Ballu lit a cigarette and took a drag while leaning on a ledge in the smoke zone. He looked outside at the frenzied crowd outside the gate of Atria Mall. A huge Billboard proclaimed that a famous rapper was going to perform tonight and the show was sold off. The expectant crowd – mostly college kids – were hoping for an extra ticket and were looking disappointed.
Balvinder Singh Farangi, aka Ballu loved raps. Although not conforming to the classical grammar, music or literature, the rap songs are able to convey the innermost feelings in a very raw manner. They are abusive at times, but, doesn’t life abuse at times too? During his school days, he couldn’t afford a ticket to any of the rap shows or concerts. Today he could afford and he was going to attend this concert. He stubbed out the cigarette and lighted another. His religion did not allow him to smoke, but Ballu was agnostic and didn’t care for his or any other religions. He just believed in God as a supreme power over the universe. Not those numerous sects and religions, which bound and packed God in various attractive packages with different deals. All these religions reminded him of those tour operators at Haathi Darwaza. If you buy this package, you get to go to heaven with 72 nymphs. This one will guarantee you angels with harps. This is the oldest and cheapest package, which doesn’t guarantee any carnal pleasure, but it will ensure that you will always enjoy. Enjoy what? Sometimes he even wondered if there’s a God in heaven or He’s just an overlord of these tour operators! Trying to get more bookings than the infrastructure can withhold.
He looked towards the mob and found himself very alone. He always had been alone. May be, this was the reason that he identified himself with the rebellious and abusive lyrics of a rap song. He has had a troubled childhood. His mother was raped by a guy, who married her after three years of his birth. The reason for marriage was not sudden surge of love for her or repentance of his deeds. It was the fear of his own wretched life as his mother’s family threatened to kill his father if he didn’t marry her. Thus Ballu became a legitimate child after three years of a bastard’s existence. like all forced things, this marriage was plastic and devoid of any humane emotions and romance. His father hated his mother and Ballu but tolerated them because of the fear of her clan. He was formal to her but vent his pent-up frustration and hatred towards the small child. It was a timid and fearful childhood where the monsters did not assault in the dark of the nights. Those monsters were ever present and everywhere. They were always lurking, but not in dark corners. They assaulted in broad daylight and snatched away the happiness, smiles and dreams of little Ballu. He had no one to complain to. He had nowhere to run to. The fearsome shadows had swallowed all the avenues and there was just a bleak oblivion as far as his innocent and sad eyes could see. Yes, it was a very troubled childhood!
The Constitution of India gives the freedom of expression to each and every individual. Like a comb to a bald guy, fat lot of good is this freedom to an introvert! They shirk from exhibiting their pains and troubles and like the magic cauldron in Macbeth they keep on bubbling in their souls. If they don’t find an outlet they perish, entombed under the weight of their own grief. May be, this is the reason that most of the artists are introvert. Their media expresses their souls more successfully than mere words could ever do. Unfortunately, Ballu was not an artist material. He tried to play music but he turned out to be tone deaf. He tried writing down his innermost feelings in the form of poetry and it was incomprehensible. He tried to paint, but was unable to draw a straight line. Once his father found a few lines written on the last page of his school book and asked curiously about it. Ballu explained that it’s the haunt of a child. His father scoffed and said that it sounded more like the haunt of a hyena! He gave him a long lecture and asked him to focus on his studies than these stupidities.
“You are just a caterpillar on the grass, son, who will become a prey to any wild bird interested in eating such an ugly thing. The only way you can survive is by hiding in a suitable place. So, instead of this rubbish, which you anyway are not good at, why don’t you study or work? At least, you will find your niche to hide!” Ballu understood the futility of his passion and went to school. He never was a scholar and the dash of his dreams made him a defeatist.
Ballu was ungainly with a common face and had a weak voice. Due to their poor financial conditions, Ballu had to quit school and do odd jobs to help supporting the family. In spite of his unstable financial conditions, he still managed to retain his craze for rap and always tried to stand outside TV shops whenever they played any rap of Eminem or Apache. Once he saw a hoarding of a live concert of Eminem, who had come to India during his worldwide tour. He stole money from his dad’s wallet for the ticket and went to it. The show was sold out. He begged people to spare a single ticket as he was desperate. A constable thought that he’s selling tickets in black and caught him by the scruff of his scrawny neck. He searched him and couldn’t find a single ticket on his person and kicked him away, cursing colorfully.
Ballu came home. Now, as he couldn’t watch the show he decided to return the money. His father was sound asleep. When he took out his wallet to keep the money, suddenly he woke up and saw Ballu with wallet in one hand and ₹ 1000 in another. Ballu had heard about Armageddon and never thought that he will live long enough to see it. He didn’t only see it, but experienced it firsthand. He was shook like a cat in a mixer. His dad took a stout stick and thrashed him mercilessly for stealing. He was not ready to believe that Ballu was not stealing but was keeping the money back. Ballu was hospitalized for two weeks for a fracture in his shin. He attributed this crack to a slip on the road, when doctors asked. He didn’t want to implicate his father. He decided to start working in the hotel, which had already selected him before this incident. That was the end of his singing dream, except those impromptu performances for his hotel staff. His life dragged on with his muted dream slowly rising to a crescendo.
Suddenly he was brought to present with a jolt. He was happy that today he didn’t have to beg for a ticket.
He looked again into the sad eyes of the giant picture of the rapper on the lighted Billboard. His own eyes stared back at him. The board was emblazoned with the name Frangi, the youth icon.
Frangi smiled. His father was wrong! The ugly caterpillar had metamorphosed into a beautiful butterfly. He checked his watch. It was time for the show.
He stubbed out his cigarette and limped towards the entrance of the Green Room.
Sometimes during 2010, I met a guy in a small roadside dhaba on Sion Panvel Highway. It was one of those wacky chance encounters, which leave a long, fiery trail of attachment. I’m a very reserved guy and don’t usually talk much to strangers, but somehow we started talking. I’ve a great quality. I’m a very patient and sympathetic listener and am interested in virtually everything under the sun. Slowly, he spilled his life story, and I was moved after listening to it. I always thought my childhood to be a collage of struggles and pain, but Frangi beat me to a lick! A 1.5k words short story is too small a canvas to paint someone’s life, but I’ve tried to squeeze his childhood in it. The above is based on the life of that guy.
Being a classical musician, I neither knew about, nor thought much of rap and considered it just trash. He explained me the nuances and rules of it and I started to appreciate it. I can’t claim that I’ve started loving rap, but thanks to Frangi, now I’m able to follow it. He’s the guy, who’s responsible for those Eminem, Usher and Dr Dre DVDs alongside those of Ustad Amir Khan, Beethoven and Pt Jasraj.
Currently he’s a successful rapper in New Orleans and visits my family whenever he’s in India.