The dark auditorium, lifeless souls around, doing nothing but gazing at the stage, the lit-up stage – what would any child like Cookie do? She would try to catch the attention of her mother or father or both and start crying, demanding a chocolate or an ice-cream, right?
Cookie, the daughter of a Sitarist, silently kept observing the human form on the stage, her un-Phenerganic eyes riveted on the artiste, ready to react to any note, false or the right one.
Come on man; show me you are better than my Dad.
We gave up all hopes of her slipping into sleep.
The Ustad customarily sought the permission of an elder musician seated in the front seat, to start his performance. The tabla player, arms akimbo, politely smiled at the Ustad and the audience and nodded. I think tabla players should be given a special citation for just sitting through the laborious alaaps. It is time some musicologist gets a doctorate on this subject. What would they be thinking all this while? They almost resemble pieces of sculpture in Madame Tussauds wax museum.
From the front row, an elderly man raised his hand to grant his blessings to the Ustad and motioned him to begin. Cookie observed all of this and looked at me, with an unspoken question: “Why don’t you follow this ritual at home?”
Imrat Khan finally plucked across the sympathetic strings with his right hand fingernail. Someone in the audience applauded this exhilarating sequence of notes, probably having been coached by his knowledgeable friend. He just wanted to be the first to applaud the great Ustad. Thankfully the Ustad didn’t either notice it or didn’t mind it.
For the uninitiated in classical music, the alaap is the most boring part of the recital. “It is just some adjustments of the strings before the artiste launches into a feverish fast tempo taans,” they reason.
So once the artiste is into his alaap for a few minutes, the auditorium usually resounds with collective yawns. But having paid a hefty sum to be there, the never-say-die people sit through the elaborate alaaps, hoping that the fast taans to follow will duly compensate for the boredom. For the general public, it is the last part of a Sitar recital, called the jhaalaa that draws the maximum cheers.
However, Cookie was in a category of her own. She wriggled in the arms of her mother and tried to raise her head for a better view of the challenger to her Dad. What was he doing now? She even raised her hand apparently asking him to get on with it without any fear or embarrassment.
The moment the Ustad played his first note, Cookie let out a soft cry of appreciation “Ae….!” She was endowed with soft vocal chords anyway so no one noticed it. She looked at me for encouragement but I was too scared to fall into the trap.
As the Ustad got emboldened, touching more and more notes, Cookie could not contain her emotions and let out a series of ‘Ae…s’
This was the defining moment, I was afraid of. The situation could get out of control, enough to warrant cancellation of the programme so without wasting more time I asked Ranjana to take her out of the auditorium and try to get her to fall asleep. More of this un-rehearsed jugalbandi between the Ustad and Cookie was fraught with danger.
Ranjana got up and proceeded towards the exit door near the stage, with the hyper-appreciative Cookie in her arms. I watched them with a sense of trepidation. As they approached the stage to turn towards the exit gate, Cookie’s kicking of her legs and raising her tiny arms in appreciation reached an alarming level, like honeybees buzzing over a flower. For one moment, the Ustad looked up at this tiny bundle, smiled and carried on with his alaap and I finally watched them disappear through the gate out in the foyer.
I had almost gotten up an inch from my seat, bracing myself, ready to rescue the situation. But seeing them pass through the exit door I settled back and tried in vain to listen to the world class artist. My attention shifted from the stage to the exit door all the time throughout the alaap session of the recital.
Ranjana should be back any minute with the sleeping child and re-occupy her seat. What would be happening there in the foyer?
My mind was not at all in listening mode.
The alaap lasted a full 30 minutes and there was no sign of mother and sleeping child making their way back.
The alaap ended and the Sitarist motioned to the tabla player to tune up his drums and used the time to re-tune his own instrument as well. Waste of time, according to many. Prisoners of outdated and useless rituals!
I jumped at this break in the recital and quietly made my way out into the foyer to check what was going on.
My goodness, this girl! She was moving around, giggling and playing with her mother. Ranjana too joined the fun. Whatever happened to the Phenergan was a mystery. Here was a child playing with gay abandon with her mother, and then I joined them too.
It was futile to get her to sleep now. The Phenergan had been vanquished. The joy of music that we expected from the recital turned into the joy of watching the playful child. Going back into the auditorium seemed out of question now. Instead, it would be more fun to play with this little devil at home.
Why not leave and get back home and continue with the fun there?
All along the way back home she kept singing her nursery rhymes and assorted tunes.
She played till wee hours of the morning.
I realized that she had inherited one more peculiar trait from her Dad. Most people with an iota of love for any kind of music tend to fall asleep listening to good music of their choice. I am different. I could lie in the bed for hours listening to good music, enjoying and analyzing it in my mind, over and over. Put some bad music on and I promptly get into sleep mode. Do you see?
Is it possible that she didn’t think too highly of the music of the Ustad and waved goodbye to him in her own special way? (I have better things to do, Ustad ji!)
The music was just too good to keep her in her seat and she wanted to sit on his lap while he played, just like she was used to with her Dad?
The alcohol content in Phenergan propped her up all night in a state of euphoria?
We would never know. I am too afraid to ask the grown up Cookie now. The smile on the face of Ustad Imrat Khan, as she went past the stage, said it all; a mysterious smile that only Cookie and Ustad might be able to unravel.
Cookie and her parents had all the fun.
The Ustad must have completed his recital to the rapturous applause from the motley audience.
The Ustad’s inner child made him smile at her.
The high society people in the audience must have had a go at the khamans and dhoklas and other savoury snacks during the intermission.
Cookie’s Dad came home victorious, as the contest did not even happen.
Ahmedabad took one giant step towards becoming a great hub for classical music – it eventually did.
Life is unpredictable – Phenergan proved that.
And mostly fun.
Cookie with her mother, Ranjana