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Music Matters

A Short Story - by Pushpa Raghuram

Janaki had just stepped into her teens. Her father opined she had the ‘gift of the gab’, since she loved chatting on various topics. Not on Internet, for it had not yet invaded the life style of the younger fraternity. Her mother felt she was good at acting, because she effortlessly mimicked others. Observing her graceful movements her siblings thought she could dance well. They all helped her one way or the other to hone her skills. Music was not yet on her cards. Nevertheless when Janaki attended drama classes, her director said, she would fare better, if she learns music, since music helps cultivate voice modulation. Her dance master suggested that, she should take up music classes too in his school, for music and dance are permutation and combination of  “Bhava, Raga and Thala”. Janaki wondered if he was doing sales promotion for his music class!

She however realized that she couldn’t bloom into a thespian or a dancer sans music, but she was certain that she would not embrace music as her sole soul mate. Then the question was, who could teach her music? In the family meeting each participant had a point to make. The music master should be good, should reside in a walk able distance from the house and most importantly his fees should be affordable. Considering all these aspects, they zeroed in on a master.

On an auspicious day, she was taken to the class. The master conducted a preliminary test. He asked her to say something about music. Pat came her reply. It is composed of seven-notes or Saptha Swaras. The master was pleased. Janaki started her classes. Soon she noticed that she did not have one master but several.  The senior students of her master were asked to be her teachers. ‘‘The master was good at passing the buck” ruminated Janaki. She could take that with a pinch of salt. But she was irked the most, when the master’s eight year old daughter started her lessons one day. That was the last straw and the last day of her attending the classes.

Neither Janaki nor her family members lost heart due to the above episode. They located another master after a couple of months. She again faced a mock entrance test.  This time the question was “Mention any three Ragas!” Janaki confidently answered. “Bhairavi, Mohana and Ranjani” The Master smiled at her appreciatively. Janaki did not add that she related the ragas to the names of her classmates. She was asked to start her classes from the first of next month.

On the first day of her class, she took time to read the bulletin board. She saw a name popping up again and again on several invites during music festivals. In the mean time the master stepped in and welcomed her with a smile and started the class. Janaki had to begin from the beginning, which was quiet unnerving. Still she did not protest; she went to the class regularly for a fortnight. On the sixteenth day the master asked her, whether she could accompany his student for a programme, to play Thambura. She readily accepted. For another event, she was asked to stand at the venue, wear her charismatic smile (not her attitude) till the chief guests arrived. She was then expected to be the M.C. for music festivals, since she could attract the audience with her flawless fluent diction. End of the day her inference was “Behind every famous Music master there is a student, who could sing like a nightingale”. Janaki observed her master’s expertise in sighting the talent and tapping the source to his advantage. That was his USP. After a month or two of such classes she could not go beyond “Lambodara Lakumikara”, the first song to be learnt to pay obeiscence to Lord Vinayaka. Unceremoniously she disconnected herself from the music class, but was quite determined to make strides in learning music sooner or later.

Undeterred by her aborted attempts, she sought another master, who really taught her “music”. Was it the third or the fourth one? She had lost count. She was now older and was an experienced learner too. The distance did not matter, since she had her own vehicle. The fee was not an issue, for she was working and getting a fat salary. Learning music topped on her “To do List” again, since she was convinced that music matters and had never clicked on the EXIT key, for learning music.

This time she went through a List of masters, recommended by her friends and relatives, neighbors and acquaintances, browsed through the book lets or the fliers diligently. She jotted down the name of one prospective music madam. During the weekend she located the house of the lady and tapped on her door. An elderly couple welcomed her and introduced themselves to her as the parents of her madam (to be). The madam came in, had a short tetetete with Janaki and appreciated her idea of learning the art despite being busy with her family, career etcetera. Casually she asked Janaki about her favorite composer. Janaki did not have to bite her nails before answering. She replied with a smile.  ‘It is Thyagaraja and I love all his Pancharathna Keerthanas’. The madam awarded her a  ‘student ship’ and asked her to start her classes ASAP. Janaki did not divulge the secret to her madam that she was armed with a list of FAQs with answers written next to them.

Everything was hunky dory for a month or so. Not for long, for she had to please three people to learn music peacefully. On request she had to get fresh vegetables to the madam’s mother; she had to fetch medicines or pay bills on behalf of her father, who had chronic ailments like HBP and Diabetes.  Ms. Janaki (Jack of all) feared that she might be treated like Ms. Friday of the family, reminiscent of Robinson Crusoe’s Man Friday. The madam, blissfully unaware of such demands on Janaki, expected her to practice, what was taught to her before she came for her next class. That became a tall order for Janaki, since she had to unlearn, what she had hitherto learnt and make progress too with the nuances of ragas and talas. She got from her madam this unique “unlearning experience”, which was more challenging than learning.

After a while she was at her wits end.  End of that quarter, she had to take a call, whether it is climbing the ladder in her career or pressurizing her cerebral cells to memorize notations of ragas?  At that point of time her choice was undoubtedly ‘career.’ Career mattered more than music to her and her family.

Janaki got into a ‘busy trap’ in the next decade and a half, contributing to the growth of her family and her company. Upbringing of her children and improving the image of her company simultaneously kept her on her toes. Her efforts bore fruit. Her children were grooming well and her company’s growth was exponential. Every second year she was promoted to the next senior level. But in the field of music her achievement was zilch; she had to be coerced by colleagues to participate even in anthakshari games in the bus, which was plying to picnic resorts.

She was sure that at the back of her mind, she still had mind space for music. That was the reason for her reliving the music classes and accosting her previous music masters in her dreams. The dream used to be so close to reality that she got up the next morning muttering “No, not again” with a slight shudder. On one such morning, she let her mind wander scot-free, let her half opened eyes wander listlessly everywhere in the bedroom. Janaki’s eyes fell incidentally on her mother’s photo kept on the corner stand and she felt that her mother’s gaze met hers. At that predestined moment one of her conversations with her mother came to her as a flashback.

‘Both of them were talking on that evening about several things. Janaki’s mother as usual took over the function of a compass, to show Janaki the directions she has to take in her life. Janaki might have given a patient hearing to her. But this time her mother’s compass showed the mirror reflection of the directions and went backwards in time. Her mother chided her for not taking her music learning seriously. That is when Janaki lost her cool. Janaki defended herself saying that she was not to blame. Her masters were not professional in conducting their classes and so they fell short of her expectations. Janaki’s mother interrupted her daughter. “That is where you erred. Let me be brutally honest with you.  You were dogmatic in your approach and judgmental in your attitude in the class. You did not bend backwards to achieve what you wanted. Don’t expect the masters to act and react the way you expect them to.  You have to meet the gurus more than half way, if you want to win their grace and be blessed by them”. Having said that her mother had left the place of discussion and moved on with her mundane chores.’

Janaki’s mother had been successful in making Janaki feel guilty once again. If she did not ‘do’ something right away to ‘undo’ her previous doings, she was sure that she would have to carry this gnawing guilt to her grave. Janaki shook herself out of her reveries. She turned her gaze away from her mother’s photo. The green light of a gadget then caught her attention. The light mesmerized her. She saw that it was from her ipad, which was a present from her dear daughter, connected to its charger. She went to that gizmo, touched it gently and opened it. Her finger started moving on the pad left and right, up and down.  She pressed on an Icon unwittingly.

Music started flowing out of that. Janaki trembled from top to toe. The Planet Guru was on his exalted position in her life. Her Guru Dasha had begun. Eureka! She had found the answer to her ever-haunting problem. She would soon push the boundaries of the classroom. It will be an all-out unannounced war against music masters, who were not doing justice to their profession. Her ipad will be henceforth her music master. She can upload X number of songs on that, sung by Y number of singers. They may guide her through her journey in learning Music. No strings attached, no Tambura to be played, no announcements to be made, no bills to be paid etecetra. Play ipad and learn Music. It was an awesome solution. She would start her classes again. She looked at her mother’s photo, saw the seraphic smile on her lips and returned it with a triumphant one of hers.

Short story Music Matters Continued here.....