10 January, 2005

A lesson in music

Philosophy is the highest music - Plato


Last night, rummaging through my travel bag, i came upon a visiting card. The name on the card simply read - Professor Oak.

I remembered him well. Two months ago, strolling along the night market in Chiang Mai, Thailand, i had entered a small shop selling musical instruments, mainly flutes and fiddles. Seeing me browsing through with interest, the owner, invited me into his shop and offered to teach me the basics of how to play the Tro U.
As i struggled to play do-re-me-fa on the stringed instrument, we got talking. The owner introduced himself as professor Oak. He was a music teacher at the local college and he ran this shop on the side almost as a hobby. I learnt that he had also traveled to places like Vancouver to attend music conferences and shows.

"Learning to master an instrument needs dedication of a lifetime" said the professor. Then he went on to tell me how much he admired Indian instrumental music. "It is passionate and at the same time when performed by the maestros appear as something entirely sacred; it comes from deep within. No wonder these pieces are immortal and will never cease to enthrall us. Nowadays much of the music is so physical, so transient; everybody seems to be looking for short-cuts - they are here today, gone tomorrow!"
I tried to argue that there was nothing wrong in living for today, in valuing physicality and not seeking any immortality of sorts. Then all at once, the professor looked up, smiled and asked a simple question. "If this is what we value, then - what do you think will happen to the soul?"

That day i am afraid I did not learn to play the Cambodian fiddle beyond the basic notes. However, i had the privilege of meeting a great man in that little shop - a man who, with that simple question forced me to re-examine the way i looked at life.

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