When the Music Stopped

The man would have been my father’s age.

He resembled my father too in ways more than one – fair, tall, well-built and surrounded by an air of dignity. The only difference was perhaps that he had a head full of hair. (No offence, Dad!)

He sat in a corner of the well-lit and exquisitely adorned dinner hall. In a place occupied by happy rich families, dining and wining to their heart’s content, this man sat alone; He had not come there to eat. Perhaps he could never have afforded a place like this.

He had nobler intentions that night – to spread the magic of the music that he worshipped and loved to create and his only companion was the santoor that he was holding in his hands.

His companion didn’t seem to have many takers, for the soft melody of the beautiful instrument was lost in the soulless laughter of the affluent men, irritable yelling of hungry children, shrill clank of empty vessels and loud calls for waiters.

Yet, he went on undeterred, playing the strings of the elegant instrument that probably made him forget his own despicable life which had brought him to the mercy of these heartless mortals who didn’t stop to give an appreciative glance. Music probably pulled those who worshiped it into a magical world of infinite joy irrespective of where their bodies lay; a world that knew no ego, no humiliation and no self but only divine surrender to endless bliss.

And then, the music stopped. The musician arose. He looked at me. And smiled.

As he walked towards me, I prepared myself to be overtaken by poise, regality and maybe even a short intellectual discourse on art. Yes, I have seen his type before. They bore pride. They bore dignity. They spoke philosophy in deep baritones.

In their eyes, you could see that they had led a life of rich art-filled times and hence walked with the profound splendor that a long union with art gave one. Before them, you felt small and tried acting like you loved art too and was very open to it.

I started to think fast of a befitting compliment that could do justice to the thirty minutes of soulful music that he had bestowed upon numerous pairs of ungrateful ears. I was only a reporting intern for leading news daily whose tryst with music ended with the morning fm. What could I say?

Little did I know that he had prepared his talk way before than I did.

“Hello. Will you publish my photo in the paper tomorrow? I could send you more pictures. I have been playing on stage since 1984. I have been given many awards. Would you mention that in the paper too? I could give you the details. Please take my card”, he said with hungry eyes; eyes that were filled with hope and promise, despite having seen disappointment far too many times.

Silence followed.

I smiled, nodded and murmured some positive consolation. “Yes…we could try pushing in the picture. It should be coming. Some other time, we could do a profile on you. I will contact you if needed.”

He nodded and thanked, his eyes giving away a flicker of doubt.  Not giving up to blatant logic, he persisted – “I have even got an award by Dr. Abdul Kalam and also …..” he signed off, each word becoming less audible than the previous.

I went back home.

I realized with sinking sadness that while music pulled those who worshiped it into a magical world, it unfortunately cannot keep them there forever.

Sinduja Raguathan