Peter Orlovsky: I took one lesson from Aaashish Khan, the eldest son of Ali Akbar Khan, whose father was Allauddin Khan, the great sarod master at the turn of the century. He changed the sarod, and made it sleeker. The sarod is fruitless.It’s a bit like a violin, but you hold it lower, in your lap. It’s got four or five strings that you pluck, but has twenty-three resonating strings. They all have tuning pegs and you have to know how to tune it. All I knew how to tune were the first five strings. Now a sitar is not like a sarod, it has frets, and you play between the frets like a guitar. It has a gourd, and is somewhat lighter than a sarod, with a narrowish neck, maybe six inches going up for a little over a yard to the tuning pegs. You play the esraj by pressing the catgut strings with your cuticles. And here you also use a bow. The esraj is a short instrument, but it has a lot of resonating flavor. It looks more folkloric than the sarod or sitar.
I also took a lesson from Bishmulla Khan in Benares (Varenesi). He’s the inventor of the shehnai The shehnai is a reed instrument with a little string that has a couple of reeds dangling. It’s like a clarinet but much simpler. Some people consider this the most powerful instrument in India. The cry of the shehnai is most basic, you feel immediately what it’s saying, whereas the other instruments tend to be more conversational. My sarod and shehnai were robbed when I got back to New York City in 1963, when we lived on East Fifth Street. Someone came through the bathroom window on the sixth floor…
Francesco Clemente: The work I was making in Benares I titled “Evening Raga“. I used Evening Raga instead of Day because to my mind the overall theme was metamorphosis – activities of the mind connected with dreams and sleep. Nonconscious decisions. The images work on variations of this theme, and each group is kept together by a mood, a flavor, that you keep in mind. There are given elements that stay the same – color combinations, usually two colors. It’s the image that varies. But what keeps it together is the mood. There are specific images – beginning with a head, with the hands wrapped around it, so the head becomes almost like a rock or a plant. And then the hands are pulling the mouth open, maybe imitating an animal or a fierce vein. There are male figures, self-absorbed into some melancholic, sexual daydreaming. Animals with big eyes transforming into each other, tiny microscopic erotic views where some of the couples are reduced almost to their nervous systems. For me there is also an ironic and humorous aspect to them, much like the primitive sculptures I’ve seen, which always have humor to them. Then what finally could be described as a Diana Ephestina, an image of a female figure made of breasts. At the end of the series, a female figure dancing on a sleeping male figure. Images of transformation and metamorphosis.
AG: So Benares has a lot of different features – modern politics, old Buddhists, modern Marxists, modern university, ancient Sanskrit university, the deep down fundamentalists, and a Moslem community, on top of everything else. And there’s a poets community, too. One well-known poet, Trilochan Shastri, was also a celebrated bohemian Sanskrit teacher, professor, reader, scholar. Just about everything you’d want in Shiva’s city. Monkeys everywhere.