Video: A Moment With Leonard Cohen At The Mumbai Breach Candy Club 1999

While this is a imperfect video lasting only a few seconds, it is not without its charms. And, it is one of the few audio-visual artifacts of Leonard’s Indian sojourn. Steve Waller, who shot the video, writes

Around 1999 (or thereabouts) by some strange alignment of the fates I found myself as chairman of Breach Candy club in Mumbai. To help out Leonard I arranged membership for him and we met from time to time. Here is a video clip we took where we thought it amazingly cool that you could take videos with a laptop. Funny how quickly technology is adopted and becomes the everyday.

Unpublished Photos Of Leonard Cohen In India – With Ratnesh & Sangeeta Mathur And Unidentified Companion

Ratnesh Mathur, whose account and photos of Leonard Cohen’s Indian Sojourn appear at Leonard Cohen, India, & Me By Ratnesh Mathur and Leonard Cohen’s Spiritual Sojourn In India By Ratnesh Mathur, offers these previously unpublished images of Leonard in India.

The woman beside Ratnesh in these photos is his wife, Sangeeta. Ratnesh recalls that the Israeli woman beside Leonard

met Leonard at Ramesh’s satsangs, and he invited her to join us on that day when we stepped out into Bombay’s Old Town to see some sites and have lunch at Bombay’s Khyber restaurant. Leonard spent quite some time with her that week / month in 1999. I wonder where she is now? She would have some insights.

 

Leonard Cohen, India, & Me By Ratnesh Mathur

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Introduction By DrHGuy

After leaving the Mount Baldy Zen Center, Leonard Cohen came to Bombay late in 1998 to study with Ramesh Balsekar. During that stay, Ratnesh Mathur met the Canadian singer-songwriter and came to know him during his spiritually significant visits to India. This is Ratnesh’s account of that journey. I have edited the text, primarily to put it in colloquial English and reorganized the content for easier reading.

Update: Part 2 of this account is now online at Leonard Cohen’s Spiritual Sojourn In India By Ratnesh Mathur

Update: Unpublished Photos Of Leonard Cohen In India – With Ratnesh & Sangeeta Mathur And Unidentified Companion

Meeting Leonard Cohen – Bombay 1998

My first recollection of listening to Leonard Cohen’s music is somewhere around 1979/80, when I was 12 or 13, and definitely by my early teens. My cousins in Calcutta first introduced me to his music. I recall borrowing several cassette tapes, one of which was “Songs of Leonard Cohen.” That was around the time I started listening to Bob Dylan. Prior to this (i.e. between 1975 and1980), most of what my siblings and I heard at home was disco (Boney M, Abba, Luisa Fernandez, etc.) and  pop (Bee Gees, Carpenters, Cliff Richards, etc) on LPs, cassettes, and radio (“In the Groove” and “Date with You”).

I had a vast collection of music of many genres through my childhood. My appreciation for the singer-songwriter genre with its meaningful lyrics (Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen) came only in my late teens and early college years (between 1989 and 1993). I began writing music reviews on new rock and pop releases for newspapers and magazines (e.g., Hitavada, Connect Magazine, Economic Times). The deeper I went in understanding lyrics, the more I came to appreciate Leonard Cohen’s work. Before I met Leonard, I had heard four  of his albums and read some of his books and a dozen articles about him on the internet.

bookplus1200In 1998, I came across a newspaper article that reported Leonard Cohen was in Bombay. It didn’t give the name of the hotel but did indicate the area. I wrote to the Blackening Pages, the Leonard Cohen Fan club on the internet, hosted by Jarkko Arjatsalo in Finland, to gather details but to no avail. So, I began calling hotels in the area, and an operator actually connected me to Leonard in his room.

While Leonard declined to meet, he did agree to sign my CDs and books if I left them at reception. The next day when I arrived to leave the books, the reception desk informed Leonard, and he came down. After we met, he invited me for tea. The ensuing conversation went on for five hours.

As one might expect, it began with me donning my journalist hat to ask about details of his poems which had triggered my curiosity and the “inside story” of the 1960s rock movement (I had many questions about Woodstock, 60s sex, rock and roll, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, singer songwriters like Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Joan Baez, new bands like REM, Suzanne Vega etc.). Because Leonard was a kind man, he humored me, answering my queries.

It soon became evident, however, that he wasn’t keen on discussing his own views on other musicians or his own poetry. Instead, he shifted the conversation into the personal and after two hours of taking notes (I still have them), I stopped the documentation and let it flow as he began asking about me. At first, my answers focused on clarifying the cultural context, based on the assumption that he was new to India. I soon realized that he already knew a lot about the country & certainly a lot more than me about Indian religion. He was the first Jew I’d ever met so  I asked him some basic questions about Judaism. He even suggested a book on the history of the Jews by Herman Wouk as a starter for me.

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Leonard Cohen Talks To Ramesh Balsekar In 1999 About Roshi, Artists, Salmon Teriyaki, Songwriting, Cognac, Raising Children …

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This is an extraordinary conversation between Leonard Cohen and Ramesh Balsekar that covers a number of topics of interest to those who have followed Cohen’s career.

Those unfamiliar with the connection between these two men may wish to read the next section before going onto the conversation they held. Those who know about the relationship already can safely skip ahead to the heading, “A Resonance between Two Models – Leonard Cohen & Ramesh Balseka.”

Leonard Cohen & Ramesh Balsekar

In her biography of Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man, Sylvie Simmons writes about the period the Canadian singer-songwriter spent in India to learn from Ramesh Balsekar:

Something had happened to Leonard in India. Something–as he told [songwriter] Sharon Robinson–“just lifted,” the veil of depression through which he had always seen the world. Over the space of several visits Leonard would make to Mumbai over the next few years, returning to his room at the Hotel Kemps Corner and making his daily walk to satsang, altogether, he spent more than a year studying with Ramesh–“by imperceptible degrees this background of anguish that had been with me my whole life began to dissolve. I said to myself, ‘This must be what it’s like to be relatively sane.’ You get up in the morning and it’s not like: Oh God, another day. How am I going to get through it? What am I going to do? Is there a drug? Is there a woman? Is there a religion? Is there something to get me out of this? The background is very peaceful.” His depression was gone.

Nina Martyris, reviewing Cohen’s “Book Of Longing” in the Times of India Mumbai, August 20, 2006, notes

But of special interest to his Indian fans is the scattering of poems set in Mumbai, an unlikely Mecca for a man searching for the larger answers to life, but to which Cohen turned after being somewhat disillusioned by his sabbatical in a Zen monastery. Ten years of austerity at Mt Baldy in Los Angeles in the service of his master Kyozan Joshu Roshi came to an end when the troubled troubadour found that the base desires he had sought to escape only thrived on the rare mountain air.

I shaved my head
I put on robes
I sleep in the corner of a cabin
sixty-five hundred feet up a mountain
It’s dismal here
The only thing I don’t need
is a comb

Only Cohen could compress a world of irony into that one bald line “The only thing I don’t need is a comb”. Solace of sorts, even an entry point into understanding the contradictions of life, arrived through an unexpected route — at an up scale Breach Candy apartment, at the feet of the venerable Ramesh Balsekar, a retired banker turned philosopher-guru who didn’t even know who the old man in his morning audience was until his grand daughter hysterically informed him that this was the Prince of Darkness himself. The guru’s robust optimism was more than a match for Cohen’s mournfulness and the two became friends. “Ramesh has saved my life. I was dying in that monastery,” Cohen later told a friend, after many expoundings on Balsekar’s central theory which, like all complex thought, comes disguised in beguiling simplicity — that happiness, which is the human aim, can be achieved if one does not blame oneself or others for any happening, good or bad.

“I heard many interesting and precise ideas, which later I blurred into verse, while in the precious company of Kyozan Joshu Roshi, and Ramesh S. Balsekar. Their compelling concepts were so imperfectly grasped that I cannot be accused either of stealing or absorbing them,” wrote Cohen in the acknowledgments.

A Resonance between Two Models – Leonard Cohen & Ramesh Balseka

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Jane Adams, the author of A Resonance between Two Models – Leonard Cohen & Ramesh Balseka, begins with this explanation:

During my visit to Ramesh in Mumbai, in early 1999, I witnessed the following conversation with Leonard Cohen, and bought the tape. After I got home, I made this transcript.

I’ve excerpted this section as a sampling:

[Leonard Cohen] I’ve been sipping at the nectar. It’s very delicious to be here. On the intellectual level, your model becomes clearer and clear to me – your conceptual presentation – and so does my old Teacher’s. On the experiential level, I feel the weakening of certain proprietorial feelings about doership.

[Ramesh Balsekar] That is a very good word! Proprietorial – me, mine! I see. Now, this weakening – how do you mean this weakening, when did it start? Did it start thirty years ago? Is that what you are saying?

[Leonard Cohen] I couldn’t characterize this seeking as spiritual. It was a kind of urgent …

[Ramesh Balsekar] You mean what started thirty years ago was not really spiritual?

[Leonard Cohen] No Sir.

[Ramesh Balsekar] I see. I see.

[Leonard Cohen] I don’t know if it is today. The description seems to pale in the urgency of the actual search, which is for peace.

[Ramesh Balsekar] Yes. Yes.

[Leonard Cohen] And you know, over the years, especially anyone who hangs around a Zendo meditation hall, is going to get a lot of free samples, as you put it. If you sit for long hours every day, and are subjected to sleeplessness and protein deficiency, you’re going to start having experiences that are interesting. It was a hunger for those experiences that kept me around, because I NEEDED those experiences.

[Ramesh Balsekar] YES! The HUNGER for those experiences. Yes! So?

[Leonard Cohen] I forget where we were. I’m sorry.

[Ramesh Balsekar] You said, experiences happened, and there was a hunger for those experiences.

[Leonard Cohen] There was a hunger to maximize, to continue, a greed to … a greed for those kinds of experiences develops. Which is what happens in monasteries.

[Ramesh Balsekar] I entirely agree, yes. There is a greed for those experiences.

[Leonard Cohen] Very much so. And I must say that my old Teacher puts little value on those experiences.

[Ramesh Balsekar] I see. In fact, did he WARN you against them?

[Leonard Cohen] Warns you, and BEATS YOU, against them!

[Ramesh Balsekar] With his stick? On your shoulder?

[Leonard Cohen] Yes Sir. We are not encouraged to take these hallucinations seriously.

[Ramesh Balsekar] But how effective are those beatings, Leonard?

[Leonard Cohen] Not effective at all. I’ve seen them more effective in the case of other monks than they were in this case. So I respect the system; it’s a rigorous system based on a very useable model, but it wortks for some and does not work for others.

[Ramesh Balsekar] Quite right. I see. And what you’ve been hearing for ten days, has it made some difference, do you think?

[Leonard Cohen] Sweet!

The complete transcript and more drawings of the two men can be found at A Resonance between Two Models – Leonard Cohen & Ramesh Balsekar by Jane Adams. (JaneAdamsArt: Sept 28, 2014)

Credit Due Department: Drawings by Jane Adams. Photo by Herry Lawford

Note: Originally posted Oct 1, 2014 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of Cohencentric