An early train to catch

Sam looked at me, with those large innocent eyes of hers, blinked her larger eye lashes twice, smiled, and said to me, “You have always had a way with words, Ashok. I can never imagine, what you will think of, next. I wouldn’t even last five minutes, in that crazy head of yours?” She became lost in her own thoughts as we waited, I squeezed Sam’s hand and she looked at me and I smiled back, as these moments were rare. I looked at my watch as I had to leave. The Producer came into the recording studio, and gave us a thumbs up sign, and Sam yelled with delight.  He was followed by the sound engineer, and our agent Suresh.

“I am tired, and have an early train, to catch,” I said.

“Ashok, that last track you laid today, is just amazing, how do you come up with these rhythms, and beats.” Suresh gushed, giving me a hasty hug. Suresh is my agent and childhood friend. “Why do you have to go on this discovery trip, I cannot understand?”

“Like I told you Suresh, something is calling out to me, from out there. I am going to the rock, where Swami Vivekananda sat, where Lord Ram sat, and prayed to Lord Shiva.  Something is telling me to go there, and find the truth, of what is India? I can’t explain it.”

“You can’t do this to me,” Suresh, “to us”, he continued

I replied. “I have given all I have, for this album, for over a year, now I need some time for myself. Suresh my dear friend, this is not about you or us, this is a strange hollow feeling, inside of me. All my   mathematical rigor and training is lost, within this, self-doubt. I do not even know myself or what is my purpose. I have made up my mind, to just go out there, and travel our land. I hope to find what is missing, in my current life?”

Sam went off with the sound engineer, to listen to the last tracks, we had played. She had a better ear for music, I just knew instinctively, when my drum notes flowed in rhythms, like mathematical equations. I just followed my instincts, and strict composition steps, and made my notes, follow my mathematical patterns, which only I could see. We had realized early in our partnership, that it is Sam, who just made the melody flow, with her singing. She played the guitar and harmonica and had an amazingly versatile voice. Somehow mine and Sam’s singing, worked well together, and this was tour second album together. We co wrote the lyrics of most of our songs.

My work is done here.” and I handed my drum sticks to our producer, and walked out.

The next day I had started my journey, just like Mahatma Gandhi had started his journey, on his arrival from South Africa. I had my sleeping bag and my laptop, and phone and books for the way. I wanted to see India, from the ground, and hear the names, of the familiar stations. I wanted to hear the languages, and the dialects, of the people, from the millions, who had passed before us. They too must have traveled on these same rails, on their way south. I wondered how many of them had sought the meaning of their lives, in the clackity-clack of these trains wheels, rolling down these rails.

Delhi was left far behind and I heard the clackety-clack of the railroad tracks, as the electric trains did not huff and puff, anymore.  The countryside passed, as I gazed out the window, and he went from State to State. I had a sleeper and slept in my sleeping bag, on the foam-covered bed. Late in the night, I heard the now familiar calls, of the tea hawkers, and the food vendors. The PM had helped his father, at a tea stall, I thought to himself, as another day passed, on the tracks. I loved the smell and color of the passing countryside. The sun broke out and the fields are green, and I am away from the dry cold land, of my air polluted city. The green Ghats beckoned my soul, and I thought I saw, a waterfall with a rainbow, flash by from my window, and then it was gone.

                                    >>>

An year has passed, and I have become a Math teacher, in an all-girls school, in the town of Gangtok, in Sikkim. I had come there to study, in the Buddhist Monastery, almost nine months ago, with a companion I found, in Ma’s ashram, in Pondicherry. It had been a long journey by train and Bus, to cross into the mountains, of the Eastern Himalayas. We had then hired a jeep, to take us, across some very remote areas, to the monastery, at the top of a cliff face. We had to climb on foot up the narrow path, along the cliff face, to get to the Monastery. There we finally come to a rest. We were admitted by the Abbot, and we studied with the monks.

We meditated for three months, and then went herd gathering, in the mountains. I helped to bring the animals back, from their summer, alpine forage lands. The rhythms of the seasons, and the might of the towering mountains, moved me. We would begin by rising at early morning, before dawn and start our trek. We had to climb a thousand meters up, around the hills, to get to the grazing grounds. My mind and body were fully engaged in these long walks. away from civilization. They made me face the last of my inner demons. As I gathered the Goats and the cattle, I made a new life, for myself. The cows and the goats helped me gain the realization, of what I am.

My meditation is progressing well, with my guide, and I feel a healthy glow of joy, for all creatures, I am now comfortable with myself. I sat on the side of some running water, taking a break. I had my bare feet, in the cold, clear, water, of this mountain tributary, of the Teesta river. My mind is as clear, as the flowing water, and only time is still. As I watch, a fish nibbles, on my big toe, and then swims on, as if, uninterested. But at that time, I was fully present in this moment. I have peered into the eye of this fish, who peered back, and there was a deep connection. I felt a sudden belonging to this eye, this fish, this stream, this land, this India, this universe. I looked up, and the sun was rising, over the evergreens, its rays lit up the rushing water, and my being, and this creation, is complete. Tears of joy, ran down my cheeks, at the realization; that the sun’s eye, and the fish’s eye, and the light reflecting off the waters, are part of my being.

                                    >>

I bade farewell to the Abbott and on his assistant’s advice I started teaching Math’s again, at the High School for Girls. They were desperate for a good math’s teacher in Gangtok. The girls loved his no-nonsense style and fell into his fevered pace, of teaching math’s. Their minds were fresh as the mountain air, and they seemed to grasp everything Ashok taught, with the rapidity of sponges. Their marks began to show steady progress, and the laggards were helped, by his open teaching methods. Tough concepts and theorems, where explained by examples, they could understand and use.  He had taught far advanced students before, but the girls of this new generation, had access to so much more information. He challenged them individually, and in small competitive groups, and his students grew.

The music teacher was the one, who encouraged Ashok to help (when he found out that Ashok was a drummer), with the group, who had won the State Championship, in group singing, last year. The area had some very bright musicians and the girls in the school, had especially great voices. It wasn’t every year but for the past few years, they had some outstanding talent. He loved this work and he threw himself into the music and the girls loved him for his strange rhythms and sounds. He tried to teach some of them the mathematical patterns behind them and some of the brighter ones understood. Their voices began to rise and fall with the rhythms he adopted from them, making a strangely uniquely sound of the mountains of Sikkim. You could almost feel, as if the music was carrying you there. The beat one was hearing is the beat of the hunters and gatherers, who had done this in these beautiful mountains, from time immemorial. Everyone is saying that this time, the group may win the National championship.

                                                ***

When he got home late, he checked his email and noticed a message from his old friend Sam. He had not heard from her for a few months, so was intrigued, and opened the message. She wrote, “Dear Ashok, Just had dinner with the producer in Mumbai. We have got ourselves, a multi crore deal, for two albums (including “Dunia” our new album). We open this Christmas at the Goa Christmas Festival, with Dunia, doing a National rollout. You are the drummer, and cocreator, singer, and the new corporate producer is dying, to finally meet you. He is a mathematician also, and was mumbling your kind of lingo, on algorithms and geometrical patters, in the music. More when we meet, your’s, Sam”

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” -E.M. Forster, novelist (1 Jan 1879-1970)

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