Grace and Flow: Mehdi Hassan

Mehdi Hassan, undoubtedly, Pakistan’s greatest ghazal singer of the modern age

Harmonium

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A little New Year’s gift for all the dear followers of Harmonium.

This album claims to capture Mehdi Hassan live in concert in New York. I find that to be a somewhat dubious statement as each track has a very ‘studio’ feel to it. Clean, sonically level and with none of the rough edges and spoken asides that accompany all live performances.

But I’m happy to be proven wrong.

Regardless of the veracity of the album’s title, the music is top quality. Mehdi’s tenor is suave and unforced. He delivers each ghazal with the panache of the supremely accomplished, hardly breaking a sweat. That doesn’t mean he is simply running through the material passion-baghair. Rather, he is at the top of his game. In the flow and full of grace.

And that seems to be a good attitude to possess as one year ends and another is soon…

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Betting on Ourselves

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The kids have been singing that old mariner’s tune, What do you do with a drunken sailor, over and over.

 

And appropriately, Yvonne and I have been feeling like drunken sailors in the last few weeks. We wake each morning feeling slightly woozy and bleary eyed. Life is moving fast and it seems our legs are wobbly as we try to keep up.

 

We’re racing toward the end of year. The kids school year came to a hectic climax, there is all the Christmas shopping and visiting to cram in, elderly parents are struggling with the sorts of curses Old Age brings and our home business just keeps barreling down the track.

 

We’ve been business owners for the past 12 months. Looking back from this vantage point to our first weeks and months in the business, it seems as if a lifetime has passed. Full time employment is a distant memory. The silly (and not-so-silly) mistakes we made have been many. In fact, we just made a doozy this week and created some unnecessary chaos for ourselves.

 

We started out with real excitement, expecting the learning curve to be less severe and far less elongated than it turned out to be. In the middle of winter, when we were several months in and still not making money, the rain and dark clouds that showed up most days matched our mood perfectly. I always thought I was pretty resilient, but I had to dig deep in those months.

 

My daily walks proved to be the thing that kept me going. Bundled up in my St Kilda hoodie and headphones, I’d stomp down the path listening to Shane Krider, Wayne Dyer, Neville Goddard and a whole host of others talk about possibility, choice, personal responsibility, focus, consistency, imagination and the actual relationship between the invisible and visible worlds. My stomping would quickly lighten to striding. And most days, by the time I got home, I felt as I’d been flying through the air.

 

It was on one of those walks that it dawned on me that regardless of how much money I made in the business, I had already more than recouped my investment in Prosperity of Life. The depths of perception and understanding that have been opened to me through the course material are truly profound. Life, for the first time, is something I know I can be in charge of, rather than a victim of. This is stuff I can keep forever. And apply wherever.

 

Talk about a reward!

 

The money was still hard to come by as winter moved into spring. But then the tide turned.

 

We’re still not sure why it did because we weren’t doing anything differently. We were still marketing and still prospecting. But suddenly, it seemed the prospects were serious. They ‘got’ it. And best of all, they ‘wanted’ it. In our first income-earning month we cleared $24,000. Gulp!

 

The income kept coming in, which was wonderful. Our shoulders relaxed a bit and we pushed harder. But along with the money came new challenges. Things like cash flow management and customers cancelling orders, or disappearing just as completely as if they had been abducted by aliens.

 

What the…? He was here just a minute ago, I swear.

 

We say every day that we are looking for people who want to make at least $10,000 a month within the first 6-12 months of setting up their business. We never doubted that the business would deliver. But if we’re honest, there were many times in the past year we wondered why ours hadn’t shown up yet!

 

In the past three weeks we’ve earned more than half a previous year’s wages! Within our first 12 months in the business we’ve hit that six-figure income. And though our heads are spinning and we’re feeling a bit punch drunk it is wonderful to confirm that Prosperity of Life is a truly powerful business. Far more powerful in fact, than we ever imagined when we, with not a little trepidation, put our money on the line and did the foolish thing of betting on our future.

Road Stories: Eating Ash

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After a breakfast of cold TBJ (toast butter jam) at one of the several ‘hippie cafes’ that lined the narrow tarmac road running along Puri’s beachfront, I walked down to the station to buy a newspaper. When I arrived however, I was informed that as today is the day after Republic Day there are no papers.

 

On my way back to the café I stopped to observe a sadhu who was holding court outside a colourfully decorated low-ceilinged temple not far from the entrance to the station.

 

He was toking up when I arrived. The chilam was offered to me but I declined. A group of rickshaw walas and assorted young men squatted in a semi circle near him. Each drew deep on the pipe as it made the rounds.

 

I asked them if they weren’t afraid that the police would round them up.

 

This has been purchased under a government license. No problem.

 

A man with rotting teeth told me that smoking hash was essential to the people’s daily existence. Some people eat paan, others smoke ganja, some like bhang, others charas. Its all for digestion of the food. It is necessary.

 

I reply that I get paranoid when I smoke it.

 

They all laugh. Their tired red eyes remain motionless while their faces move in different ways.   Like all addicts, they agree that moderation is the attitude to be employed. But they exclude themselves from their own advice with a shrug of the shoulders.

 

I am told the sadhu has not spoken for 12 years.

 

He has four more to go before his vow is complete.

 

I wonder if he will still remember how to form words after 16 years of silence.

 

He communicates through gestures and a penetrating gaze but cracks an engaging smile once in a while. His sidekick, also a sanyasi, seems to have sworn the opposite vow: to talk as much as he can in as short a space as possible.

 

He interprets the silent one’s flailing arms and pointing fingers. He details their recent past and spells out their future intentions. (They are headed to Nepal, next). The sidekick tells of fabulous bright silver coins and good charas in Kashmir.

 

We sleep wherever we find a spot. A sanyasi has no home.

 

Do you travel by foot, I ask.

 

He laughs. No. No. No. We are sanyasis. We go by train. Whoever has heard of a sadhu paying for his travel.

 

As I leave, the silent one pinches some ashes from his smoldering fire and signals that I should smear it on my forehead, which I do.

 

Sidekick then rattles, Now swallow the rest.

 

I hesitate but do as he says. I walk away with a gritty taste in my mouth.

 

Appropriating Helen

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In 2015, the American artist/photographer Richard Prince stirred up a hornets’ nest when he exhibited a collection of photos from strangers’ Instagram feeds. He enlarged the images, complete with comments, put them in a show, and sold several of them for $100,000 each.

Critics and peers instantly took to Twitter and blogosphere to either denounce Prince as a thief or to sing his praises as an artistic visionary. Interestingly, one of the unwitting subjects of the controversy, a woman whose Instagram photo Prince had appropriated did not raise a fuss and seemed pleased to bask in a bit of reflected glory.

Neither was this Prince’s first brush with the art police. And nor was he the only famous artist to lift, steal or borrow other people’s work for their own masterpieces.

Appropriation in art has a long, well-established history. Its practitioners include some of the greatest names in 20th century art, such as Picasso, Duchamp, Cindy Sherman and Andy Warhol. Many artists and critics believe that in this digital age, with easy access to images, bit torrents and ubiquitous invitations to download, there is no object or image that is not available for the picking.

Of course, those whose works find their way into the art of others, without permission, are less charitable. Lawsuits are lodged and courts often decide in their favour. But the practice persists and probably will as long as humans exist.

A critical factor that judges refer to in deciding whether an artist is a genius or a thief is the concept of “fair use”. Has the photographer or artist transformed the original sufficiently to create a new and fresh work of art? Or has he lazily decided to ride on the coattails of someone else?

Question of appropriation

Growing up in India, I was a fan of Hindi movies, and though I did not understand exactly who she was at the time, Helen, the “Queen of the Nautch Girls”, was a big part of the attraction.

In more recent times, I have found Helen to be an enormously inspiring subject.

As she has danced and vamped and swayed across the internet on YouTube, I have tried to capture her in full flight as if she were a flitting butterfly.

And, in the process, my mind has turned to the question of appropriation and fair use. Am I creating something new and fresh? Or am I merely an obsessed fan stealing glimpses of my idol, like a silent Peeping Tom? [My full article with photos here]