“Seek Knowledge, even unto China!”                                                                



 ‘Sufism’ by definition is a misnomer, because it does not subscribe to any particular tradition or philosophy. The Sufis are considered the mystical stream of Islam, in which the final flowering took place, but their gestation had been long in the making. These ‘Ancient of Friends’ were great purveyors of wisdom, imbibing & assimilating eclectic strains; constantly refining & transmitting them through parable, joke, or music: without diluting their core affiliation – the absolute surrender to the Divine Beloved.


These intrepid savants both men & women, enhanced immeasurably different cultures without seeking approval or recognition. To name a few, Rabia Al–Adawiya , Ibn Sina or Avicenna, Ibn Rushd or Averroes, Al–Geber, Al–Ghazzali, Ibn Arabi, Al–Khwarizmi, Sheikh Saadi, Al–Junaid, Ibn Khaldun, Hafiz Shirazi & many others, contributed to the Renaissance; in the fields of medicine, mathematics, philosophy, music, psychology & literature – facts begrudgingly accepted only by some, even now. Ibn Batuta & Al–Beruni, chronicled in exquisite detail the men & manners in their extensive sojourns.


“Cross and Christians end to end I examined,

He was not on the Cross. I went to the Hindu temple, to the ancient Pagoda,

In none of them was there any sign.

He was not on the heights; He was not in the lowlands.

I went to the Kaaba of Mecca; He was not there.

I looked into my heart: In That His place, I saw Him.

He was in no other place.”



Krishna is acknowledged as a creative metaphor of Love. Jesus, like Muhammad is called ‘Insan Kamil’ – Perfected Man: a model of compassion. The Masters Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti of Ajmer & Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya of Delhi through their lives & service gave an egalitarian touch to a society riven with artificial notions of colour, caste & creed. The ‘genius’ of Amir Khusro created the tabla notation, & ‘Qawwali’ as a means of worship or ‘Samaa’ for the common man. The Bhakti Seers were `inspired’ by the Sufis, as were the Baul musicians. Kabir is a Sufi as is Shirdi Sai Baba. The ‘patron saint’ of Kashmir is Sheikh Nuruddin Wali, also venerated as Nund Rishi.


The Guru Granth Sahib the holy book of the Sikhs contains innumerable gems of Sufi experience & meditation. A Sufi Master – Mian Mir, laid the foundation stone of the Golden temple at Amritsar. Emperor Akbar named his son Salim, after a great Sufi savant, Sheikh Salim Chisti. Likewise was Shahji too, Chatrapati Shivaji’s father and ‘the Lion of Mysore’ – Tipu Sultan. Prince Dara Shikoh was a Sufi, who translated the Upanishads & the Vedas into Persian and venerated them as Holy Books. Emperor Jehangir called Vedanta - ‘the Science of Sufism’. 


“The Grape that can with Logic Absolute,

 The Two and Seventy Jarring Sects confute:

The subtle Alchemist that in a Trice,

 Life’s leaden Metal into Gold transmute.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

                                                                                         SHEIKH OMAR KHAYYAM 


Some well-known literary works owe their fame to the interaction with Sufi understanding & thought. Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ borrows much from Attar’s ‘Parliament of Birds’ as does Paul Bunyan’s ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’. St. Francis of Assisi, Spinoza, Maimonides & St. Teresa of Avila who were keen ‘students’ of Sufi meditation disciplines, incorporated some of them in their practices.


The Rosicrucians & the Free Masons were greatly ‘influenced’ by the Sufi ‘transmutation of consciousness’ – the original Al–Chemia or alchemy. The writings of Dante, Roger Bacon & Thomas Aquinas reflect with modifications, the original insights of the great Sufi philosopher ‘Dr Maximus’, Ibn Arabi. Goethe admired the poetry of Hafiz. Gurdjieff was a disciple of many Sufi Masters. Omar Khayyam is not about Wine, Women & Song.


“Kiss only the Beloved’s lips and drink only the Beloved’s wine,

He is the only reverend, and His wine is the only sacrament you need.”


                                                                                          KHWAJA HAFIZ–I–SHIRAZ     


The lilt & cadence of Kahlil Gibran’s verse in the ‘The Prophet’ echo with the timeless wisdom of the magnificent Sufis of the Levant. ‘The Celestine Prophecy’ poetically expresses the Sufi refrain of ‘quest and discovery.’ Paulo Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’ is based on a very famous piece from the inimitable ‘Mathnawi’ by “the Greatest Mystic Poet of any Age”– Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi. Don Quixote is Mulla Nasrudin in armour. Birbal & Tenali Raman are worthy successors of this lineage. Hotei, the Laughing Buddha, is the Zen variation. The nine–pointed Sufi Enneagram is being used effectively now, in the study of personality types & inter–active relationships.


Beneath the shared observations is the underlying matrix of integration & celebration, which is ‘the ground of all creation’ – beyond all ritual, dogma & belief, beyond notions of heaven or hell, gods & demons; beyond even the desire for salvation. To remember & exult then in silent ecstasy; on the seat of love which is the heart of everything.


‘My heart holds within it every form,

It contains a pasture for gazelles, a Monastery for Christian monks.

There is a Temple for idol–worshippers,

A Holy Shrine for pilgrims; there is the table of the Torah,

And the book of the Quran; I follow the Religion of Love, 

And go whichever way His camel leads me.

This is the true Faith. This is the true Religion.’


                                                                                SHEIKH MUHIYUDDIN IBN ARABI



Every Prophet, every tradition, every act of worship that connects through Love with the Divine, is at heart, nothing but  Sufism. 



January 2004                                                                                                                              










To be Aware at all Times is to take Nothing for granted.

To be Alert to one’s Prejudices, Opinions & Preconceived Notions lest,

They Seduce & waylay Clarity.

To be Attentive without Imposition & allow

Everything to actualize its Nirvana


Reality has nothing to do with Belief, Virtue, or Qualification.

It accepts nothing, Rejects nothing.

Its Lilas are Ahuras & Daevas, Paradise & Purgatory, Maya & Moksha.

Houris that Mystify & Mock, Mirages that Tease & Torment both Ignorant & Wise


The Mundane obvious Pronounce its Presence. The Exalted high Profane it.

It is the Extraordinary in the Ordinary. The Riyaz of the Tao in Silence,

The Wine of Benediction in Sadhana.


The Tassawuf of Life is to Commune with the Divine Absolute, &

Celebrate the Consummation Choicelessly.

To Love with an undying Passion, whilst ardently paying court to Death,

To transcend the Dance of Duality, Hear the sound of one hand clap!

The Ecstatic Embrace of Yin & Yang in

The primeval Taandav of Fana.


Detachment is a natural corollary,

Meditation the Creative Outcome & Compassion the Healing Fragrance;

Infinite Potentiality mutates to Infinite Possibility:

The Observer is the Observed.


The Master is a Functional Entity of this Dynamic Whole.

He Reflects Phenomena by being of no Great Consequence himself.

His Heart is A Crucible of Great Effort & Great Doubt –

Ramadhan, Sinai & Kurukshetra; Gethsemane & Bodh Gaya;

From the Implosion flowers the Wu–Wei of Great Faith to Attune,

The Eternal Here & Now!


His Sole Satori Is: is that He Knows Nothing. He cannot be Imitated,

Aspired to, or Codified; He thrives in the Anonymity of Sakshi Bhava.

He always walks Alone, with Humour as his Gatha. 

The Darvesh’s apparent Genius, if any, is an Irrepressible Joie de Vivre.

The Universe is an Echo of his Laughter ...



25th June 2002 















                                                                                             SHEIKH OMAR KHAYYAM


The beauty of Shakespeare is its extraordinary simplicity: a direct seeing as it were into the very heart of things, without the frills and foppery of grandiose design, “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.” A willing submission to let the OTHER – the impalpable essence that permeates & breathes, through the characters, situations, lines et al, to intermingle with yours & allow the magic to happen. The one & only real magic – the  state of grace that is the élan vital for any act of creativity; for director, actor, set design, lights, music & the audience too: singly & collectively. All creative acts lead to confluence, which is not an end in itself but a continuum; based on communication skills;   verbal & non-verbal with sensitivity & mutual respect.


At the outset let us be clear about one thing: there is only ‘One underlying Creation’ which manifests itself in multiple forms with their existence in time & space which we call Reality. This play or Lila is illusory, reflected in the diversity of nature. Celebrating the sensuality or Maya is the artistic experience, possible only through interpretation – which is a point of view. Subjective to start off with, the personal enquiry initiated by honesty & mindfulness, is tempered along the way by a spirit of daring & courage. A sense of truth gradually unfolds, “above all to thine own self be true” which helps to connect with the objective reality of Life at large & presents to the audience a point of view. Stimulating & provocative if need be; not necessarily in consonance with ‘identification’, but persuasive enough to accept another perspective without too much resistance.


In actuality, our desire to understand brings us face to face with an in–built resistance that insulates us & inadvertently protects us from something that is different from the norm. In a way, understanding & resistance go hand in hand. So more often than not, we settle for ‘imitative or naturalistic’ offerings, that question nothing but only reconfirm what we believe we already know; which we wrongly acknowledge as hoary tradition, shibboleths cast in stone, therefore sacrosanct; thus holy cows are born!   


This rigidity presumes pompously that Uniformity is preferable, to Unity that appreciates the amazing diversity around, inviting us to partake of its bounties. Acceptance leads to a broadening of the mind, a willingness to accommodate, & an expansiveness of spirit which is ‘the Ground of all Creation.’ This is the unconscious desire behind all creative enterprise; only more so in theatre – the most transitory of all art forms. The need to get as close to the truth as possible, “though it were hid, indeed within the centre” is the self–actualizing impulse, that prompts the artiste to go behind & beyond the obvious & the common pale of existence. To hope to touch, to taste, to feel, to capture, to realize & to relate if possible, to that which is fleeting, intangible, eternal: a moment of truth, a shared experience, home coming….





It has indeed been both privilege & pleasure to be introduced to the genius of William Shakespeare at school; to see Laurence Olivier’s “Hamlet” on film at age ten, & accept him as Dronacharya to one’s Ekalavya. The heady experience has been exhilarating & humbling till date. One’s vocation had come a calling! Witness a school production of “The Merchant of Venice”, with seniors self-consciously preening in tights; the usual caricature of Shylock cackling away in unholy glee. ‘More matter with less art’. Later in high school play Snug the joiner in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, find Malvolio in “The Twelfth Night” interesting, & visualize the three witches in “Macbeth” not as evil crones, but as something more.


Then gain admission to the prestigious Film & TV Institute of India at Pune, as an instinctive raw actor, & be exposed to world cinema; watch in awe Kozintsev’s “Hamlet” & Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood”. Later see their brilliant versions of “King Lear”. Read in admiration about Orson Welles’ voodoo rendition of that Scottish play, & Nazi “Julius Caesar”. Devour articles on Garrick & Kean, Peter Brook & Granville Barker, Ellen Terry & Sarah Siddons, at the British Council libraries. Then discover in horror, pretensions within to do Shakespeare on stage, in the future; to dare to dream differently!  


“If it be now, ‘tis not to come, if it be not to come, it will be now, If it be not now, yet it will come, the readiness is all.” It took almost two decades of personal life experience to internalize & portray deeply felt portrayals of Shylock, Hamlet, Macbeth & their fascinating worlds. Life was most generous with its vicissitudes: alienation in a new city, insecurities of food & shelter, hostile reactions of a high profile industry, responsibilities, ambition & humiliation. “Lay on, here I stand, and damn’d be him, that first cries, “Hold, Enough!” 



The circus as metaphor, an ongoing carnival of characters: “Christian fools with varnished faces” – Portia, Antonio, Bassanio, Nerissa & the rest. A table with the three caskets & three chairs for a set. Anticipating the frenetic fast paced lifestyle of today, page three regulars, incestuous, sensation seeking, Instant coffee with instant God & instant celebrity; exhibitionistic, morally bankrupt & spiritually empty; juxtaposed against a monochrome Shylock in crimson red. ‘Honest in his vices, while the others are Hypocrites in their virtues’ to recall Hazlitt’s searing observation.


Tradition & modernity, are they supposed to be at loggerheads, or two sides of the same coin? The politics of caste, creed, culture, colour, all man–made!  ‘Hath not a Jew eyes, hands, passions? Reflected in varying degrees from India to Palestine & now Iraq & Afghanistan; the demonization of a minority by the State; the militancy in Punjab, the radicalization in Kashmir, the alienation in the North-East, all man–made again, symbols of oppression, hate & revenge; travesties of justice, truth & mercy, all in the name of God. “Something is rotten in Denmark”…. & elsewhere too!

1991: HAMLET

Winds of change sweeping all over the world: Perestroika, Glasnost, Liberalization. Gorbachev, Mandela, The Dalai Lama, Aung Sang Suukyi, men & women with a vision for change & for reconciliation. Hamlet, transition man, wanting to let go of the past completely, to invite something totally new: questioning fidelity & morality, suicidal, manic–depressive, not someone indecisive; but one who saw too much, too deep, too soon. Saddled with the tyranny of duality, “To be or not to be”, is that a real question?


What about Kurukshetra then & the real Jihad in the human heart today? Are Hamlet and Arjuna interchangeable? Who and what are Krishna & the Gita in today’s world? Explore the symbolism in Hamlet, the Sufi influence; transmutation of consciousness, Al–Chemia & the Philosopher’s Stone. Shakespeare & the Rosicrucian! 


A cast of nine in the first attempt: eight in Chinese red with the main protagonist in black. Five benches forming a pentagram for a set & a Zen–like minimalism! A leaner & deeper essay evolves the second time after nearly a decade; a cast of only six, more meditative now. Tragic & comic, the sublime & the ridiculous coexist, “Fair is foul and foul is fair”.




This is a more mature work by a Master almost at his peak with the existential profile of evil as tragedy; black & white, to depict the world of delusion & psychopathology. A single three feet by one & a half feet block in black – for the set, nothing else. The three witches in white, the others in black. Elemental energy & martial movement; Banquo’s ghost draped in red, Birnam wood in blotches of green: a nightmare in colour!  


For the director–actor a strange but organic progression of the central character in the three plays: Shylock the physical outsider, looking, talking, behaving differently, Hamlet, the intellectual outsider, a part of the system, who does not belong, & Macbeth, the insider, who becomes an outsider, spiritually, by betraying his humanity.


But this deliberate foray into depravity is marked by an acute awareness of the state of mind: the loneliness of evil, “Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player”, a masterstroke by the actors’ playwright for all times, elevating a bloody drama to an epic of horrible consequences. Shylock, Hamlet, Macbeth, uncompromising mirrors of the truth of their worlds: complex, compelling, but always honest to the core. The unforgettable female counterparts are no less; the shrewd Portia – the only other “man” apart from Shylock. Then the passionate & dignified Gertrude, Ophelia the child woman; & finally the regally malevolent Lady Macbeth, stoic, till her ignominious end. Of course Polonius, Jessica, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, Macduff, too…a multi–verse of lives.




At the end of it all, an enormous sense of irony & empathy at the sharing of insights, from the inexhaustible collective unconscious: courtesy William Shakespeare. The grace of creation that allows you to have a peek or two at the ripples of eternity; the dendrites that reach out & touch the multi–faceted  webs of reality, to glory in the pluralistic inter–connectedness  of things; to know that you know nothing. Never did. Never have. Never will. But to accept & allow the OTHER to guide & instruct & speak, through the characters, sets, lights etc. Where does LIFE end & ART begin?


Probably to be choicelessly aware during the nanoseconds of lucidity, & see, as if for the first time, in the white heat of understanding, that the observer is the observed. That everything is complete, whole, all one, alone, without any opposites, without any shadow or image & then the OTHER whispers, that it is actually, all about LOVE. Always was, is & always will be. “The giver should be thankful”’ is a wonderful Zen saying; that is all that one can hope to do, learn to give, & keep giving of oneself, till the final curtain call!



“Wherver You Are, Whatever Your Condition, Always Be a Lover”

                                      MEVLANA JALALUDDIN RUMI  



 January 2003