Glimpses: My Mystical Life pt I

Here is the first portion of an account by Hazrat Inayat Khan of some aspects of his childhood in India.  Although he begins with the stated intention of telling his ‘experiences from childhood up to the present time,’ which would have been some point in the 1920’s, the rhythms and demands of life apparently did not permit him to go beyond his youth. Nevertheless it is a charming and precious glimpse of his upbringing and his nature and character.  Because of length, it will be posted in instalments.

The story of my mystical life

Many of my friends have often wondered about my life in the past and have asked what it was that made me do the work I am doing at present. It is better to pause to explain these things which interest so many, so now I will tell you all my experiences from childhood up to the present time.

Having been born into a family of five generations of musicians, as far as is known, I naturally had a tendency towards music and poetry in my spirit. It was expressed rather more intensely in me, being prominent even in childhood to a degree which sometimes amazed, sometimes amused, sometimes surprised, sometimes pleased, but also sometimes frightened my parents.

Among my parents’ acquaintances were two friends who were interested in the appearance of such a tendency in a child. They would say nice things, or they would praise my parents who were frightened because of the belief that such manifestations arise from an “evil eye” and were dangerous.

Harmony in music is recognized and manifested in a child’s play, in its movements, in its way of arranging its toys and placing things in a harmonious manner, in love of instruments, in being fond of learning words and using them in the proper place at the proper time, in everything expressed in poetry and music.

When I was sent to school, with this tendency already developed, I took much more interest in poetry than in anything else. This one-sided interest depressed my teachers very much, seeing that I did not care for any other subject. They thought that with such an independent nature I would never learn anything, that there must be something wrong with me. I was nearly always at the bottom of the form, and I received most of the share of punishments which were meted out to children in schools. But it was customary to change teachers around periodically, so it happened that an intelligent teacher took my class; and it was a great surprise to him to find a child at the bottom of the form, who was never able to answer questions because he did not do his lessons properly, but who would always come out first whenever there was some question about poetry or something deeper of that kind! He could not understand how such a dull child could understand some things and others not at all. This teacher spoke to my father about it; he was really very sorry to see how I neglected and paid no attention to any of the other subjects; to see that I only took any interest in one. He was afraid that my imagination would grow abnormally with my being so absorbed in my imaginative faculties, and that I therefore would be of no use in practical life. This propensity might lead into the wilderness, or perhaps into a studio, with brush and pen or pencil and paper; but he was aware that the culture of the imagination never receives a good reward in this world, understanding by this the obtaining of comfort and money, all the things man wishes for in this life. So, they thought, if I became a poet, what benefit would the family derive from this? So everything was done to hinder the development of this faculty. But, as Sa’di says, every soul is born for a certain purpose, and the light of that purpose is kindled in his soul. So it could not have been prevented, whether my parents wished to or not, or even if the whole world had tried to prevent it. It was an awakening faculty; it was coming to the surface.

At the age of seven I was making up verses in my own way. Perhaps they meant nothing to anybody else, a word here and there might be meaningless, but every line was arranged in rhythm and was rhymed. And when I was about nine years old I composed a poem and went with it to my grandfather Maulabakhsh. He was the Beethoven of his land at that time; a musician of unique repute and talent. He was pleased with my poem, and instead of having this faculty suppressed he encouraged me by saying, “Yes, it is good, but it should be better.” How this encouraged me!

Besides all this I was very fond of listening to the stories my father told me every night when he got home from his work. I especially liked the stories which expressed something mystical or occult, some symbolic myth. Then I would ask questions about them; why was it so? Why did it happen like this? Why was this good person in the story treated so badly? Question after question! My patient father answered them all, till at length his patience would give out and he would say, “It would be better if you asked no more questions just now.” Perhaps he would tell me a better story tomorrow, if only I would not ask so many questions. But that did not keep me quiet. I would keep on thinking about the stories when I was in bed, and as I could not argue with my father, I argued with myself. Sometimes my reason gave me the answers, and sometimes it did not, for it was not fully developed. So I would fall asleep with that appetite and hunger to know the hidden secrets of nature. During the day I could not enjoy myself with the boys of my age, because they could not satisfy that hunger which I felt when I went to bed. All they wanted to do was to play.

My father could not understand why I would not play with the things he brought me. He said, “Why won’t he play with this kite, with that ball? I bring him Chinese hens and other birds, and he won’t play with them!” Then he took me to watch wrestlers, cock-fights, and various things of that kind. I went to these performances once, and then went home without showing any of the gratitude and pleasure that other children of my age would have shown. My parents could not understand the melancholy nature of this boy; they thought perhaps he would go mad!

I went on turning over in my mind the story of the day before: now why must that king have had to go through all that sadness? Why did that queen act like this? What is the explanation of it all? So I went and asked someone. But many people do not want to give their brain any trouble, so they said, “What have you to do with that king and queen? They are long done with!” Sometimes I found someone who gave me an answer, and then I argued with him about it until he too was disgusted and said, “Run along and please do not come anymore–this continual asking of questions and arguing about nothing, about things that do not matter!”

To be continued…

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