I never expected to see myself as a film director; I never really planned to make a film. But then in the three and a half years after the Concert For India’s Environment at BVIEER in January 2004, a kind of organic growth took over and this simple musician found himself a film cameraman, interviewer, score composer, editor and graphics and web designer too!
Resting up in Goa after the gig, Naveena and I met up with Zeenat (Julienne Stretton) a well-known New Zealand TV documentary producer, who we had met previously at our home in New Zealand. She looked through our concert footage and sensed the possibility of a direction. Without her input at that stage, this film would probably be no more than an hour of concert footage mouldering on the shelves of each of the band members!
Redi Fort, Maharashtra
Filming in Redi Fort with Naveena
At her prompting, Svargo (one of the cameramen at the concert) and I headed off into nature to film. We began at Redi Fort, a moody ruin inhabited by monkeys, just over the Maharashtra border from north Goa. Back in Pune, while Zeenat interviewed Erach Bharucha about the situation of the environment in India, Svargo, Avesh (our other concert cameraman) and I took ourselves off into the Western Ghats. These dramatic hills are still patchily covered with dense forest (including devrais – sacred groves – protected and undisturbed treasurehouses of otherwise extinct vegetation) and provide the setting for some of BVIEER’s school outreach programmes.
Erach Bharucha in sacred grove, Maharashtra
The schoolchildren reading their poems about nature had been a vital part of the concert and Zeenat insisted that interviews with them would broaden the film’s message. We also added an interview with BVIEERs deputy director, Dr Shamita Patel, to make sure we had the woman’s perspective. I then realized that we’d better explain who we – the band – were and why we were doing all this, so I interviewed those of us still in Pune at the time.
Amrita Mulla schoolchild poet
Ravindra Verma schoolchild peot
In between all this, Svargo had been sitting me down and showing me Final Cut Pro. It’s a steep learning curve to begin editing film on such software, and without him I’d have been hopelessly lost. He, Zeenat and I produced the first part (‘A Sense of Wonder’) together and from then on I was mostly on my own.
In the following three years, I discovered a new love. Filming the nature and peoples of India. Every spare moment – and buck! – I had saw me back in India, out in the wilderness, patiently waiting to capture on video the elusive beings who live there. It took me to extraordinary corners of the vast Indian subcontinent, and introduced me to some the most hearty and charming people I know. I’ll never forget the three days I spent alone in the dry, windy waste of Rehakuri Blackbuck Sanctuary in Maharashtra, waiting for those splendid creatures to come within range of my cheap zoom lens. Or the steep forest looking out on distant Nanda Devi in the Himalayan foothills of Uttaranchal, where with my feet slipping out from underneath me, I struggled to set up the tripod and film the local women high in the treetops, cutting fodder for their cows. I was lucky too to get some stunning dawn shots of birds on the Mula-Mutha river in Pune, a feat that would today, just ten years later, be impossible because of the vastly increased levels of pollution and the almost total disappearance of the river’s once abundant birdlife. A highlight was being among the tribal people of Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Kerala, whose children quickly found me funny enough to overcome their shyness and give me some of the biggest beaming smiles I’ve ever encountered.
Blackbucks sparring, Rehakuri, Maharashastra
Woman cutting fodder, Kumaon hills, Uttarakhand
Mulla-Muthu river, Pune
Tribal girl, Perambikulam, Kerala
Every spare moment I say – but of course this film would not look as it does if that was true. On top of researching all the facts and information with which the film is loaded, downloading, logging and then editing all that footage had me up at all hours. And here I must again thank Svargo, who came over to our base in New Zealand from Australia on several occasions to help me through difficult patches with his Final Cut Pro expertise and sensitivity to editing; and Naveena, who continued her role as Artistic Director of the concert into the film and whose eye for beauty and detail is uncanny!
Another vital step in the overall shape of this film was the release on New Earth Records in 2005 of the live CD from the concert, ‘Fragrance of the East’. This was the opportunity I needed to remix the audio up to CD quality, and gave the film its first public exposure, in the form of three short Quicktime clips that I squeezed onto the CD. By late 2006 it dawned on me that I was only one more film shoot in India away from finishing, and immediately a sense of urgency took over. It was as if the film had a life of its own and was struggling to emerge from its long gestation and see the light of day! So I put ‘A Sense of Wonder’ up on YouTube and left. How exciting, three months later, to come back and find that thousands of people had watched it, and many had commented on it and rated it five stars!
Overdubbing for the CD
That trip to India didn’t quite do it: as filmmakers know, you can never have too much footage! Discerning viewers will notice half a dozen shots with a very un-Indian light interspersed throughout the film. I found these in New Zealand. In April 2007, with the editing finished, I gave the film a dedicated website where anyone who wanted to could download it for free (this was before it became easy to download direct from YouTube). And started offering it to film festivals. I made only one condition: it should not be used for commercial purposes – it had to be free. It was played at various festivals in India, Italy and Russia, and then the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona on 8th October 2008.
A word about equipment: I used a second-hand Sony DCR-TRV20 for all my shooting. With a single chip, it was even in those days barely prosumer quality and compared to today’s technology, a real dinosaur. I mention it because I often hear from filmmakers and composers the mantra that industry wants us all repeating as consumers: ‘I can’t manage without the latest equipment’. I hope my film is proof that we can find ways to get things done without spending lots of money! A word too about how ‘the latest’ can trip us up: I lost all the original footage in a hard disk crash (which explains the low resolution of these stills taken from the film). I had bought into Apple’s decision that Firewire was the wonderful future and then watched both my external Firewire drives crap out on me in the damp of monsoon Goa. Thus I now have only the low-res edits I uploaded to YouTube. (And we’ve not seen any more of Firewire the past few years, have we?)
THANK YOU again to all of you who gave yourselves to this project for no financial reward, just the sheer joy of being part of it. I have tried my best to honour you in the credits at the end of the film. If I missed you by name, forgive me; it is only because there have been so many of you!
And lastly, a word about sharing: I learned from my master Osho, that the spiritual law of sharing is very different from the economic one. In economics the more you give away the less you have. But with love and energy, the more you share, the more you get!
Yoga On Sacred Ground is a cornucopia of stories, both musical and human. First released in 2001 on New Earth Records, it was a pioneer of what has today become the well-populated genre of music for yoga.
I made this CD during 1999-2000, while living between a garden home in Maui, Hawai’i and a room in the Osho Meditation Resort, Pune, India, where I was co-ordinator of the Music Department. Here I am at my Roland 8-track in the kitchen that Shastro and I built on his land on the slopes of Mount Pele. He features on Track 5 ‘The Watcher’, his smooth bamboo flute playing gracefully floating above the edgy accordion, played by my bazanak, Zaheer. Bazanak is a Turkish word, meaning that we are married to two sisters. His Middle Eastern approach to the Indian scale I chose for this piece makes for a distinctive East-West fusion.
While this reflection on the CD will mostly focus on the people involved (without whom it would be but a pale shadow of itself) I must at this stage introduce one non-human character: the Yamaha QY70, a tiny but mighty aid to composing and recording in those pre- software-plugin-free-samples-on-internet days. Both synthesizer and sequencer, it enabled me to make my first experiments with drum loops and electronic effects on ‘Bhakti The Beloved’ a CD of Indian chants released on Shastro’s Malimba Records in 1999.
with Gerhard Fankhauser
It was one of these chants, ‘Hari Bol’, a traditional Krishna bhajan, that provided the basis for the extraordinary first track of Yoga On Sacred Ground. ‘Natrani’ (Queen of the `Dance) is perhaps my favourite of all the hundred plus pieces of music I’ve recorded over the past quarter century. The melody and Spanish lute playing on this track are by Gerhard Fankhauser, an Austrian I met on my first trip to Israel in 1999. Gerhard had spent years in India, attending bhajan recitals in temples, hanging out with sadhus and collecting traditional devotional tunes and lyrics.
Removing the vocals left ‘Hari Bol’ the perfect platform for the flute playing of Bikram Singh. Bikram hails from Manipur on the India/Myanmar frontier and has both Hindustani classical and Indian folk music steeped in his bones. I recorded him as a single ‘take’ in my room in Pune, allowing him to range free over the Raga Bhairavi scale. This he did with barely a pause for breath and with a sort of flawless impertinence that puts my struggles with my own instrument to shame. With a few edits to leave some space for wooden sound effects conjured up from the QY70, plus punchy drum loops and Manish Vyas’s marvelously deep-tuned tabla, the track achieved its breathtaking flow from muted entrance to grand finale.
Mention of Manish brings me instantly (and out of order) to Track 3 ‘Breathing Prana’ on which his brilliant tabla playing is so prominent. I recycled this piece from my CD ‘Lands of the Dawn’, which briefly saw the light of day on Nightingale Records in Germany in1996 and disappeared with the collapse of the label soon afterwards. Manish and I recorded the sarod and tabla for this live in a studio in Hamburg on his first trip to the West in 1994. Based, like so much of my music, on traditional raga (in this case Malkauns in Dadra or 6/8 time), this is essentially improvised performance music. Don Lax added his (very Western style) violin in Maui.
Returning to order, Track 2 ‘Gratitude’ features the rich voice of Delhi-based singer Bodhianand, singing in the Hindustani classical ‘taranana’ style, together with some sampled Irish bagpipes. In typical Chinmaya fashion it is also a recycle, an instrumental version of a Norwegian folksong ‘Nu Takk for Alt’ I wrote a new melody and chord structure for on a privately released ‘Nature’s Way’ collection of original songs in 1995.
Track 4 ‘On Sacred Ground’ is a treasure. As Music Dept co-ordinator in Pune I had access to old DAT tapes recorded live at the White Brotherhood meetings in Buddha Hall during the ‘90s. I stumbled upon this one with me playing sarod, Prasad (now famous as the bluesman Harry Manx) on slide guitar and a bassist (Satgyan?) improvising live for fifteen minutes. I transferred it to hard disk recorder, edited out a few minor flaws and stitched it back together again with the addition of some anonymous African mouth harp playing I found on an ancient cassette tape. The spontaneity of this unrehearsed performance captures the spirit of those Buddha Hall music days.
Prasad (Harry Manx)
Track 6 ‘Ha Tha (Sun Meets Moon)’ is essentially my solo sarod and guitar playing over a chord pattern I created for another of my unreleased songs ‘All Is Worship’ that used lyrics based on an anonymous tribute to Rumi.
The original album finished with track 7 ‘Purnima Namashkar’, featuring Atmo Sangeet Robertson, the main Osho Resort drummer during much of the ‘90s, on tabla tarang. This rare assembly of differently tuned tablas surrounded Sangeet in my tiny bedroom as he banged out patterns based on the scale of Raga Bhopali. I then added noted Pune sitarist Atul Keskar, improvising in the same raga, some supporting sine wave rhythms from the QY70 and swoops of a swarmandel (Indian autoharp). My partner Naveena plays tanpura.
For the re-release I suggested to Bhiikkhu at New Earth that we add a final bonus track. ‘Shivasana’. This is essentially a piece recorded by Amano Manish, featuring his slide guitar together with Japanese flautist Nityo. I simply edited it and added background string pads plus birdsong I recorded in Sikkhim in the Hilmalayas many years ago.
A last thanks must go to Karunesh on Maui in the early days in which this CD has its roots. For his technical support in the complexities of DAT recorders, MIDI cabling and external synchronization, and for his skills in mixing and mastering which he leant me unstintingly.
(L-R) Henrik Gumoes, Sangit Om, Sadhu (with swarmandel), Chinmaya
The first four months of the year spent in Pune has seen more than half a dozen songs suddenly pop out of me as if from nowhere. My girlfriend, Sadhu, who has written the lyrics for three of them, untrained as she is, wants to try to sing them in the studio. I’m aiming to make a full CD of these songs (plus two more I wrote years ago) and hopefully work on adding to some instrumental recordings made last year. All in twenty-two days.
I’m back with my old producer friend, Sangit Om, who I’ve worked with before. Budget is tight as usual, so here’s some diary extracts that give a look at how things used to go back in the days when we had only reel-to-reel tape decks and clumsy digital ADAT 8 track recorders hooked up to underpowered computers. And when I was in the early stages of learning to be a professional.
17th – 28th May,
Day 1: As a guide track for each I play stereo guitars on ‘Golden Forest’, ‘Freedom Free’ and ‘Easy’s Right’ and a borrowed Stratocaster on ‘Nature’s Way’. My fingers ache afterwards. Sangit Om has done some basic computer drums to keep it all in rhythm and Sadhu sings a preliminary vocal line so we all know where we are.
Day 2: Cameroonian rasta Gro Ngolle puts groovy bass on ‘Easy’. I spend four grueling hours recording electric guitar on ‘Now Summer’s here Again’ and ‘Riversong’ (which turns out I have composed without knowing it in two different keys and three tempos, including 7/8 for a single bar) plus a second acoustic guitar track on ‘Summer’. My fingers are falling off and my head is spinning. It’s raining all day every day.
Day 3: More guitar on ‘Artists of the Heart’, ‘O Shyam’ and ‘Charlie Girl’. Then watching Sangit Om working hard all afternoon creating drums from machine for ‘Summer’. Fascinating to see how he works in all the breaks, rolls and even some deliberate ‘mistakes’ to make it sound human.
Day 4: finding it hard to sleep, I wake and go for a walk in the park at 4.30 am and suddenly hear an Arabic groove for ‘Artists’ echoing in my head. Sangit Om replicates it on a computer generated dhombak, which we then ‘humanize’ together. Next job is for him to play in some ‘pads’ (a sort of background stringy/organy glue, which will keep each song hanging together) on keyboard. I have spent hours detailing all the chords for this but now discover that my work is riddled with errors. He adds some hilarious rock ‘n roll piano on ‘Summer’. At the end of a long day I try to record the guitars again for ‘Easy’s Right’, which isn’t sounding right at all. Sadhu doesn’t like the feel; Sangit Om points out it has no breaks; I’m all wobble. We postpone.
Day 5: I’m flying today. Since weeks I’ve eaten no sugar, drank no milk or cream, stopped tea, coffee and chocolate, and prefer alcohol-free beer. And I love what I’m doing with music so much! I wake after a kind of ‘enlightenment’ dream, where I’m wheeling, spinning, dizzy, my whole body whirling. In a touch of fear, I call out to Osho and find myself suddenly back calm, clear and meditating in a room. Up at 7am walking and planning the swarmandel (Indian autoharp) for ‘Riversong’. Each chord change requires a re-tuning of this thirty-stringed instrument and at breakfast I plan it all out on paper. In the studio Sadhu plays it in with dedicated concentration while I frantically tune a second swarmandel ready for the next chord change. She gets such satisfaction from finally having a job to do! I replay ‘Freedom Free’ guitars, including some breaks this time. Sangit Om cagey about feedback, as he has to be professionally, but “I like it very, very much” escapes his lips as I replay the ‘Easy’s Right’ guitars in bossanova style. He also “loves, really likes” my demos for two new sarod-based instrumentals ‘Isles of the Blessed’ and ‘Castles in the Clouds’; I hope we can find the time to record them once we’ve finished this project.
Late afternoon, while Sadhu rehearses her vocals, I skip around the Kellerstrasse fields, hugging trees, transfixed by the light on the leaves, the colours in the sky, the cool breeze and bright sun.
Day 6: Heavy feeling today after a whole day getting the bass on. I go to commune with nature in the park afterwards and a dog viciously barks at me. Gro is such a professional and plays like a dream, but I have a headache from all those low notes and the project feels like a weight on my shoulders; resentful that a bassist gets DM700 for an ‘easy’ days work, and a suffering ego says ‘no-one ever paid me that kind of money for my playing boo-hoo…’
Days 7 & 8: Sadhu’s vocals. The same songs over and over and over again to get the best takes. She’s working hard!
Day 9: Pick up Rishi our drummer at train station, we gossip ‘til 2am and next morning he juices up ‘Easy’s Right’, transforms ‘Riversong’ into jazz and brings some Arabic patterns into ‘Artists’. Then S Om and I relax together, feeling so in tune, dream of climbing mountains together in Crete, gossiping about –what else? – music. Finally feedback: I tell him I’ve spent all my inheritance money already, within a year. “You’re a crazy guy, Chinmaya. But we need crazy guys like you making crazy music!” Sadhu sounds ‘a bit thin’ to his ears, and her inexperience and insecurity comes through in her voice. When I tell her, she has a panic attack, but laughs once I tell her how insecure I am too! She’s doing her best, we all are.
Day 10: Naman compliments Sadhu on her singing and then jazzes up ‘Freedom Free’ with flugelhorn and puts tasty trumpet on ‘Nature’s Way’. Then it’s time for Henrik Gumoes on percussion, doubling up Rishi’s drumming on the bossanova and Arabic and spicing up ‘Summer’, which still has only a computer drum loop. Then I look Sangit Om in the eyes to brace him for the next of my crazy ideas: a loop of rainstick percussion for ‘Freedom Free’. After 2 ½ hours of his concentrated work we have turned a basic recording of a rainstick being upturned into a cheeky little groove of tiny clicks.
Day 11: After some small finishing jobs, Sangit Om and I turn to making rough mixes for me to take away at the end of this first stage of recording. We end up doing it all twice because his tape deck is fucked.
29th June – 11th July, Hamburg
Driving seven and a half hours in traffic jams and hot weather back here from Amsterdam, full of tensions around the upcoming second stage recording and a lot of pressure on Sadhu to be ready to perform.
Day 12: I put sarod down for the ‘Isles’ and ‘Castles’ instrumentals. Wobbles, technical snafus but Sangit Om and I finally get the computer drums sounding half decent on ‘Nature’s Way’. Sadhu roars into twin tracks of ‘Golden Forest’. Down to the car to listen to the rough mixes on a crappy car stereo (a vital perspective after hearing them only on high quality studio monitors) and we consider them ‘in the pot’.
Day 13 and 14: Friedmar Hitzer, our hot violinist goes wild on ‘Summer’, but struggles to play the simpler things like ‘Golden Forest’, ‘Castles’ and ‘Isles’. The raga Bhairavi scale on ‘Artists’ is a real challenge for him. Sadhu sings ‘O Shyam’, ‘Now Summer’s Here Again’ and ‘Charlie Girl’.
Day 16 and 17: Various mixes made, plus Henrik recorded on ‘Isles’ and ‘Castles’. I’m panicking: I just can’t see how we can finish what’s left in the five days remaining….
Day 18: Crash! We’re struggling on harmony lines for ‘Artists’ and it’s a trigger for all the tension that’s been building up. I’m pushing Sangit Om more and more for help and he’s getting impatient, unwilling to cross his invisible boundary of actually composing the music for me (or maybe he doesn’t know what to do any more than we do!). Sadhu takes it personally and storms out of the recording for a walk. Another hit comes too: apart from ‘Summer’, Friedmar really has not done much of a job this year. We decide to leave his violin off ‘Artists’ and on Sadhu’s return get back with full concentration to her harmony vocals.
Day 19: Sadhu records ‘Nature’s Way’, the last recording we have to do for the project. Then Sangit Om announces he’s ‘lost’ the vocals for ‘Shyam’ somewhere on the hard disk. Sadhu has a crisis at the thought of having to re-sing this delicate and demanding piece. Finally it’s found. We can now turn our attention to the new sarod-based instrumentals, plus three others recorded last year. Sangit Om and I do a good old fashioned ‘hands on’ live mix of ‘Castles’, our four arms reaching past each other to tweak buttons, edge up sliders etc.
Day 20 and 21: My first ever guitar solo on ‘Isles’. Re-listening with Sangit Om to last year’s recording of ‘Edge of the Known World’ I discover with a shock that my sarod is flat, Friedmar misplayed the melody and the whole piece has no space in it at all! Only Naman as usual was on the ball. I hurridly replay sarod and we add some artificial breaks to Manish’s tabla. A new mix for last year’s ‘Kirwani’ further reveals that my sarod playing was not up to the mark at all.
Day 22: Replay sarod for ‘Kirwani (very stressed, especially on the solos) and add pads on ‘Edge’. Final mixes and it’s time to make CD masters of the two whole projects. Sangit Om is so generous, he counts no extra hours for his bill beyond his fixed eight per day. I love the guy, despite our wobble the other day! That night I dream that he and I are smoking pot together. He has long wild hair. We’re so stoned we are incoherent! I wake up next morning to a thunderstorm and a restless mind, realizing that no further improvements to the music are possible now, and that from now on I have to start thinking about how to sell it! We leave Hamburg with our two precious golden CD Masters in fierce heat. At 8pm, when we arrive in Holland it is still 34 degrees, and the night turns out to be 26 – the hottest this century.
Over the next five years I re-recorded the vocals on the ‘Nature’s Way’ songs project with two different singers before I found a label willing to take it. And that was merely the tiny music subsidiary of a big German New Age book publishing company. It sank there without trace (though I do have a single copy of the CD they released) and thereafter the songs sat on my shelf until last year, when I decided to gift them to whosoever might want to listen to them on Soundcloud.
The instrumentals had happier fortunes, starting life as tracks on the CDs ‘Lands of the Dawn’ and ‘Feng Shui Part 1’ on what turned out to be a rogue German label. When that collapsed they found their way to New Earth Records as part of my CDs ‘Celtic Ragas’ (1997) and ‘Sacred Temples of India’ (2002).
A bunch of people swear that they owe their lives to my performance. When that bomb exploded at 7.15pm on the 13th Feb 2010, I was just about to go on stage, while they were sitting in the audience, a comfortable half-kilometer from where they might well otherwise have been.
The German Bakery was a Koregaon Park institution. Just down the road from the Osho Commune, conveniently placed either for a quick cup of coffee before or after a meditation or therapy session, or alternatively for a leisurely and cheap meal plus gossip session in the company of the most eclectic collection of locals, travellers and spiritual seekers in India.
7.15pm was a popular time in the Bakery. The Commune’s gates had closed at 6.40 for the evening meditation, so if you weren’t attending that and you didn’t feel like staying home, you could join the crowd and take a chance on bumping into someone interesting.
Seventeen people died and a further 60 were injured that particular 7.15pm.
The German Bakery, Koregaon Park, in happier days
I’d passed by to buy a loaf of bread that afternoon, maneuvering past the usual crowd of touts, beggars and rickshaw drivers clustered outside the Bakery’s cheap bamboo walls. A quick ‘hi’ to a couple of friends who were passing the time of day with some young Indian students (tables were tiny and few, so you ended up sharing closely with strangers) and I was winging my way back to the concert venue for the set up.
The event was a benefit concert I’d arranged to raise funds for establishing solar lighting in the Himalayan village of Jhuni. The project was being implemented by friends who run a local NGO ‘Avani’, which brings electricity and livelihood opportunities to other remote villages in India’s Kumaon Hills. I’d formed a band and set up a video showings of the documentary about Avani that I’d recently completed and my ‘Smiles From Off the Road in India’ film starring the villagers of Jhuni. Plus Rashmi Bharti, Avani’s co-founder, was to give a talk and there was a big display of their textile products for sale. It was hosted in the lovely Koregaon Park garden of Sanskriti Lifestyle boutique run by wealthy locals who knew Rashmi well.
Dusk after a hectic day of arrangements; the band ready on stage; the mixed audience of Osho sannyasins and middle-class local Indians settled back in their chairs after a break following the film and Rashmi’s presentation. Suddenly we heard from afar an ominously deep and rumbling boom. Probably another gas cylinder exploding somewhere, we re-assured each other (a not uncommon accident in India). But just as we were about to play I noticed our hostess clutching her mobile and frantically signally to me. “There’s been a bomb at the German Bakery”, she whispered to me when I went down to her. “We don’t know more”.
A bomb? I cast a glance back at the band, ready and eager to play and then over the audience, looking calm and unruffled (it’s perhaps difficult in today’s wired world of Twitter etc, to imagine that just seven years ago, people didn’t expect to be checking their mobiles every few seconds!). I realized that my hostess and I were the only two people present who knew. ‘The Show Must Go On’ reverberated in my head and without further hesitation I got back on stage, picked up my sarod and gave the cue for the opening number.
To be honest I don’t remember much about the music we played, but I must pay tribute here to the other musicians, all good friends, who performed for free: Karunesh, Ramadhan, Bikram Singh, Avinash Jagtap and Amano Maneesh. The rest has all been erased from my memory by the vividness of the chaos that ensued an hour later once our set was over. We came off stage to find everyone now anxiously glued to their mobiles; and to hear the sirens ringing in the surrounding streets. We learned that there had been fatalities and heard rumours that Koregaon Park had been sealed off. Nobody knew if they could safely leave the venue; everyone milled around exchanging worried speculations.
Selfish considerations took priority in my mind. I was sure that my partner Naveena and our just-born daughter Koyal would be safely asleep at home in Goa and wouldn’t hear anything to make them worry until next morning. But my sister in England is an avid news-watcher and knew I was in Pune. I took myself into the darkness on the edge of the crowd and struggled to get a connection for what seemed like ages before hearing a voice from what felt like another planet.
Re-assurances complete I had another urgent responsibility to attend to: I had personally invited Jivan, an 86-year old lady friend, to the gig and arranged for Kristanand, a reliable rickshaw driver, to get her there and return to pick her up at the end. Where was she in the melee? Had Kris managed to get back to the venue to pick her up? As I searched the crowd, I noticed a few well-off Indians with their own cars beginning to drive off into the night, presumably trusting on luck to get them home; while most of the Osho sannyasins were taking advantage of the unexpected opportunity to do some more catching up. After all what more could any of us do? There was no sign of Jivan, and I couldn’t get a connection again on my phone to call Kris. In fact it wasn’t until when I finally got through to him the next day that I learned he had played a hero’s role. Somehow he had not only got his rickshaw through all the police road blocks to the venue, but by a long and fiendishly clever detour he’d got Jivan safely back to her home not far from the German Bakery itself!
As the night wore on more and more people drifted off to see where their legs might get them, needless to say there was none of the usual patrolling rickshaws to drive them. Rashmi, the band and I were the last to leave after clearing up. My car piled full of equipment, I crossed my fingers and set off into the midnight streets, eerily deserted and (as ever badly lit). The main roads were a mess of barriers and huddled groups of policemen; there was no other traffic so they paid me not the least attention when I skirted their roadblocks and drove the wrong way down the dual carriageway. I was also staying just off German bakery Lane, but knew better than to try to approach it via the Bakery end. In any case I was afraid of what I might see there.
The scene very early the next morning was the same, empty streets, grey fog and a sense of the day after doomsday hanging in the air. I had only one thing on my mind: to get back home to Naveena and Koyal as soon as possible. Giving the crime scene a wide berth again, I headed out of Pune on the expressway for the start of my nine-hour drive, Goa bound. My mind was churning: our safe little spiritual nook in India had been thrust into the world of terrorist atrocities. I knew it could never be the same again.
Over the next few weeks the calls and emails started coming in telling me variations on the same story: ‘You saved my life, man! I had been planning to go the Bakery as usual, but went to your gig instead…..’
The role of casualties ended up containing just three Osho sannyasin names. The rest were young Indian students, out for an evening in bohemian Koregaon Park; plus several of the unfailingly cheerful (and also mostly young) Nepali staff of the Bakery. Arrests took many years of investigations to achieve. Murky prosecutions of members of a group calling itself the Indian Mujahadeen followed. It was possible that the Osho Commune had been the intended target (David Headley, arrested in Canada a couple of years later, and charged with scouting targets for Al Qaeda, was found to have visited the Commune twice). There were also indications that the bomb was supposed to have been deposited at the Israeli Chabad House (a rescue center for flipped out Israeli travelers) just across the road from the Bakery.
They were details that would only really have significance as resolution for the innocent victims and their families. For the rest of us, used to innocently indulging in our spiritual getaways at the Commune, It was the end of an era. Checkposts were erected on the road outside the gates, manned by armed police, while the Commune’s ramshackle outer walls were replaced with four-meter high steel panels. The outside world had invaded our little haven and would not be going away. It was a rude awakening to a brash and dark new India that had in fact been mushrooming outside those walls for years.
For me it was that decision to get back on stage as if nothing had happened that has stayed with me. The show must go on. Spreading joy through music is a mission that may only incidentally counter extremism, prejudice and superstition, but it is the only tool I have.
Creating the “Concert for India’s Environment”, Pune, India. 3rd Jan 2004
Two Key Meetings
The concert was the result of two extraordinary meetings. The first, early in 2001, was with Dr Erach Bharucha, surgeon, photographer, author, environmentalist and Director of the Bhartiya Vidyapeeth Institute of Environmental Education and Research (BVIEER), on the far side of Pune. At the time I was searching for recordings of Indian birdsong to use as background to the music on a CD project, and was told that there was indeed a gentleman who had compiled such recordings living in Koregaon Park – in fact just around the corner from me. He opened the door to this stranger, heard my request and was, within a minute or two, hunting out his last remaining tape copy and pressing it into my hands. It turned out that not only had he been all over India recording birds, but was also a wonderful wildlife photographer. Once he started telling me some of the stories that went with getting his shots over the previous fifty years, I was hooked -here was also a master storyteller! From that moment on we were friends and I determined to do something for him in return for the tape. He took me to see his brand new, environmentally friendly auditorium that he had built at the Institute. I promised then and there that I would inaugurate it for him musically.
Dr Erach Bharucha
Over the following years, with his love for – and deep understanding of – the wilderness in India, Erach became my guide and mentor to India’s environmental issues. He took me to areas on the fringes of Pune city that were still wild, where leopards could be still heard – and occasionally seen – in patches of primeval forest. It was an India I had little idea of, and as he began to explain the many issues facing local people living in such areas, where his Institute was introducing environmental awareness into the local schools, I found myself wanting to do something for this India too. (Erach video interview)
I am lucky enough to have seen some of the most lovely places in India since I first came in 1975. But no-one who visits as often as I do can fail to notice the increasing destruction of the forests, the pollution of the rivers and beaches, the growth of slums, the carving up of the countryside in the name of ‘development’. Erach helped me to understand that educating the current generation of children and youth will be the vital key if this is ever going to turn around – after all there are so many of them for one thing! And naturally they have higher material expectations than their parents and grandparents. How on earth is India going to support them? If our planned concert and film could raise awareness about the work of the dozens of groups in India focused on environmental education -all desperately underfunded! – I’d be happy.
The opportunity came about thanks to the second meeting. This was with Paul McCartney, who, as a result of buying and falling in love with my CD ‘Celtic Ragas’, invited me to play a concert at his wedding in Ireland in 2002. (a story told elsewhere) I formed the Celtic Ragas Band especially for the occasion, and afterwards, back in Pune, suggested to Erach that we try to repeat the same concert at his as-yet-un-inaugurated auditorium. Central to the plan was to invite Sir Paul and as many other ‘notables’ as possible to help raise awareness for the cause of conservation in India.
So, in the autumn of 2003, we start planning an ambitious multimedia concert. In addition to the music, we want visuals, ambient background sounds, schoolkids reading their own poems about nature, and it should all be filmed and recorded for posterity….. I’ve never done such a thing before and soon find myself at the center of an Indian whirlwind!
First things first: the music. Only two members of the band that played the McCartney wedding are not in Pune: guitarist Jamie and accordionist Sadhu. I’m fortunate to have Adarsha and Dinesh (on keyboards) to hand to replace them. We start rehearsals right away; we have lots of new material since that previous performance. The next priority is to audition child poets; fortunately BVIEER is connected to a local primary school with a very enthusiastic teacher. Hiring equipment and crew for sound, projection, lighting and audio recording equipment, as always, has to be done early. I need to find an event manager, a stage manager and stage decorators; two film cameramen; plus someone to arrange transport (the venue is right across the highly polluted city of Pune from where we, and many of our other foreign guests are staying at the Osho Commune; we will require four full-sized buses to bring them over). South Indian food will be served by my Tamil friends Shiva and Shruti (Shruti has to double up on this and be guest singer on two songs). I need to cook up a Powerpoint presentation of Erach’s photos to be projected behind the band and publicity material to attract local bigwigs and people of influence. All this without a budget!
Erach and I soon realize that we will have to schedule an extra, matinee performance, so that his staff and students, and the parents and friends of the poets and important locals who won’t be able to make the evening performance, can all see the show for free. We will have to set everything up the day before and then be down to the Institute early on the day itself.
As the big day nears I’m issuing invitations, and printing and selling tickets around the Osho Commune. Volunteers have jumped in to fill all the roles and I have five wonderful children to perform their poems. Derek Julien, legendary Indian guitarist since the ‘70s, has agreed to mix for us. Avesh (Osho’s driver) and Svargo will bring their skills and pro cameras to film it. The visuals have been shaped to fit the music (and vice versa!) Adarsha and I have whipped up two delicate new instrumentals; Shruti brings two songs in Hindi on the theme of nature and the seasons; the rest of the music will be from my recently-released CD ‘Karma Circles’.
Then on the eve of the gig our Artistic Director, who was to have flown in from London, emails to tell us that his mother has just died and won’t be coming. My partner Naveena jumps in, takes herself off her role as tanpura player in the band and begins tackling the Mac computer controlling the projector and the ambient sounds that are to be central to the overall ambience of the concert.
The ‘Stage Set Up’ film gives something of the flavour of those weeks. The bags under my eyes are pretty obvious!
At the end of it all we had our two concerts: one free, by invitation to staff and students at BVIEER and parents and friends of the schoolkids; the second at a nominal charge (we didn’t break even – Erach and I split the loss) to our ticket holders (Paul, sadly, was not among them!).
The full team headed down to the Institute early. From then on I was constantly on my mobile, calling back to Koregaon Park. Had the buses that had been arranged confirmed their arrival outside the Commune ready to pick up our audience? (Answer: no. In fact they would turn up an hour late). Any sign of the truck with Shiva, Shruti and the catering? (Answer: never turned up at all. Rush hire of alternative meant that the food arrived three hours late). Where was our Mac technician who was supposed to help us set up the projection? (Answer: stuck in traffic). I felt proud of my band – relaxed enough to improvise a new piece of music (heard in the ‘Stage Set Up’ film) even while chaos swirled around them. Indian girls were hand stitching and ironing backdrops; potted plants were being heaved into place in front of painted panels; Naveena was fighting with the recalcitrant Mac; schoolkids were being rehearsed for the umpteenth time about their cues and entrances.
Of course I had to finally put it down and pick up my sarod to play the afternoon show. From the moment Erach’s stunning images began to cascade across the screen behind me and my recordings of forest birds and stream sounds (two years previously I had got up at 4 am to go up a mountain in Sikkhim to record these before any traffic sound erupted from the town below) hushed the audience I felt immersed in an ambience of awe at nature’s beauty, and a silence that comes from being touched inside. The music followed effortlessly. The kids were way more confident than they had been in rehearsals. As I watched them I realized that probably the most touching part of the whole experience for me had been getting to know them. India is in good hands if they are typical of the new generation!
By the evening show we were wildly overtime. Shiva was still frantically serving dosas to hungry customers, who had had to wait hours for their buses to actually depart, and then endure an hour of traffic pollution. They then had to put up with the usual Indian speech-making (Erach mercifully kept his to the point!) and ‘felicitating’ before the music could begin. On the edges of the packed auditorium I noted the overflow of uninvited guests arriving to perch themselves on stairways, in doorways and on every available bit of exposed floor (there’s no need to rent a crowd in India – one will always spontaneously form!). The last speechmaker left the stage. I looked around at the band: everyone smiling? Good! Finally we could play.
The camaraderie inside a good band is a joy to be part of. When I look at the film of the concert today, I see the smiles being exchanged between us and remember just how good it felt to be amongst such loving friends. We had all learned our trade in the Osho Commune: music wasn’t for expressing ego desires to be special, or prove oneself; it was to dissolve into. I remember looking out into the audience too: Erach in the first row, beaming; the rest of the team, finally sitting after their labours; Western Osho sannyasins jumbled up with ordinary local Indians of all ages, all rapt on the audio and visual sensations emanating from the stage. I remember too the long pauses after each number, the audience so stunned that for a long moment they forgot to clap (greater praise than any amount of applause!).
Watch the CONCERT FILM