My sitar flows in 19 bands of light called baaj, chikari, and tarab. Its journey to my hand is a mystery, but its music-medicine landed on my doorstep from an old land, gripped me from the eons, and pulled my soul into a note-bending journey unlike any other.
On sitar and its emotional gravity – something beyond definition – a musician friend and professor said, “It’s all angles.”
I first heard the sitar’s otherworldly drone years ago and felt it in my chest. Now when my sitar strings bend to raise a siren-song from the fathoms, Saraswati dances to an ascent and descent on every note. This sacred dance is a never-ending river shepherding me to a place close and yet far away.
My teacher speaks in common tones and offers up clusters of daring: “Consistency, consistency, consistency,” she says.
Her words, the wisdom of learning and teaching, and the kernel in every guru’s curriculum. I’ve walked the rivers of India, but today can’t put myself and my sitar on their banks. But once at dusk, on a hot July night in Arizona, I made my way with this gourd, rosewood, string & steel riddle to the banks of the Salt River in east Phoenix. Sitar did not accompany me alone. Looking to the Salt, I could see a funeral pyre, a desert-inspired mirage bobbing with the current like a lazy raft ablaze in flames, scented smoke, grief trailing behind.
At river’s edge, my sitar smelled like burning incense and the hymnody it raised came from an earlier time. I followed the current but can not understand. Stretching to find an angle to translate, my sitar rounded the corners of a new song. I saw water, moved my hand to start over, and joined the river.
If I endow my time with consistency, maybe Saraswati and her river will open the gates of inspiration and I will find a corner – a crag in the rock – from which to behold the swan beside and golden orb above her.
I breathe. A salty smell fills my nostrils. Reach down to touch the baaj. Tarabs raise a drone. I hold the current, smile, and lean into angles.