Saakhsaat nar, pashu puchh vishaan heenah.”
“A person without music, literature and arts is like an animal without horns or tail.”
“Aptly said! I have all three! So, I’m an animal with horns and tail, but an animal nevertheless. Hahahah”
My first introduction to the psychedelic and beautiful world of music was at the age of two. I was born in the holy city of Benaras. A wrong choice? Benaras is a city where people go to die and I decided to be born there! How stupid can you get! But, I love Benaras and Bombay! I may be stupid, but have my loyalty in place!
When I was a year and half old, my younger brother was born and my parents moved to Bombay. I was left in Benaras. May be they thought I needed some more spiritual strengths to survive the wicked, wild world. Today, after 40 years, I think it was a wasted effort!
Anyway, my dad visited me after 6 months and brought a box of Cadbury’s Tiffins, which was the latest confection from Cadbury’s during those days and a China made harmonica. You also know it as a Mouth Organ. I tried to stuff my small belly and mouth with those chocolates and then played that mouth organ with my smeared lips. Little did I know that the harmonica was blessed by The Nataraj Himself! The breath I inhaled through it, invoked the magical and arcane chant of Shiva, the Lord of Kashi! Certain things affect our life without our own knowledge.I was unaware and non cognizant of the truth and went on playing it tunelessly.
When I was six years old I was mercifully kicked off to Bombay, after my incessant crying for my parents. The initial surge of music, which was dormant till now, erupted with a vengeance, to my chagrin. Like all kids, I always loved to croon the latest hot numbers. I was very lucky. Mohd. Rafi had recently died in 1980, so his numbers were very hot those days. Illaiyaraja was trying to shock Hindi Film Music Industry with his Sadma. Kalyanji Anandji were ruling the roost. Kishoreda was at his best. I had enough fuel to feed my passion. I had tuned ears and was able to replicate their voice, as well as the hidden and half notes. The only problem being, I was too shy. Hated to perform before my peers. But, your friends and family know all your secrets. However well you hide or camouflage them.
Janmashtmi is one of the festivals we celebrate with a zing in Bombay. We go all out! We hang Handis at impossible heights and then we erect human pyramids to break them. The Guinness World Record for the tallest human pyramids is held by a group of my locality Mazagaon. The Sankalp Gang of Tadwadi defeated the Spanish conquistadores in Spain by erecting a seven level human pyramid.
Anyway, I was just interested in our annual Janmashtmi fair. In the fair of 1984, I was 10 years old. My dad was a truck driver. We used to get no pocket money for school. For any fairs like this, we used to get two rupees. A princely amount, considering those times and our financial conditions then. Wherever I mention ‘We’, it means I and my younger brother, his friend, his friend’s younger and elder brother, his cousin, his cousin’s friends, his… I never had friends. 2 rupees couldn’t get the air for this crowd! But, we did enjoy!
i and our friends went to the Mankeshwar Temple. I was never much of a God fearing guy, but I still had my exams on horizons, so went and also put 25 paise in the box. I don’t know why God demands money for favors. Is he a politician too and needs funds for the next elections?
Once we were out, we whooped out like those Red Indians and went our different ways, our wonders to perform! It was a kaleidoscopic scene! Everyone bought what they wanted. I was stuck with a scruffy guy, who had a standalone bamboo tree, with flutes as branches. He was playing the famous song I knew by heart. Tere mere beech me, kaisa hai ye bandhan… I asked for the price of the largest flute. Isn’t it normal? Bigger flute gives better tunes? He asked for 70 Rupees. I showed my 2 rupees. He plucked out the scrawniest fruit from his Sprawling Tree of Music and gave me. I looked at it morosely for a second, then perked up! It was mine! I don’t stay down for long! I didn’t know then, but I was a born survivor. I was one of your happy Disney Characters. I was a Happy Puppy at heart!
I was joshed and ridiculed by everyone when we all met. I hated when they went in to watch the clips of famous movies like Hero and Sholay (Cost: 25 paise). I saw them eating faluda for 50 paise. I saw them buying mustaches and beards for 15 paise… I was not interested or hungry. Inwardly, I was desperate for someone to invite me to the feast and fun, but too proud to beg. I didn’t get anything. But, I had my love!
I kept away. Just hugged my scrawny and weak flute. I decided to shock the revellers by my purchase. It was about time! They are eating or frolicking and will suddenly hear a blast of pop music from me! Wow! I blew in my flute.
I understood the meaning of the word anathema much later. I experienced it on that sad day. The only reward I was able to get was a sound like an asthmatic dog wheezing. I did my best that day and went beyond. Everyone was in stitches. Some of them required medical help as they nearly died laughing. I pinned my ears and walked back.
I went to the flute seller, full of fire and brine, and was damned if the bloody guy didn’t play the same flute melodiously! I begged him to teach and he imparted the secret knowledge of how a flute can be played. Like all good things in universe, it was simple! If you blow slant on the hole, like on a bottle, it will produce a melody. I rejoiced! I always did it on pen caps!
For days, the only sounds I could produce were like nothing I can imagine! I believe, sometimes I replicated a car stopping on signal, while hard on break. Wheeee… You got the idea.
It was a sad struggle for a year or two, till I came to know that music is made of seven notes. I don’t know who showed me this, but I’m truly grateful to him! I learned the basic notes. I found books on flute learning. Most of them trash. Then I learned about Gandharva Sangeet Vidyalaya, founded by Pt. Vishnu Digamber Bhatkhande. I bought his first book. The first year of the college. That was when I was exposed to the wondrous world of Ragas. I realized that all the ragas are time and emotion bound. I understood that they are a family. I was proud that my Landlord and his wife created this conundrum! I became a fan of Shiva! Just because he created music!
At the 14th year of age, I did many things. One of them was joining a real music class. I started to learn Japanese Banjo. I used all the notations and played it at home on flute. I couldn’t find any flute teachers. Later on, I found a class at Ranjit Studios and started learning flute formally. I’m not much modest. I excelled there. Then I was invited by Pt Raghunath Sheth to join his Gurukul. It was just a quirk of destiny, which propelled me to Pt Ronu Majumdar. I always was lucky as a Brahmin. I always had the best teachers!
I performed on stage and was loved by the audience. Well, audience will love anything! They just need a scapegoat. Either to bestow all the honors they can imagine, or to sacrifice for all the crimes they can think of.
It was in 1992 that I started engineering. Those were the turbulent times. I was screwed up by everyone, including the housekeeping guy of the hostel. I’m a very sentimental and emotional guy, with an added curse of being an introvert. I just used to hide my face.
No. Not behind a pillow. I was a boxer. I used to hide myself behind a curtain of thick cascading notes from heaven. Notes, which have the capacity of making a human of an animal! We all know that.
My Reader, haven’t you given a note to a Traffic Constable and seen him turning into a human from an alien? I don’t know your denominations, but my notes were valueless.
Mirza Ghalib once said…
“Kahte hain jise ishq
Khalal hai dimag ka.”
My love for music was just like a disturbance? Possibly. Between the Geology and Hydraulics, I couldn’t ever think of Bhairavi and Dhanashree. But, whenever I was too smashed… Physically in the boxing ring or mentally in the class, I had only one lover, who embraced me to her ample bosom, a bosom, which had embraced better than me, like Wolfgang Mozart, Pt Palushkar, Mohd Rafi and Ustad Allauddin Khan Saheb! I just used to pick up my beloved flute and one hour of Raag Vibhash used to cure me of all my pains! Who needs a mortal lover! My lover will never die! Her lovers have died and she still lived on. I will die too and know that music will live on after my son!
PS: To answer an unanswered and rhetorical question, which I asked myself while buying my first flute… A big and costly flute will be as tuneless and useless as money in the hands of a miser. We need a soul for music and charity. Do you have either, my friend? 🙂
PPS: I still have that same harmonica. I can play it too. I got it repaired at 700, which is more than 15 times it’s original cost, as my dad said. Unfortunately, my 5 years old Monster Dotter chewed the external. The original reeds are still there.
It was the best gift a father can give to his son!