the quality of sound

The quality of sound

 Viswa had been sitting quietly
on the edge of the balcony at Pappu’s
for some time
when he began to chant
one of his favorite mantras:


 and gradually the people nearby
fell silent
and began to listen 

♫ ♫ ♫

The quality of sound,
the tone of a voice,
the timbre of a song,
is crucial 

Use your voice wisely,
beautifully and slowly

 Allow compassion to flow
Speak the truth

 Never be
in a hurry
to get to the end
of a sentence
or phrase

 Thus spoke Viswa

 He then began again
to quietly sing
letters of the Sanskrit alphabet:


 and continued
until thought had subsided
among those nearby

 ♫ ♫ ♫

incense baba

Incense Baba

 Incense Baba placed a selection
of his favorite incense
in an incense quiver
and then went out
for his evening stroll,
leaving a swirling trail
of smoke

♫ ♫ ♫ 

Some people would hang out
near Incense Baba’s home
and wait
for him to go on a walk,
and they would follow
at a discreet distance
in order to enjoy
a fine fragrance 

Others would come out
of their homes and shops
to breathe in
the scent of the day

 And yet others
would happened upon
the wonderful smells
by chance 

♫ ♫ ♫ 

The incense today
smells divine 

Nag Champa, I think 

Yes, Goloka Nag Champa


 The Palo Santo this morning was a treat

It was divine

 And the Sai Baba Nag Champa last week
was pretty good too 

Sai Baba Nag Champa is nice

But Goloka is nicer


 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Incense Baba made his way
through the village,
at some of his favorite spaces
to exchange a few words
or share a few moments
of silence
with friends
and with kind strangers

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 The moon was out
and stars were making their way
across the dark blue night,
and as Incense Baba walked home,
the scent of sandalwood
whirled through the night 

♫ ♫ ♫



 Martin sat quietly
in a corner at Shanti Space

 Supplementing the postive vibe
with his gentle presence,
Martin promoted peace
and love
in the heart of Vashisht
and everywhere else
he went

 A regular customer,
he had become part of the family,
and when offered a pencil and paper,
he would draw beautiful pictures
for his friends to color

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 Martin had been wanting to leave
for some time,
but the banofie pie
at Pappu’s place
had weakened
his resolve to go

 And every day
there he went
to eat a piece of pie
and to watch the painting
of a mural on a wall

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 A number of musicians
haunted the place,
and Martin was ever ready
to listen to them play

He would listen for hours
without making a sound
and give his full attention
to the music

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 And one day Martin met
a peaceful girl
and began to share with her
the present moment

♫ ♫ ♫

the medicine dancer

The medicine dancer

 An inspiration
to all who had seen her dance,
Navila fostered peace,
awakened passion
and quietened minds
with her graceful movements

Please come again soon,
said the owners of cafés and restaurants
where she had performed

She’s a gift
to all of us,
said some

 Her dancing
is divine
said others

 Navila began
to dance
whenever she heard
being played
Kalimba or mouth harp
harmonica or guitar,
piano, violin or djembe,
whatever the music
she would dance
and those nearby would fall silent,
let their minds rest
and watch

♫ ♫ ♫

when Navila went for a walk
she would come across
suffering or strife

On such occasions
she would begin to dance
her medicine dance
and then people
would forget
to suffer
and drama
would dissolve

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 On her last night in Vashisht
Navila and her friend Kalimbaba
walked from home to home,
visiting her friends
and for each one performing
a farewell dance

 To the delicate music of a kalimba
Navila flowed

 ♫ ♫ ♫

navila’s dance

Navila’s dance

 From somewhere not very far away
Navila heard a kalimba
and began to dance
very slowly

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 The music continued
for what seemed like hours,
and Navila appeared
to never tire

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 The music grew louder
as the musician drew closer,
and after a while
he and the dancer
came together

♫ ♫ ♫ 

Tenderly she danced
while gently he played

 Quiet music and silent dance,
neither in a hurry
to finish
or go anywhere 

♫ ♫ ♫

the maharaja lounge

The Maharaja Lounge

 From the Maharaja Lounge
one had an excellent view of the valley,
and it was there that Dom Baba and Om Baba
decided to wait for the tailor
to return to his room next door

♫ ♫ ♫

He might come back in a while
or perhaps tomorrow,
said the waiter

We’re not in a hurry

May we have some mint tea, please?

 The waiter left the lounge
to prepare the tea,
and Dom Baba and Om Baba
took out their pencils and paper
and began to color and draw

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 I’ll go check and see
if he’s back

Dom Baba went back to the tailor’s room,
had a look around
and then returned
to the Maharaja Lounge

He’s not back yet,
but he does fine work
There’s a very nice wool coat
hanging on a wall

Let’s wait a bit longer

And so the babas continued to color and draw
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

This is all local wool,
said the tailor
from his place on the floor
in front of his sewing machine
Vashisht’s finest

It’s beautiful

And warm

We’d like to have two shawls made,
one brown
and the other black

Black sheep
are rare around here

Yet some can be found

I’ll draw you a map
that shows where they live
and how to get there
If you can find them and sheer them,
I’ll make you a black shawl


And then Dom Baba
prepared a chillum
and the three men smoked
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

That vest over there looks pretty nice

Black corduroy
It’s beautiful

What stitching
It’s a masterpiece

Try it on

And so Om Baba handed the vest to Dom Baba

It fits you perfectly

Bhai saab, how much for this vest?

it might cost about 800 rupees,
perhaps only 500,
or maybe you can just give me what you want

Dom Baba then began
to prepare another chillum
while the tailor stitched button holes
on a purple kurta
by hand

♫ ♫ ♫

The tailor took another hit
and then passed the chillum to the right

At the market in Manali
you can find dark grey wool,
but if you’re not in hurry,
someone might bring some by
sometime next week

We’re never in a hurry

We can wait

We can do even less than wait

We can just be

Dark grey wool may come

Or it might not

We’ll make no plans for it

Nor will we entertain
any hope
of seeing dark grey wool here

But if it were to appear,
we would welcome it

Yes, it would be most welcome

And then the men again fell silent
and observed
as the tailor continued to sew
by hand

♫ ♫ ♫

the maharani

The maharani

 The maharani sat on her throne
and smoked
as the musicans who had gathered
for the evening jam at A High Note
began to play

Several drummers set the rhythm,
a Japanese girl got up and began to dance
and soon the maharani
was dancing too

♫ ♫ ♫

She looks strong

She’s amazing

She’s cool

She dances well

What a woman

I wonder what she was smoking

She’s got a twinkle in her eyes

She looks about the same age as my grandmother

She might be a great-grandmother

These thoughts and more
wandered around the room,
as the maharani danced with abandon
and the rhythm changed and flowed

♫ ♫ ♫

a different breed of listener

A different breed of listener

 We’ve come to listen

We’ve been waiting
for some good listeners
to play for 

The art of listening
to music,
listening without talking,
listening to each note,
to the silence between the notes,
to the words among the notes,
was a dying art 

Many had lost the ability
and the desire
to listen properly,
to give their full attention
to music
and silence 

A tribe of listeners,
true listeners,
authentic listeners,
purebred listeners
still existed,
but they were on the verge
of extinction 

Please sit,
we shall soon begin to play 

The small room filled slowly
as listeners quietly
trickled in 

♫ ♫ ♫ 

Seated on cushions
on an old wooden floor,
the listeners were ready,
their voices silent
and their minds quiet
and open to receive 

And when a tanpura began to drone,
the listeners gave
their full attention
to the notes and tones and harmonies
that came their way 

♫ ♫ ♫ 

Cameras, telephones
and all other electronic devices
that made some sort of annoying sound or light
were not allowed
inside the concert hall 

Those who dared
to create a distraction,
to risk a beep or a flash of light,
those who did not care
about the others present
and that their actions detracted
from the beauty of the music,
were banished from the concert hall
until they had completed
a ten-day vipassana meditation course 

Some people quickly learned
to appreciate music in its pure form,
undiluted with conversation
and the capturing of images,
to offer it the respect
it deserves 

Others remained oblivious
to the pleasures and intricacies
of unadulterated music 

♫ ♫ ♫

One by one,
a sitar, a tabla, a bansuri and a slide guitar
joined the tanpura
and began to play,
and just when it seemed
that nothing could be more divine,
a voice began to sing
an evening raga 

♫ ♫ ♫ 

Sing words
only if you have something worth saying,
taught the master at the music ashram upstairs
Otherwise keep quiet
or just sing vowel sounds,
which can be very nice
And enunciate properly
There’s not much point in singing words
if nobody can understand what you’re saying
And don’t whine
Create something beautiful,
embody beauty
May your music be medicine
for those who listen 

With those words in mind
the raga singer continued to sing,
captivating her listeners
and leaving no room
for the mind to wander 

♫ ♫ ♫ 

Those who knew how to listen,
who enjoyed listening,
loved the concerts
at the music ashram’s concert hall
It was one of the few places in tow
where one could listen
to music
in peace and quiet

 The musicians played,
the singer sang
and the listeners enjoyed every note
and every moment of silence
until the last note
was played

♫ ♫ ♫

the dogs of vashisht

The dogs of Vashisht

 Morning, Kriya

Morning, Jacko

Want to play?


And so the two friends
rolled around in the dirt
and bit each other gently
for a while

 ♫ ♫ ♫

Let’s go for a walk


And so they headed off
in the direction of the waterfall,
smelling flowers
and chasing butterfies
along the way

♫ ♫ ♫

There’s a new dog in the village

You mean that Rottweiler Saint Bernard mix?


She’s really cute

Yeah, and she’s growing quickly

I’ve heard people call her Thola

And I’ve heard some call her Charas

How many names do you have?

About ten

I’ve got eight that I know of

Are you hungry?

A bit

Let’s go back to the village and make the rounds
and see what we can find

And so Jacko and Kriya began the journey back
to the temple square,
stopping at all their usual feeding places
along the way

 ♫ ♫ ♫

 The milk they give us at the purple house
is pretty good

fresh is best

Too bad all those Hindus are vegetarian

Fortunately the Muslims sometimes give us meat

 Some of that vegetarian food
is pretty good

and some of it is excellent

I really like the masala dosa they give us at Shanti Space

Me too

I feel like taking a nap

Me too

Sun or shade?

It’s a bit warm today

Shade it is then

And so the dogs lay down
in the shade of a wall
in the temple square
and rested
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

In the late morning
some other dogs came by
to hang out

Hey, guys
Rainbow Baba is back in town
Just rode in on his bike


He gives a pretty good neck massage

Almost as good as that Japanese girl
who sometimes hangs out at the German Bakery

Yeah, she’s pretty good
Maybe she’ll come again this afternoon

 I hope so
I can relax around her

She’s not like all those fake babas that kick us
just for sleeping near the entrance to the temple
I mean,
we behave much better than most of those Indian tourists
who come and defile the temple all day long

they take photos of people bathing in the temple

And they talk really loudly

And they keep hitting that bell
as hard as they can

And some of them don’t take off their shoes

What a bunch of degenerates

no respect for the temple

Or for peace and quiet

They behave like animals

Dude, we’re animals too

but we’re a higher caste than they are

but they don’t know that

That’s because they’re ignorant, dude

and they lack compassion

They have no understanding
of how things really are

Some of them do

Yeah, man,
some of them know what’s what

Not many though

No, not many

That French baba seems to understand

he knows

That baba from Kerela,
the one with the black Enfield,
he knows too


There are some interesting characters here

There sure are

do you remember when that Swedish dude
started throwing stones at the temple?

Yeah, man,
the locals killed him

Throwing stones at the temple
was pretty stupid


He was high on acid

That explains why he had been behaving strange all day

That punishment was pretty extreme

they could have just tied him up for a while
and then had a good talk with him
when he returned to his senses


 They beat up another foreigner last week,
the one who going out with the baker’s daughter

Yeah, they got him good

They treated him like a dog


I wonder why
He was always nice to us

he used to pet me every time our paths crossed

Seemed like a nice kid

he was one of us,
a real dog

And the girl was really into him
They seemed to get along well

But her family was against him

 What a lame family

 Yeah, super lame
I let my daughter go out with whomever she likes

Me too

And then the dogs fell silent
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

I’d like to go for a ride

Me too

Almost nobody gives me a ride anymore

Me either

People used to stop and offer me a ride all the time

Yeah, me too,
and sometimes they’d take me to Goa
The beaches there are great

I prefer the ones at Gokarna

Me too

I got a ride to Rajasthan once
It’s really hot there

Tell me about it
I once spent a summer in Hampi
What a sauna

It’s nice up here in Himachal

except for in winter

Yeah, man,
winter sucks

Almost nobody offers us food

And it’s really cold

Sometimes people let me sleep with the cows

Cows are cool
They’re super warm

that guy who lives over by Mushroom Guest House,
gives me something to eat every day –
even in winter

Yeah, he’s cool

He’s got a good heart

He knows how to share

Where are you guys thinking of spending winter this year?

If I can get a ride,
I’ll go down to Kerela
I’ve got a friend there who I’d like to see

I’m going to try get to Kodai

I’ve got family in Gokarna
and I promised my mom I’d visit

Anyone feel like coming with me
to visit the pack in Old Manali?

I’ll come with you

Me too

And so Jacko, Kryia and their friend
headed down the hill
and across the bridge
to the other side of the river

♫ ♫ ♫

It’s pretty over here

Let’s explore

I’ve been in every building in Old Manali

No way

It’s true
I used to live over here
I know every room in the village

Show us some of your favorite ones


And then the dogs began
to walk around,
going into homes
now and then
and greeting friends they met
along the way

♫ ♫ ♫

Let’s go back to Vashisht

it’ll be dark soon
and the cars won’t be able to see us very well

 Cars suck


Except for when they give us a ride


And then the dogs headed back across the river
and up the hill

♫ ♫ ♫

Hey guys
How was Old Manali?


We had lunch behind the pizza place

I love pizza

Me too

Shall we make the rounds again
and have dinner?

Good idea

I’m feeling kind of hungry too

Have any of you tried the leftovers
offered by the new woman in town,
the one living in the blue house over by the school?

Dude, stay away from her
Worst cook in Vashisht
I almost died after eating her aloo parantha

Yeah, man
She’s the worst
I vomited for five minutes
after eating her vegetable curry

Let’s go to Sham’s place for dinner

Good idea

he’ll have something nice for us

And that old man in the house next to his
sometimes throws me a bone

 And so off they went
along the path and up the hill
to Sham’s home

♫ ♫ ♫

Thank you, Sham
That was really good

Yeah, man,
it was excellent
Your wife is a great cook

Sham pet each of the dogs
for a little while
and then they headed back to the temple square

♫ ♫ ♫

Looks like we have the square to ourselves tonight


What do you guys feel like doing?

Let’s howl


And so the dogs howled
in harmony
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

Where shall we sleep tonight?

Under the stairs by the bakery
is a pretty good place

Sounds good to me

Me too

Nobody will step on my tail there

 Let’s go

 And so the dogs walked over
to the stairs next to the German Bakery
and settled in for the night

♫ ♫ ♫

the last of his tribe

The last of his tribe 

Bhairava Maharaj appeared
to be the last of his tribe
or one of the remaining few

Not many of the foreigner babas
from the early days
were still around,
and none of the others
had been seen lately 

One morning Dom Baba and Om Baba
decided to pay
the maharaja a visit

Namaste, Maharaj

Hare om 

We bring you mangoes
and song 

Let’s smoke 

And then the maharaja
loaded his chillum,
one of the biggest chillums
the babas had ever seen 

Nice chillum 

Beautiful carvings 

was a good year for chillums 

When the chillum was ready,
the maharaja offered it to Dom Baba to boom,
and then the three babas passed it around 

♫ ♫ ♫ 

And when the chillum was finished
and had been cleaned,
the maharaja prepared another
and then another one after that
He prepared chillum after chillum
and the three babas smoked,
pausing only now and then to make music,
until it was time for bed

 ♫ ♫ ♫

three djembes

Three djembes

 The sun was setting,
clouds were traveling,
dragonflies were flying
and Luke took out his djembe
and began to play

♫ ♫ ♫

Every day
around the same time
Jason could hear the sound of a djembe
coming from somewhere

One day
he listened for a while,
and then he took out his djembe
and began to play as well

Neither Luke nor Jason knew
who the other drummer was,
nor exactly where he lived,
but from that day on
together they played
every evening
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

Ali had been hearing
Luke and Jason drumming together
for several weeks,
and one evening he took out his darabuka
and joined the jam

♫ ♫ ♫

Months passed
and Luke, Jason and Ali
continued to drum
every evening
from different corners of the neighborhood,
each without knowing
who the others were

Sometimes they passed each other
on the street,
or met
in a shop,
not knowing
that the person they had nodded to
or to whom they had said hello
was one of the other drummers

Sometimes they wondered
with whom they were playing,
and sometimes they suspected someone
of being a drummer,
but they prefered to enjoy the mystery
rather than know for sure

♫ ♫ ♫



For the fifth day in a row
the foreigner went to a small restaurant
near his home in Hanoi
He spoke with the same waitress
who had served him all week
and asked for the same thing he had ordered
the previous four days
Then he sat down at a table

 The waitress,
a young girl fresh from the countryside,
soon brought the food, a glass and a warm can of Coke,
but this time
she forgot the ice

That was the Vietnamese word for ice,
not to be confused with đa (banyan tree),
đả (hit),
đà (beam)
or đã (already),
and the foreigner knew this word,
knew how to pronounce it properly,
so he asked the girl for ice
and she replied
with a lack of comprehension

The foreigner saw a glass of iced tea
on a nearby table,
so he took a clean chopstick,
walked over to the other table with the girl
and with the chopstick pointed to an ice cube and said,

Trà đá?

Không trà đá

Trà đá?

Không trà đá

Trà đá?

Không trà đá

Iced tea?
The girl repeated several times

not iced tea
the foreigner replied

He then resigned himself
to the idea that he would not be getting
any ice that evening
and returned to his table

A minute later the girl brought him
a glass of iced tea

The foreigner took an ice cube
out of the glass,
held it in one hand
and with the other pointed to it and said,

The girl appeared not to understand,
so a local guy who was sitting at a nearby table
said loudy in Vietnamese,
He wants ice

The girl finally understood,
took away the iced tea
and came back
with a glass of ice



Shantanu sat in silence
in a corner at Shanti Space
keeping the space calm
and quiet

♫ ♫ ♫

There’s no need
to speak
all the time,
Shantanu knew
There is often a time
and a place
for talking,
but more often than not
is more beautiful

Shantanu understood silence well:
the art of being silent,
being comfortable
with silence,
enjoying silence,
loving silence,
being silence

He also knew
how to listen,
and how to converse
without interrupting
the flow of words when others spoke

♫ ♫ ♫

May I join you?
asked a woman


I see you here
almost every day,
sitting alone

I’m doing café meditation

What’s that?

I sit
and observe
and remain equanimous
while drinking tea


I teach meditation
in the Silence Studies department
at Shanti University

A master of silence,
he had spent many months
and with others
in silence
at Damma Sota,
the Goenka vipassana meditation center in Rahaka

What can you tell me about meditation
and silence?
the woman asked

Speaking mindfully
and using the language in a beautiful way,
Shantanu shared his insight
while the sun began to set

♫ ♫ ♫

the lullaby singer

The lullaby singer

The man could not sleep
He had been trying for over an hour
to fall asleep,
but thoughts continued to plague him

♫ ♫ ♫

At about eleven he decided to call
the lullaby singer
He had heard of her from a friend
who also suffered from sleeplessness
now and then


Are you the lullaby singer?

Are you having difficulty
getting to sleep?

I am
I haven’t slept well in weeks

I’ll come right over

The lullaby singer wrote down the man’s address,
put a few instruments in her bag
and soon she was on her way,
riding her bicycle
through the autumn night

♫ ♫ ♫

Thank you for coming
I can’t seem
to turn off my mind

Lie down, friend
Soon you shall sleep

The man lay down
and the lullaby singer
then took out her violin
and began to play
music so beautiful
that the man’s mind lost
its ability to think
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

And when the man
was on the edge
of sleep,
the lullaby singer stopped
playing her violin
and began to sing
the most enchanting melody
the man had ever heard,
and soon he was asleep

♫ ♫ ♫

She continued to sing
for a little while,
and then she left her card on a table,
let herself out
and rode home,
humming along the way

♫ ♫ ♫

Heirloom seeds can be sent
to: Lullaby Singer
13 Jacaranda Way
or deposited here:
Flower Bank
Account # 336699

That was what was written on the card

I’ll do both,
thought the man

He then got on his bicycle
and rode to the heirloom seed shop
He selected a number of his favorite flowers
as well as some fuit and vegetables
Then he went to the post office
to mail some of the seeds
and to Flower Bank
to deposit the rest

♫ ♫ ♫

Good evening

Good evening
Are you the lullaby singer?

What can I do for you?

The crickets and toads
are not singing tonight

Would you like me to sing for you?

Yes, please
The animals usually sing me to sleep,
but tonight they are elsewhere
or silent

Where do you live?

The lullaby singer
wrote down the woman’s address
and soon she was on her way again
riding through the night

♫ ♫ ♫

You have a beautiful teepee

I prefer to sleep outside
so that I can hear the animals better

Are you ready for bed?


As the woman lay down on her blankets
the lullaby singer took out her vargan,
and then she began to play,
imitating the sounds of nature
as she had learned to do
in Yakutsk

♫ ♫ ♫

The telephone rang again

Good morning

Good morning, my friend
I’d like to treat myself
to a lullaby

What time would you like me to come over?

Would ten o’clock be possible?

Of course
Do you have any special requests?

If you could bring your guitar tonight,
that would be wonderful

I’ll bring my twelve string

Thank you
See you tonight

See you then

And so the lullaby singer arranged
to visit one of her regular customers

♫ ♫ ♫

I love power cuts
The town becomes quieter
and darker

Only moonlight
and the stars

And the crickets and toads

Are you ready for bed?


And then the woman got into her hammock
and began to swing
back and forth
while the lullaby singer played her guitar
and sang
a lullaby

♫ ♫ ♫

Good afternoon

Good afternoon
Are you the lullaby singer?

How may I serve you?

A friend recommended you
She said you sing beautifully
Could you come
and sing for me tonight?

I’d love to
What time would you like me to come?

I like going to bed early,
at around seven or eight
would be great

I’ll see you at seven

Thank you

And so the lullaby singer
wrote the man’s address in her book,
put a kalimba in her bag
and then went to her garden
to sing to her plants
for a while

♫ ♫ ♫

Thank you for coming

Thank you for inviting me
Are you ready to sleep?


And so the lullaby singer
took out her kalimba and began to play
slowly and gently,
and after a while
she began to sing

♫ ♫ ♫

And long after the man had fallen alseep
the lullaby singer continued to sing
to the delight of the owls
and the other beings nearby
until she felt
like riding home

♫ ♫ ♫