Friday, November 25, 2011

My experiments with Bahá'í

Its Thursday today, the day of prayers...

Sitting uncomfortably on a plush sofa, I looked around and scanned everyone present at the gathering. They all smiled at me, and I immediately felt welcomed. Small conversation followed, most of it in Gujarati which I follow well now. I was asked a few polite questions, also asked if I wanted a cup of coffee, an offer I was highly tempted to accept but declined nevertheless. No one was even drinking water, and I knew there was dinner after the session.

Mrs. Chinubhai coordinated the prayers and explained the next course of events for the evening, perhaps more for my benefit. The Bahá'í prayer sessions usually take place in someone's house, they actually have very few places of worship so home usually turns into a temple.  Prayers usually start with a few people (you can also suggest your name) who sing a few songs, while other who know the lyrics can also join in. We prayed in three languages that day - Gujarati, English and Hindi, and this changes with wherever you are in the world. There are a set of books with prayers and Bahá'u'lláh's sayings, and different people read different sections from them. I was the new one and was given a huge section in English to read (about peace, war, destruction, humanity etc.). Usually afraid of any public reading, I faltered at regular intervals. I liked what I read, but was highly embarrassed with how.

The prayers are usually followed by dinner with the host and discussions, and often a cup of coffee before its time to say good bye. Its a time to socialize, and catch up on each others lives, and maybe offer help/ advice to some.

I was, of course, experimenting with the faith that evening. From the time Roshni had joined office, I was intrigued as I had never ever met anyone who followed the faith. Needless to say, this wasn't the last time I attend the prayer, and soon became a regular with them. But why? I really don't know as yet, there is something very pure and clean about the prayers, something completely unpretentious. No one expects anything from you, and even as a silent observer there is much to absorb.

Bahá'í faith started as a movement in the 19th Century Persia (modern day Iran) but its members were soon persecuted and had to flee to neighboring countries. The faith, however, survived all persecution and currently there are believed to be five to six million of them in about 200 countries across the globe. Read more about the faith here. India is one the countries where there are many followers, and can practice their beliefs without persecution. Unfortunately, in Iran, the country of their origin, they are still not recognized as a faith and have to live and pray in the hiding.

In India its most famous landmark is the Bahá'í Temple in New Delhi. I've been there as a kid, and all I remember now is silence (which was an unusual feeling for me a kid back then). I am sure a visit again would be more fruitful because I know so much more about the faith now.

Above is a collage of some of the images Roshni took of the temple recently. You can find more of her photography work here.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

the call of sarangi

The glitter on string caught the slow glow coming from the overhung lamp; with all the darkness around, it looked like suspended light, floating alone, along with the constant sound from ustad's sarangi. I was spellbound once again, the slow and wistful raaga today was perhaps just a preface to the more tragic set of events that were to unfold later in the night; for now it just bought me closer to tears, tears of melancholic indulgence. I looked into ustad's eyes and found them brimming with the salty water as well, always on the edge, the tears never quite managing to fall. Even as the light outside continued dimming, the music played on, my heart kept skipping a beat. The ebbing light made it easier for me to let go, to free my tears, to let them flow, to let them wet my face, wet my soul.

Just as I was a slave to his music and his soul, so was the ustad to me, the man in love with his music for years. Ustad wouldn't stop playing the music, unless I asked him to. When he was so deep within his music, there was no coming back to the real world for him, unless called back forcibly. And for that the music had to be stopped abruptly. As I sat there looking at his face, slowing eaten up by the darkness around, I didn't know what to do next. It was so beautiful and serene, and I didn't want to disturb it, and the music played so beautifully, I could barely breathe. I was bound in my own web, and though I knew I had to do something fast, my heart and my body refused to listen.

The music went on, I could now hear ustad's little boy on the table as well. Opening my arms wide, I let it all soak in. Permanently. The ruins of Roshanbaug were awake again tonight, despite the near complete darkness. Somewhere I knew, this couldn't go on, not for long; but I didn't move, not as yet. I had to make a choice I possibly couldn't, and finally didn't.

I never quite realized when the ustad stopped playing the sarangi, and my mind had completely taken over and replaced his music with my own imagination. In the frenzy that followed, I cried and screamed and pulled my hair our. I confessed my love to him, made promises I knew can never be kept. But he never stopped, not even once and played on, in my mind, for my heart. Forever...

As I caressed his face, wiped his tears and closed his tired eyes, I finally let go of him. It had taken me a lifetime to come so close to him, only to leave him so far behind.

I would like the above story dedicated to Ustad Sultan Khan who passed away yesterday (27.11.2011). His Sarangi was a big influence on me, not just for this small post, but also for my love for the instrument. Do explore it, if you haven't done it already...
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