I travelled alone throughout North-Western India in August, and while i was in Rajasthan, in the city of Pushkar, I met a young lady called Puja. In Hindi, Puja means both “prayer” and “worship.” Puja is 12, is a street kid and doesn’t go to school, but she has been blessed with pure musicality! Watching her play her drum was heavier than any concert I had ever seen back home. She Was rhythm. I saw her on several other occasions. One time she was walking around with a big plastic bag collecting garbage so that she could perhaps sell it if she found anything of value. It burned my heart to see that, but when reality hits that hard, you just have to go along with it, at least for the time being. Our conversation was limited, due to my poor Hindi and her poor English, but just being in her presence was enough. In my mind, she has come to encompass every aspect of India that I experienced, and that is happiness, joy, kindness, faith, and appreciation of simply living life. She, like India, became a real friend, and she, like India, became a diamond for me. Puja, the 12 year old girl, is India.
So, when i was invited to play at the Uppsala Guitar Festival in the Swedish town of Uppsala, to be the opening act for fellow guitarist Jennifer Batten, it hit me. This was a blessing, because now, i would be able to present my sister Puja through music, and to a large audience. So i got some words together, a short poem, and put them together into a song. Two hours before my “spot”, and we can literally call it a spot, because the festival organiser Klaus, a very nice man by the way, had told me “you get ten minutes and thats it”, i was sitting in the hotel, getting the song together and hoping that i would be able to get the message across to the audience. The festival itself took place in a very fancy and state of the art building. It was almost cleaner than a hospital and had these giant escalators that made no noise at all. Everything inside that building was in tip top shape. For lunch, there was an all you can eat buffet, many people in suits, and specialy designed silverware. As for the concert hall itself, it was one of perfection. The seats were very comfortable, the sound engineer’s equipment was as good as it could possibly get, the stage itself was in magnificent condition and the microphones that they had were some of the best in the world. Backstage, the stage crew had walkie talkies, there were screens that showed what was going on in the concert hall, and giant digital clocks that showed exactly what time it was. So, seeing all this, and after having taken it all in, i figured that this would be the perfect place to spread the message of “you can make a difference in children’s lives if you take that money that you would otherwise spend on a fancy car out of your pocket and send them to school for life instead.” (While volunteering at a girls school, also in Pushkar, i was shocked at how little money it cost to send a girl to school for one year, and was so disheartened by the fact that one phone was the same price as sending a girl to school for three years!) I must also add that i had the suits that i had seen at lunchtime in mind when i thought this, not the actual audience, for i had not seen them yet. So, when I finally stepped out on stage, i looked out at the audience, and my eyes were telling me that there were at least 400 people out there. 400 people that i could take with me to that moment when i sat on the cracked sidewalk and listened to Puja play her drum, and play it so so very well. 400 people that i could take with me to that moment when Puja told me that she was 12, and had neither a mother, nor a father. 400 people that i could take with me to that moment when she smiled, and the whole world seemed to stand still, for this was the smile of a survivor, a smile that knew so much more about life than I ever would. 400 people that i could take with me to that moment when this child said goodbye to me and continued on her way, her and her drum, simply living life in this instant, not in the past, nor in the future, but firmly rooted in the present like a wise, ancient tree. 400 people that i could hopefully encourage to look past their own lives, and look into the lives of others. 400 people that i could send home with a seed, a seed that would bloom if they watered it with care, love, concern, affection, curiosity, and a willingness to reach out to a side of their humanity that does not have food for the day, a roof for the night, and education for their lives. 400 people that, if they were not aware of the harsh reality of their brothers and sisters also sharing this planet earth with them before stepping into the concert hall, would for sure be aware of it upon stepping out.
Our world is our home, of this I have no doubt, and so dont we always ask our guests when they come over to our homes the following questions? “Are you hungry? Do you want anything to drink? Shall i go and prepare your bed for the night?” We ask these things out of care for our guests, because we truly want them to feel comfortable in our homes, and we ask these things regardless of if the people are actually hungry or not. So dont we want the guests of our one common home, our world, to feel truly comfortable and taken care of, especially when they are hungry? We all care, deep inside! We all care, I believe this, and I know this! But in order for us to turn our care into action and service, we have to open our hearts to the sufferings of our brothers and sisters! We have to feel their pain, and we can’t be afraid to kick down the doors and smash the windows of our comfortable lives! I would like to tell you now, that our world is very hungry, and if you listen close enough, you will hear its stomache moan! Our world would very much like to have something to drink, and if you look close enough, you will be able to see its dry, cracked lips hoping for a cup of water, and to finish, if we have an extra bed, well then our world would love it if we went and prepared a bed for it to sleep in tonight.
I conclude by saying that, as people, it is our responsibilty to simply convey the message. No matter what your medium of expression may be, simply convey the message, and never, ever hesitate to do so. This is the true struggle, this is the true “Jihad”.
– Here is the poem I wrote for her –
I remember you, Sister, you sat there, and played your drum for me, your rhythms flowed, and became steady earth, upon which i could rest my weary soul,
No Father, No Mother, No Brother, No Sister, so little food, so little water, only yesterdays rags, to cover the delicate brown of your skin, only yesterdays rags, to cover the sacred black of your hair, streaming down like tears, the purity of your gaze, suffering, without the slightest pain,
and then, you left, carrying your drum, your rhythms, safely resting inside your spirit, walking away, with your gift, the gift of music,
your shadow, following, deeper than a thousand nights,
walk on, oh beautiful princess, walk on, you are my steady earth, and i am the dust, along your path,
I remember you, India……