuddhist Monks Visit the Ganges

 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.


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