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Date: Wed Apr 21, 2004
Subject: Aashirbaad - Guru-ji's blessings

Hi folks,

I'm sitting in Bangkok Airport waiting for my flight to Osaka and at last I have the time and motivation to report to you all on my experiences since last time - back on Christmas Day last year! It's also a good time to set things down in words as it's the end of one chapter and the beginning of a whole new one, travelling the world with just my tabla and a few assorted possessions. I could write a book about the last 4 months but today I'll try to keep to an outline... Looking over what I've written I find I've written a lot about Guru-ji and his blessings, so if you find it's too much and you just want interesting anecdotes, please skip ahead.

BUT FIRST - If you're interested in my upcoming concert schedule in Japan and Australia, please visit my Events page on the ESL website : (in English) (in Japanese when possible)

After my last email I spent a week or so more in Kathmandu, waiting for my new Indian visa and enjoying the local cuisine and watching Steve Waugh (Australia's much-loved cricket captain)'s last cricket match, against the touring Indians. Then it was back to Varanasi to prepare for Saraswati Puja, the yearly concert in offering to Saraswati, goddess of learning and music. This year it turned out I was to play tabla solo so I practised very well - about 6-7 hours a day - to be ready to give a one hour performance.

I came back from Kathmandu to find Guru-ji in bed with the flu, but still insisting that I come for lessons each day. On the day of Saraswati Puja, he took a big turn for the worse and the concert was cancelled. After my preparation and anticipation for my performance it was a big shock. Over the next 2 weeks he went first to one hospital, then another, until he passed away on Feb 8, as I reported at the time.

It was a terribly painful time for his family and students including myself, tending to Guru-ji who was generally in a world of pain. I spent several hours by his side each day, hoping for any contact at all, even if it was just to gaze into his eyes and hold his hand.

On the morning of his death I was woken with the news and went to take part in the cremation ceremony, carrying his body through the streets of Varanasi to the cremation ground at Manikarnika Ghat. Along with the ceremonies of the following 13 days, it was a very raw and yet very healing process.

On that evening, I was walking by the side of the Ganges at sunset. February is the most beautiful time in Varanasi - the weather is just fantastic. In one quiet area of the ghats I passed a traveller sitting by the river, playing a whimsical song on the accordion. Varanasi remains eternal and life goes on. It was a completely magical moment which is perhaps best described in Japanese - setsunai.

When I tried to play tabla that first day, all I could do was go through the simplest of exercises with a complete feeling of emptiness and a flood of tears. However as the days went by I felt more and more that Guru-ji was with me, even closer than before, giving me his blessings as he always has. In the months since then I've felt Guru-ji's blessings so many times and so powerfully that I know it to be a real phenomenon. I've been so lucky to have met such a great man, to have learned so much from him and to have him believe in me as a tabla player. Even until the end, when he couldn't speak any more, he would always tell me (or try to tell me) to "GO! - Play fine, make a big name and fame!" Having learned from him and received his belief and blessings I know I have something special in my tabla playing, from him. And now, like all his students, I know I have to make something even more special ("Practise!") with that and share it with the world, and that his blessings will be helping me.

Once the 13 days of mourning were complete I began practising with many great musicians in Varanasi, and even giving a few concerts. Actually the first concert came right on the evening of the 13th day! - playing tabla solo in a local tabla teacher's house. In the following couple of weeks I was lucky enough to practise with Miyashita "Jimi" Setsuo (a great santoor player from Japan who was in town for 3 days) and many excellent local musicians including Govinda Goswami (sitar), Debashish Sannyal (sitar), Debashish Dey (vocal), Mangala Tiwari (vocal) and Sukhdev Mishra (violin). I learned a lot from them and I'm very thankful to them for their time. By all accounts, my tabla accompaniment was well-received and enjoyed by all, and I started to realise that something special was happening. I was really busy, often playing with 2 or 3 people each day and even receiving invitations from people to come and play which I was too busy to accept! This from a humble foreign student of tabla...

In mid-March I headed to Delhi for a week, as several friends from Japan were to be there at the same time. I met and practised with Shuji Yamamoto (sarod student of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan) and his wife Sylvia (Kathak dance), Carlos Guerra (bansuri),
Aki Ueda and Sanjeeb Sircar (both sitar students of Ustad Shujaat Husain Khan). I was also able to spend time with my senior guru-bhai (guru-brothers) Govinda Chakraborty and Udai Mazumdar. One of the great things about the terrible experience of losing Guru-ji was that his students came together. I was able to get to know these lovely people and receive a lot of help from them. (I also got some lovely hospitality and great advice from 2 very senior guru-bhaiya in Kolkata in the last few days.)

The highlight of my trip to Delhi was meeting Pandit Ravi Shankar-ji, who was a good friend of Guru-ji since they were classmates in their school days, and his daughter Anoushkar, thanks to my guru-bhai Udai Mazumdar ( who studies tabla accompaniment with Pandit-ji. We went to Pandit-ji's house and enjoyed a concert of a South Indian violin duo, chatted a little and had dinner together. Of course I was, shall we say, an unexpected minor guest so I didn't get to speak too much with Pandit-ji, but I certainly enjoyed the experience, giving my pranam and receiving his blessings. I was also able to chat a little with Anoushkar about our shared friends in Kyoto.

On returning from Delhi I embarked on the nine-night Navaratri ritual in honour of goddess Durga-maa - nine nights of non-stop tabla practice from 9pm to 6am each night (except, to be honest, for the night of the India-Pakistan cricket final when I started at 11pm). I won't write too much about it as I wrote about it when I completed it 3 years ago except to say that this time it felt a lot more like hard work. But I certainly felt Durga Shakti since completing the ritual and Durga-maa has already given me at least one gift...

Around this time, Varanasi started to become unbearably hot - at least 40 every day! Why did I, along with many other foreigners, stay in Varanasi? Sankat Mochan of course! Sankat Mochan is the big Hanuman temple in Varanasi, and each April they hold a 5 night music festival - again it's an all-night affair, starting at around 7.30am and going until dawn. The highlights for me were Pandit Jasraj (vocal - some of the best bhajans I've ever heard. What a voice!), Anindo Chatterjee (tabla solo and accompaniment), Kartik Kumar (sitar - one of Pt. Ravi Shankar's best students), Kishan Maharaj (tabla solo - still playing strong at 80 years old - Guru-ji's younger guru-bhai), and best of all Debu Chaudhuri (sitar), as well as Vijay Ghate's sensational tabla accompaniment with Satish Vyas (santoor) - gee that man loves to play tabla! It was a inspirational series of concerts which has given me a lot of energy for my own upcoming concerts in Japan and Australia.

I've spent the last few days in hot and sticky Kolkata and Bangkok - Bangkok being far more preferable due to the fantastic food and wider availability of A/C. In Bangkok, I discovered the habit of having "first dinner" and "second dinner". Next time I come I think I'll stay a few more days just to try more Thai cuisine!

Tomorrow morning - Kyoto! Mata ne!
Love to all
Aum Mani Padme Hum

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