In 1910, Inayat Khan sailed to New York with his brother Maheboob and his cousin-brother Mohammed Ali Khan, but his youngest brother, Musharaff was left behind. Although the first months in the west were challenging, by some time in 1911 there were signs of progress. Inayat had made some friends through a lecture at Columbia University, and the theatrical producer Henry B. Harris was planning a musical performance showcasing Inayat and his brothers. (It was a production that never came to the stage, however, as Harris perished in the sinking of the Titanic.) Encouraged by his prospects, Inayat sent a telegram to India, calling Mursharaff to join them. Members of the family were doubtful about this, as Musharaff was only fifteen at the time, but in the end he was allowed to go. The following passage tells of part of his preparation to leave his home for the west.
I had many farewells to say before I left home and I remember saying goodbye to Hira. He was a servant of the untouchable or lower caste, who had been with us ever since I could remember. He was a pariah, a sweeper who came daily to the house. When I was a small child, in order to tease our old concierge or door-keeper, I used to touch Hira, and then the old concierge would call out in his shrill voice, “He has touched him again. Moulamia has touched the sweeper again.”
Since the ladies of the house had some of the Hindu prejudices, I used to be called in at once to wash my hands in a basin of water into which a gold ring had been dropped, a little symbolical ceremony of purification. But soon, when I grew a little older, I refused to do this. “What does it matter, isn’t it all nonsense?” I would ask. And I would touch the sweeper again, to tease him too. “Oh, no, sir, no; sir, no, sir, you must not touch me,” he would say. “Why? Now tell me, why? Why may I not touch you?” I would ask. Hira was a gentle, quiet man and I had early noticed that there was something rare about him. He had an uncommon way of expressing himself too, and remarks of his would often run in my mind. And one day I asked him, “Hira, do tell me, are you the disciple of someone?” He looked at me gently smiling and said, “Yes, I am the disciple of Kabirdas. I belong to a society called the Society of Kabirdas.” Kabirdas was the great poet and mystic. He was a great inspirer. When the sages come to the fuller realisation of the Only Being, Ram and Rahim* are one in their view and they rise above all exclusiveness and narrowness; their horizon becomes wide. In this respect the Sufi’s effort is a constant purifying of the heart from all that makes distinctions and differences. This enables him to arrive more swiftly at a higher realisation, where he receives all the divine reflections of Love, Harmony and Beauty.
Hira used to tell fortunes and predict the future. On anxious mornings before going off to school I remember I used to run and look for him in the yard or the stable.
“Hira, do tell me, I am just going to school now; how do you think I shall get on today?” He would wait for a moment before answering, and I noticed that he would make certain movements with his hands. “Yes,” he might say after a pause, “it will be all right today.” Then I would run off quite happily.
I used to watch him sometimes saying his prayers when he thought he was unobserved, and doing his meditations. I asked my father about him.
“Don’t you think there is something mysterious about this man, Abba?”
“Yes, there is something very peaceful about him,” my father agreed. “What I see too is that his name has influenced him. Its suggestion has made an impression on him all through his life, so it seems to me,” said my father. Hira means a diamond. He was about sixty years old when I left India, and his son Mansok had come to help him in our house.
We had another much valued servant of this class, my grandfather’s favourite coachman and groom, who was also a pariah. Ravat was an old man when I was a boy, and was pensioned, but he used to come back and pay us visits and our family were very fond of him. My grandfather’s secretary was a Brahmin, and I always heard it told that whenever our grandfather took his secretary with him, he had to take another driver, because it was not possible for the Brahmin to sit near or touch Ravat, an untouchable of the lowest caste. This used to interest my family very much, and they used to watch with amusement the precautions that were taken whenever the secretary went out driving with my grandfather. My grandfather was very fond of his secretary, whose son, Sada Nan, was a school-friend of my brother Inayat Khan. These two boys once ran away from school, in order to found another, better one in another part of India. My brother’s age at that time was about twelve. They wanted him to become the founder of an academy of music, as his grandfather had been in Baroda. Without telling their intentions to their parents the two boys left home and went far away from the town. Maheboob Khan followed them likewise, but Inayat Khan found the way too long for his younger brother and told him to go home, which Maheboob reluctantly did. Coming home he told with tears of his misfortune that he could not follow his brother in this noble purpose of founding a new academy of music. The parents were very much alarmed on hearing this news. All the men of the house at once went in different directions to find out where they might have gone and at last Mehr Bakhsh found the enterprising children who were sitting under a tree discussing their project, and brought them home safely. My father wanted to scold them, but Moula Bakhsh was very much amused, and in his heart admired the spirited boy. He took them apart and in a talk as from man to man he explained to him that he was still too young for such an enterprise. And Inayat Khan was reasonable enough to understand!
Sada Nan died as a young man, and this was a great blow to his father. And as my grandfather died about this time too, Khaisarao came to say goodby to us, for he had decided to become a hermit, and ascetic. We never saw him again and never knew where he had gone, though sometimes we went to hs old address to enquire for him. Such a thing often happens in Inda. Often a man will give up everything to become a recluse. He will say goodbye to his friends, and go away into the woods or some cave in the hills, where he will live completely cut off from the world.
As a boy this was a thing I could never understand. “Why do they feel they want to do that?” I would ask. It seemed wrong and I would criticise them. But now I can sympathise. “Is the changing life of the world among men so beautiful after all?” I can now ask.
*Ram, a Hindu avatar of the Divine, and Rahim, the compassionate, one of the Divine Names in Islam; therefore, symbolic of the apparent differences in religion.