A Mango Tree

A Mango Tree

There was a full-grown tree, a mango tree. It was standing alone, being nice to everyone. One day, a young child from a nearby colony came to play under the tree. The tree fell in love with the child at first sight. The tree was happy watching the child play in its full innocence. After some time, the child returned home. Once he was gone, the tree happily recounted the memory of the child and waited for him to return.

The next day, when the child returned to play, the tree bowed down his branches to reach the child so that he could eat mangos. Love blossoms between a big person (be it age, fame, wealth, size) when the big person does not see a difference between themselves. (Moral: love teaches you to bow down and surrender, regardless of one’s size and stature) The child too fell in love with the tree. Slowly, he began to climb the tree, hug the tree, and sleep in the branches of the tree. This way, the tree and child happily spent time together.

But naturally, the child began to grow. It started going to school and had less time to spend with the tree. The tree was still happy, the child was growing and learning. The tree only wanted the child’s presence, no other expectations. He found contentment in the smaller periods of time they spent together.

The child continued to grow, his studies increased. He began to spend even less time with the tree, but he still would come to see the tree. Again, the tree was happy. The child was growing. During mango season, he would keep the best mangoes to give to the child. (Moral: real love is always is happy in other’s growth)

The child continued to grow and became a young man. He fell in love and stopped coming to see the tree. The tree would wait patiently, thinking of the day when he would come and sit on its branches, but the boy did not come for a few months. Once, the tree saw the boy passing on a nearby road.

He called out to him. “I am always waiting for you. Why don’t you come to see me?” he said to the boy.

His answer shocked the tree, “Why should I come to see you? What will you give me?”

The tree replied, “I’m ready to give you everything.”

“Can you give me a million dollars?,” the boy retorted.

“Money is a human invention, I cannot give you that. I can give you everything I have: my fruit, my flowers, cool shade, peace, my branches to sit on, a place to be at one with nature – everything I have. The day that trees have money, that day, we too will have to sit in the temples or search the world to find peace.”

Vijay – one of my first US workshop attendees

Vijay – one of my first US workshop attendees

In my initial years of working in America, my student Sejal and I used to conduct small workshops. At this point, I was a new name to American audiences, so it was usually a small audience (10 – 15). Even though there was small attendance, EVERY workshop I found someone who went onto become a devoted student who did many things for me over and spent great amounts of time with me. It was a sign of how my luck worked so well in America.

Today, I want to recall the story of my third workshop, held in NYC during my first trip to the US. There was a bald, mid-aged guy with a very sweet smile sitting in the front. He took great interest in the workshop and was giving a great response.

After the workshop, he was the first person to greet me. He name was Vijay. He was an engineer living in New Jersey. Originally from India, Vijay had been living in the US for 25 years. As a child, he used to play tabla and continued to play every so often at the local temple, accompanying bhajans or kirtan. We had made ONE advertisement over the radio. Vijay had heard those two lines on the radio and came to the workshop.

“I feel like I have found my guru,” he said to me. “When can I see you again?”

I told him about the workshop that was to be held the next day in New Jersey, where I was staying.

The next day, Vijay arrived with 2 kg of sweets, a huge bouquet of flowers, an Indian outfit and cash to gift to me. The Americans I was surrounded by looked on with surprise and asked if it was my birthday. It was their first introduction to the Indian practice of coming with gifts to offer to one’s guru.

My relationship with Vijay only grew from that point forward. Whenever I went to the US, he was with me every night and he would NEVER come empty-handed. Sweets, fruits, food, gifts, he would always come with something to give. Whenever anything was needed for Taalim, he would be one of the first people to come and help. Vijay has since moved to Atlanta, but we still keep in touch. In fact, a few days ago I received a call. It was Vijay. He was in Ahmedabad. For the first time, after so many years, he got to see my home and all the work we are doing in India first-hand.

The amazing thing is that Vijay is only one of the people that I met during those initial workshops, many more came from those small audiences, but those stories are for another time.

First Meeting with Abbaji (Ustad Allarakha Khan)

First Meeting with Abbaji (Ustad Allarakha Khan)

It was 1975 or 1976. I came to know that Ustad Allarakha was to be in Ahmedabad to accompany Pandit Ravi Shankar. It was a program arranged by Sur Singar, an organization that I was a young youth volunteer for.
I received news of Ustadji’s arrival and that he had checked into a hotel across from Town Hall (I can’t recall the name). I reached to the hotel at 8:30am with a small bouquet of flowers. I knocked on his door. I distinctly remember how he looked when he opened the door. He looked royal and you see his immensive personality. I gave him the bouquet, took his blessings and introduced myself.

He asked me who I was learning from. I gave my Guru’s name – Pandit Sudhirkumar Saxena.

“Yes, I know him. He looks like me,” replied Abbaji.

This all happened at the door of his room. I began to doubt whether or not he would invite me into the room. But with a broad smile, he asked me to come in. He asked me to join him for breakfast. I was very hungry, but was too excited and shy to accept the food he offered. When I said no, he placed the piece of sandwich in my hand and encouraged me to eat. That was the moment when I fell in love with this great maestro.

After breakfast, he asked me to recite some compositions. He listened very seriously as I recited a composition of Ajrada Gharana. After I spoke the composition, he said, “See, in Punjab, we do it like this,” and he started speaking some amazing compositions, which sounded like magic to me, but were beyond my comprehension as I was a junior at that stage.

“I would love to learn this, if you feel that I am competent someday,” I told Abbaji.

“Yes, I will teach you, but the thing is that I don’t spend much time in Mumbai. I spend more of my time abroad.” Then again he started to speak some more compositions.

After an hour and half, I don’t know how, but I asked him, “Can you come to my home for lunch today?”

He started laughing. I was only a young youth. He asked where I lived. I lived only 20 minutes away.

“I would be highly obliged if you come.”

“OK. I don’t disappoint anybody. Let me call Raviji. If he does not have a commitment for me, I’ll come to your house.”

He called up Raviji and said to him,”There is a kid in front of me. He is very sweet and asking me to come to his house. Do you have something for me?”

Raviji wanted to rest, so Abbaji was free to come to my home.

I called my parents, who were very excited to hear the news and insisted that Abbaji have lunch at our home. When I told Abbaji about lunch, he told me that he would see.

Now as I was only a young teenager, I did not drive a scooter, let alone a car. I asked Abbaji if he would be willing to travel by rickshaw, which he kindly agreed to.

A portion of the drive was along a lonely road next to railway tracks. Our luck was such that the rickshaw stopped working right along this lonely road! There was no one around and the rickshaw driver’s many attempts were futile. I was very embarrassed at this point, but to my surprise, Abbaji turned to me and suggested we find another rickshaw.

We walked about 1 km in the hot sun of Ahmedabad before we found another rickshaw and arrived at my home.

After meeting my parents and formalities, Abbaji asked me to get tablas and play for him. After hearing some of my playing, he taught me a Punjab composition, it was my first Punjab composition. I greatly enjoyed our time and it continued as we had our lunch.

After lunch, I had called a neighbour who has a car, so that we could drop Abbaji at the hotel in an appropriate mode of transportation.

The time we spent together that day is something I will always remember. After that day, whenever Abbaji came to Ahmedabad (once or twice annually), I would always be present as his sevak and he regularly visited my home.

About 15 years later, after the demise of my second guru, Ustad Latif Ahmed Khan, I followed through on my desire to learn Punjab and became a gandaband student of Abbaji. I’ll save stories about my ganda-band ceremony and other experiences with him for another time.

Tabla Taalim by Sejal Kukadia

Tabla Taalim by Sejal Kukadia

I am very pleased to inform you about the wonderful tabla textbook that my dear American student, Sejal Kukadia has written. I am very proud of her and wish her all the best. The book is beautifully done and I know it will be a great resource for all. If you wish to purchase it, please contact Taalim School. Information about this guide to tabla is below.

Tabla Taalim takes a comprehensive look at the rich percussive art of Tabla. From the ancestral lineage of the gharanas to analysis of the rules of tabla compositions, this book covers all facets of Tabla. Tabla Taalim serves as a theoretical and practical guide to tabla, describing the fundamentals behind taal, the role of a tabla player and highlighting the distinctions with tabla playing for solos and different styles of accompaniment, complete with compositions. Written in easy-to-follow language, this tabla textbook serves many purposes and may also be used as a study guide for the Sangeet Visharad (equivalent of Bachelors of Music) exam.

Tabla Taalim Offers:
– 70+ color graphics, including rare photographs and gharana lineage charts
– Biographies of great tabla maestros
– Tabla solos in 15 different taals (Teentaal, Rudra Taal, Dhamaar taal, Brahma taal and more)

“Treatment of all topics are to the point and authentic“
– (late) Pandit Sudhirkumar Saxena, Ajrada Gharana
“Very impressed with the work she has done“
– Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, Lucknow Gharana
“Great source of information for all students of Indian Music“
– (late) Ustad Shafaat Ahmed Khan, Delhi Gharana

Tantra (Lecture Excerpt)

Tantra (Lecture Excerpt)

We have to understand that tantra is not spiritual, tantra is physical. But tantra is not only physical. It works with the occult level. Tantra has five objectives:

    • Boghti or Ishtprapti (Control of Desired Objects or Enjoyment)
    • Mukti (Liberation)
    • Vibhuti (Control of Supernatural Powers)
    • Parimansankramana (Change of Dimensions)
    • Swa par-gyan (Knowledge of Self and Others)

What is physical and what is occult?

Physical means any matter that occupies space and is constrained by time – so it has a fixed beginning and end. Our body is physical, but there are many things in our body that are physical, yet not physical. There are things that cannot be taken into the laboratory and be defined by the dimensions of space and time. Some examples include memory, thoughts, dreams, dream within a dream and intuition. All of these things fall within the occult level, also known as supraphysical.

Tantra directly deals with occult matter. Such like science deals with physical matter, tantra deals with occult matter.