Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Spirit of Music

Saveri sat at her aunt's feet, watching with awe as the elder lady, with her eyes closed, strummed the tanpura and matched her voice to the tonal sound. Even that fundamental element of music emanating from that divine voice was perfect. Saveri opened her mouth and winced at the harsher sound that came from her own throat. Albeit in the right pitch, it lacked finesse. She tried to subdue the harshness by constricting the throat.

Her aunt looked at her kindly. "Don't hold back!"

Try as she did, Saveri found it hard to be free in her aunt's presence. Away from her, when she practiced on her own, she thought she did better. But no one other than her aunt could be the judge of that!

When Saveri recorded her own voice, she could see all the flaws in her voice - the sudden amplification and the sudden weakening of the sound, the faulty transitions, unexpected missing of the key and the beat...

Frustrated, and guilty about wasting her aunt's precious time better spent in her own practice or in teaching better and more deserving students, she slowly avoided going to her aunt's house to learn music. She visited like any other niece, but the moment the topic of music came up, she laughed evasively, blamed her school work and preferred to hide that side of her completely.

It was not that she did not sing. But singing for one's pleasure was different from singing in the belief that she could one day become like her aunt. The disappointment was all the more painful. Still, it was easier to accept it early than struggle with false hopes.

Her aunt, Aunt Mallika, was her mother's only sister. She was a child prodigy and her rise to stardom was nothing short of fairy tale. Mallika herself pooh-poohed such theories and said, "Only hard work... Nothing else." But Saveri's mother Sadhana did not think so. She was quite proud of her sister's achievement and tried to inspire her daughter to be like her aunt.

"My voice is like yours," Saveri told her mother bluntly after she stopped learning music. "Don't try to force me to be like your sister!"

"But you say your aunt believes in hard work! Why don't you also work hard?" her mother persisted.

"Because the more effort I put, the more hoarse my voice becomes!" Saveri replied in exasperation.

When Sadhana complained to Mallika about Saveri's attitude, Mallika merely laughed. When they had a few minutes alone, Mallika spoke to Saveri, "Two things are important, Saveri. Your efforts. And your guru's blessings..." There was a dreamy look as she said it.

"You are my guru, don't I have your blessings?" Saveri asked edgily.

Mallika looked startled... Then her look turned thoughtful. "My guru died when I was eleven years old, did your mother tell you that? This house belonged to him... "

Saveri was curious, "Oh really? How did it become yours?"

A strange light entered Mallika's eyes. "I don't know how to tell you..." Then she laughed. "You care more about the house than my music!"

"No, no!!!" Saveri protested. "I have heard so much about your music and your natural talent."

Again Mallika smiled at her silently with a strange gleam.

"Is the house Aunt Mallika lives in hers?" Saveri asked her mother as they headed back home.

"Father bought the house from her guru's family when we were young. You know, Malli was just 10 or 11 when her guruji died. My father took her there to pay her last respects and she suddenly burst forth in a melodious song. Till then, her talent had remained undiscovered. But from that day on, whenever she went to her guru's house, there was magic, inspired singing. Then, father convinced guruji's family to sell the house and we moved in there..." With a hint of displeasure, Sadhana added, "Father bequeathed the house to Mallika... Of course, she never married, poor thing" She turned to her daughter. "If your aunt is happy with you, you will inherit that house. After all, you are her only close relative..."

"Ma, like her, maybe one day I will also become an inspired singer... But it is not happening right now," Saveri put her mother off. The story, however, sparked a desire for some trigger that could make her sing like her aunt.

She tried to revive her classes. "Don't compare yourself," her aunt tried to infuse confidence. "You sing well..." she said softly. But no, that was not enough.

Saveri's dejection seemed to affect Mallika. As Saveri struggled with high notes, Mallika seemed to be struggling with her breathing. "Don't try so hard. Take a lower scale..."

"I want to sing like you," Saveri said stubbornly, probably her teen years asserting itself.

"That's a high price you are asking for," Mallika made a strange observation. Thinking she meant about how it affected her voice, Saveri dismissed it with a wave of her hand. "I think if I try the right way... Maybe you are not sharing all your secrets..." she insinuated sullenly.

"You have a naturally husky voice..."

"I want a sweet voice!" Saveri snapped. Mallika recoiled. Saveri seemed possessed.

The next evening, when Saveri went for class, she found Mallika prone on the floor.

"Aunt Mallika!" she rushed to the elder woman and turned her over. Mallika's life was ebbing away. She clutched Saveri's hand, who yelped at the intense pain that shot through her hand. The yelp turned into a musical note, in a voice that sounded much like Mallika's. Their eyes widened in shock and an understanding passed. Mallika shut her eyes and lay back, a sigh escaping her while Saveri's jaw dropped.

"Sing," Mallika croaked.

Saveri did, with ease, in a voice that she had envied all her life.

Mallika's hands joined in obeisance. "Guruji," she said and breathed her last.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...