Shabda Kahn

"I never met the man who could put the notes in his pocket!"

I met Pandit Pran Nath, known to his students as Guruji, in 1972, thanks to my friend Vasheest Davenport. Vasheest heard Guruji in concert and was so taken by his music that he arranged a House Concert at the Garden of Allah, in Corte Madera, where we all lived and a group lesson for the Sufi Choir. "He was a magician with his voice, it moved me so deeply!", Vasheest said.

That week I started taking private lessons twice a week and within a few months I became his disciple. He became my best friend, music teacher, guide, business advisor and Godfather to my children.

Around 1977 he gave me the practice of singing in my full voice (very loud) for at least a half hour a day. Guruji had just traveled to NY to do a recording. It was an April, morning and my wife, Tamam was getting our son, Ammon, ready for school. She had to walk through the living room to the deck, where I was practicing in full voice. The sound was so loud that she covered her ears, as if to say 'this is hard to take!'. Naturally I stopped practicing...'I'll just wait till they're off to school to continue'. But then I noticed that Tamam, who had always been very supportive of my practice, had gone into the bedroom feeling bad about what she had done. I followed her, so we could talk and clear the air and just as I walked into the bedroom the phone rang....it's Guruji...."Ram Ram Guruji", I said...'Full Voice do, must do your practice!' he replied....I laughed...."What's the matter, did the police complain?" he asked...."No just the local people" I said. Then in his most Krishna like voice he requested, "Let me say hello to Tamam" and naturally he had only sweet words for her!

"Should I schedule your concerts at the new moon or the full moon", I asked him one day. "No, you don't understand...Sun and Moon both inside the Notes!" was his reply.

Pandit Pran Nath was an extraordinary astrologer. He carefully selected the day of our wedding in 1976. In 1977 he predicted that he had a very dark period coming and there was only a small chance he would live through it. In May of 1978, I visited Guruji's house with my good friend, Dr. Dutch Knapp, because Guruji had been complaining of a chronic ear infection. After being there a few minutes both Dutch and I realized Guruji was developing classic signs of a heart attack. We decided to take him to the hospital to observe him but as he was getting ready, he had a massive cardiac arrest and fell into the doctor's arms. Dutch did CPR on him till the Paramedics came...he was dead for a full 13 minutes! As he was revived he told us that he experienced falling into the lap of one of his inner Gurus, Shirdi Sai Baba, and that Baba was stroking his head and showering him with love...and then we shocked him back into the body.

Guruji used to get up every night around 3:00 AM, light some incense, say prayers and then go back to sleep. A few weeks after his heart attack, I was visiting early one morning. "I fell out of bed last night", he said. In amazement I asked him why..."I forgot to get up for prayers last night and my Pir kicked me out of bed!" He was a devotee of the Twelfth Century Chisti Sufi Pir Hazrat Allaudin Sabri. Before his death, Guruji requested his grave marker to read, 'Faquir Pran Nath', 'Ghulam (Slave) of Chisti Sabri'!

Around 1981, I was making musical instruments and teaching music. In order to help me with my music and career, Guruji authorized me to start teaching Raga under the school name 'Chisti Sabri School of Music'. In August of that year he also suggested I open a store. I thought he meant a music store...and I couldn't see it. In October, at a wedding reception, I was talking to a woman who turned out to be our good luck fairy! "I'm closing my business" she said. "It's not doing well?" I asked. "It's doing great" she said, "I'm just ready to move on!". Some strong feeling came over me "Well maybe we'll buy it, what kind of business is it?" It was a tiny retail sweater store on Pier 39. The next day I called Guruji for his advice and he replied "What's the matter, you don't remember, I told you already, several months ago!"

But the greatest gift he gave me was the unveiling of the Secret of the Musical Scale and the transmission of the oral Classical Raga Music Tradition from India. Over the twenty-four year period we were together every music lesson he gave me was new, and there was so much more he could have shared, if his physical body would have allowed. We traveled together to India, to Hawaii, to Oregon, New Mexico, to Chicago, to New York.... Performed concerts for holy people like Dalai Lama. We sang together, walked together, cooked together, laughed and cried together. He knew me before I was married and was there to bless my wife and me on our 20th Wedding Anniversary. He watched over my children as they grew from infancy to adulthood.

Guruji was a frequent guest at our Mendocino Sufi Camp. Upon returning from his first Sufi Camp experience he said, "I've been to the many Kumbha Melas (a festival in India that happens every twelve years where all the Holy Men come down from the mountains to bathe in the sacred Ganges) but this much love in one place I've never seen".

Before his death he was suffering from a dozen years of Parkinson's disease, and heart trouble among other problems. On Tuesday, June 11, 1996 he collapsed from heart failure at his home in Berkeley. True to style, he fell into the arms of a Visiting Nurse, who revived him, and sent him to the hospital. By the time he was transferred from the Emergency Room up to Intensive Care he was sitting up in bed, fully conscious and directing traffic and making sure all the business of the day was being attended to....'Don't forget to light the incense on my shrine and lock the door to my room!'

We had a previously scheduled Raga concert on Sunday June 16th. . On Wednesday June 12th, when I visited him in the hospital, his last wish to me was to make sure the Sunday concert went on as scheduled and that I should also get all the students to sing. Looking back, I find it most natural that he was planning his own Memorial. On Thursday, June 13th at around 2:00 PM, while sitting on the bed in his hospital room, he collapsed and was once again revived by the doctors present; only this time though he was breathing on his own, he was completely unconscious to the world. We called many of his close disciples and friends to come as this appeared to be his closing moments. His disciple from India, the beautiful vocalist, Sri Karunamayee, must have heard the inner call to come because she arrived from India, a twenty-five hours journey, two hours before his passing! By around 6:00 PM his Cardiologist arrived and after assessing the situation, agreed with us to deactivate his pacemaker, so there would be nothing artificial keeping him alive. At this point there were 13 or 14 of us with Guruji and we surrounded his bed in a crescent. The cardiologist placed a very strong magnet on the pacemaker and it took only a few minutes to deactivate. After being unconscious for over four hours, Guruji's breath became very peaceful. Then he opened his eyes and looked into us from eternity , one by one, from left to right, in a very deliberate, penetrating and loving way, ending with his eldest daughter. With this last act of generosity, he left his body; Thursday, June 13th, 1996 at 6:26PM.

By Thursday night, midnight, we moved his body to his home in Berkeley. We put a mattress on the floor of his music room, bathed him and put him in fresh clothes. There he lay, covered with flowers as family, disciples, and friends, young and old, came through to share their tears and laughter, joy and sorrow. Saturday afternoon he was cremated.

As he requested, the concert went on as planned. On Sunday June 16th, we had a Memorial and Music Festival from 10:00AM-6:00 PM at the Redwood Mosque in Fairfax. So many of his disciples and students, Master musicians in their own right, performed to honor him. And in the end, all his students were on stage singing together, pouring forth all the music he had poured into them.