Being Grateful to Silence

Can I paint if my canvas is shaky? Or can I dance if the ground is not rooted in the stillness? As I closely observe these trees, their bottoms rooted in the darkness of the night, yet their peaks touching the light of the moon and the stars, I realise that this universal silence is the playground on which creativity of existence unfolds relentlessly.

As clouds pass through the sky, all our actions and activities pass through this silence. As clouds are unable to taint the sky, our activities, howsoever loud and violent they might be, can not even touch this eternal silence; disfiguring it is far from reality.

Who is an artist? May be the one, who tries to paint this silence on a piece of paper; or the one who sings so that people hear the silence he or she is hinting at; or probably the dancer, who through his or her postures, makes us aware of the infinite space in which we are born, live and die.

When the canvas or the space in which we survive is at even a slight unrest, creativity is impossible. When artists are madly running behind creativity, is it not wise to halt for a moment and be grateful to this silence- the ultimate benefactor of creativity?

Kabir and Krishnamurti : Drawing Some Parallels

Kabir and the simplicity of his words have always stunned me. So has the intensity of the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti. While reading and singing Kabir with one’s totality, one can experience the truth, suddenly flashing like a thunder in the dark sky filled with clouds. On the other hand, when one completely surrenders to Krishnamurti’s writings and flows with them without holding anything back, one can actually see the movement of the mind. And then comes a moment, when the mind completely stops; and the truth again shines itself up like a thunder in the dark sky.

Kabir shares his experience of truth while Krishnamurti, through his writings, pushes you to it.

Some two years ago, I happened to listen to a Kabir’s Bhajan sung by Pt. Kumar Gandharva : नैय्या मोरी निके निके चालन लागी. The Bhajan compares us to the boatman sailing his boat through the turbulent currents of life. Kumarji’s rendition of this Bhajan is extraordinarily beautiful and I listened to this particular composition dozens of times. I always stumbled upon the last stanza:

कहे कबीरा जो बिन सिर खेंवे, सो यह सुमती बखाने ।

या बहू हित की अकथ कथा है, बिरले खेवट हि जाने ।।

(Kabir says, the one who sails without using his head, becomes available to the wisdom (intelligence). This secret to the wisdom cannot be told by one person to the other; rarely, a sailor will be able to discover it.)

In short, Kabir is talking about a way of life which involves keeping aside one’s ‘head’! I found it very difficult to grasp this line fully. Once again, Kabir had shared a thunder, a pulse of truth which my mind was unable to comprehend.

After few days, while I was reading one of the Krishnamurti’s books, where he was talking about how mind is a result of conditioning, I stumbled upon the following line:

“Any action that has come out of an idea, will lead to sorrow.”

Krishna ji tried so hard to make us realize that we are constantly operating from our mind, which is essentially a collection of memories, which is adding further to our misery. Only a quiet yet alert mind, which seeks nothing, can operate through the intelligence, says Krishna Ji.

What Krishnamurti has shared so elaborately and step by step, hoping that we would not only read his books but will actually observe our minds and the movement of thought, Kabir has revealed that in a single stroke.

Both the saints are pointing in the same direction – where mind sees its own limitation and becomes quiet; to make way for the ‘सुमती’ in Kabir’s words and ‘intelligence’ in Krishnamurti’s words. The containers are different, content is same.




How (some)Startups are Creating a Whole Generation of Disloyal Customers

Startups are good for economy. Startups are good for buyers. Startups are good for everyone in the society. Startups have immense potential of creating local employment and absorbing local talent. Startups also give a lot of business to local small scale vendors. Because of startups, buyers get a wide variety and highly customized product, catering to their part of the ‘long tail’. On the face of it, startups look so, so good. But still, many of the leading startups have changed the consumer mentality in a very harmful way.

Just a decade ago, brands used to sell on loyalty. The consumers or the buyers were loyal to a brand. Not like they never switched to other brand. If any of their trusted brands broke the promises it made, the buyer switched to the other brand. Trust was the parameter driving or ruining the business.

Now have look at the situation today. A typical buyer uses any particular brand till it gives a discount or only till it is running an offer. Once the discount or offer is gone, the buyer finds out the next brand giving similar discounts and the buyer switches. All that money which could go in increasing customer loyalty, is going into making them disloyal through discounts. As a result of this game of discounts, the buyer has become more selfish and disloyal.

Sadly, as a result of using discounts or offers as a strategy for customer acquisition and retention, a startup gets a little bit of success in attracting new users but it fails utterly to get further business. The pool of customers which it initially got, eventually runs to other brands. So many startups died this way in past couple of years.

On the contrary, one can find many brands which work by leveraging the loyalty and are growing slowly but steadily. Unfortunately, though people use Ola, Uber, Groffers or so many other services, they mostly look at them as transactional associates and not as ‘brands’. The guy who uninstalled one particular app last week and installed the other, won’t hesitate a bit to uninstall the later one and install a third app which offers a better discount. And so on…

Any idea where this is going?



The Current Crisis at Infosys and a Few Words From Kabir

Infosys. This word resonates with a loss of almost INR 22,000 crores for its share holders. A company, which was once talked about for its work culture and for being a great work place, is today being talked about for the turmoil, which reflected into a huge loss to the share holders.

On the surface, there might be many reasons, including the Panaya deal and others which we believe, have led to this chaos; but if one analyses the situation closely, the main reason behind all this chaos is lack of trust or at least a feeling of lack of trust.

The founder share-holder has his own reasons to doubt and disapprove the moves of the CEO. The other board members doubt the founder-share holder’s accusations. The CEO says he is not getting the required support, which simply means he does not trust the board and finally quits.

Kabir says,

पढ़ा सुना सीखा सभी, मिटी ना संशय शूल |

कहे कबीर कैसो कहू, यह सब दुःख का मूल ||

We keep doubting and cannot trust in spite of all the knowledge that we gather.  Kabir says, it pains to explain that confusion is the root of sorrow.

Great technology does not build  great company. Great systems and procedures do not build a great company. Technology, systems and processes and other such things certainly contribute to the growth of a company but great companies are built by great culture and trust is undoubtedly the most important contributor to build a great culture. If one looks at the situation at Infosys, the trust is missing at the apex level.

Corporate world would be so much better if companies focused on culture instead of just profits.

The Brick and the House

Can a house be robust if the bricks that build it are weak?

Yet, everyone is focused on building big structures and no one is concerned about the quality of bricks.

It is quality of each brick which determines the quality of house that is built using them. Yet, we postpone strengthening the bricks. I realized this while I was singing in front of Guruji. From my childhood, I never focused on quality of individual phrases that I used to sing. Instead, I somewhere felt that I can create a nice musical structure by arranging them nicely. Now, I realize the limitation of this thought. Unless each phrase is beautiful, the musical structure cannot go beyond a certain quality.

The same principal applies to everything in our lives. Each statement of an enchanting story has to be enchanting. Each dialogue of a mesmerizing speech has to be mesmerizing. This effort of improving polishing each phrase, each stroke, howsoever small it many be in the overall art piece makes art a meditation.

We are somehow hooked to numbers and magnificence and not enhancing even smallest of the components. That’s what stops us from creating wonderful piece of art. Observe a musical master piece of a great maestro or a wonderful painting to sculpture of any great artist. Every stroke is a master stroke and that’s what makes every the art piece unforgettable.

More or better? The choice is our!


Why do writers write? Something to keep in mind while reading stuff online

Suddenly, writing and publishing have become so easy. Writing something and getting it published was so difficult a few decades ago; and look around now – there are writers, bloggers scattered all around us, all striving for getting eyeballs and attention.

As I observe, if you use any social network, you are bound to stumble upon the writings and posts by many of your friends who regularly write something or the other. Most of the times, these people take up some issue and start writing about it. While everyone has freedom to write and express, whatever we read affects is significantly and hence, while reading on social media and web, one has to keep certain things in mind; just to avoid getting carried away with content which might be highly biased and without any basis.

I have created three broad categories of writers on the web and I am sure, next time you stumble upon any of them, you will be able to gauge the hidden agenda and simply walk away.

Writing to exploit the fear of the reader 

It is highly important to understand why the so-called writer has written a particular post. As I see it, most of the times, people write something to exploit the fear of the readers and they use that fear to make them violent. Look at the posts around – the religion based, caste based fights, arguments based on political agendas- they all try to exploit the fear of the readers and make them act as desired in the vulnerable moments. I can see many of my friends madly arguing about happenings about which they know nothing. Such pieces of writing have a single purpose- make people afraid so that they lose their common sense, become violent and propagate the trash further. Try not to be one of them.

The conditional flattery 

The second type of writing that I see commonly on social media stands very close to organized crime – I call it conditional flattery. In this type of content, one person writes a post to praise someone else who in return writes something to return favor. Authors, political figures, artists, spiritual figures and even brands are doing this so commonly. Do not blindly trust a person praising the other person; you do not know the under currents. Do your own scrutiny and then trust.

Writing out of emptiness and frustration

The third type of content comes out of frustration and emptiness. Many of us see our friends writing on some random topics and getting comments and likes. As a result, we also get tempted to write something, even if we do not have anything to share. In some situations, the inner emptiness, the inner urge to be something forces the writer to write, even if he or she has nothing to write. In this case, writers mostly write false and hypocritical  content- they write about a cause they do not believe in, they post some advise which they have never lived or tested. If you believe in such content and act, it is like one blind following the other. Folks also post content which glorifies themselves and their lives and if you have a comparing mind, you are bound to get depressed soon by reading such content.

I personally avoid random reading on any social networks and web. I know what are the causes and issues I truly care about and if I want to keep myself updated, I take out certain amount of time every week or day to update myself. Random reading on web, that too without understanding the hidden agendas of the writers can prove to be disastrous.

Review: A Hindustani Vocal Concert in 2050

It’s June 2050. The last concert that I attended in June 2049 was so horrible that I stopped attending all the concerts; but hope hardly dies. Just one more, I thought.

My self-driving car got me at the venue. Thanks to these self driving cars, parking is no more a problem. There were ten other people in the audience. The organizer were confident that some ten thousand people would watch the concert live on Facebook.

I was quite excited to attend the concert after almost a full year and thought of greeting the artist in the green room. The vocalist was sipping a smoothy specially made for vocalists, to keep the voice warm.

I could see two large fibre made towers with strings passing on them, kept in a corner.

“What’s this? I asked curiously”

“Uncle, this is called a Tanpura; you seem to be a novice”

“It’s made out of fibre?” I was thrown aback.

“Yes.. You no more are allowed to cut trees. Also, no one grows those big, old fashioned pumpkins. This is shock proof and IP 67 enclosure.”

He lifted the Tanpura and hit the wall with it and poured a glass of water on it.

“You see, nothing happens!”

I couldn’t dare ask him how it sounds. I was going to experience it in few minutes.

“The Tabla accompanist is late by 20 minutes, but we had done some sittings together via Skype, so that won’t be an issue.”

I simply thought of sitting in the auditorium in a corner and left the green room.

“Wait for a minute uncle.” He stopped me. He took out some leaflets from a bag.

“This is my brochure and other details. In case you want to learn or someone you know wants to learn… I am there on Fb, Twitter, Skype everywhere. Do like my page.”

“Sure” I left hurriedly.

The concert started with an introduction of the artist. I came to know that he got training from California Gharana for six months, Gwalior, Jaipur, Kirana for two months each and not to forget, had done a 15 hours crash course in Patiala.

The concert lasted for 25 minutes. The artist performed Alap in Puriya, Bandish in somewhat Puriya Dhnashree with alap and tanas in Marava . He wanted to make most of the time he had.

The concert was concluded with a half hour long speech by the sponsors followed by 10 minutes vote of thanks by the artist.

At the exit, everyone was handed with the kit which I already got in the green room. A lady dressed in minimal costumes handed it over to me.

“I already got a copy” I told her humbly.

“Do learn form him. He is really goood, crossed a million Facebook followers last night and has a 10,000 square feet large teaching facility!” she said.

“My pleasure” I said!




The Difficulty of Singing Easy Ragas

Looser the Raga structure, more difficult it becomes to perform it..

Ragas are the back bone of the Indian classical music. A certain collection of notes which follows certain rules and behavior becomes a Raga. As one starts learning Indian classical music, the journey begins with practice of basic Swaras and then eventually by learning Ragas and various compositions in those Ragas. Naturally, students find some Ragas very easy to sing while others are very difficult to master due to their complex nature and arrangement of notes.

Most of the students feel that Ragas like Bhoop, Yaman, Bilawal, Kafi etc. are very easy to sing when compared with Ragas like Kedar, Chhayanat, Darbari Kanada etc. Over the years, my observation is, students find easy the Ragas which are less rigid in nature. For instance, Bilawal or Kafi, though they have certain rules and behavioral traits, they can be sung with much more freedom when compared with Ragas like Chhyanat, Kedar or Poorvi which are heavily defined by specific phrases. Mastering these phrases is very crucial in order to perform these Ragas well.

This sounds so logical. Ironically, when one performs in a concert, these simpler Ragas are more difficult to present when compared with the so called difficult Ragas. Why so?

Since these difficult Ragas are heavily defined by the phrases, they already have a readymade face or flavor. Whereas in case of the simpler Ragas, one has to create a face from scratch as there is no such readymade face in existence. For instance, if one has to perform Yaman well, one has to thoughtfully select phrases and combination that add to one particular flavor or face that the performer has selected (which will be mostly defined by the lyrics of the composition).  Loosely structured i.e. the so called simple Ragas like Yaman can convey multiple feelings, even opposite feelings like happiness and sadness. So, the performer has to eliminate or avoid certain phrases though they absolutely fall under the premise of that Raga. Mastering the difficult phrases of the so called difficult Ragas is much easier a task than creating your own phrases in a simple Raga to convey a coherent story.

It is not an uncommon scene to see young artists selecting Ragas like Yaman or Bhoop assuming that they are easy to perform and then not being able to create a consistent picture out of the overall performance. This results in a performance which is technically perfect but emotionally dry and aesthetically scattered.

That’s why, simple Ragas  like Bhoop and Yaman performed by legends like Kishori Amonkar and Kumar Gandharva have a very special place in the hearts of the music lovers!

Better Late Than Never : Reflections on Pt. Sharad Sathe’s Concert

Listening to different artists and attending their live performances contributes a lot to the understanding of music of any artist or even student of music. After I came to Pune in 2008, for pursuing my engineering education, I attended most of the concerts taking place in the city. Eventually, attending concerts became like a routine. Within four years, I had heard most of the well known and most respected artists. I was under impression that these concerts had introduced me to the music of the best artists in India. How wrong I was! And, how unfortunate I was….

It took some time to realize that there are many hidden gems in the world of Hindustani classical music which one rarely gets to listen to in the typical concerts and music festivals. Listening to some such ‘gems’ completely undermined my understanding of and taste for Indian classical music. Pt. Sharad Sathe is one of those gems.

He has been living in Pune for past many years and I never heard of his concert being arranged somewhere in Pune. I got to listen to his magical music first time during the promo shoot for First Edition Art’s Secret Masters Session in a studio at Wagholi, near Pune. On that very day, I had decided not to miss the concert, which finally happened on 26th of March at Ravindra Natya Mandir.

There is so much to learn from Pt. Sharad Sathe’s personality and his music. It was without doubt the most fruitful concert I ever attended. Sharad Ji’s wisdom, developed and refined over many decades, teaches us a lot. Attending his concert was a very refreshing experience and his concert was different from the other typical performances in many ways.

To establish my point well, I would like to begin with his different approaches toward different Ragas. He started the concert with Raga Prabhat Bhairav followed by Todi, Yamani Bilawal, Miya Ki Sarang and Bhairavi. His methods of improvising each of these Ragas were strikingly different. For example, while singing Miya Ki Sarang, he did exceptionally brilliant MeendKam (glides), something that our generation has rarely heard. Whereas while singing Todi or Yamani Bilawal, his approach was totally different, suited for the nature and mood of that particular Raga. Many times, even while listening to some of the most acclaimed artists, one can see that they use same patterns and styles in different Ragas. So ultimately, as the Raga changes, only notes change; patterns remain the same. In case of Pt. Sharad Sathe’s performance, as the Ragas changed, the entire structure and aesthetic approach also changed. Something very rare and unique!

Second thing worth noticing was the way he handled the lyrics of the compositions he sang. Gwalior Gayaki is famous for rhythmic patterns which make use of lyrics of the composition being sung (layakari). Commonly it can be observed that when artists start with layakari, they break the words of the composition in parts and most of the times, these parts do not  convey any meaning. Pt. Sharad Sathe, even while singing some of the most complex rhythmic patterns ensured that he did not break the words in between. His attention to words and their meaning did not wither even when he was singing a complex Tappa in Bhairavi.

Third distinguishing point was his ease while performing. While improvising a Raga, to come up with distinctive phrases and patterns, the artist has to be at ease. He or she has to be fully ‘present’. It can be observed that most of the artists, while performing are hardly at ease. Even while they are performing, they are constantly engrossed in something – gauging the audience, acclimatizing with sound system etc. Sadly, with the time, everyone including artists are losing the ability to be at ease. As the art becomes more competitive and commercial in nature, this problem is going to be more severe. During the entire performance, Pt. Sharad Sathe was at ease. His practice, his devotion to his art, guidance under some of the finest Gurus and mostly, the contentedness that he has, keeps him in a very unique position where he can manage to be in ease while performing.

Singing at the age of 86 is not a joke. Even young artists are always under tension if their voice will co-operate or not. At the beginning, when just for a moment, audience felt that Pandit Ji was facing some difficulty while singing Pancham, he surprised and delighted everyone by singing Tar Shadja with ease and grace. As you grow older, your vocal cords tire, reflexes slow down, hearing might get compromised. Sharad Ji’s performance did not even give a hint of any of these problems. Most interestingly, he was constantly innovating on stage. One could feel that it was not a ‘set’ performance; rather it was co-creation arising out of his own wisdom and skills, his understanding of audience and their aesthetic sense and also the responses of the accompanists.

Listening to Sharad Ji and interacting with him re-emphasized my belief that artist and his art are not separate. The personality of artist percolates in his art. Sharad Ji’s unique personality makes a big impact on his music. His attention to details, graceful and humble attitude, love for everyone around him, desire to not only share his knowledge but also to constantly observe and learn from people and situations around him certainly put his music on a very different plane.

Listening to his concert filled me with gratefulness along with a tinge of sadness. Why there was not a single of his concerts arranged in the cultural capital of India in last ten years? In spite of all this sadness, I feel I am very fortunate that I could experience his music; better late than never…