For those who have been missing the story, here are the links to Chapter 1 and Chapter 2.
Suggestion: Don’t continue reading the Final Chapter, if you have not read the earlier two Chapters.
Warning: a long post.
The routine life was now set. Face the situation. Prepare for the impending disaster. Learn how the visually impaired tackle daily life problems. And the worst, wait for that day, when darkness will come to swallow your world.
Meanwhile the family members got busy trying to trace this defect in their own genes...where, where did it happen last? From grandfathers to great grandfathers the rest of the forefathers, as far as the family tree could be traced but they couldn’t spot the root of this defect. Not even an iota of evidence of the genetic ailment. This baffled the doctors too.
“How can that be? There must be, there has to be! The genetic connect.”
The pointless debate was put to rest, none of this meticulous tracing would avert the current predicament of the young man. Whatever had to happen… had already happened.
The young man yearned to move away from this dark chapter. In the summer of 1992, amidst the tunnel of darkness, came the first stroke of light in the form of...
The young man’s father was a good singer whose dream to sing for a famous hindi film music director was cut short due to familial bindings in the 1960s. And why do we talk about the father now, because here again another genetic transmission happened, albeit a different sort… this ‘inheritance’ was to become the light and sound of his life to come.
So though the father’s musical sojourn was cut short – that didn’t stop him from letting his children take a sneak peak into it. The young man had learnt harmonica for a few months during his childhood…musical roots which had then deepened within him, but as they say… once a grown up with the ‘grown ups’ responsibilities to shoulder, sometimes drawing from once own roots becomes a task. We forget to acknowledge what forms the core of us, what roots us. We forget, till it shakes us from within.
So coming to back to 1991 - As Salim in his auto rickshaw continued to ferry the young man from his Bank-to-home and back, the dark boredom had settled in.
Much like several other men, who turn to different kind of vices/devices to fight boredom, the young man too took upto one such addiction: tobacco.
Lesson no 1: Addiction is perhaps one of the very few things in the world that is above the class and caste divides, it eats up all, alike.
The young man had developed an amazing addiction towards ‘mawa’. ‘Mawa’ as referred in the colloquial Gujarati language is wrapped up in a small square-shaped plastic bag with a small thread tying the whole bundle. The constituents apart from heavy intakes of tobacco are lime, small pieces of betel nuts, and areca nuts like shrapnels of a military bomb. Infact the ‘Mawa’ in that small plastic wrapper is actually like a mini atomic bomb, which works a little differently. If dropped on someone, its uniquely evil elements would near hypnotize the senses; lure the individual for life, and ruin him hence. A ‘Mawa’ has to be vigorously rubbed on the palm to get its soothing hypnotizing element out. The young man had fallen for the charms of this mini atom bomb. Darkness can swallow you in different ways; tobacco was one of them.
Salim and the young man had become great friends by now. Lesson no 2: Tobacco can be a great ‘unifier’.
Someone should suggest the ‘mawa’ on the Indo-Pak border. The new friendship atomic bomb – Mawa sponsored by Danikchand.
On one of the regular evening meets at the Pan Shop in the city, a friend heard the young man singing casually. He loved the sound of it. He looked at the young man and a little later the discussion took another direction.
“What’s the point in continuing this Bank job?”
The young man of course came up with those societal reasons. Supporting the family, earning pension post retirement, getting the daughter married, when the time comes etc. etc. The friends won’t give up. The Friend who heard him singing just now pounced on the idea of trying out his hand in music. All the friends now suggested that the young man should give music a chance. This was 1991-92. Electronic music had just started to come up. India had started developing post liberalization symptoms. The economy was looking ‘good’ as we were told. Electronic goods were on a high.
Since the young man had a propensity to play the harmonica and sing, his friends suggested him to buy an Electronic KeyBoard. The young man was not sure of this investment. It could create a huge hole in his annual earnings. Nevertheless the risk had to be taken.
Music as the world will tell you, is often the best healer. Many visually impaired people have taken up music – From Charles Ray to all the railway station beggers. But here the story is a little different. Soon, the first mid-range Yamaha KeyBoard was brought from Bombay and the young man started to get a hang of the black & white keys and some simple functions in a few months. Now comes the most difficult phase, a reality check in some way - the Electronic Keyboard can avail thousands of instruments with a few change in buttons and some numbers.
For eg: 463 - Indian Flute.
522 – Acoustic Guitar
525 – Spanish Guitar
127 – Church Bells
The world of music was indeed on one’s fingertips through the Keyboard. It was a cumbersome task to learn from where and how all these instruments originate through just a combination of few buttons. If all this seems complex for someone who is gifted with eyesight, then for the young man who has just arrived in the world of darkness, it looked like an impossible task… it was foolish to even think of this idea! But by now the accidental idea had gone down deep within the young man – and brought to life an old-forgotten enthusiasm; As wise men would say: “Passions cannot be perceived on weekends” The way a poet and a painter do not create their work on working or non-working days, so the regular bank job was bid adieu to.
Soon another question that came up: “what will he do after learning the whole of KeyBoard? Is he planning to compose, sell, play – but where?” The friends suggested playing and singing in the Orchestra Parties that happen in and around their town. But for a visually impaired – to travel around the city at nights, to perform at big functions, to support the family, all couldn’t happen together. The family too couldn’t help the young man here. His children were in school, how could they support him everywhere.
And just then God sent Salim.
Salim, the auto rickshaw driver, was still hanging around the young man even after his Bank job was done. He had been observing the young man’s child-like enthusiasm on the new Keyboard. Somewhere deep down him, he too wanted to be a part of this madness. Madness is like magnet; it can attract and connect the most weird two things together. Soon, Salim volunteered to become the young man’s assistant cum sound engineer cum driver. He came up with the idea of supporting the young man in all the Night Orchestra shows by driving him around the town in his auto-rickshaw. He also took the additional responsibility of carrying all the instruments and holding the young man’s hand in those initial days of struggle.
If Salim had not lent the helping hand in these troubled times, this story would not have been written. As days passed, Salim also learned the art of sound mixing, joining microphones, checking the right volume, whispering the lyrics when the young man sang and a hell lot of other activities including preparing the ‘mawa’ after every performance for both of them. Stuff that could only happen in movies. A good muslim confidant is always there for the protagonist to prosper. Life is like movies. Ain’t it?
With all arrangement being done, the biggest task was now to play and sing together in front of a large and little unpredictable audience. How would they take a visually challenged entertainer? One could never know what would be their mood and what would be demanded from the singer-performer – a bhajan, a qawwali, an item song, an old classic, a ghazal. Any and every genre has its following. For a performer on stage, this is the task –to be prepared with all at all times! You never know what kind of demand would come next. All you know is you have to be ready with at least 400-500 different kinds of popular tunes which the Orchestra night crowd could demand. And if one makes a mistake, the crowd may get annoyed but will try to give you a sympathizing behavior due to one’s disability. And let me tell you any disable man in this world hates that kind of attitude. Remember Sai Paranjape’s beautiful film “Sparsh”
Having known the seriousness of the situation, the young man confined himself into a room and started concentrating and practicing the KeyBoard – 14 to 16 hours a day. There was no time for any social activity. Days, nights, weeks, months, years passed. Manna Deys, Talat Mehmoods, Jagjit Singhs, Ghulam Alis, Mukeshs, Rafis, Kishores, Narendra Chanchals, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khans, Kailash Khers – anyone and everyone was practiced and performed. The young man would listen and sing Salim would copy all the lyrics for him from the audiocassettes. The young man’s elder brother who had been with him all throughout his darkness couldn’t understand this madness. He thought this as a ‘phase’ that too shall pass. The young man spent some of his best years confined into a room under the huge photo of Saraswati Devi – the hindu goddess of arts and music. This was the ‘phase’ in the young man’s life that can’t be put into words… the sincere… sublimal devotion… stuff that purity it made of. Like the two decades that Andy Dufresne would have spent in the landmark film ‘The Shawshank Redemption’.
By now, the young man had started performing with different local orchestra groups that played at parties, weddings, occasions and hotels. Money started to come.
In a few years, the unbelievable happened. They saved up enough money to bring a bigger and an advanced model of Korg Keyboard from Bombay. Again got dedicated to learn this even more complex electronic instrument.
Such was his dedication towards playing the Keyboard that his guru, Mr. Kanti Sonchhatra who taught him in his initial years, challenges that today this young man (who is now 55 years old) is undoubtedly one of the fastest piano/keyboard player in our country.
“Let him sit in competition with almost all the piano players who can see the keys and lets judge”.
Yesteryear’s great singer – Manna Dey himself has felicitated the young man in his own town. He has a picture of the legendary singer with him in his almirah that is full of different trophies and medals.
A lot has changed since the day he first brought his Electronic Keyboard. His friends have moved on, but they do occasionally meet at the pan shop. His daughter is married and is going to be a mother in a few months.
Salim no more drives the auto-rickshaw. He has taken the driver’s seat in a brand new Maruti Alto. Their friendship is always talked about in the town. Salim and the young man – both still rub the tobacco on their palms and chew it regularly.
Seeing this the elder brother comments: “God took away his eyesight; and now tobacco will take away his voice”
The young man laughs it off. He believes it’s his genes that led him to the world of darkness and it’s the same genes that had music flowing in them. He inherited the ailment and he inherited music. Of how RP happened – it still remains a mystery.
Freeze. Visual of him sitting in his verandah, laughing with the red stained teeth and a sound that resembles zest for life.
Post-script: I have plans to make a documentary on the young man. But this was the back-story of the protagonist. The documentary isn’t about his back-story. It is about his today and the genes that could affect my future generation or me, and the idea of dealing with life as it comes.
The young man happens to be my uncle.
This story would not have been this interesting if it was not for the wonderful editing by my partner in rhyme and crime: Akanksha Tewari. Thanks.
Below are the few pictures that ‘psycho’, Bharat Parmar and me took during one of his performances.
I remember a Graham Parker song: – “Passion Is No Ordinary Word.”
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