Before I begin, let me apologize. I promised to blog live from the yatra. However, the whole experience was too overwhelming and intense for me to sit and reflect and find a laptop with internet and type. But I made notes, or rather, titles, and here is the expansion of some of them.
Kailash Kher: I am not an artist
Day 1, Luniyakhedi.
We have just arrived, and the heat hits us like a blast. An ice-gola fellow with a stall is standing in front of Prahladji's house, surrounded by thirsty people under the burning hot sun. I fight the temptation to buy a gola and go inside. Shantiji, Prahladji's wife, greets me warmly and offers me a khus ka gola. 'Khus beats the heat,' she says. How can I refuse?
I slurp on a green sweet ice and watch Kailash Kher give a bath to his cute little son, Kabir.
Night, Satsang. Kailash Kher shares the manch with Prahladji and Kaluram. Kailash tells us how a cd was once stuck in his car stereo for three months. Only that cd would play, again and again. Guess whose cd it was? Prahladji's of course.
He tells us that he has come here to listen, not to sing. He sings, nevertheless, but not before this disclaimer:
"I am not an artist here. I am a devotee who is calling out to the Lord. So don't judge my song, just sit back and enjoy."
As if you had to say that, Kailash.
I am amazed.
Day two: I have gone to pick up an artiste from Turkey, Latif Bolat. In the ride back from the airport, Latif tells me about Turkey's kabir-like mystic, Yunus Emre. Latif is very enthused about sharing the Turkish dervish with India and taking Kabir to his country.
'Turkey needs to re-open itself to Indian culture, we have so much in common. In fact, Sufism started out with mystics walking all the way to the Indus valley.
He believes that Sufism was the direct result of the first Sufi, Mansoor's travel to Indus, mingling with the sadhus here, and then coming back.
"Analhaq! (I am the truth)", Mansoor answered, when the occupant of the door he knocked inquired, Who is there?' That he was hanged for this 'blasphemy', was another matter. A lot of Sufis caught the gist of this mahavakya and started singing and dancing.
The flying ghost
Day three, Lunikhedi, Prahladji's house.
We are all sitting on his first floor verhandah and having our meals when a sudden sand storm blew on us and our paper plates went helter skelter in the tornado.
Bhanwari Devi's ( the soulful folk singer from Rajasthan) son Kishan in conversation with a local, as I eavesdropped.
Kishan: Do you know how this sand storm arises?
Local : Of course I do. It's an angry ghost.
Kishan: Look where my paper plate is flying. High in the sky. Full power this ghost is.
When onions fell out of the camera person's dupatta.
Those of you who have lived in hot temperatures, specially in childhood, must be aware of the cooling powers of raw onion. Most of us have had to submit mutely to grandmothers rubbing onion juice on our feet to ward off a sunstroke. Since I was in charge of the medical kit, half a kg of onions were packed in my bag.
Whenever anyone complained of the heat, I would hand over an onion and tell them to either rub it on their bare feet or at least carry it with them. Even smelling an onion can stop a nose bleed. And that's how the onion fell out of the camera person's dupatta.
The fast slow down number
I sit next to him, and am surprised to hear him sing, 'Jara Halke Gaadi Haanko'. We try to sing the whole song, and together we remember most of the words.
The next couple of hours in the bus are spent in learning this song by heart. Mooralala has a problem with the phrase, 'Bilakh bilakh kar chidiya royi, bichad gayi meri jodi'.
He would instead sing, ' Dagaj Dagaj kar chidiya royi, ...'
'Its bilakh bilakh, bhai. Crying her heart out.'
'Yes yes. Bilakh Bilakh kar, chidiya royi, chichad gayi meri jodi.'
Finally, I dig out a pen. 'Lets write it down, ' I offer.
He shakes his head, 'I cant even sign my name. If I was educated, I would have reached places by now. But never mind, its quite perfect, the way it is. No point in going faster. Let the road flow smoothly. Let there be spaces between us. If we try to compete, there will be a crowd. Jara halke gaadi haanko, mere Raam Gadi wale...'
Tujhe hai showk milne ka,
to har dum, lu lagata jaa
A song I know since two decades. Prahladji is busy, tired and always surrounded by people. But I get him alone on the fifth night.
'Please sing this song for me, Prahladji.'
'Which song? I don't know this song.'
I have recorded this song in his own voice on my mobile during the web archive editing work I do at the Kabir project. I play the song on my cell and refresh his memory.
'Oh, this one? Ok, I will sing it. Let me listen once more, I forget the words....'
...Two nights later, I hear this song on the speakers, and I run towards the stage, with tears in my eyes. The latter part of the song, however, has changed drastically. From Mansoor mastana, it is now Kabir who is calling out, suno bhai sadho...
Note: I would like to invite all of you who were in those buses, to write in your experiences, the high points and the low ones of the yatra, from your favorite music to how you felt when we were kicked out of the dharamshala after sleeping for less than an hour...