We all have favorite film themes and scores that we resonate with, that hold magic for us, and these are ten of mine.
For the film theme album, I kept the instrumentation sparse. I stuck to Acoustic Guild 6 string dreadnaughts for their woody “live” sound. Basses were acoustic upright. Digital instrumentation was kept deliberately to a minimum. I wanted the original film score “magic” and emotion to shine through. I left room for open improvisation to maintain a live, loose feel.
This is a collection of compositions inspired by the rivers of India. Each river is a character in the story, and the images the music creates describe a journey into the souls of all the river touches. All of these journeys lead one to transcendence.
Khari Baoli in Old Delhi is the location of the world famous Spice Market. Our crew in Delhi was myself and my teacher, Jeff K., Michael B., a master negotiator who specializes in startup companies, Catherine I., a meditation teacher, Mark K., a vegan restaurateur from Australia, and another aussie, Ashley H., a world-class model.
Brother Pankaj, he of the Bollywood good looks and charm, loaded us up into taxis. When we approached oldtown, we switched to rickshaws. Mark and I shared a rickshaw (an ancient rusty bicycle with a bench seat for two behind the rider) piloted by an old man in his seventies in a suit. I was concerned for him, as both Mark and I are hefty grown men, but he was unworried. I gathered from the way our guy authoritatively commanded the other rickshaw drivers in our posse that he was the elder, the boss, and I would never deign to disrespect him or his ability to power us along with strength and agility. We plunged into the maze.
The Spice Market is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways barely wide enough for two people to squeeze by shoulder-to-shoulder, yet we seemed to be sharing the lane with goats, monkeys, motorcycles, people from age two to eighty, men with wheelbarrows full of spice sacks, tuck-tucks (three-wheel auto rickshaws), and the occasional man with what appeared to be a monstrous eighty pound sack of grain on his head.
Our driver negotiated handily through this obstacle course, and, as all drivers in India, was absolutely fearless. The etiquette for drivers is as follows:
Use your horn. It is not rude. It is essential to letting the other driver know you are in the vicinity, or coming up behind rapidly.
Displays of temper are unheard of. Everyone seems to have an easygoing acceptance of whatever is happening.
Never take things personally.
The weird thing about this system is that it absolutely works. Everyone goes like a bat out of hell, but I never witnessed one accident.
Our seasoned driver took time not only to face down certain death again and again, but give informative asides to us, and seemed knowledgeable about local history, architecture, commerce and the nuances of trade. He also seemed to know everyone in the market, from the slickest international peddler to the lowliest chai-wallah (tea delivery maven: see Slumdog Millionaire), and greeted everyone with equanimity. All without putting so much as a wrinkle in his shabby suit-jacket as he pedaled a one-speed bike that appeared to be made of solid iron in 1948. Did I mention that the temperature in New Delhi in February easily approaches 80 degrees? And it’s not a dry heat. Mark and I discussed how we would have been dripping wet and panting had we tried bicycling even without pulling two middle-aged geezers, but here was our dude, keeping up with guys half his age, conversing without even breathing hard. Homeboy’s dress shoes weren’t even scuffed. I realized that my definition of a hard day at work in the States was a bit wussified at best.
I should take a moment to describe the smells in India in general, and the Spice Market in particular. Imagine the most delicious, savory, delectable odors coexisting with, well, shit and vomit and all things detestable. That about sums it up. Now ratchet that experience up, and put it on steroids. The market stalls are narrow and cramped by Western standards, but one sees entire families huddling comfortably in tiny spaces piled high with intensely-hued dyes, fabric, produce, ridiculously beautiful bowls of saffron, turmeric, cayenne, tamarind, mint, cinnamon bark and fresh vanilla pods, each passing scent awakening sense memories from childhoods I am not even sure I lived. It was all a bit overwhelming, and I did not want it to stop.
I bought vanilla pods for Alison, and was given cinnamon bark by one generous vendor. I have since tried to replicate the quality here in the states. Not the same.
Gandhi was a bad ass. He lived by Vedic principles and could not have existed in another time, yet there he was, changing the course of history because he refused to back down to white arrogance in all its forms. His humility and his absolute insistence on love for all people, not just those of privilege was an anomaly, and it was what drove him deeply to face down the largest colonial empire on the planet.
And he won. He won independence for Maa India and gave the potential for all Indians to walk the earth as free men and women. His geopolitical legacy is not perfect, as shown in the continuing struggle between India and Pakistan since partition. But Gandhi never wavered from his ideal of solidarity between Hindus and Muslims. The world obviously has a deep need for more Gandhis in every culture. He did not shirk his civic and political duty, and when the time came to act, he did so decisively and shrewdly, yet held himself to the highest of all rigorous principles.
As a young law student at University College London, Gandhi was drawn through his lifelong devotion to vegetarianism to join the Theosophical Society, which studied both Hindu and Buddhist literature. It was then that he delved deeply into the Bhagavad Gita. Simply put, the Gita turned him on.
The Bhagavad Gita is the centerpiece of Veda Vyasa’s epic Hindu masterpiece the Mahabharata, penned around 400 BC. The Gita is primarily a 700-verse conversation between Arjuna and his charioteer and guru Krishna on the battlefield of the Kurekshetra War. In the course of this conversation, Lord Krishna explains to the warrior Arjuna about dharma (duty), yoga (to join or unite), and gives him the priceless practice of meditation.
Gandhi recognized the essential life-lessons outlined in this ancient book.
Yet all was not charm and light in young Mohandas’ world. Early in his career as a barrister he had a long-term assignment in South Africa, another of Britain’s colonies, and while travelling first-class on a train, was humiliatingly ejected from his compartment when a white traveler singled him out as a lowly “wog.” This injustice informed and defined the principles of non-violent resistance he later developed and employed to change the world.
During our stay in Delhi, my brother Pankaj generously took us to Gandhi’s home. We were able to walk through the living quarters he inhabited at the time of his death by assassination. His assassin Nathuram Godse was a Hindu nationalist who wrongly believed Gandhi favored Pakistan and Muslims.
We saw the loom upon which he weaved homespun cotton cloth. We saw his humble bed. We saw the yard where he was killed.
Here is why Gandhi’s existence has such profound resonance to me:
Because India won her independence, Guru Dev, (Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math) who became the spiritual leader of India in 1941, was able to bring the teachings of the Veda out of safekeeping and his Secretary, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was able to bring Vedic teachings to the west, with the help of pop culture icons The Beatles. Because of this, I meditate. And because of this, I will soon teach meditation.
One task we had to take care of in Delhi was to shop for clothes. The destinations on our trip were, in order, Kumbh Mela in Allalabad (a spiritual festival held every 12 years), Vrindavan (the birthplace of Krishna), and Rishikesh (a holy town in Northern India, at the foothill of the Himalayas).
I practice a form of Vedic meditation known as the Householder’s technique. It is a simple effortless meditation twice a day, between 20 and 30 minutes. For the six years I have been doing it, I have experienced a huge increase in my own ease and well-being. The technique is priceless. I would not trade it for anything. Life is still sometimes challenging, but I have an easy technique to meet those challenges, and I have found it possible to access vast and unending reservoirs of happiness and bliss, even on a “bad” day.
We practice meditation in the Shankara tradition. This requires attention to a traditional form of dress, in this case being male I was expected to wear a Kurta, a long white cotton shirt, and a Dhoti, a long white cotton rectangle tied like a skirt, and sandals. The way the Dhoti is tied is a signal to Indians that we westerners are practitioners in the Shankara tradition and it shows respect to the devout of all traditions, not just ours. We set out to one of Pankaj’s contacts in old Delhi’s marketplace to stock up on Kurtas and Dhotis.
I neglected to pack sandals, so I kept an eye out in the marketplace for them, but the sandalmakers I found used leather, not good for a vegan. I asked for non leather sandals, and the proprietor proudly produced a pair of fancy Ali Baba style curly-toed creations, not quite my thing. As a result I spent our time in Kumbh Mela rocking Kurtas, Dhotis and gray Chuck Taylor lowtop sneakers.
Delhi airport was like a strange bubble of western-ness in the middle of India, and after 14 hours of the United coach class experience, I was ready for anything different from where I had just been trapped. We in the bowels of the 707 were forbidden by economics to move our arms much more than a T-Rex. One cannot bend from the waist enough to reach down to retrieve items from the floor. I was glad to move, to breathe. There was a sense that the molecules of the air itself were different. I met my connection, Pankaj, outside the main concourse. I had spacily brought my credit card but not my debit card.
This was to prove to be a bump in the road of happy-travelling-self-sufficiency. In India, rupees are required, both for any kind of day-to-day commerce, but also for Baksheesh, a term that encompasses both friendly tipping and out-and-out bribery. This is a necessary means of moving about as a westerner. It is all carried out with an ease and good humor that I never saw fail at any time during my visit. People did not seem upset or attached to a desired outcome. I was to repeatedly learn the lessons of acceptance.
Pankaj declared me his brother and pledged to look out for me during my stay. He lent me 100 rupees (about 2 bucks) to tip our driver once we got to the hotel.
I had no clue what the lodging arrangements were, but I discovered I was sharing a room during the Delhi stay with my teacher, Jeff. He was exhausted and sleeping off his jetlag from his crossing. Although my internal clock was 13.5 hours off, I slept instantly and deeply, with amazingly detailed and vivid dreams. The ultra-saturated colors of India were already permeating my consciousness.
Prior to my trip, I was excited to tell a longtime friend and fellow meditator I was heading to India for the once-every 12 year spiritual festival Kumbh Mela. He was less than enthusiastic.
“I dunno man. I have a friend who went. He said India is like a birthday cake in the back of a pickup truck.”
He was not wrong. It was a little like that. That being said, I like both the cake and the truck, and I owe my life to meditation, so off I went. The next few entries will be dedicated to describing that trip.
Sitting at LAX waiting for a flight to Delhi. Going for a month-long retreat to study the Veda. First Kumbh Mela, a huge festival of devotion. Then a visit to Vrindavin, birthplace of Krishna. Finally, we go to Rishikesh at the headwaters of the Ganges, in the foothills of the Himalayas. More on this to come, plus pix.