Day 17 – Guided by the Artist
After a good night’s sleep in the big soft comfort of the houseboat bed, we awoke to a cool and rainy Kashmir day. Breakfast consisted of coffee, an omelette, toast, and porridge, the latter like a bland, thin form of our style of oatmeal. We had a full day planned out for us by our friends and benefactors of the region. Our friend Mahi, who had taken us around as we arrived, informed us that her father Masood, the famous Kashmir painter, would be our guide for the morning.
He is a kind, warm, and interesting man. His work has been covered by the New York Times, the BBC, and many other international outlets. He shows us the news stories on his phone, as the driver takes us around Kashmir. Our first stop for the day is a Muslim shrine in the middle of Srinagar. It is a beautiful place with pigeons flying all around and people praying. We take off our shoes and begin heading inside, but the two guys at the door begin saying something to Masood, which he seems to be confused about. It turns out that they do not want us to go in to the shrine. He never really explains why, but I get the feeling it is either because we are obviously not Muslim practitioners, are carrying cameras, or Paul’s dreadlocks and earrings, which are so different than the norm as to be occasionally threatening to the sentiments here.
In any case, we are turned away, and we continue our tour of Srinagar. Next, we visit the University of Kashmir, the place where Masood was an art teacher many years back. He is obviously very revered, as his presence creates quite the stir at the school. Many gather around to visit, shake his hand, and see why he is here with two strange looking foreigners. They have arranged a meeting for us with the music department, and we make our way over to the building. Inside there is a multitude of instruments. Sitar, Santoor, and tabla drums make up most of the music, and there is several players of each that begin to gather in the room.
Sitar has always been one of my favorite sounds, ever since I was very little. Music from the sitar has always taken me to a mystical place where I feel very comfortable, and is really the source of my desire to bring Banjo Earth to India. I’m so excited to finally get the opportunity to play with these instruments. Everyone gathers into the room, I get out my banjo, and the music begins. They keep it very simple to begin with, and it increases in complexity and difficulty. Raga is the main form of Indian classical music. It usually begins with a simple melody, then turns into an extended improvisation sometimes lasting 20 minutes or more.
We enjoy about an hour of jamming, which really pushes my boundaries and allows me to grow as a musician. Sometimes being thrown into the deep end is the best way to learn how to swim. We say goodbye, and head out for more adventures with our artist guide. We meet his daughter for lunch at a famous Srinagar restaurant and enjoy some delicious food and conversation. Masood and his daughter Mahi are very warm and lovely people, as are most of the Kashmiri’s we have met.
The adventures do not stop here however, and they have arranged a meeting with a young and talented local band here for us at a nearby coffee shop. These guys are amazing, give some deeper insight into the area and the situation in which they live, and we make plans for a musical collaboration tomorrow. They are very excited about the possibilities of our musical fusion project, as am I, and the creative juices begin flowing.
It’s amazing that all of this planning and coordinating has been happening behind the scenes for us. My friend Khuram, who is really responsible for us being in Kashmir, has been pulling the scenes from a distance and creating these amazing opportunities for us. He is like the invisible angel of our project. Not only has he been setting all of this up, he arranged for our accommodations at the houseboat here in Srinagar, he opened up his apartment in Delhi for us to stay in, and his help has been gigantic in the success of this project.
As I’ve come to find out, once you make the decision to follow your dreams, create the work of your spirit, and go for it full force, the Universe comes to your aid. Most often this comes in the form of people who are of similar spirit, generous in their offerings, and pure in their soul. He, and all of the people who have helped us get here, have proven again that, though the world is full of problems, the world is full of love. And when your intentions and motivations align with that love, anything is possible. I’m so humbled and thankful to be on this journey with everyone, to share in the brilliance of this thing called life.