In a Mess? Meditate. Heaven will Applaud.
A sharing of Elias Jacob prompts an article on excellence.

 
   

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Elias Jacob is a Devadhara Healer. A level one Healer, an inconstant healer, who has healed off and on. But one who has also accomplished the astounding like clearing a home of ghosts, like attracting the attention of vast and magnificent presences.

He has also with courage, in his mid 30’s, learnt to follow his love for music, and is becoming a singer and a guitarist.

Musically he has graduated from a music school’s courses, spread across a few months. He is just emerging, finding his feet. Learning to connect. To keep it together. The other day he emailed us: “Going quite early today to The Humming Tree. Hope to perform at Open Mic there. Starts any time after 6 PM, I think.   Bye - Elias Jacob”.  We encourage with “Go for it. Interesting. Love.”

He writes back: “It was a mess. Did 4 of my short songs. The Audience clapped during my last song - His Pain. 1 string out of tune, nervous. Did Meditation for a minute. Performed after 10.30 PM.  Bye - Elias Jacob.”

Now we all know what it is like when we are at the very beginning. When huge hopes and dreams rage in us, when our abilities are still coltish and we stumble and sprawl… We can see vast skies but our wings are uncertain. At those times, Elias reminds us a minute’s meditation can help. Elias’s meditation did not make the whole performance go well. But it gave him perseverance, endurance, it gave him the strength to take a deep breath and after 3 successive ducks, to push himself till he sang his pain, with such truth that the audience clapped.  

 

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Sure there are Picassos so prodigiously gifted and informed that at 16 he painted a classical piece that rivals the old masters. Madhu, a Director Level Corporate Professional, sang at one of our Creator's Child Meets. No accompaniment. Just her husky voice. It was as if we were listening to one of the blues greats. Does she get time to practice? Not really. I sing rarely. At the odd party. What with office, taking care of my folks and my inlaws I really don't get time to practice... Yes there are those prodigiously talented. And there are the vast number of other greats that did it the hard way.

There was a time when I, Tarun Cherian, lead a creative group at Ogilvy & Mather, advertising agency in Bombay. One art director in my group was the perfectionist Datta Sawant. He was a brilliant realist. Using a pencil, airbrush or paint brush, he could create images of such photorealism that it was more real than real. An image of a chocolate melting he did in the early 1990’s was still being used by a multi-national client 25 years later. Today when computer graphics rules, his brush is still better than the most advanced computer.  

One day as we were chatting, Datta Sawant told me that when he was at college a lecturer told him “You can’t draw, just give it up, take photography or something.” This could have crushed the ordinary, instead it strengthened Datta’s spine. He practised and practised and practised till in 6 months no one could match the felicity of his pencil. He had become the absolute master of the real. {Incidentally he is also great at photography and CG}

And so if meditation helps, the second aspect is a firm kick in the pants from an unfriendly critic who says step up or get out…

 
 

 
 

The other day I was talking to Abhishek and Shreya of The Beer Puppets, a Jazz group,  {Shreya’s ranked the top 10 emerging voices in India}. Anyhow I found Abhi up one night at 3 am on FB. What were you doing up so late? I asked. “I was composing something.” He replied. 

So to Elias’s meditation, Datta’s Steel, we must add Abhi’s burning passion, not because he had to do it, but because he loved to do it.

 
     
 

Arun Shankar is a creative director, budding novelist, deep thinker… but one of the most enduring images we have of him is when he plays his guitar. It’s one of those unclassifiable pure, guitar spaces, where with just an electric guitar he conjures up rivers of sound that one can sail in. It is inward, full of complex rhythms, immense quietude… This goes beyond just passion to that space of dedication, of one pointedness… every fibre of his being focussed with sharp joy… In fact he seems to embody one of his musical heroes… Mc Laughin who we will talk about a little later…  

While we are on the metaphor of music let us continue, Nader Mohandesi, a surgeon is one of India’s best known drummers one of the pioneers of Indian Heavy Metal in the band, Millennium. Today he has shifted his focus to sufi-inspired rock. I remember a time when he came to us several years ago and talked about recording it. Two years later when we met him again he had just finished the recording. It had taken him two years to finish Hafezaneh. It had to be just right. And so we add one more thing to the mix and that is surely vital, the patience that builds pyramids.

So we have Elias’s meditation, Datta’s Steel, Abhi’s passion, Arun & Nader’s perfectionism...

 
 

 
 

Sahana’s Grandfather was Ustad Alauddin Khan. To the Indian Classical Afficiando this towering figure needs no introduction. But to the uninformed he is one of India’s and the World’s most towering musical talents of the 20th century. His association with Ravi Shankar, his creation of new ragas, instruments and enrichment of the Malhar Gharana make him a titan. Anyway one day Sahana left us with her Grandfather’s biography that she had penned.  We opened it after she left, doubtfully. We expected hagiography. And then were delighted. This was one of the most magnificent and honest accounts of genius we have read. You could easily place it alongside Lust for Life, on Van Gogh.

In an official biography you could expect one to hide the flaws. Soft brush it. In graphic detail you see how the young Allauddin stole gold jewellery from his 8 year old bride as she slept the first night off, and went to practise music in Calcutta. We are with him as he grows in fame and his humiliation as he meets a true master. We follow him as he practises from a teen till his 50’s, practising full 18 hour days, till finally his guru allowed him his first solo performance. We are amazed at Allauddin’s passion for music. Most of us are defeated by the slightest obstacle.

But the story we are truly following is not Allauddin’s but his granddaughter, who paid her Grandfather the greatest compliment. Honesty.

 
   
 

What next? You ask. Mehdi Deobandi, didgeridoo player, flautist, guitarist… and one of Creator’s Child many spiritual seekers, talked about how just after a workshop he had gone into a jungle, a storm broke loose and he meditated in the open, later with his dog, energy crackling everywhere he experienced a death experience, where he died and was reborn… “I have lost my fear of death”, he said.  And so he has truly found freedom, a sky without limits… And because he no longer drags fear behind him… he can stand at the edge of life. 

So add fearlessness to the equation…

 
 

 
 

Sowmya, who in our phone comes as Jazz Singer and Wedding Planner… is returning to her passion as singer… she literally blazed the stage the other day… But as we talked it was when she spoke of how she pulled a mouse off a mousepad by the tail, that the light really shone through, she cared, her heart was in it… And so while many think they can get by on luck and talent alone we all know that anything without heart will dry up and die…

You have heard Ruth & Kamaan often at our launches, so remarkable are they that Ashley Williams, Conductor, and respected Western classical Teacher, said he went away humming a song they sang at Buffy’s launch… Anyway Ruth & Kamaan are both Western classical teachers, and protest song writers. They have composed a song titled The Dam which to my mind is one of the finest Indian protest songs. It has folk rhythms, it has passion, it has purpose. It doesn’t just fill an idle afternoon. It surges up in us, demands we stop shoving our ostritch heads in the sands and wake up and care…

So add caring, world changing purpose to the equation…

 
   
 

We knew Anitha Ashwath as a strong singer. But how brilliant she truly could be was revealed at an art show a Piece of Heaven by Tarun, where she opened. The acoustics at the atrium of Alliance Bangalore is awful… and yet when she let loose it felt as if the rafters of heaven had been touched. Nirmala Mathan, Operatic Singer, one of Bombay and India’s best known classical singers commented, what a heaven-soaring voice. She had trusted herself to Dare Heaven. And so we tuck that performance away with the times we heard Bhimsen Joshi, applauded Kishori Amonkar, was awestruck by Ruth Wieder Magan…

We have till now been speaking of singers as if the audience doesn’t exist. At the launch of The Rose Pyramid we asked Janet to sing, she brought 3 other musicians… The songs were known, the rendition sweet, alive, perfect, but what was marvellous was the audience response. “She just took us to this happy place” someone said. The simple truth is excellence is not an end in itself it is a ladder. It’s not what you do, it’s what you inspire…

“I was in a concert in Dhaka where Mc Laughlin and I were performing. After my show – it was really unforgettable… I’ve never felt so loved… such a feeling of sharing… the audience {all 3000 of them} felt like beautiful loving clouds sitting in chairs {What a magnificent image} – Anyhow it went off brilliantly – my whole band had been keyed up about the thought of playing on the same stage as a maestro like Mc Laughin. To quote an earlier article. {The Swan of Song and John Mclaughlin }  

 
 

 
 

We now turn to clarity. A while ago, Indroneil and Puja had invited us to one of K’halli’s lounge bar. As the evening deepened, we happened to ask Indroneil, about Ragas… He is a well-known modern-classical musician, having invented an instrument, the IndraVeena. The discussion didn’t just go the usual way. It went to the heart of things. He saw the symmetry of the universe and the raga in brilliant clarity… He wasn’t one more music teacher just following his gurus. He is someone who senses the very structure of things…  A thinker… who can conceive of a new music, or a new tributary to an ancient river. A graffiti in the 60’s proclaimed “When the beat of The Music Changes, The Walls of The City Shakes.” Billions are on the internet, millions are glued to FB. But a handful are those that created it. They are often the ones who look beyond their guitars. And understand the symmetry of the cosmos.   

 
 

 
 

Vasundhara, one of India’s foremost Jazz singers, had a layoff for 3 months after a life-threatening Delhi Virus. So going back to stage, was shaky, all her gigs had got cancelled, then out of the blue, one of India’s big music men asked her to sing at his gig… We had just given her a healing, at which she said, ‘am I imagining it, or is there someone else in the room?’ We confirmed a Goddess was present… That evening when she went out and looked out into the audience she saw vividly, with striking, terrifying detail, a gigantic, old style Goddess, complete with skulls… She was singing to a Goddess… After the show, she asked friends and critics how she did, there was silence, one just burst into tears and said ‘thank you’… After much prodding a friend, musician and critic opened up, and said, ‘You let go… it was like you were from another place, it was magnificent, risky… it wasn’t perfect… it was more… like a wolf howl…’ and this from a normally taciturn musician…  

So you now add Goddess to the equation for excellence…

But there is one step beyond… Beyond God??? Yes beyond courage, passion, dedication, perfectionism, inspiration, purpose and The Goddess…

 
 

 

 

 

 

From just 5 centuries ago we hear of Tansen who lit the oil lamps in the durbar through the intensity of his song. We have much humbler examples of life lighting the lamps…

Divya and Shalu were giving a patient a healing as they began to use the healing symbols and chants they found the wintry room had turned into a sweltering furnace, all three felt feverish as if they were on fire. They called Tarun who saw a God form ablaze in the room, who had to be ‘tuned-down’. But the remarkable thing is… Divya and Shalu had ignited a God if such a thing is even conceivable…

You have heard Angel at many of our book launches, yes the one who sings with such amazing grace with minimal accompaniment. One day someone called us, the patient, the husband had severe degenerative illness… Could we help, the chances of recovery were minimal. So what could we do? We could soothe his anguish… help him face death with deeper calm… Especially for him we composed a hymn, based on the Old Testament Good Shepherd, a figure who came to Tarun 2 decades ago when he experienced extreme spiritual travails… Angel sang it with no accompaniment. To anyone who hears it, the hymn offers incredible comfort. The patient played it often in his last few months. The agony and distress as the patient’s muscular and nervous system refused to obey and he couldn’t breathe by himself is impossible to comprehend. He was being buried alive, one muscle at a time. And yet his wife said, he’d listen to the hymn and grow calmer…

There are times when we look back on 2 decades of healing and 3 decades of guiding seekers and wonder whether it amounts to much… And sometimes while we have succeeded sometimes with jaw-dropping force we are haunted by the ones we lost, the lady we lost to snakebite, the diabetes case we helped improve but refuses to heal completely, the pastlife tangle that still wraps its coils around a student, the girl with cancer who came so close to beating it… And finally, even if we cheat death, eventually death cannot be denied… so is it all a complete utter waste? With the muscular degeneration case we may have lost, but death cannot claim victory either… For Life Won… Life Triumphed…    

It is time to close. We began with a tentative exploration of talent, all or nothing passion, total dedication, utter clarity, impossible sacrifice, lofty goals, deep connectedness, divine yearning, God’s darshan, and now earth shaking power… We stand on the shoulders of a terrifying realisation… When we sing, when we throw ourselves into our chosen field with everything we have… the world, even God joins in… No, not just the world of FB likes… but the world with hard edges, nukes, and acid air…

 
 

 

-- Tarun & Celia Cherian, April 2017