"Yes, Master"

Many years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed, Peace Be Upon Him, I was born the youngest son of a sultan named Ghora Ghazi KAHN in the mountainous regions of Hindustan. My name was AHMAD and our father was a powerful general who led his soldiers into battle against the infidels.

Ahmad waving to departing army

I grew up in a fort high above the plains. When Father rode off on one of his campaigns, we would watch from the high balcony until the dust of their horses disappeared in the distance.

My mother and the other women would remain behind with the children. My favorite was my auntie, BANU BEGAM. She told me stories of the days when the Prophet still walked the earth. She told me how kind and merciful he was, marrying many widows and spinsters so they could be under his care and protection. She told me how God spoke to him and how he recorded God’s words in the holy Quran.

“Allah was merciful, Ahmad, when my mother died in childbirth. The old sultan was so full of grief because my mother was his favorite. I was not a son, so he had little time for me. My own auntie took over my care and raised me. I was happy to be her child.”

Our lands lay on the Silk Road to China. When my father returned, he would sometimes take my brothers and me into the bazaar where we’d peer over the wonderful colors and patterns in the silks and sniff the brown, red, and yellow piles of the spices.

“Sons,” he told us, “Allah has brought all of this wealth to our doorstep. These merchants sell their wares. The government collects its portion. From this, it provides for the mosques, the armies, and the poor, as the Holy Quran commands us.

Sometimes we would stop to listen to the traveling musicians from Arabia and Persia. I loved hearing the singers, the stringed instruments, and the beat of the drums.

“Ahmad, hurry up! Our meal is waiting,” he would chide me. I was always the last to leave.

I had a tutor named Dil Prakash, which means "Heart's Light" in our language. He taught me the verses of the Quran, but more important, he taught me how to play the tabla, that small drum that accompanies the singers and their instruments.

At first we’d start with simple rhythms like “Puk, Puk, Puk” and “Pukka, Pukka, Pukka.” Then we’d double the beat to “Pukkapukka, Pukkapukka, Pukkapukka.”

My father tried to teach me the skills of warfare, but I was not an especially good pupil. “Father, can I not honor Allah by playing music, instead of fighting wars against the infidels?”

My father sighed. “Oh, Ahmad. I am a fighter. I never expected a son of mine would choose this path. But if you are truly serious, I’ll allow it.”

So I studied with Dil Prakash until we could converse back and forth from one tabla to the other. He would play a phrase and I would echo it. He introduced me to other musicians in the kingdom, and I began to play with them.

Tabla player and drum, audience listening

One day my teacher had a very serious look on his face. “Ahmad,” he said. “I will be leaving you for a while. I must to return to the land of my birth. You have learned enough for now. Practice what you know until your fingers sing Allah’s praises.”

“Master!“ I cried. “When will you return?”

"I cannot say,” he responded. “But there comes a time when the chick must leave the nest and fly for himself.”

And so with his departure, I was left with a painful longing for I knew not what.

Every day I practiced, but a leaden weight kept my hands from dancing. I took to playing on the high balcony, as though my playing could reach the heavens faster that way. And perhaps in response, I began to hear melodies that wafted over the mountains, as though from hidden choirs. I began to play in rhythm with them.

In time, the melodies were accompanied by the scent of wonderful flowers. In my playing I tried to give voice to the sense of that great beauty. I would play long into the night and stopped being concerned with food and sleep.

Ahmad playing tabla in tower

Banu Auntie finally came to me. When she saw my condition, she said, “Ahmad, you need clean clothes, nourishing food, and rest if you are to play your best. Please let me take you back to my apartments where my servants can see to your needs.”

And so I complied. Whatever she asked me to do, I did so for her sake. Otherwise, I was indifferent. All I wanted to do was celebrate the hidden presence of Allah.

Banu Auntie persuaded me to play for the court. “You should not always be alone,” she counseled. So I joined the court musicians. 

The more I played, the more my hands radiated with a special energy.

Tabla player now sees colorful energy

With each note, sparks and waves would rise up, as though burning with a hidden fire.

As my love deepened, I began to see how my body and all parts of the physical world were just frozen forms of this fiery energy. The world I had always known melted away, the vibrant energy drew me deeper, and I became drunk and absorbed in my own inner experience.

About this time, Dil Prakash returned from his long journey. He found me dazed and motionless in my auntie’s apartments.

“Ahmad,” he said gently. His words drew me back from where I had been.

"Play with me now.” His hands guided mine to my tabla. He played a phrase and slowly I responded. He played another phrase, and I responded more easily. Tears ran down my face.

“Ahmad,” he said, “Your playing has improved. Your faith has deepened.”

“Yes, Master.”

“You have gained much in these years. What is it you desire now?”

I thought for a moment. “I long to feel the fire within me more and more. But it frightens me. I fear I may tempted use it to harm  myself or others.”

“Yes,” Dil Prakash answered after a pause. “Will you let me help you?”

“Yes, Master”

So he held my hand and remained with me a long while. When he released my hand, I no longer felt the temptations of that power.

“What do you feel now?” Dil Prakash asked.

“I feel….Good,” I said.   

“Yes,” he replied, “Rest now. We will see each other in the morning.”

As I closed my eyes, I felt so grateful for Dil Prakash’s help.

But just then Divine Thought spoke. “Whose help?”

“Yours, O Lord,” I replied.

When I died and reviewed this life, I saw the extraordinary good fortune that was granted me. What would I have done without Dil Prakash? He was such a good teacher. Through him, I felt the glory of Allah's presence. I could wanted to lose myself in it... 

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