Kabir, me and All India Radio

For the last few days there has been a churning in my mind about Kabir.

I started to write for the first time about Kabir, not in a blog format, nor poetry - but the reasons and the manner in which Kabir entered my life. IT has been a long journey.

And today as I record this- spiritually i find myself in a quiet place- for how else could have been someone who engaged with Kabir at an early age?

I was invited by the National Channel of the All India Radio- to discuss and share my story of Kabir. There is so much to share, that a program like that is really not enough. And I realize that if you do not tell the anchors they can pretty much not ask you the questions which evoke serious, insightful responses. How can they? They engage with so many people of so many different lines of work it is simply not possible to ask the best questions.

But that reminds me about my own interview with Madhup Mudgal long back- when i worked as a young editorial assistant in the (now dead) ARTimes. I read and read so much about Kumar Gandharva- because I was going to talk to his disciple about him. I wanted to ask him good questions, where he would say something insightful about his guru. The interview was among the most successful interviews done with Madhup Bhaiya himself, he confessed himself. Imagine my recorder failed to record anything!!! So when I checked it after a few minutes it was blank. IN panic i called up bhaiya and told him what happened. He immediately came down with his own recording device:)- but now i had figured out to be more careful and I managed to record him again on my own device.But that was a different time- I was just about 25.

IN the radio interview we talked and the tanpura kept playing quietly in the background and whenever i was up to it, I just sang a line or so- the manner I normally do while speaking about kabir or illustrating something musical. IT was interested as I did not know that such a thing could be done on the radio also!

The real interesting part was that I had been invited for a 15 minute interview!!! I felt like telling them that calling me for a 15 minute interview is a waste of my and their effort- i should be given at least an hour. But I did not have to say that to anyone- they automatically gave me an hour, and decided that the same interview could be broadcast in three different programs- cutting chunks here and there. Those three programs would be the original Mulakaat for which I was invited, Stree Shakti and Sant Baani. So let us see how this goes. I hope I get connected, as I will be out of Delhi at the time of the broadcast.

Once upon a time when I had gone for the first time to audition at the AIR- Delhi station, i had only given options of Kabir bhajans. When i sang at the audition, I was asked do you not sing anything else? I said no. They never cleared me as a candidate. Next time I interspersed Kabir with a little bit of Meera and only then could i go past the clearance line. But that was long back-2004. I have not bothered about the radio ever since. But now maybe I need to reconsider that decision, so am just getting together my list, which is not going to be Kabir only all over again- even though my Kabir repertoire has really become big!


The Many named ONE

(To my friends who have wondered about why I have so many names...)

I am the many named One
Nay I do not remain one even in the way 
You meet me now and then
Or as and when
For like my garment, 
Many a name I don-

Just like the seasons, that wear a new look
Every few months
I do too-
Why shouldn't I 
For I am the many named One-

And no name of me is just another of my whims
In fact, each contains all and it all reflects me
There is a girl name I have 
And a woman name
I have a Hindu name now-(prateeksha)
And a Muslim name then-(saba/naheed)
To some a Sikh name it seems, (preeti)
And sometimes a Christian name I have- (michelle)

And then Hansadhwani- my vision for the world
The woman who carries the swan and all that the swan holds
I am the infinite tossing in the infinite 
And wherever I see a part of me reflected
I reflect that part at thee (and you see me in my new yet another avatar)
I become a whole universe here
And there I become a little atom.

Then the many roles I perform
You call them different names, don't you?
For one a daughter, another a sister, a friend
A teacher, or an artist, a poet or a scientist...
When you see me in so many roles
Why should I just have ONE name
When they have their own special names too?

I am the multi-hued one, 
The singer who sings in three languages
The poet who writes in another one and the teacher ...
The dreamer, the gardener, the cook, the composer,
The dog pack leader, the guide, the friend
Who speaks another
And all my languages converge to become one complete
Unending flow- Tis the flow of love (preet)

And nay it is not love of one kind only
In it flows my entire being, my soul, my world
And all that is a part of my world-including you
In it I occasionally take a deep breath and dive down
To come up and see myself coloured in yet another hue
There was once a blue, now a green, now a sunny yellow
Just as there have been greyest of dawns and darkest of nights
And I still hide them in my numerous folds

With so many colours, hues and shades to me
How can I just remain One name?
Daughter of the heavens, you call by so many names
Just like my divine origin (as much as your own, though you may have forgotten of it)
And they are all me- prateeksha, preeti, saba, naheed, cymbal, michelle,hansadhwani...

Lightly as I tread the world
Lightly a new garment I don
Lightly a new name I take
Brightly my smile I flash 
And yet nothing is light at all
For a deep thought goes into it all-
Every light step that I take

So now you know when you see me in another avatar
That I am the many named ONE
And all contain me
And despite it all, though serious I maybe
I am still the lightest, the one filled with mirth
The one who flows quietly, peacefully 
Anchored at last internally.

Dated: 30th June 2012


Birth of 'Saba' Prateeksha

मेरे सतगुरु पकड़ी बांह नहीं तो मैं बही जाता

कागा से हंसा किया, जाती बरन कुल खोये
दया दृष्टि से सहज सब, पातक डारे  धोये

The ways flowers of two colours mingle with one another- so ought humans to.
I have sometimes shared with others and more than that felt inside me that I do not just sing Kabir, I live by the words of Kabir, as I am sure do scores of others who are touched by Kabir in a significant way. I have internalized the philosophy and the lens of Kabir to look at life and for a lot of reasons I pick up the lens now and then, and usually there is a solution there for me for whatever the lens is picked up for.

For long years I have toyed with my name. I am sure most people are very comfortable with their own names and most in fact love their names. I have had a love/hate relationship with mine. I have always found it a bit inadequate or a verb; whereas I would much rather have been an emotion or an adjective:)!! Who can debate with parents why they named their children a certain way- strange are the reasons for naming children.

This uneasiness has made me want to change my name now and then,and as my closest friend will bear testimony indeed I did that at every possible juncture.

There are two things that are very significant in the final arrival at Saba Prateeksha- one is Kabir and the other is ghazal. Kabir being the influence he has been in my life has made my worldview completely beyond religion. To me the most important thing is the human being and the human mind, and religion the least significant. Kabir himself was born in a Hindu family and brought up by Muslim weavers- Niru and Nima, who were his adoptive parents. Is there any difference between parents? Kabir also mocked both Hindus and Muslims in his time for their ignorance and appeasement of god. So with such a person as a guide and ego-ideal I certainly could not remain confined to my Hindu-Brahmin Identity, because I did not feel comfortable in it for a long time. Or even if I did, I knew it did not completely define who I was.

The next significant thing in my singing-life after Kabir has been ghazal and I have been able to adopt the format of the ghazal simply because I love the Urdu language and the culture it represents, its etiquette and its poetry. To come to terms with ghazal singing I felt my name Prateeksha was not proper for representing ghazal. It was too complex a sound, for the Urdu language does not have letters like Pr or ksha. I sought advice and was suggested the name Naheed Anjum by the same person who had inspired me to sing ghazal, the poet-mathematician, Dr Naseem Ajmal. So that did it!! I even performed in Nepal with the name, Naheed Prateeksha...and then came Saba finally, because somewhere Naheed was not doing the trick for me in my ears too!

I became neither Naheed Anjum nor remain Prateeksha Sharma- but i merged the two of them to become Saba Prateeksha- half of this and half of that; the end of duality in my mind, in my name and in my work. Thanks to my master I have dropped the trappings of all that I was born into- whether name, birth, caste or clan. These were the lines I opened this blog post with - from a raven a swan I have become, due to my master says Kabir, says Saba Prateeksha.

To the ignorant this is a sign of me becoming Muslim; for why have I chosen a Muslim name say some. to the wise this is me becoming my integrated self. To myself- I am finally at home- in my own name, in my own self. At peace - for this is the end of the split that I aspired for always. And hereafter the world shall see the birth of the musician. May the music with each one make them complete.

The flowers showing here were grown by me long back outside my house


Mann mast hua

In the recent program in Kathmandu, I sang a number of new bhajans. A number of them were composed in the past few months and by far the most complex one for me was this one- Mann mast hua...a very popular bhajan, sung by a number of musicians and singers.

Somehow this bhajan never interested me, because of the manner it was always sung.The significance of the words never came out. I always wondered why the hell anyone was singing that.

On the other hand, I had never composed anything in Bhairavi...as I have never really sat and learnt the raga, except with guruji- Sh. Dasgupta-ji while teaching me Shuddh baani style of singing. So I never had a stock of bandishes, thumris or anything to sing in this raga.  I just decided to marry the two together.For another reason too. I did want to have one bhajan in Bhairavi to conclude my program and it ought to have been a befitting one too.

When I toyed with the idea, it worked well. I sat down and racked my brains. The time was either late October 2011 or early Nov. I composed the first line in Bhairavi and the next too, and then because I had recently heard something of Anup Jalota-ji's singing, I wanted to try out a number of ragas. I did!

There is a line that goes. Hansa paya mansarovar (हंसा पाया मानसरोवर, ताल तलैया क्यों डोले) I set this in Hansadhwani- another raga which I am really hoping to sing and perform because it is also the name of our foundation and has a great significance for me personally.  Then I thought about what Mansarovar the Hansa had found.    mansarovar (have a look at this link too)
 and it fits into the Hindu cosmology. Makes sense. When the soul which is the discerning being within each one, finds the essence of life, why would it go and contaminate its mind in everything it runs into. This is the significance of these words.

Another line of the song Tera sahib (तेरा साहिब है घट माहीं , बाहर नैना क्यों खोले) seems to work well in Bhairav!! the overall composition is sounding quite good and I have really sung in a lot now, to get it going tunefully in my throat


Bhakti in Bhaktapur

The most befitting place for singing devotional songs would be a place whose name itself is so steeped in Bhakti. So when I heard the name Bhaktapur, I just smiled to myself. It sounded nice enough...but going there two days before the concert made my heart break into a song automatically. It was so beautiful that it was sheer poetry.
a bird's eye view of the school 

the accomapanying artists- tuning

this is a view of the concert while it is on...or maybe  just before, while we test the  speakers etc

concert in progress
In this program I sang nearly 10 Kabir bhajans and four of Meera. I started with Smt Veena Sahasrabuddhe's composition- ghat ghat mein panchhi bolta. (घट घट में पंछी बोलता) and sang total of four before moving over to meera, which I began with Nahin aiso janam barambaar...in Bhupali
everyone performing 


AAoonga naa jaaoonga

आऊँगा न जाऊंगा, ना मारूंगा ना जीयूंगा
गुरु के सबद मैं रमी रमी रहूँगा

आप कटोरा आपे थारी आपे पुरिखा आपे नारी

आप सदाफल आपे नीम्बू, आपे मुसलमान आपे हिन्दू

आप मच्छ कच्छ आपे जाल आपे झीन्वर आपे काल

कहे कबीर हम ना ही रे नाही , ना हम जीवत ना मुवाले माहीं

When in 1999, I had composed this bhajan of Kabir, my sister had predicted that it would be a popular one. Of course, it never became a huge success the way a lot of songs do, because I could not share it on many fora, but wherever I did I do think it was well liked. The other thing about music is its repeat value. When most of the times my compositions are new, people cannot connect with them. But had they known them for a long time then the repeat value would have really mattered.

Anyways, every life has a different trajectory to follow. So while I am on my own in this life, I really love to sing this particular pad...which means that thanks to the fact that I am so immersed in the words of my guru, I shall transcend this whole circle of life an death: I will not be born again. Neither I will be born again, nor I shall die. Kabir says this with utter confidence because the whole duality in which the whole world is immersed is no longer hoodwinking him- there is no Hindu, no Muslim, there is no separation between the water and its creatures, there is no separation between man and woman, and nor is there an illusion of big or small. So when I have seen beyond the play of opposites I am free of this play of the opposites says Kabir.

This to me is the meaning of the song; which of course is based on my singing of it over twelve years now. I am sure there are other meanings for those who are more knowledgeable. This is for you who reads it right now.

In this picture there is Mishra-ji playing on the tabla with me in one of the concerts I had long back at the Shri Ram Institute of Industrial Research, an accompanist for most of my riyaaz and musical efforts; and the real saakshi who has seen my long and winding road.Hear it here

Satguru mohae bhaavae

From my four CD Kabir album, called Kahe Kabir, this is one bhajan that I am now in a position to share. It was recorded when I was i...