The Tranquil Mind of the Violin Maker

As the end of our course draws near, I’m really quite proud of our team of students. The level of workmanship has risen considerably in our short 3 weeks together, and when we are overwhelmed with customers and curiosity seekers bringing instruments for repair, they all pull together to see to it that everything gets done. So many of the things that I’ve taught them with difficulty have now become routine for them, freeing me up to tackle some more difficult repairs, such as broken edges on the violin. The students take it upon themselves to come by my bench, which is a swirling whirlwind of activity, and look to see what is undone and whether they can take it to their work station to help finish it.

We are visited daily by swarms of musicians and well wishers, especially since the program has begun getting very visible coverage in national newspapers. Despite our resolve to take on no more repairs at this point, the requests to do so keep pouring in, so the place at times resembles more of a TV show hospital emergency room triage center than the tranquil confines of a violin shop, usually so cozily tucked away from the prying eyes of the curious. Nonetheless, the work must go on, as the clock is relentlessly ticking–I focus on the planing of a fingerboard, the setting of a new nut as the crowd hums around me, chatting, asking questions, playing instruments. I live with a microphone on my workbench and a video camera focused on me at all times, forgetful that our videographer, Kannan, keeps a sharp eye on me at all times. At lunchtime Alex, looking slightly unnerved by it all, asks me how I do it. “It’s easy,’ I reply. “All you have to do is get them started playing an instrument or chatting with each other, then quickly get back to your work before they notice you’re not quite there…They’ll carry on with the party by their own momentum and you can work with a quiet mind in the middle of the din.” She simply stares at me in amazement. “It’s easy,” I repeat, trying to convince myself.

Later on, I share a quiet moment with Venkat and we have a chuckle about the Kali moment and the bow tools. He feels that I demonstrated a very important aspect of the teacher and shares a parable with me:

Long ago in a village in the distant countryside, there dwelled a dangerously vicious cobra snake in the corner of the village that was wreaking a terrible demise upon all who dared go near the area. One day a saint came wandering through the village and the villagers immediately fell upon him with their pleas to subdue this horrible serpent. The saint of course agreed to do so and immediately sought out the cobra, admonishing it to please understand that all life is precious including it’s own and that it was causing much sadness and fear, and to please reconsider it’s ways. The snake agreed to do it’s best and the saint went on his way, begging alms through the countryside. Sometime later, his path took him through the same village, and near the first huts he heard a pitiful moaning coming from the bushes. Being a man of compassion, he sought out the source of the pitiful sounds, only to locate the same cobra, horribly suffering from multiple injuries. “What has happened to you?” The snake replied, “I’ve been as good as my word to you and have done no harm and only tried to go about my business as innocently as possible. Now look at my condition…the tiniest children strike me with sticks, beat me with stones and allow the village dogs to drag me by the tail, all because of you and your fine advice!” “You’re a fool,’ replied the saint. ‘I didn’t advise you not to hiss and make yourself look dangerous…”

Fortunately, I didn’t have to do much didactic hissing during our course, but there were times when I did seem to coil, ready for the strike!


1 thought on “The Tranquil Mind of the Violin Maker

  1. Frank L Hudson

    Hi Jim,

    Just wanted to tell you how much we’ve been enjoying your posts on the whole time there; from the earliest ones detailing the traffic, the early wake-ups, the glued workbench, on up through the interactions with your students, the spit episode, the Kali moment, to the present post. You really have a talent for this, relating your experiences with genuine warmth and humor, and a respect for the traditions and culture of your host country. I could see this developing into an inter-cultural media program along the lines of Garrison Keillor, ‘An Indian Home Companion’.

    Have a great vacation with Peggy next month after your course is completed and we look forward to seeing you both back in Santa Barbara in the New Year,

    Frank and Linda


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