When I mention the name of my main music teacher, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, people sometimes ask me
“If he’s so great, why haven’t I heard of him?”
I ask them “Have you heard of Kim Kardashian?”
“What’s she famous for?”
“I dunno… her ass?”
“Jane Fonda has a better ass, and she’s twice Kim Kardashian’s age”
Then these people, who have never heard the name of the greatest Indian musician of the 20th century, sit there wondering why Kim Kardashian IS so famous.
Follow me down to find out more.
The answer is simple; My teacher gave himself to music. That is not to say that he didn’t like other things; he appreciated beauty in all its forms, and that is one of the reasons that his music was so transcendently beautiful. But he never became a household word, like his brother-in-law and fellow student of Ustad Allauddin Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, who was also a great musician.
You get what you give yourself to. If it is fame, and you give yourself to it COMPLETELY, if you dedicate yourself to it religiously, truly a sacred vocation, there is a good chance that you’ll get it. Lots of absolutely untalented people, people you wouldn’t look at twice for their ‘accommplishments', have become so famous that whole multi-million dollar industries have crystallized around them. Many otherwise unremarkable people, people whose contribution to the human spirit are absolutely nil, have become billionaires. Many of these billionaires have done nothing to advance consciousness, and in fact have destroyed other people and things in their monomaniacal quest for money. Their strength lies in the fact that they knew exactly what they wanted, and they did not let anything or anybody stand in their way.
Lately, some otherwise unmemorable billionaire opined that billionaires are rich because they “Work harder than everybody else”. That is not quite true; they work harder than anybody else at making money, and they don’t let little things like other people stand in their way. Their ruthless quest for money gets them exactly that, but usually they leave other things behind, and these are things that most of us consider precious enough that we are not willing to kill anyone and destroy anything which stands in their way, and in this these billionaires (Though not all of them) ARE different from you and me.
My teacher did not seek fame; he worshipped the Goddess of Music, and in a forty-year teaching career in the United States he ended up teaching more than ten thousand people who attended the Ali Akbar College of music. Some of these people came for just one semester, and some, like me, stayed for twelve years. All of us who were lucky enough to sit in front of this remarkable musician were immeasurably enriched. His contribution to music, the transplanting in its entirety of a very important and powerful musical tradition, will be felt far into the future. Many of his students are making remarkable music today, and you may even have heard some of it in movies, television, and popular music.
And yet the person that I was talking to wonders why he ‘isn’t famous’, and what’s-her-name is.
Sometimes life is funny enough that I have to laugh, sitting at a table in Jaipur writing this. A famous Sufi saint said:
“I don’t seek fame; I seek a belly laugh!”
What do you seek? Do you know enough to seek the right thing?
This is Shri 108 Maharaj, sitting in the sun laughing.