Mohmad Khan again shaded his eyes to finally estimate the number of people in the auditorium. Aslam had nothing more to do other than twiddling his thumbs.
A charming girl in her teens, all decked up, joined the artistes to strum the taanpura. Like many others in the audience, our Mohanbhai now had something to focus on.
The great evening raga Yaman was about to unfold.
Mohmad khan glided his left hand fingers over the scale in one swift jerk from Sa (The note C in the middle octave) all the way back to Dha (The note A) of the mandra saptak (lower octave) and with a similar flourish back to Sa – a traditional way to begin the alaap. Aslam looked at Mohmad khan in admiration while Mohanbhai’s neighbor let out “Kyaa baat hai” (a n exclamatory appreciation) extending his right hand towards the artiste; Mohmad Khan nodded in acknowledgement.
Mohan bhai, who had his first brush with a classical recital, stared at his neighbor and wondered why the 5 feet something guy was asking the artiste what the matter was. (The literal meaning of the exclamation – what is the matter?)
“May be they are still tuning their instrument” he concluded and struggled to whip out from his trouser pocket his iphone that had suddenly woken up with a loud alert.
“Ae hello. …. Badhu barabar chhe ahiyaa. ….Shun kidhu?….Na bhai naa, naahak maari chintaa kare chhe….Baabo sui gayo….. zaadaa ulti bandh thai gayaa? … le, … ae haa, pogram maa chhun… naa naa haji to aa loko tuning kare chhe…..”
(Hi, hello, everything is fine here with me…What are you saying?..No no, please stop worrying about me…is our son all right now? No throwing up, no loose motions?… I am in this music event.. no no it hasn’t started yet… the artistes are still tuning their instruments…)
The Marathi maanus tapped Mohanbhai’s shoulders “ Aataa gap bas…” (Now, will you be quiet ?)
The Sarangi Ustad, unmindful of half a dozen mobile phone conversations in the auditorium, concentrated on his task ahead.
For Aslam Khan it was the usual exercise, trying his best to stay composed and interested, occasionally crossing his arms around his torso, then releasing it, checking the spongy cotton covers on the top of the two tablas and struggling to avoid looking at the assorted activities of the organizers through the side entrance to the stage. Such was the plight of all tabla players, to stay glued to his seat to the right of the main artiste; supposedly to establish a rapport with the exalted audience.
Presently, Ramesh Rathod, having successfully steered the event so far, sat on a low stool next to the side entrance and sipped strong, sweet tea in a plastic cup. All around him whatsapp messages flew in and out, on impressive mobile phones of all hues, mostly centered around the latest health bulletin of Hansraj bhai.
Mohamad Khan had now warmed up to reach the Pancham (the note G) in his alap. His eyes appeared closed to everyone in the auditorium except to his buddy Aslam Khan, who by virtue of his being a junior artiste did his best not to appear anxious. He knew Mohamad Khan had this innate super vision eye to ensure Aslam behaved at all time and kept appreciating the finger work on Sarangi.
The Chairman was furiously engaged in a furious debate with his team – the nightmare of every organizer – that of ensuring accommodation for the artiste duo in the only three-star hotel in the town and figuring out who all would accompany them to the railway station in the wee hours tomorrow and lastly, who should be given the privilege of ‘expression of thanks to the artistes, patrons of the likes of Hansraj bhai, the sponsors, the tireless organization team members, the agency that provided the music system, the owners of the auditorium and last but not the least the audience without whose support….. etc etc
The innumerable number of cups of tea that the artiste duo had downed before the event was sure to cause some natural discomfort. Thankfully, the main artiste who was busy displaying his skills had no time to think about it but Aslam Khan was in a pitiable situation. He had nothing to do except biding his time. He made a non-verbal plea to Mohmad Khan in vain. The tradition dictated that the tabla accompanist remain glued to his seat, while the main artiste went about his business, but in no case he would leave the stage.
Mohamad Khan was now on the verge of finishing his course as he vigorously and dexterously manipulated his fingers to slide into the upper octave. The gunijans (connoisseurs) exploded into a wave of applause. Mohan bhai was all at sea, not knowing if he could get up to relieve himself. Jignesh pretended to understand the esoteric alap, occasionally checking his mobile phone for important business messages.
The rowdy elements at the back had a whale of time, moving in and out of the auditorium from the exits at the back, in the dark without compunction.
At last the alap came to a grand close. Mohamad Khan bowed to the audience several times to acknowledge. Aslam khan kept up a brave face, wondering if an opportunity would come his way to finish his brand of natural alap.
Ramesh Rathod was not to let this opportunity slip. He strode onto the stage to make an announcement or two. He entered the stage clapping more vigorously than others, wringing his head in mock disbelief at the once-in-a-life time alap. He reached all the way to his favourite instrument – the microphone;
“What a marvelous rendition Khan Saheb! We are all overwhelmed. Permit me to make an important announcement.” Mohmad Khan tried his best to hide his disapproval while Aslam Khan seized the opportunity, got up, exited the stage and bolted towards the comfort room.
Hear the the booming voice of the indomitable Ramesh Rathod on the mike,
“Thank you Khan Saheb.
Ladiez and Zentalmen, please do not leave your seat. I know you are looking forward to taste the famous kachaudis outside in the auditoriu, but they are not ready yet. So please bear with me and stay in your seats till the artistes finish their recital….. Thank you for your ‘koparashun’ (Cooperation). Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Here we have the great Aslam Khan……(looking for Aslam next to Mohamad Khan) …Oh, he will be back soon to regale you with his performance. Thank you for your ‘koparashun’. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Ramesh Rathod crossed Aslam Khan who had just returned from his unavoidable mission, acknowledging the welcome applause that Ramesh Rathod had prompted.
As the artistes sat down the tuning exercise for the tabla started. Mohanbhai looked pensively around but wisely decided not to expose his ignorance of the ‘tradition’ in front of the Gunijan seated next to him.
The voice of the incorrigible Ramesh Rathod was heard loud and clear, “I appeal the audience to keep absolute silence while the artistes are tuning their instruments”
Mohamad Khan eyed Aslam Khan with a piercing look that said “Betaa tu aaj dekh lena, jara sambhalke. Naani yaad aa jaayegi aaj” (Dude, just watch out today, I am going to give you the hell)
Aslam Khan finally gave the finishing touch to tune his tabla with a heavy slap on the tablas and offered a sheepish smile to Mohamad Khan.
Mohamad Khan started his composition. Aslam Khan picked up the beats at the right moment and triumphantly launched into a lengthy series of wizardry tabla moves that went on for a full five avartans (cycles) to the dismay of Mohamad Khan.
The Gunijans gave the customary ovation at the end of the first flourish from Aslam Khan.
The audience too was in a far better receptive mood now that the element of rhythm was introduced.
There were times during the recital when both the artistes looked like competing to come to standstill beat. The carefully rehearsed silence of beats triggered immediate applause from the Gunijans. Mohan bhai, always in the hamletisn dilemma – to leave not to leave – kept praying for the closure of the event.
Fortunately the animosity between the two artistes had no visible or audible effect on their performance. The focus light on the artistes had a debilitating effect on the artistes, particularly the decked up taanpura (accompanying drone instrument) girl who had to keep wiping her face off perspirations.
The combined sounds of the sarangi and the tablas were enough to muffle the regular mobile phone ring tones in the auditorium.
Thankfully, the artistes decided to end their recital with a high pitched crescendo. The audience burst into a thunderous applause as the artistes looked on with folded hands.
While Jigneshbhai waited for his wife to join him from the back rows, Mohanbhai swiftly made his way through the rows towards the exit door in search of his holy grail. The Gunijan neighbor in the next seat was debating whether the kachaudis were worth sacrificing the front row seat that he occupied. His wife cautiously took out a plastic bag of homemade ‘kande pohe’ ( a savoury dish made of onions and flattened light dry rice flakes) from her oversized purse, handed a white plastic spoon to her husband lovingly commanding him “Ghyaa” (have it)
The kachaudi counter was a picture of mayhem in the foyer. Mohanbhai had managed to be the first in the queue but the crowd pushing from behind caused his spicy chutney to spill onto his white kurta. (loose shirt). Right at that moment Rameshbhai materialized from nowhere, “Arey, Mohanbhai, enjoying the ‘pogram’ (program) ?“ and before Mohan could respond he slipped, bringing the contents of Mohan’s plate down.
“Arey, arey, Ramsehbhai, easy easy. Of course the ‘pogram’ was excellent but I think I will have to rush home – just got an important message from a friend”
“No problem, Mohanbhai. Thanks for coming. Please attend our ‘phyu…cher pograms’ from now on. You will love them”
Mohanbhai made his way out of the crowd.
The Artistes would now have to be content with one less applause after the intermission.
“Bhaago Mohan Pyaare….bhaago”