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Alicia Markova, Solomon and The Heart of Religion

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By Robert Mehta

When a few years ago I found a photo of Alicia Markova, the famous ballerina, signed to my father, I didn’t remember the interesting story, which I had read some years earlier, about the picture’s origin.

I therefore gave the photo to an elderly friend who herself had been a ballerina and a great admirer of Markova. She died in a nursing home about two years ago and another friend, who worked at the home, found the photo of Markova behind a radiator and the photo thus found its way back to me.

The signed photo of Alicia Markova
The signed photo of Alicia Markova

Recently while re-reading my father’s books I discovered the relevant passage in Buddhahood in the chapter about Christmas Humphreys.

To quote from the book, pages 117 and 118:

Both of us knew Arnold Haskell* well. He was at Trinity Hall and he used to come frequently to my rooms in Trinity College to be consoled by Chopin and energized by Beethoven. One day he came in full of excitement and peremptorily gave me twenty-four hours notice to prepare a short programme for Alicia.

“Alicia?” I queried.

“Mehta,” said Haskell, “Alicia is a genius! Pavlova’s successor! You must mug up these four piano pieces for her dance recital I have arranged for tomorrow evening.”

How could I disappoint such a gentle, friendly soul? I mugged the four pieces, my back to the ‘child dancing like a fairy’, as I was afterwards told. The future Markova, as gracious as an angel, thanked me for what in my judgment was poor pianistry and presented me with a signed photograph. Arnold Haskell, as imperious on that occasion as dear Toby** can be on his occasions, was most grateful and was instrumental in introducing me — a very fateful introduction — to Solomon, the pianist, in 1924, just as Toby, in 1958, out of great and timely kindness introduced me to a man whose practical help provided the opportunity to begin writing The Heart of Religion. What an unfoldment of karmic patterns!

* Arnold Haskell became a well-known figure in the ballet world.
** ‘Toby’ was a familiar name for Christmas Humphreys.

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