Mandar Karanjkar is author, motivational speaker and consultant based in Pune. Mandar works with handful of organizations helping them with strategy, communication and culture. Mandar is trained in Indian Classical Music over a decade. He is a classical singer and flute player.
Mandar has written columns for many reputed newspapers. Engineer by profession, he conducts workshops and delivers talks on subjects as wide as strategy, innovation, online marketing, spirituality, Kabir, Zen etc.
साधारण चार वर्षांपूर्वीची घटना. अनेक वर्षांनंतर माझा गाण्याचा कार्यक्रम होता. मी आठवीत असताना माझं गाणं शिकणं बंद झालं. दहावी, त्यानंतर बारावी आणि मग नंतर अभियांत्रिकीचं शिक्षण; या सर्व व्यापात गाणं तसं मागेच पडत गेलं. अभियांत्रिकीचं शिक्षण संपलं आणि मग सुरु झाली नोकरी. नोकरी चांगली असल्यामुळे आणि माझे वरिष्ठ फारच समजूतदार असल्यामुळे गाण्याचा घरीच थोडा थोडा रियाझ करायला वेळ मिळू लागला. एक- दोन वर्ष असंच सुरु होतं. दोन वर्षांनी मी राजीनामा दिला आणि अजून मन लावून रियाझ करण्यास सुरुवात केली.
कोणीतरी रियाझ ओझरता ऐकला आणि मेहफिल करणार का विचारलं. उथळ पाण्याला खळखळाट असतोच. अति-आत्मविश्वासाने मी लगेच होकार दिला. जोमाने तयारी सुरु केली. पुढचे वीस दिवस एकच राग. शेवटी कार्यक्रमाचा दिवस उजाडला. संध्याकाळी ६ वाजता गाणं सुरु झालं आणि आयुष्यात पहिल्यांदाच, मला धडकी भरली. आवाज थरथरू लागला. तानपुरा ऐकू येईनासा झाला आणि स्वर सापडेनासे झालेत. त्यादिवशी मी कशीबशी वेळ मारून नेली. एकंदर गाणे चांगले झाले आणि नंतर रंगले देखील परंतु, ‘या भीतीचा, या थरकापाचा उगम कुठे होतो?’ हा विचार अनेक वर्षे मनात होता. त्यानंतर अनेक कार्यक्रम झालेत, अनेक वेळा ते भय आणि तो थरकाप होता, अनेक वेळा तो नव्हता; थोड्या अनुभवाने हे कोडं आता उलगडू लागलं आहे. या विषयावरील झालेला थोडा विचार मांडण्याचा प्रयत्न करणार आहे.
मला जर कोणी सांगितलं की समोरची बाग बघून ये आणि त्यात सुंदर काय आहे ते मला सांग, तर मला घाम फुटेल का? मग मला जर कोणी बुजुर्ग जाणकार व्यक्ती म्हणाली की अर्धा तास यमन ऐकवं, तर मग मला घाम का फुटतो? बागेत जाऊन तिथे काय अनुभवलं हे सांगणं आणि मनोविश्वात जाऊन तेथे काय अनुभवलं हे सांगणं या दोन प्रक्रिया सारख्या आहेत की वेगळ्या?
बागेत जाऊन ते सौंदर्य कोणाला सांगणं यात दोन वेगळ्या प्रक्रिया आहेत. पहिली म्हणजे सौंदर्य अनुभवणं, संवेदनशील मनाने ते टिपणं. दुसरा टप्पा आहे मंथनाचा. जे सौंदर्य पाहिलं, ते मोजक्या पण परिमाणकारक शब्दांत, आणि सर्वात महत्वाचं म्हणजे, प्रेमाने कसं सांगणार?आणि खरंतर गायकाचं किंवा कलाकाराचं काम हे निश्चितच जास्त जिकिरीचे आहे. बागेत सौंदर्य आहेच. ती बाग कोणीतरी फ़ुलवूनच ठेवली आहे. आपलं काम फक्त ते सांगण्याचं आहे. गाण्यात मात्र ही सौंदर्य निर्मितीची प्रक्रिया कलाकाराला स्वतः करावी लागते. स्वतःच्या रियाजात, आयुष्यांतील अनुभवांत, जर हे सौंदर्य जाणवलंच नसेल तर ते व्यक्त कसं करता येणार? हे सौंदर्य आयुष्यात अनुभवलं नसेल आणि ते स्वरांच्या माध्यमातून मांडायची सवय नसेल, तर स्वरमंचावर आपण काय प्रस्तुती करणार? कुमार गंधर्व ‘देखो रे ऊत’ सारखी रचना करू शकले कारण की त्यांनी तेवढ्याच ताकतीचा अनुभव संवेदनशीलपणे अनुभवला होता. ही संवेदनशीलता नसेल, तर कलाकार नक्की त्याच्या श्रोत्यांना सांगणार तरी काय? तानांच्या फैरी झाडणं, बिना प्रयोजनाची आलापी करणं, खर्जापासून अति तयार षड्जाला जात श्रोत्यांच्या कानांत दडे बसवणं म्हणजे एखाद्याने कोणत्याही बागेत ना जात केवळ मनाच्या बाता मारण्यासारखे आहे.
दुसरी पायरी म्हणजे अनुभव सशक्तपणे मांडण्याची. एखादया कुशल स्थपतीशी चर्चा केली की लक्षात येतं की त्यांना वारा, प्रकाश, अवकाश यांचा इतका अनुभव असतो की कशी रचना केल्याने त्याचा तेथे राहणाऱ्या किंवा येणाऱ्या लोकांच्या मनावर काय परिणाम होणार हे त्यांना क्षणांत उमगतं. तसंच, कुशल गायकाची स्वर, राग, भाव, यांच्यावर इतकी पकड असते की कशी रचना केल्याने काय परिणाम साध्य होणार हे त्यांना चांगलेच ठाऊक असते. इथे वर्तुळ पूर्ण होते. सौंदर्य अनुभवलं आहे आणि ते व्यक्त करण्याच्या माध्यमावर देखील पूर्ण प्रभुत्व आहे. सिद्धहस्त कलाकारांकडे या दोन्ही गोष्टी मुबलकतेत असतात.
यातली एखादी एक जरी बाजू कमकुवत असली, तर कलाकाराच्या मनोवृत्तीनुसार खालील शक्यता होऊ शकतात –
अनेक कलाकारांचं गाणं इन्फॉर्मल किंवा घरगुती वातावरणात फारच खुलतं परंतु मोठ्या मंचावर काहीतरी गडबड होते. अशा कलाकारांनी खूप सौंदर्य अनुभवलं असतं आणि त्यांच्या माध्यमावर देखील त्यांची हुकूमत असते परंतु मोठ्या मंचावर काहीतरी बिनसतं – दडपण येतं, मनातील बागेत शिरण्यास अटकाव होतो, ध्वनी व्यवस्था हवी तशी नसते त्यामुळे घरगुती गाण्यात जी रंगत येते ती मोठ्या मंचावर येत नाही; जर सर्व काही मनासारखं असेल तर मात्र मोठ्या मंचावर देखील तोच अनुभव मिळतो.
अनेक कलाकार सुरात असतात, तयारी छान असते परंतु त्यांचं गाणं ऐकून काहीच वाटत नाही, ते मनाला भिडत नाही. अशा कलाकारांची बहुदा मांडणीच्या कौशल्यावर हुकूमत असावी परंतु संवेदनशीलता कमी असल्यामुळे फारसे सौंदर्य किंवा अनुभव त्यांच्याकडून टिपल्या गेले नसावेत.
काही कलाकार असे असतात की त्यांनी सौंदर्य प्रचंड अनुभवलं असतं परंतु ते मांडण्यासाठी जी काही तयारी आणि मनोवृत्ती लागते, ती त्यांची नसते. अशा कलाकारांचं गाणं सामान्य श्रोत्यांना फारसं आवडत नाही परंतु जाणकार लोकं सतत त्यांच्याभोवती घोळका घालून असतात.
सौंदर्याची गाढी अनुभूती आणि मांडणीवर हुकूमत असणारा कलाकार खरं तर लाखात एक!
आणि सर्वात महत्वाचं – काही विरळ कलाकार असे देखील असतात की त्यांचं गाणं (अनुभूती आणि मांडणी) ही फार वरच्या दर्जाची असते परंतु ते सतत मांडणीच्या आणि संवेदनशीलतेच्या अधिकाधिक खोलीत उतरत जातात. गाणं कितीही चांगलं झालं, तरीदेखील पुढची पायरी त्यांना खुणावत असते. त्यामुळे, सर्व काही उत्तम असून देखील ते लोकांसमोर गाणं टाळतात किंवा त्यांना ते फारसं जमत देखील नाही.
या सर्व विचाराअंती असं लक्षात येतं की कलाकार आणि त्याच्या आतील थरकाप आणि भय यांचं नातं फारच गमतीशीर आहे. हे भय कलाकाराला नकोस वाटतं परंतु या भयाच्या सावलीतच कलाकार मोठा होतो. खरंतर हे भय आपल्याला सांगत असतं कि सौंदर्याची अनुभूती आणि मांडणीवरील हुकूमत अजून परिपक्वतेला पोहोचले नाही आहेत. या भयाला चिरडून टाकणे फार सोपे आहे. या भयाला चिरडून, अति आत्मविश्वासाने बेसूर आणि निरस गाणं लोकांसमोर मांडणाऱ्या कलाकारांची कमी नाही.
या भयाच्या ओझाखाली घुटमळून लयास देखील अनेक कलाकार गेले आहेत. हे भय जोपासून, त्याच्या हातात हात देऊन आणि योग्य वेळी त्याला तात्पुरतं बाजूला करू शकतो तो सिद्ध कलाकार!
Life in general is full of diversity. If we observe people around us, there is so much diversity in terms of what we do and how we do it. Some people believe in earning riches for themselves while some get peace by sharing their riches with others. Some choose the path of accumulation while some choose the path of sharing. While we might do whatever we do for different reasons, we essentially exist in two modes: Drushya, the one who is seen and Darshak, the one who sees.
Let us try to simplify this. Take an example of a little three year old child. For most of the times, the child is a Darshak. It likes to watch others. It could spend hours watching cartoons, animated videos, birds and animals around, etc. After some time, the child enters the other mode; it gets an urge to be a Drushya. It would like people to look at it. Children cry to get attention. They often become cranky just to attract others’ attention to them. Most of the times, the child is jumping between these two states.
In fact, this is true for all of us. We are putting up so much of content on social media. Why? Because we like to be seen; we have inner urge to be a Drushya. All our accumulation is rooted in our urge to be a drushya. Quite a lot of times, we help others so that more people look up to us, they talk about us. For example, the politicians, actors, performers love to be Drushya. They want to be seen by people. They want to be talked about.
To be a Drushya, one needs a lot of doing on one’s part. Being Darshak is comparatively very simple. That’s why, most of the people love to be Darshaks. Why is Netflix so popular? Why video content is becoming so much popular? It helps us forget ourselves. We choose to be darshak when we want an escape from ourselves.
There is one more state, which we rarely experience. The third state of being is Drashta. Who is a Drashta? In his commentaries on Ashtavakra Mahageeta, Osho very beautifully explains – When Darshak becomes your Drushya, your state is that of a Drashta. This needs a little elaboration.
Who is the watcher within us? Can we watch that watcher?
Ashtavakra calls this state Drashta which simply means being a witness. When we witness ourselves in different situations and mind states (like angry, greedy, afraid, etc.) we realise that the Drashta or witness within us is free of all these states. These states merely come and pass by; we (can) remain untouched by them.
Kabir calls this Drashta as ‘Ram’. Whenever Kabir mentions Ram in his works, he is not talking about the mythological Ram. He is talking about the Ram (Ramyate iti Ram – the one who is engrossed is Ram) inside us who is wrongly identifying himself with the moods and situations through which the mind goes.
Tibetan saint Tilopa describes Drashta as the one who looks at thoughts in the mind like clouds in the sky. Clouds just pass through the sky; they cannot colour it. In same way, our mental states just come and go and we can remain untouched by them.
When we are either Drushya or Darhsak, suffering is inevitable. When we are Drashta, peace is a possibility.
What is Art? Can I call any expression art? If I can sing beautifully, is that an art? Or, if I can hold a pencil in my hand and draw something captivating, is that worthy of being called an art? Is the final product called art irrespective of taking a look at the process in which it is born? Why some art lives beyond the boundaries of time, language and culture whereas some ‘art’ fades out? What makes art timeless?
Before we talk more about the above mentioned topic, let us try to figure out what ‘timeless’ means. Does timeless mean something that lasts for centuries? Or does it mean something which is equally relevant after centuries? When we talk about any art form or an artistic work of any artist, just survival is not enough; otherwise any piece of stone would be timeless. A singer’s intense rendition, which is neither recorded nor documented in any manner will fade away the next moment; is it not timeless then?
That’s why, understanding what ‘timeless’ means is very important to understand ‘timeless art’. Take example of two saints as a case under consideration – Kabir and Raidas. Both Kabir and Raidas learnt from same Guru. They were Gurubandhus in that sense. Another contemporary and celebrated saint – Meerabai, when met both of them, she chose Raidas as her Guru and not Kabir. Today, Kabir is more well known and can be considered to be a ‘timeless’ saint in the conventional meaning of the word ‘timeless’. What about Raidas? Is he not timeless?
I feel, ‘timeless’ art carries with it the energy to give its experiencer an experience of ‘timelessness’. Actually how many people take that experience and then talk about it does not affect the quality of art.
When you read a couplet of Kabir, it makes your mind stop for a moment. It establishes a direct contact between the reader and the timeless. Same is true about a single note which comes from a musician who has tasted even a bit of truth in his or her life. The purpose of art is to free the mind of sense of time; if we judge art on the basis of how long it lasts, that would be hilarious. In most of the cases, when people realise some art is truly timeless, they try very hard to practice and preserve it which makes it timeless in the normal sense of that word. Buddha’s words are timeless not because they are around even today. Since they were truly timeless, his disciples and then their disciples devoted their lives to practice and preserve it.
Before we explore our topic deeper, I would like to share with you how Osho looked at art. In one of his talks, he very beautifully distinguishes between, science, religion and art. As he describes,
Science is our effort to ‘understand’ the truth.
Religion is our effort to ‘experience’ the truth.
Art is an expression from the one who has experienced the truth.
To be very honest, if one defines art this way, 99.99% (or even more) artists no longer remain artists. Artists who are sincerely practising their art form are actually Sadhaks, the ones who are trying to explore truth from their practice. As per the definition of Osho, true art begins after the experience of truth has happened. If we again go to Kabir as a case under consideration, the Dohas i.e. couplets and various Bhajans or poems of Kabir are his expression of truth. They are not his words while struggling to find what truth is and hence, they can be truly called art.
If we look at what is commonly associated with art, three separate things are being called ‘art’:
The art whose sole purpose is self promotion, getting more money and recognition.
Art to make a living from it. Practised sincerely, but to make a living.
Art practice as a way to self realisation.
If we accept the Osho’s definition of art, none of the above can be called artists. Even the last one, which sounds like a very authentic definition of artist cannot be called art. For the third category, they are practitioners of truth and have not experienced it yet. True art can come from the one who has experienced the truth. The sincere artists, who are dedicated to their art form become ‘walkers on the path’ to become an artist.
How does one become an artist who creates timeless art? I feel that this question itself is flawed. After the experience of truth, can one exist and function as an individual? An experience of truth would be something like what Kabir describes in one of his couplets :
लाली मेरे लाल की जित देखु ऊत लाल लाली देखन मैं चली, मैं भी हो गई लाल
The crux of this couplet is, ‘individuality’ does not remain once a person gets to experience the truth. Rather, letting go the personality is a very first step towards experiencing the truth. If you feel that I am being too idealistic or simply lost my mind, let me bring your attention to the fact that some of the greatest artists, who are known as timeless artists have repeatedly expressed the same feeling.
Take this line from the all time great painter, V. S. Gaintonde :
कलानिर्मिती ही ईश्वरकृपा आहे; वैयक्तिक यशाची गुढी नव्हे.
The above line can be loosely translated as – The process of art creation is a grace from the god. It’s not something an individual can boast about.
Gaitonde himself would regularly listen to the talks by J. Krishnamurti and Shri. Nisargadatta Maharaj and these two ‘timeless artists’ impacted him a lot which is clearly visible in his works. Gaitonde also practiced Zen Buddhism.
To conclude, our common understanding is that the practice of any art is a process to realise the truth. In reality, art is the the matured expression which starts flowing through one once he or she has experienced the truth.
In ecosystem of any art form, one individual can play multiple roles; for example, I am a student of Indian classical music, I perform very rarely and I am an avid listener.
As a listener of this magical art form and after listening to musicians from past three to four generations, I have my views about the current Indian classical music ecosystem based on some observations. Apart from this, as a part of Baithak Foundation we also organise concerts of artists, mostly in schools, for kids.
Most importantly, I am a believer who believes music can change lives. Thus this article, about music, musicians and the overall scenario, is inspired from all the positions that I have mentioned above. I am writing this not because I hate some artists and prefer some others; rather, I am writing this because I love this beautiful art form.
Are we going to wake up only when we need nine stitches?
Is everything alright with the present Indian Classical Music scene? Well, on the surface, yes. Let us ignore the impact of COVID-19 for the time being and consider the situation at the beginning of 2020. You may say, concerts are happening everywhere. Festivals are flooded with audience. Some artists are busy, doing as many as 20+ concerts a month. Even young artists have decent performance opportunities. With Skype and other tools, online teaching is also a source of additional little but steady income. More parents want their kids to learn an art form which creates ample of employment opportunities for the young as well as mid and senior musicians…….wait, wait!
I am not asking about the musicians. I am (right now) concerned about the music. What’s the state of music that is being served? What’s the quality of music being presented, what is the quality of experience that audience has? What is the quality of Taalim that is being given and received by disciples (or students?)
In cities like Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, etc. maybe, things do not look that bad. But what’s the situation other than these few large cities? Let us take an example of Amaravti, a district in Maharashtra. I stayed in Amaravati for a couple of years and when I was living there, I came to know of many musicians who could perform phenomenal music. As cases in considerations, I am sharing two videos here.
First one is a recording by Pt. Manohar Kaslikar from Amaravati, presenting Raga Gaud Sarang:
Second video features Pt. Dinkarrao Deshpande, singing a Natyageet. Some of his full length Raga recordings are also available.
In the 70s and 80s, there were at least 5 musicians of this calibre in Amaravati. Same was the situation for Nagpur, Yavatmal, and other nearby towns and fairly across the country.
What do you think is the current situation in these or similar smaller towns? Many places may have teachers but do smaller towns have musicians and Gurus of the above mentioned calibre?
I want to point out a steep deterioration which is happening throughout; it might not be visible in cities like Mumbai, Pune or Kolkata, yet. That does not mean that there is no deterioration.
In our holy field of music, some questions are never asked. Forget of asking them, even having them in your mind might be perceived as a crime. In this long piece, I am going to put aside my fears, respect and other things. When one enters a temple, one keeps out the footwear.
I think undue pompousness about tradition, teachers, rules, formalities are like footwear if one wishes to enter the temple of genuine enquiry.
I am not claiming that I am out of the problems that I am about to discuss; I might be a part of them but I am willing to stop and question. Readers are free to share their thoughts through comments on this article or by writing to me on my email.
The music field has become diabetic because everyone is sweet!
Two years back, I was sitting in front of the editor of a leading Marathi newspaper. This newspaper wanted me to cover the famous Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav. They did not want me to do facts reporting; rather, they wanted musical comments and insights.
With lot of excitement, I met the editor. The first thing he told me was not writing anything negative about any artist. To quote, ‘this is a festival and we never say anything negative on festive occasions.’ That was the clause which came before discussing anything else.
Imagine, if every newspaper tells this to their music reporter, all musicians would be maestros, pundits and ustaads.
But, I was not ready to give up so easily. I played my card.
“Okay, I understand, but can I write suggestive?” I asked.
“Means what?” the editor questioned.
“I won’t say what went wrong. I would write about what could have been better,” I answered the query.
I got an approval on that.
With tremendous enthusiasm, I wrote my first piece, taking all care that I nowhere sounded negative or even critical. I only made few suggestions which were very obvious!
Next day, when I checked the paper, those suggestive comments were simply chopped off.
Why? Why cannot someone as a listener point out what was not right? We all understand that for a musician it might be a bad day and one wrong review might spoil his or her career. But there are dozens of musicians who are consistently performing crap for decades. You can’t anymore call a spade a spade. Immediately your ‘knowledge’ and ‘humility’ bear a question mark.
And, a good reviewer can of course mention that it could be a bad day and be as gentle as possible. Today, no organiser will book an artist from reading a newspaper review. There are YouTube Videos, fancy brochures, personal recommendations etc. through which organisers make these decisions.
Frankly, the world of Indian Classical Music has a history of honest reviews. If you do not believe, sharing two reviews written by veteran journalist Mohan Nadkarni – here and here . I am sharing these reviews just as examples of how critical a reviewer could be. I have heard of far more pungent reviews written about artists of the stature of Pt. Kumar Gandharva and Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and the likes. Many of these reviews were out of hatred; some of them had a point. The point that I am trying to make is, there was no pressure on a journalist that he needs to sound sweet.
Honesty is the new Aprachalit Raga
We often hear many anecdotes about how great maestros of the old time shared their frank opinions about music of fellow musicians. At times, these opinions were born out of a sense of competition and jealousy but, in general, musicians shared what they felt about the music presented. To take this a step further, even accompanists were quite open about sharing their views about the music of the main presenter and vice a versa.
Recently, the only feedback that artists give each other are nice, very good, kya baat hai, bahut badhiya! We never hear something like –
“I liked your performance but the tanpura could be tuned more precisely” or
“I like the vilambit rendition but I found the drut rendition a bit gimmicky which hampered the bhava of the Raga.” Or something as simple as –
“I liked your last month’s performance more than today’s.”
Lack of constructive feedback, from fellow musicians, from accompanists, from audience, from organisers is damaging not only the field of music but also the journey of musicians.
Is Sincerity the Lupta Raga?
Well, for this particular point (by God’s grace) there are exceptions. I request you to prove me wrong by pointing out more and more talented and sincere young musicians. But, I am talking about the overall scene here.
We are always told the stories of dedication, sincerity, riyaz etc. of artists of the yester-years. Keeping aside the details, we can safely conclude that they were utterly serious about what they were doing. We have the story of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan Sahab wearing a kurta made of the thread which he used for the javhari of his tanpura and we also have heard the story of Kesarbai Kerkar who would return ticket money of audience in the last rows, if they were not able to hear her clearly. She stopped singing when she had huge following just because she could not sing up to her own standards.
And then, we have musicians who share recordings of concerts where they are out of tune for 90 percent of the time! Being surel is very difficult and is a life long journey. What bothers me is, can a musician not avoid posting it? Don’t post it. I understand, one wants to be ‘seen’ and hence one uploads them. But please, do not DM your audience and tell them how beautifully you have sung. At least be humble!
Many times, artists do not even cut the patches where they have fallen flat on their faces; or record it on better quality devices. At least, learn a bit of technology to ensure the music that goes out is worth a listen.
I am not writing this sitting on a pedestal. I know I am far from being surel. What bothers me as a listener and as a music lover is this casual attitude. It makes me think of a salesman who sales rotten tomatoes with broad confidence on his face. It might be working for artists; but it is damaging the art for sure.
Today, lack of talent is not the problem knocking on our doors as much as the lack of sincerity and the burden of publicity. Somehow, we have lost fresh air which is very essential for an ecosystem to flourish.
One might argue that in spite of all this, the art form is becoming more popular and I am being pessimistic. Well, let me tell you a story.
Let’s hope Indian Classical Music does not end up like that coffee company…….
Once upon a time, there was a company which sold the finest Arabica coffee in the world. Their sales were growing exponentially. Their newly appointed CEO came up with a strategy to take profits up through the roof. He proposed to blend the Arabica coffee beans with the much cheaper Robusta beans. They did trials; some packets had pure Arabica while some had the blend.
Their study showed that most of the people are not able to make the difference and within a month, all the packets going out consisted the blend. The profits increased almost three to four times. Everyone was proud and happy. After 15-20 years, the sales started dropping crazily.
A team of consultants was hired to find out what was going wrong. The reports from the consultants said that only the people from earlier generations who were addicted to coffee drank coffee. The next generation stopped considering coffee as a drink of choice.
The company realised their mistake. By blending cheap coffee, they made huge short term profits but this new blend could not capture young consumers. They liked other options much more than coffee.
The company immediately banned the blending. It took them a generation or two to get back to their earlier size of consumers.
Let’s hope our rich tradition of music does not end up like this coffee company!
पिसती चक्की देख दिया कबीर रोय। दुई पाटन के बीच साबूत बचा न कोय।।
Meaning : Kabir cries when he looks at these grinding wheels, churning endlessly (Pisati Chakki) and mercilessly, crushing everyone in between them, not sparing anyone.
This is one of the most commonly known Dohas or couplets of Kabir but often, it is misunderstood and misinterpreted. Kabir is talking about the pair of grinding wheels in between which, we are all getting crushed.
What does Kabir mean by these grinding wheels? As per the normal understanding, the grinding wheel which Kabir is talking about is this universe. The earth is the base wheel and the sky is the upper wheel. And we humans are like the grains trapped in between these two, getting crushed endlessly.
So, many people also conclude that Kabir suggests, it is impossible to be happy in this world. This somewhere leads us to inevitability of pain and suffering in life.
Is that really so? The same Kabir, who talks about the shower of bliss, would he just conclude that suffering is unavoidable? We need a completely different approach to understand this Doha and to catch its real essence.
The two wheels necessarily symbolise friction. They convey a sense of constant conflict to me. If there is no friction, i.e. no conflict between these two wheels, the ‘suffering’ would immediately stop. I feel, the wheels Kabir is talking about are reality i.e. what exists and our expectations – how we want the things to be.
If we look at this Doha with this new definition of the grinding wheels, it makes total sense. We are constantly getting crushed by the conflict between ‘what is’ and what we want. A major chunk of our energy goes in fighting with what is and changing it to something that we imagine or some ideal which the society, our parents or we ourselves have given to us.
This is the part where Kabir and Krishnamurti come very close to each other. J. Krishnamurti says, when we know (at a superficial level) that we are violent, we invent a non-existent ideal – nonviolence. Which means, the reality is North Pole and we invent a South Pole which is the ideal. An our life becomes a constant struggle between these two poles.
Acceptance, Krishnamurti says, is the answer and not creating a radically opposite, non-existent ideal. Kabir has put up this problem very nicely. He has explained it very nicely, using a simple metaphor of grinding wheels. What solution does he propose to this problem?
Kabir shares an answer somewhat similar to J. Krishnamurti but in form of another Doha and another analogy.
पाटी पाटी सब कहे, कील कहे ना कोय। जब कोई कील कहे, तो दुख काहे को होय।।
Meaning: Everyone talks about the two grinding wheels and no one talks about the motionless point of pivot which lies at the centre of these two wheels. If one rests there, pain and suffering end.
If you ever have observed the actual grinding wheels, you must have seen the small portion at the centre of the wheels where the movement is almost negligible. The few grains which stay at that spot, remain intact. Kabir is using this analogy to make us move towards our own centres. We are constantly moving out and that’s why the conflict. Can we move in? Can we touch ourselves? Can we, with all our energies look at us and accept us as we are?
A lot has been said and a lot is being said about COVID-19. Experts and stakeholders from different fields- science, medicine, environment, economics, education etc. have been talking about the virus and how it’s going to impact our lives in near and far future. Most of these articles are scientific and data driven in nature while some are based on outcomes of very sophisticated forecasting tools. There are quite a few articles where social implications of COVID-19 have been discussed in great details.
It’s good to clarify right at the beginning that I am not a scientist, not a researcher or an analyst. Though, what people often forget is that we are humans to begin with. We are not the sole residents and owners of the Earth. All these write-ups and articles from these experts take many things for granted which is not the case at all.
This piece is an analysis of root-cause of our miserable situation. It’s not backed by data but it’s based on observations as a human being. I am convinced that we are no rulers of this planet but one of the ‘species’ which is residing it and I will be examining the situation from this perspective. The world is talking about Coronavirus as the only problem, rather it’s just one of them.
I would rather say that virus is not the problem itself. It is actually an outcome, a manifestation of our crazy and self-centred ways of living.
The strange animals called the Humans
Humans are residing on the top of Darwin’s model of evolution. Generally, all the animals and birds take care of the ecosystems in which they thrive. There might be some occasional damage to the ecosystem caused by some creatures but that is generally out of sudden anger or rather a result of direct efforts to survive. Once that trigger is gone, animals move back to their normalcy. Animals are generally full of sense of territory and once they get it, their mischief stops. Human beings violate both of these laws. Along with immediate instincts, human beings are governed by momentous insights and have the unique ability of pursuing their ‘dreams’, ‘ambitions’ and ‘goals’ no matter what.
In the process of creating wealth or safeguarding one’s interest, human beings can happily destroy the ecosystem in which they and many more creatures flourish. Also, like other animals, we fight till we claim our ‘territory’ or whatever the goal is but our notoriety increases drastically after we get what we want.
In short, our journey as humans is fuelled by fear, insecurity and discontent with whatever we have. Once we achieve what we hoped for, our desire is not shunned but it multiplies manyfold. The glass of desire is an absurd one. Once you start filling it, it doesn’t get filled; it starts getting bigger and bigger.
Our acts have always been detrimental to the entire balance of nature and many epidemics that we had, were actually results of we destroying habitats of others. As this article points out, destroyed habitats create perfect conditions for coronavirus and many more pandemics are about to begin in the future.
One of the greatest teachers from India, J. Krishnamurti would often say that ‘to exist is to exist in relationship.’ Without any doubt, we are the creatures on earth who exist in the worst possible way; exploiting everything rather than nurturing it. Over the centuries, we have cultivated toxic relationships with other co-occupants of this planet.
Our mistake is our misconception that we are individuals
Humans are highly ‘individuality’ driven. We have circled down our identities to narrow dots. Secondly, whatever falls out of our circle of identity, we identify it as competition or threat. In nature, life is woven so magically that there could be thousands and lacs of viruses but they won’t kill all of us. In the worst situation, they will kill a tiny fraction of our population. We started looking at everyone other than us as a threat. With the discovery of antibiotics, we started a war with microbes and in turn, affected ourselves by destroying the habitats of ‘good’ bacteria within ourselves. It took us many decades to realise this mistake and now, microbiome research is fostering to study causes and cures for many chronic diseases and disorders.
Yet, we are far from realising that fighting is not the key to exist.
Even now, with the Coronavirus outbreak, we are in fight mode (at this moment, it is absolutely necessary to control the pandemic) which is the only immediate solution. But, it is a ‘short’ term solution. The long term solution could appear only when we rethink about the way we deal with ‘life’ and its balance on Earth.
Flattening the curves
Everyone is talking about flattening the curve so that we can buy ourselves time to manage the situation better and reduce the number of casualties on the way. Flattening the Coronavirus curve is of course the need of time but to ensure our (and of the entire life on the Earth) healthy survival, we need to get serious about many other curves and should worry about flattening them instead.
Population: We are already much more in numbers than we should be in the first place. No population control, no hopes.
Pollution: Our rivers, air, soil, oceans everything is being polluted at a crazy pace. Ultimately, it’s all going to come back to us and hit us badly. We are already out of time; Ecosystem restoration should not be our just first priority but our first three priorities.
Desires: We have already come far ahead of what we had expected from the life. We have done it at the cost of many people who are going through a living hell. As long as we operate from our sense of insecurity and comparison, we might possess all the wealth of the world but still, we would be wanting more and more.
We humans need to learn the art of being satisfied. But, individual and social satisfaction goes against the ‘growth’ driven society. Every effort will be made to make us feel insecure and incomplete. Entire machinery will be put at work of triggering our ‘fear’ so that we buy more, we hoard more and compare more. Once you get in the spiral, getting off is next to impossible. COVID-19 has momentarily stopped the spiral. Better be careful before you step into it again!
Ashtavakra Muni can be said to be one of the most rational sages we ever had in India. We often think that spirituality is very thinly related to rationality. The root of this misconception lies in the fact that we, our relationships and our society primarily works through a false structure. The structure itself is irrational and hence, we often find spirituality irrational. In very simple words, if my ruler itself is bent, I will find every straight line skewed. Some of the fundamental truths which Ashtavakra Muni explains in a very straight-forward language, might appear to be absolutely illogical to us. Yet, I am going to talk about a few of them.
Throughout his Mahageeta, Ashtavakra talks about Sakshibhava (साक्षीभाव) which simply means to be a witness. He calls this witness Drashta (द्रष्टा). Who is witness? A witness is that part of us, or rather that state of being where we just observe things and events without getting affected by them or their outcomes. A witness is concerned about witnessing what is happening and has zero attachment to what happens. Generally, whenever we look at something, we look at it with some sort of attachment. We are concerned more with the outcome as it might either be favourable to us or might also be detrimental to us. When we truly become a witness, Ashtavakra highlights, we move in a state where nothing can affect us; there is nothing favourable and nothing harmful or detrimental.
Osho, in his volumes of Ashtavakra Mahageeta has explained the concept of ‘Drashta’ or witness in a very unique way. With little help from him, I would be trying my best to simplify what Ashtavakra is hinting at when he says be a Sakshi or Drashta.
We normally exist in three states. The first mode of being is a Drishya (दृश्य) which means ‘object of someone’s attention’. In this state of being, we strive to be an object of someone’s attention. Most of us are in this state most of the times. We want to get noticed, we want to be talked about. All of us in some way or the other, keep trying to be an object of people’s attention. Our interactions and updates on social media are a testimony to this thirst of almost all of us. The root of our desire to be a ‘Drishya’ is the hollowness that we find within ourselves. We want people to look at us so that we can portray we have some ‘substance’ and we are not hollow.
The next state of being is Darshak (दर्शक) or the viewer. For someone to be a Drishya, there have to be at least a few Darshaks. While some people try becoming Drishya to fill up their hollowness, some try doing that by being a Darshak. Being a Darshak is far easier than being a Drishya and that’s why, whenever people find a Drishya, they gather around him or her. A Darshak looks at things out of his or her boredom and out of inability of looking within oneself. When a child is bored with one toy, it chases the other; in same way, a Darshak keeps moving from one Drishya to the other.
When a child is bored with one toy, it chases the other; in same way, a Darshak keeps moving from one Drishya to the other.
The third state of being is a Drashta (द्रष्टा), the Sakshi or the Witness. A witness is not an ordinary viewer like Darshak. For Drashta, Darshak is Drishya. Which means, a true witness is no more interested in looking at others. He is no more concerned with what happens outside. He observes how the Darshak in him/her is eluded by the Drishya/s outside.
What Ashtavakra says about being a Drashta, the same thing has been said by Sant Kabir, in a very different language:
बुरा जो देखन मैं चला, बुरा न मिलिया कोई।
जो मन खोजा अपना, तो मुझसे बुरा न कोई।।
(I started searching for the devil but could not find anyone. When I searched inside me, realised, the devil is inside me!)
This is the whole gist of being a witness. Looking at oneself; closely observing how we get dragged away and get attached to what we see around us. Once we start understanding how we attach our personal interests to each and everything happening around us, we start realising how being detached from these things leads us to acceptance.
The outcome of being a Sakshi is to arrive at the magic key to happiness : acceptance.
When I saw a painting of yours in an exhibition catalogue, for the first time I came to know that a person like you exists. For me, the world of colours and lines was restricted to M.F. Hussain, Picasso and other such celebrated names.
Do not be mistaken. I have no knowledge of paintings. I was sitting along with an accomplished print artist who was touching up photos of a musician for us. And, I hated you because, someone would call him and he would keep aside our work and start touching up your celebrated work, Kali.
But, my hate lasted for only a minute. As I saw this accomplished print artist playing with the scary blue colour of your Kali and trying to match the scan colour with original painting, I could sense my heart melting in the blues. Honestly, in spite of this, I truly got interested by you when I read the auction price of a few crore rupees noted against Kali.
“He is really something!” I thought.
After this short interaction with you, I absolutely forgot you. But, our meeting was not supposed to be so short. Two days ago, while I was having a cup of coffee at the Zen Cafe at Amdavad Ni Gufa, I saw a book store around. From their glass walls, I could see piles of heavy and costly books.
As I entered the book store, Ideas Images Exchanges was the first book to greet me. Though I had to catch a flight and had very little carrying space, I bought the bulky book along with Svaraj written by Ramchandran Gandhi.
For past two days, your colours, strokes and immortal figures from your famous Shantiniketan Triptych have been haunting me. I call those figures immortal because they touch human or life instincts which are temporary yet perennial. How can you, on a piece of paper show something which is trivial and then something which is significant; as significant as the existence itself?
At first, your paintings look absurd. To a novice like me, the dark blues and reds in them might even look obscene or Bibhatsa. It was Ramchandran Gandhi who held my hand and showed me what richness you had put together on the canvas.
As a student of music, I am more touched by you and your work. We musicians have a Tanpura which gives some reference to us. Though finding a correct shade of a note takes lifelong practice for a musician, I wonder what it must be taking for a painter to select a shade of colour to convey what he or she wants to!
I know, your paintings are nothing more than just a drop of what you are and what you have absorbed looking patiently at life around you. A painter or any artist, can never flourish if he is only concerned about his art and not bothered about the play, leela happening around. And then, the artist also has to master the Sakshibhav, the role of a witness to see through this Leela. I deeply admire you for the fact that you managed to be on both the sides of this curtain of Maya and managed to show both the sides of it on a single canvas.
As I google more about you, I understand how your paintings being sold for crores of rupees helped little with your financial situation. Who am I to tell you that you have accomplished much more than piling up huge sums of money?
Through your works, you preserved a seed which will blossom when the right time comes!
Three years ago, I and Dakshayani were quite frustrated this time of the year. Very enthusiastically, we had appointed 3 teachers under Baithak Foundation to teach at our three partner schools. This was a very concrete step to take Indian Classical Music to kids from underprivileged backgrounds.
Through lot of ground work in the communities across Pune, sadly, we learnt that Honey Singh was the only ‘classical’ singer our next generations had heard of along with an ‘old lady’ called Lata Mangeshkar.
What can be done to introduce our kids to our rich heritage? We always wondered.
“Shall we appoint teachers to teach music in the schools?” Was the first idea that came to our mind.
Since funding was not a constraint at that point, we started interview processes and also started creating a curriculum which could be taught in the schools. Our enthusiasm took a serious blow when we got to know the teaching skills of practicing young musicians.
“We will train them” we were determined.
After the recruitment, with initial training, we let the teachers go into the classrooms. The model was devised in such a way that all the grades would have two music classes every week in which we would talk about how music originated, types of instruments, some basic concepts like Swar, Taal, Lay, Raag etc. Initially both I and Dakshayani would attend the classes to give feedback to teachers and course-correct. We would often conduct informal meetings as well as well curated trainings for these teachers.
Teachers often complained of discipline issues in the class rooms. One of the major complaint they had was lack of respect.
“When I take classes at my home, the collector’s son comes and learns from me. He touches my feet every time he comes. These kids do not even know basic manners.” Said one of them, oldest by experience and age.
We would also have meetings with the school staff and would request their intervention in the classes so that they went on smoothly.
In spite of all this, just within three months, we saw resignation from the first teacher floating in our inbox.
“I know your intentions are good; but these kids can never learn our music because they don’t know how to respect.” Said the same teacher whose relationship with kids had almost become hostile by then.
We accepted the resignation and thought of finding a replacement. Before we could do that, came the second resignation. The program at third school was halted because of multiple issues, incompetency of the teacher being prime one.
In short, our program had miserably failed. It was same feeling a start-up founder would have when his product backfires even though there is plenty of seed funding.
It was very easy for us to conclude that these kids really do not deserve this kind of music and why force-feed them? This has been the common notion about Indian Classical Music anyways. Many musicians had told us this theory of how this music is meant for the rich- economically and socially.
In spite of all this, both of us had a feeling that we were doing something wrongly. Instead of blaming it all on the kids, let us carefully examine the flaws in what we were doing.
The very first mistake that we realised was, we forced this music on kids. They had never heard it, never experienced it. So the first correction, we thought our program needed, was eliminating ‘compulsory’ aspect and making the program sign-up based.
The second grave mistake that we were doing was teaching in classroom an art form which was highly experiential. Can we make them experience the art form rather than teaching it in a classroom?
Baithak@Classes program was an outcome of these two learnings. We decided, for first two years, let us just do concerts in the schools for which kids can sign up if they wish to. No one is forced to attend.
Out of the three schools we were working with, we rolled out @Classes program in two schools. We created nice poster for the first concert and put them in the respective schools.
As the principal of one school says, “I thought, hardly ten students will sign up. Within one hour, I had fifty sign ups with me. I was surprised.”
The concert was very well appreciated. We got similar but more engaged audience for all next concerts.
“We liked Kathak. How can we learn it though?” Getting such questions from students became very common.
Due to increasing demand from the students, @Classes program was further evolved to include workshops in it.
After two years of concerts and workshops, Baithak, school and students – all felt thinned for deeper engagement. Everyone thought that we needed regular Art Clubs in school.
This is how The Taalim Project was born. We designed a fellowship program where fellowship was awarded to a musician who would teach a batch of 10-20 kids once a week.
Acclaimed dancer and Guru, Arundhati Patwardhan joined us as our first fellow and took the bunch of 15 boys and girls under her wings.
After teaching these kids for couple of months, Arundhati Tai once proposed – “Can we arrange a small performance of these kids in our institute’s annual event?”
That moment was truly priceless for all of us!
Dakshayani was standing in the stage wing of Tilak Smarak Mandir, where Kalavardhini’s annual event was going to happen. Kalavardhini Team was kind enough to give a slot for Arundhati Tai’s students to perform a Vandana.
The fifteen boys and girls were excited as well as confused; probably it was the very first time they were inside an auditorium; that too with a few hundred connoisseurs waiting to watch their performance. They were all dressed in a particular manner, to which they were not used to.
The students were nervous, under extreme pressure, in a different air altogether. To everyone’s surprise, without anyone telling them, each of the kids touched Arundhati Tai’s feet before they began their performance!
The same bunch of kids, which could have been easily labelled as ‘manner-less’ reached a stage where they felt like respecting their teacher. Can respected ever be demanded? Or it has to be earned like Arundhati Tai did through her unmatched commitment towards her kids?
The kind of ecosystem and patronage in which our music flourished ensured that this respect was always paid; either genuinely our out of force and fear. Now, the situation is very different. The respect must be earned. The process of touching the hearts of young ones and gaining their ‘true’ respect is very beautiful and worth all the efforts involved.
To know more about Baithak Foundation’s work, visit : www.baithak.org
When we hear this name, the picture that our minds create is of a saint, living a minimalistic life while maintaining a distance from the society. Living silently in his Kuti, may be surrounded by a few disciples. Loi, which we all assume to be his wife, would be sitting silently in a corner. The constant sound of this weaver’s loom might be the canvas on which the couple lived their ‘non-happening’ life.
Kabir might be going out every day for a few hours to sell the fabric he religiously wove. On the way back, he would be buying few vegetables and some rice. Such a boring life!
On the face of it, the life of Kabir seems so much devoid of ‘life’! People writing and talking about Kabir or singing Kabir have much busier and much more happening lives than the saint himself!
Was Kabir happy with his life? If he comes back on earth now, having lived a simple life, how will he feel when he finds out that people singing his Bhajans and Dohas are celebrities? Kabir, the ultimate creative being, might have lived in a leaking hut all the life. Will Kabir get depressed looking at the scenario around now?
I know the answer. In fact, I know it because Kabir himself has given the answer in one of his Doha’s. He says,
फुलवा भार न ले सके, कहे सखियन सो रोय | जो जो भिजे कामरी, त्यो त्यो भारी होय ||
We are so delicate, that weight of even a flower is too much to bear! Still, we get involved in life and become heavy like a drenched blanket!
In these two lines, Kabir has beautifully demonstrated a middle way to live life. We are used to live life at the poles; either we get extremely involved in the life or we start rejecting it straight away. Not even one of Kabir’s Dohas are against life. The very fact that Kabir worked as a weaver tells us how well he accepted life and was a part of it.
Kabir asks us neither to get involved in life nor to reject it. He hints at the third possibility – living life totally, without getting entangled in it. The problem is not with life; the problem is when we start getting entangled in it.
To be honest, Kabir is not the only saint who has emphasised this middle way. Another mystic from India, Ashtavakra Muni, who lived much before Kabir, has said the same thing. In fact, not running from life, but living it and looking at it without getting attached has been a central thread running in the wisdom of most of the Indian saints and mystics.
If we take a closer look at the above Doha of Kabir, it is quite clear that the saint was against even slightest of attachment.
“We are so delicate, that weight of even a flower is too much to bear!”
Attachment is the problem. How large or small that attachment is, makes no difference.
What’s wrong with being attached?
The most fundamental principle in Eastern Philosophy is the principle of ‘negation’. To put it simply, truth cannot be found out positively. Rather, you can just find out what truth is not.
साहिब है घट माही
Which means, god or truth is within you, rather, you are it!
The problem is, we have identified ourselves with too many things which we are not! In other words, we have attached ourselves to what we are not. When we detach ourselves from all that we are not, we are left with what we are – the Truth.
So, the shortcut to finding god or truth is not finding out what we are, but rather realising what we are not!
We misinterpret that all the saints, including Kabir, are against life. It’s our misinterpretation. They were in fact very much for life; but life devoid of attachments. More entangled and involved we are, farther we are from the truth.
How to cut through the entanglements of life? Again, the answer comes from Kabir.
राम निरंजन न्यारा रे, अंजन सकल पसारा रे
Ram is not the god that we worship. The Ram in Kabir’s Dohas and Bhajans is located inside us. The one who gets entangled, attached and involved.
Kabir says, the Ram within you is the only truth and not the things in which he is involved.
To make it simple, when we get attached to something, we should move the eyes within and try finding out the one who is being attached. When this process happens more frequently, one realises that this feeling of attachment is just an illusion. The Ram within is beyond any attachment.
The simplicity in Kabir’s life is not because of lack of life; that simplicity came out of lack of attachments. Though his life looks non-juicy on the face of it, it was throbbing with the nectar of life!
Steering through life without getting entangled is one of the most precious pearls of wisdom which Kabir gave the world!