He lived very close to the university where I was, just a few hours’ journey away. I used to visit him once in a while, whenever there was no festival. I make this point because there were always festivals. I must have been the only one to ask him, “Baba, can you give me the dates when there are no festivals here?”
He looked at me and said, “So, now you have come to take even those away too.” And with a smile he gave me three dates. There were only three days in the whole year when there was not a festival. The reason was there were all kinds of musicians with him, Hindus, Mohammedans, Christians, and every festival happened there, and he allowed them all. He was, in a real sense, a patriarch, a patron saint.
I used to visit him on those three days, when he was alone, and there was no crowd around. I told him, “I don’t want to disturb you. You can sit silently. If you want to play your veena it is up to you, or whatsoever. If you want to recite the Koran, I would love it. I have come here just to be part of your milieu.”
He wept like a child. It took me a little time to wipe his tears away and ask, “Have I hurt you?”
He said, “No, not at all. It just touched my heart so deeply that I could not find anything else to do but cry. And I know that I should not cry. I am so old and it is inappropriate, but has one to be appropriate all the time?”
I said, “No, at least not when I’m here.” He started laughing, and the tears in his eyes, and the laughter on his face, both together, were such a joy.
Masto had brought me to him. Why? I will just say a few more things before I can answer it….
I have heard Vilayat Khan, another great sitarist, perhaps a little greater than Ravi Shankar, but he is not an innovator. He is utterly classical, but listening to him even I loved classical music. Ordinarily I don’t love anything classical, but he plays so perfectly you cannot help yourself. You have to love it, it is not in your hands. Once a sitar is in his hands, you are not in your own hands. Vilayat Khan is pure classical music. He will not allow any pollution. He will not allow anything popular. I mean “pop,” because in the West unless you say pop nobody will understand what is popular. It is just the old “popular” cut short – badly cut, bleeding.
I have heard Vilayat Khan, and I would like to tell you a story about one of my very rich disciples – that is circa 1970, because since then I have not heard anything of them. They are still there. I have inquired about their well-being, but sannyas has made so many people afraid, particularly the rich ones.
This family was one of the richest in India. I was amazed when the wife told me, “You are the only man to whom I can say it: for ten years I have been in love with Vilayat Khan.”
I said, “What is wrong with that? Vilayat Khan? – nothing is wrong.”
She said, “You don’t understand. I don’t mean his sitar, I mean him.”
I said, “Of course – what would you do with his sitar without him?”