Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Modern Mystics

Delhi is always full of unexpected events. Last weekend, there was a wonderful two-day celebration of the newly founded Sufi Qawwali society, by the founder-members (well known qawwal families of Delhi). They had decided it was time to come together as a group and had organized a concert to mark the beginning of this endeavour. We managed to sneak in without invitation passes and found ourselves in an auditorium filled with qawwals, diplomatic hoi polloi, expats and some regular people like us. The singers poured their hearts and souls out through their music. The final performance was by one my favourite qawwals from Hyderabad - the Warsi brothers, who are very classical in style and sing some wonderful old mystic verses.

After being saturated with Sufi songs, today I attended a film screening by the Dalai Lama Foundation, which periodically shows spiritual and other related films from different regions. Today's film was on the modern mystic, Mumtaz Ali or M (as he is called). It was an intriguing film that barely skimmed the surface of the life and experiences of Sri M. It left one with some answers and many questions. I felt that the nicest part of the experience was knowing that the film was not about someone ancient, mythical or long gone from this world. Sri M is still alive and seems to be leading a fairly full life in a small town in Andhra Pradesh.

Sri M was born into a well to do Muslim family in Kerala. He briefly met his spiritual teacher at the age of nine under a jackfruit tree in his back garden and then again, ten years later, when he left home and travelled to the Himalayas (he eventually walked from the foothills up to Badrinath, coolly contemplating suicide if he didn't find what he was searching for). He was initiated into a certain kind of spiritualism (Natha yoga and Kriya yoga) that was suitable for him. His teacher then instructed him to go back and lead a "normal" life so he could relate to and help people around him who had ordinary, everyday problems. He reluctantly obeyed.

He has a charming wife, two children and spends his time running two schools, writing, travelling and lecturing- though on occasion he "runs off" to take a short break from normal life!

The film, 'The Modern Mystic - Sri M of Madanapalle', by Raja Choudhury, was sensitively made. Sri M speaks clearly and easily on diverse subjects - Vedic scriptures, the Upanishads, Richard Dawkins, early Indian philosophy and more. The film has certainly made me curious enough to try and read his autobiography, titled 'Apprenticed To A Himalayan Master - A Yogi's Autobiography'.

The trailer to the film can be viewed on youtube at:

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