A youth goes to his guru, asking how to end the turmoil that he sees in the world around him. “I feel helpless. What should I do?” he asks.
The guru thinks for a moment, then draws a deep line in the sand and tells his disciple: “You can’t erase it, you can’t cross it out, yet how can you negate its effect?” The puzzled youth says he can’t think of anything.
The guru then draws a deeper, longer line parallel to the first one and says: “If a problem can’t be solved, do something good that will have a deeper impact than the problem itself.”
This story may be apocryphal, but it was the inspiration for Mahesh Babu, a geophysicist and director of Banyan Tree, who with his team launched and nurtured Ruhaniyat, India’s largest mystic and Sufi music festival nine years ago. Two stillborn attempts later, what started off as a single-city effort is now staged in seven cities across India.
From Thursday, Mumbai will play host to Ruhaniyat’s latest edition. For the first time, it will be held at two venues — Manik Sabhagriha on November 19 and Horniman Circle on November 21 and 22.
Launched in 1996, Banyan Tree is a musical events company with its own label, Ninaad.
Nandini, a director of Banyan Tree and Mahesh’s wife, said that even then the focus was on true mystics — fakirs and musical healers — rather than on stars.
“S. Ramadorai, who’s now vice-chairman of Tata Consultancy Services, backed us,” said Nandini. “It’s the hunt for sponsorship, rather than the staging of the concerts, which is the toughest.”
Said Ramadorai: “Beyond being a festival of exotic [musical] forms, it is a larger endeavour to track down artistes from remote areas and provide them a platform.” Nandini said it keeps her team busy all year round. “We travel to the interiors and stay in touch with scholars who help us meet the right artistes. Many of them have never travelled anywhere — in fact, some haven’t even seen a train — not because they are deprived, but because they are happy where they are,” she said.
On Thursday, Nandini hopes, these artistes will build just such a bond with Mumbai.