A great loss: a great guru teaches from a distance--protects with a shadow, but let's in enough light to see and think
He was not my guru. Heck, I had never even met him. (I did pick up a sarod and explore with his son in NY for a few weeks.) Nonetheless when I awoke to news that Pandit Buddhadev Dasgupta had left his magical sarod to us undeserving mortals, to pick up a different, divine one in another realm, I felt the loss heavy on my shoulders, in my heart
I have spent the greater portion of the past two days listening to the golden collection of a musician who I looked up to and revered immensely. A musician whose Ragas Jog and Bihag have helped me get through many sleepless nights and restless months
Pandit ji's music taught me how to perform, how to live. His slow yet sharp exposition of a raga taught me patience and perfection. His crisp yet flexible movement reminded me of balancing pride and humility in my stride. His eyes gazed but a few inches past his instrument and yet his head towered above all others. A lesson in self worth and overcoming insecurities.
His ability to cast aside awards and titles, to overlook sales, popularity, and numbers, has always served as a reminder to me about writing, speaking, singing and learning for my own sake, for my own peace. Svantaha sukhaya
Today, Eklavya has lost his Drona, but not his thumb. While others may applaud my tribute, I consider it an effort to repay my debt. He left me with so much, and never even asked of my name
Today, the sarod mourns the loss of its greatest guardian, mate, and lover. Today, India and the music world celebrates the life of one of the greatest musicians and human beings it will ever know
Today, this beach and the world look so much better because of his music and the lessons with which it resonates
Bhakti is learning from a distance, learning from music and silence
Watching @andersoncooper on @cnn recall his memories in Haiti made me tear. Made me think of all the "shitholes" who have enriched my life--who have made me wiser and stronger. @realdonaldtrump your statements embarrass us Americans who travel and live abroad. There is a world, a beautiful one, outside of your bubbles and puddles of ignorance and stupidity. Come see it!
Why is judging always a bad thing? Humans judge. It's what we do. Perhaps we can try it with a positive twist? Can't we judge and observe to learn, but not to hate and typify?
A week ago, I walked around the old market to better understand the land. It's usually the first thing I do when I venture out in a new city. What can I learn about Tanzania by people watching?
A market paints a portrait of a culture, of a land and its people--how people purchase or trade, eat and feed, communicate and bicker, negotiate and problem solve, love and hate--how people live and die
I stopped in front of this small vegetable stand and tried to better understand the city and its people. What did Kariakoo teach me about DAR?
People are content, sweet, and easy-going. People are so because they do not calculate--a bit of innocence and a bit of complacency. People survive because they share, love, and forgive. Unlike India, a businessman will try to set a price for a product, and then will give into your demands. Take it, he may say. If you are happy, I will make it work. People work to live. They do not live to work. In DAR, people know how to live
Bhakti is trying to make connections and observations from what is before your eyes. Bhakti is learning to see beyond what's visible. There are things that one can only see with the mind. Bhakti is observing and judging to learn and love, but not to hate and oppress. Bhakti is learning how to live--for there is more to life than money and power. There is peace and happiness. There is satisfaction
Eggless strawberry cake. Buttery and creamy. Reminds me of Premanand's poem about Krishna's thieving around town
This poem is especially important since Premanand seems to be referring to Surdas in the poem. Our blind friend. This establishes a connection between Premanand and Surdas
He also suggests that he was *writing* his poem. Yes, he performed the poetry, but he also used writing as a technology, as a medium. The scoop of butter fell on his word, on the page he was writing on, or having someone write on for him.
Important questions of theology in the mix too. Is Premanand a devotee of Krishna or Swaminarayan? Are they the one and the same? And why does he get a scoop of butter if Surdas does not? Is he a better devotee? Lots to think about as I down these slices
Why do you not share, ohh dark butter thief? I have no qualms with your stealing from those wretched milk-maidens of Braj. They took you from me, now they pay the price. But with your friends? A scoop to him, and one to him. With your mother? A scoop on her nose, cheeks smeared with love. Premanand sings, do you not even care to feed our blind friend--he sings of you day and night? Then how can I expect any leftovers from those tiny hands? And there a scoop on my words--mercy, mercy
Luckily, I didn't have to share today. Both slices in my belly. Premanand must be mad at me
Bhakti is using play time to strengthen your work--make connections and translate poetry. Bhakti is eating cake and having it too
Marine Drive in Mumbai, India?
No, no. Port Side in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Mumbai has never seemed closer, even more so than it does from Ahmedabad
Somewhere across the Indian Ocean lies Mumbai and western India's other port cities. A stone's throw away.
It's no surprise then that the Indian Ocean has been connecting the two continents through traders, their goods, and their ideas for more than 2000 years--some would argue for more than 4000 years!
Textiles from Sarkhej, Gujarat have been found in Africa from the third century BCE. Gujaratis settled in Madagascar as early as the seventh and eighth century CE. Many vibrant communities of the descendants of African traders and warriors thrive in Saurashtra and Ahmedabad even today. A small world, no? It always has been. And yet we bicker, tug, and tussle. We try to divide and demarcate--mine and yours
In one of his poems, Premanand reminds us that across the oceans, quite literally, live our brothers. "Premanand sings, first (love) them and then the gods"
Bhakti is connecting with Parabrahman by admiring his presence within and in those around us. Bhakti is engaging and connecting with those that look, speak, and act differently--for the only way to heaven is by crossing the ocean (of material existence) and surviving the shark-like attacks of one's own ethnic, racial, ideological, sectarian biases
I pat myself on the back for leaving a lucrative career to teach, write, and serve. Nonsense. I haven't sacrificed shit. I was humbled today after meeting this lovely soul, brilliant mind
Enter Professor Helen Lauer
Helen ji is a professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of DAR. She left a tenured position in the States to serve--no expectations, no demands, no appreciation. She moved to Ghana and taught there for 30+ years. In DAR for the past three
Helen ji can never be Chair because she is not a citizen, and yet she is the senior most and only full professor in the department. It didn't matter to her
I watched her lecture while fighting back frustration as she taught logic and scientific reading to freshmen. I could tell that she wanted to give them everything she had. She wanted to inspire them to take everything she had to give
It was a humbling experience. I take pride in my ability to lecture and teach. I am a fool to think that my way would have worked here. Many years of experience has prepared her to teach, inspire, and guide, to reprimand, encourage, and push all in one sentence--their hero...a true teacher
As we were saying our goodbyes, I asked her if she felt underappreciated or misunderstood, pushed aside and left out. She smiled and replied, "Almost everyday, but I am doing this for me. I serve to be better. This is home. There is nowhere to run or hide. There is no Plan B"
Not only did I learn how to teach from Helen ji, but I learned how to make it in life. Selfless and tough, but yet not complacent, jaded, and beaten
If there is a God, who lives in a heaven with majestic gates...S/he is waiting to welcome Helen ji in person
Bhakti is diving in head first. Bhakti is making a life choice, running with it, and doing so without a safety net. Plan B is a weakness. Plan A must work. It will work. Bhakti is teaching to give, not to take. Bhakti is transcending by going through, not around
They weren't kidding when they said, "We are sending you a crate of eggless desserts." Sweetness overload
Sweetness manifests in three ways: generosity, accommodation and forgiveness, politeness. Society often sees them as a weakness or frowns upon them with suspicion
That is, he must be too weak to be otherwise or he must want something, be after something
No, sometimes people just want to smile--to be kind and giving, cheery and helpful. Try it. It's thereapuetic. It also takes a crate of strength.
Something I learned from my academic mentor and guru, Jack Hawley Saheb, is to walk around campus, to go about your day's business, with a smile. It's contagious. Works wonders. Makes someone's day
Bhakti is taking a moment everyday to be sweet. As a wise monk once told me, "I understand if you cannot be that way all day everyday, but there is no excuse for not smiling at your driver once in a day, for not placing your order for a coffee with a smile twice a day, for not thanking people for their contributions and service at every chance you get. The impact is immense. It costs calories." Bhakti is realizing that a little sweetness goes a long way. A crateful of sweetness may last a lifetime
As for this crate--I am almost through.
I am less of a beach and more of a mountain and river person. I sat on the shores of the Indian Ocean this morning and transported myself to this lovely moment on the waters of the River Ganga.
Brahmanand reminds us that the true test of success comes AFTER one has really "made it." Does he or she continue to smile at and bend the back in front of those who admire, appreciate, and adore? Help those who are in need and vying for his attention? Love those who consistently hate despite all of his efforts and generosity? See the Divine in those who err? Respect those who fall at his feet out of necessity, subservience, and loyalty? Brahmanand sings, oh fool, fail this test and you will be returned to the world of mortals, even if the heavenly shores are in sight
Wishing for the latter guarantees the prior. Here is to a 2018 in which all of us really "make it," and I finish this dissertation and manuscript!
Bhakti is smiling and bowing even when the reasons just aren't there. Bhakti is really "making it" and not giving up on the process no matter how far the shores.
Happy New Year!
Looking forward requires a glance back. Starting the New Year right requires an adequate, reflective end to this one.
It was 4 am last night/this morning when I finished putting together an article for Oxford and I asked myself...What am I doing? Why am I doing it? Why do I care? For whom?
I went for a walk on the beach to clear my mind. Scrolling through my phone, I found this image from the other day.
I haven't seen the city much, at all really. I don't get out. A short trip in search of a chop shop to the much celebrated Slipway the other day seemed fairly quotidian until I met this man
It was scorching hot. People walked by without as much as a glance. He was drenched in perspiration, and he seemed visibly uncomfortable and annoyed. He was committed--each brush stroke had his undivided attention.
I asked him why he needed to do this now. Couldn't it wait? Later in the evening?
He cracked a smile for the first time and said, "I am worried that the colors will leave me. They tend to wander. I keep them close." I asked him why it mattered
He frowned this time and said, "They are my life. If they left me, I would be blind. I would have no purpose. I am painting this for me, not for anyone else"
It changed my outlook on life, work, and commitment--on the last six hours I spent staring at the computer screen.
I have been distracted for the last few days--working but wandering. As @thereenapatel and a few others have reminded me on IG...it's just hair, and it grows back. Time to focus, to finish strong.
I realized that I think and write for myself--to keep my thoughts clear and my actions straight, to learn and experience, to fall and to get up again. I think and write for MY release.
Bhakti is not letting your colors wander. Bhakti is working hard to serve, share, and participate, but also being selfish about it--for the path to release is a lonely one
My first sunset in DAR
Y'all know that I have a fascination for the sun and its "movement." Unfortunately, the beach at White Sands only sees the sunrise. I never see it of course because I haven't risen then. ;) I treated myself to a sunset in the city after shaving off my beard and performing the last rite ablutions. (pix to follow)
My fascination with sunsets and sunrises stems from the theory that entries and exits mark critical moments of interaction
There is a brief moment when two exist at once, when people are forced to meet in a lobby, doorway or elevator--a dialectical moment in which life and death, love and hate, beginnings and ends, friends and foes, light and dark, clouds and clear skies, speak to and shape each other
It is this moment in time in which we should learn to live--where we converse, engage, and learn from those that are considered our enemies or opposites
Bhakti is having a cup of tea or cappuccino with someone totally unlike us, someone who totally dislikes us. Bhakti is forcing oneself to live in a moment where at once the sun is and isn't. Bhakti is trying to understand, comprehend, and accommodate "the other" based on these moments. Bhakti is knowing that this is not a weakness but a great strength--for it takes monumental courage to smile first
The time when @worldsboro and I stopped in the streets of Varanasi for a milk mithai-break. @emily_matteson or @cole_pennington caught the moment
I was just trying to get a meeting with the Mahant of the Sankatmochan Hanuman Mandir on short notice and Sam was stressing over the amount of sweets he had scarfed down and the type of hand-dyed silk garb he was going to buy his lady
I think they all had the usual Vodafone issues too.
The key to overall success is adjusting ones pace to the call of the space and hour--hustling in a bustling Varnasi or crawling in a lulling DAR. The same smile, the same excitement, the same productivity, the same enjoyment
Yes, it's tough. I haven't figured it out. Who said success was easy?
Anyone can speed up their pace to keep up--survival is an instinct. Great leaders and performers know how to slow down and work with those around them. The fellows were kind enough to let me catch up. Boy, could they move
Surdas reminds us that His Lover was born as human and spent a few decades amidst our flaws and shortcomings. If that's not stooping to our level, what is?
Bhakti is slowing down to adjust to the world around you. Bhakti is doing so with a smile and with excitement--not with an air of arrogance or even a slight of snark and sympathy, but with a genuine desire to accommodate, understand, and appreciate the conditions that lead to the pace.
Antim darshan. The final viewing. For now
As the world is merrymaking, I will mourn the loss of my beard as it prepares to leave my mortal body. The public viewing will end on Wednesday morning
Made me think of death. Why is this such a big deal for me? Fear of change. Fear of what may come. Fear of uncontrolled variables. Fear of where I will go, what people will say after it's gone. Isn't that why we fear death? If only we could embrace all of that as an adventure, progress, a new chapter. What if life didn't end with death, but rather started anew?
Think of death as a nice warm shave topped with a cold towel press. A new beginning. Doesn't sound so scary anymore, does it?
The end of an era of experiences from NYC to Denver to Istanbul and Cairo to Madrid, Lisbon, and Mumbai.
It's time I look 16 again. Fine, 22.
My article "What's in a Beard? Experiences from around the World" is forthcoming. NYT, The Atlantic, or HuffPost.
Bhakti is not mourning a beard and hair, for unlike the rest of your body it grows back. Bhakti is understanding that the body is as temporary as a beard--your soul will find another home. Bhakti is realizing that like the beard, the body too is not your *only* identity. Bhakti is embracing a new chapter, embracing change--always something new to learn, experience, and appreciate. Bhakti is celebrating an end, for it marks a beginning.
When in DAR, do like the DARs
Slurping fresh coconut water on my way back from visiting one of the largest juice factories in the country with its owner. A 50 million dollar project. We didn't have juice there. Instead we stopped on the side of the road to have a few of these--sweet, tender, and yet cheap
The beauty of a coconut is that it gives without caring for appreciation. Think about how much of its cream we junk after drinking its nectar. And yet it keeps giving. Sweet as can be.
We are lazy. It is patient
Bhakti is to give even when others fail to appreciate. Bhakti is to give even when others don't know that you are giving. Bhakti is to give even when you know that others will never reciprocate
I didn't have the heart to waste its meat--I ate every last bit. Homeboy asked me if it was as good as India. It was better. Just not as good as Thailand. He jumped up in excitement and down came the scooter with all of its hanging coconuts