“The ocean sleeps. The ocean wakes. And the waking of the ocean is the waking of the soul. At midnight wakefulness springs from within the ocean.” – Wasif Ali Wasif, Dil Darya Samandar.
Darya sat there, as calm, deep and still as an ocean on a beautiful day. The restful waves she created droned on, ebbed and flowed, enchanting and lulling the audience into a peaceful state.
She sat demurely, on the stage, behind the maestro, Ravindra Kumarji, the celebrated singer who was in the throes of passion, his voice inextricably tangled with the melody provided by the others, seeking blessed, divine release. He squinted in concentration, arms moving about, tracing patterns in the air drawing from them, the effort required to push the notes out, with precision,just so.
Somnath Bhat saab tried to drive him on with his well-ejaculated ‘wah wah’, general expostulations of appreciation, and ‘kya baat hai’, awesome, would you look at that, in this case, hey, did you hear that, could you just believe what you heard? And the maestro beamed at him, spurred on to reach his peak.
Darya listened indifferently, and by now she was so used to Ravindra Kumarji’s ascents to the summits of his notes that she could even detect where he missed a step and even faltered, fumbling for a foothold.
She raised her eyelids and looked up.
The audience was oblivious.
Was that a note that hadn’t quite reached there?
Somnath Bhat saab wondered too, as his fingers drummed incessantly on the table. He looked at the audience. They had hardly noticed. Anyway, with the rhythmic pattering of the tabla, the pair of hand drums on which the player was playing, his palms held steady and fingers almost invisible in their speed, he assured himself, nobody would notice.
He attempted a more enthusiastic ‘Wah, Janaab’ , Wow, Sir!
Ravindra Kumarji looked up at Somnath Bhat saab and now the action was concentrated between the two.
They locked horns and the jugalbandi commenced. Jugalbandi or ‘Entwined twins’ was the most popular and much-awaited part of the performance, of the entire evening.
The listless audience, who most of the time, with the exception of the music-lover, the music-enthusiast, who attended every concert religiously, was there because they had been prevailed on to be the mandatory escort, chauffeur, or pretentious ass who needed to be seen at all the right places, or had a couple of complimentary passes.
The audience perked up. It was time for the tango. Really the chemistry between the two was incredible. The tension was palpable; they were on fire, these two.
Darya plucked at her strings rhythmically. She played the tanpura, a long-necked stringed instrument.
Her job was simple, she plucked at four strings, in a cycle, unerring in her timing and precision. There was no melody, but she added to the cycle of a sonic drone in the background against which Ravindra Kumarji and Somnath Bhat saab drew the source of their melody and used her notes as the base.
She played on, in a loop, effortlessly.
Darya was chosen by Ravindra Kumarji’s wife, Roshanji, who was her mother’s friend.
Roshanji played the sitar, another long-necked musical instrument, made famous all over the world by Pandit Ravi Shankar and his association with the Beatles and more recently by his beautiful and accomplished daughter, Anoushka Shankar.
Roshanji was a better sitar player than her husband was a singer, but she was condemned to the wings, Ravindra Kumarji not allowing her more solo time on stage than what was necessary.
Roshanji plucked at the strings of her sitar, with more force than necessary, for the Jugalbandi had commenced.
Really, the two seemed to forget the world around them.
Darya looked over, when she saw from the corner of her eye, Roshanji viciously tugging at the strings and Roshanji looked at her with a mad gleam in her eyes.
Oh, no, thought Darya, was she reaching breaking point?
She continued to pluck at her strings, effortlessly, serenely, on the surface at least.
She remembered how agitated Roshanji had been during the rehearsals when she was almost rendered invisible, the playful banter between the ‘entwined twins’ creating such magic. The planning and discussion of the act on stage extended beyond rehearsal hours, spilling over, behind closed doors.
Darya had touched Roshanji’s feet in respect, before leaving their home, and Roshanji asked her to stay back for some refreshing lime sherbet.
Darya could hardly refuse, she loved this quiet elegant woman who spoke so softly and dressed so elegantly, so unlike her mother. Darya needed money for college and this stint of playing the tanpura with this musician family helped. It hardly required any effort and the shenanigans often were a great source of drama and entertainment.
Darya had been the perfect choice as her classic beauty added to the old-world charm of a traditional concert. Darya would have been happy to perform in her jeans and tees but she could not dare to appear in a Hindustani classical music concert dressed inappropriately. Silk kurtas, tunics, the occasional silk saree gave her a bewitching look, made all the more appealing because she was the daughter of a beloved friend. Almost like a daughter of the house.
‘Don’t I look beautiful any more, my dear?’
‘Hmmmm,’Darya gulped and hastily spooned her sherbet down, before the conversation would take on a more dangerous tone.
‘ And my sitar…don’t you think I…?
The entwined twin act went on uninterrupted upstairs, the music now an assault, a sharp raucous contrast to the peaceful notes of Roshanji’s dulcet voice, drowning her words.
Roshanji directed a kohl-laden look in the direction of the door, from where her son, Rohan entered.
‘If it hadn’t been for my zabardasti, my insistence, I wouldn’t even had had my Roshan.’
Oh dear, how quickly could this mountain of sherbet be demolished?
Hardly tasting anything, Darya made a quick dash for the door, hurriedly muttering, ‘Amma will be wondering…’
And now Darya watched with incredulous eyes.
Ravindra Kumarji was raising his notes to an ecstatic pitch and Somnath Bhat saab was tapping measure for measure. Very soon they would reach the pinnacle of culmination and it would all be over.
Darya looked over at Roshanji who was thrumming her sitar passionately, fervently and vehemently, eyes flashing a brilliant black, seeking attention that would never come her way.
Nothing stayed hidden from her eyes.
She perceived, it was only a matter of time, before it would all be over.
Darya shut her eyes to the whole scene, concentrating only on the loop of her tanpura.
The familiar comforting loop, the underlying soothing notes, reassuring in their ease.