Never mind the stern announcement to limit the break to a miserly 10 minutes slot, the much-awaited interval extended to almost 30 minutes. The indefatigable Ramesh Rathod ended up breaking his own record of 6 calls to get the exalted audience back into the auditorium.
“Jigenshbhai, you are staying back for the post-interval part of the ‘pogram’, right?” asked Sevantilal, a fifty something businessman with his hair dyed jet black. His wife, Mrunalini devi, following him, with her 10 year-old son in the tow, folded her hands and burst into chaste Hindi “ Bilkul rahenge; hamare pote Partha ko singing competition mein prize jo milaa hai …”.
She lovingly patted Partha, “Namaste karo betey, Uncle ko”
Partha, busy eyeing the kulfi counter, was jolted into the conversation, “Namaste Uncle, Namaste Auntie”
Jigensh’s wife, barely able to stand upright on her recently operated knees, had to step in at the precise moment to rescue her grinning husband, “kem nahi, ben. Kitnaa pyaaraa bachcha! Bahot aage jaane wala hai ye bachcha. Lekin Bhai saab aur aapko wakt kahaa miltaa hai hamere gareeb khane me ab, Chamber of Commerce ke president jo ban gaye hai” ( “Why not, sister? What a cute little boy Partha is? He is destined to go places! But after Bhai Saab became the President of Chamber of Commerce you guys have never visited us!”)
Hailing from North India – how she ended up marrying the quintessential Gujarati Sevntilal is another story – Mrunalaini was the only soul in the town that the grand old ladies had to speak to in Hindi. “Nahi jee, aisee koi baat nahi hai. Ye itne busy rahte hai… bas poochhiye mat…. (No, it is not like that. He keeps so busy ….)
The voice of Ramesh Rathod was getting louder and louder on the sound system.
Jignesh was not alone to be sucked into the ritual of watching and applauding the prize-winners – unfolding next in the auditorium. Almost all the rest, who were brave enough to enter the auditorium after downing the sumptuous kachaudis, by virtue of their being the parents of the prize-winners, were obliged to witness the drama.
It was already 9:45 PM. Both the Ustads, waiting in the Green room, for their turn to play some thumri and the mandatory bhairavi had helped themselves to countless plates of kachaudis.
The organizers were in a huddle to sort out an important issue of deciding on the ‘zentalman’ to take over the position of Chief Guest from the battle scarred Hansrajbhai, coolly savouring the massage to his legs by one of his in-house servants at home.
The stage itself had been rearranged by the enthusiastic volunteers and now showed half-a-dozen chairs with a long table in the front on which some 25 small and big gleaming trophies had been lined up.
The choice had to fall on Sevantilal.
The curtain rose to the excited audience that numbered no more than 30 souls in the auditorium. Like Mohanbhai, all the rest of the music lovers had some ‘important guests’ at their homes.
Ramesh Rathod was back on the mike, “Ladiez and Zentalmen. I have two important announcements. One good and the other…… bad”. No one applauded at this old joke, for a change.
He paused to readjust his spectacles, “ the bad news is that the latest rules require all loud entertainment ‘pograms’ must be over by 10 PM. I am sure we will have more opportunities to listen to the great artistes again, in near ‘phew-char’”
The only connoisseur couple in the auditorium, satiated with Kande pohe, quietly got up and left the scene.
“Now, Zentalmen, for the prize distribution ceremony we requested our well known industrialist and our supporter Shri Sevantilal to preside over the function and distribute.” Turning to Sevantilal, occupying the pride of centrally placed chair on the stage, ”On behalf of the ‘peepal’ ( people) of this sanskari nagari (Cultured city) I wish to put on record my sincerest thanks to Shri Sevantilal for agreeing to do the honour.”
The thirty-something souls cheered uncontrollably.
After all, each one had at least one child who was shortly to be awarded a prize or a consolation prize.
“The music competition was arranged by the untiring efforts of our local musician Guru Shri Sureshbhai, under the guidance and supervision of our organizing team. It has been decided to award consolation prize to each participant to encourage them to do even better in the coming years”
Poor Sureshbhai, seated last in the chair, behind the front row of chairs acknowledged the mention of his name with a weak wave of hand that no one noticed.
“And, now, ladies and Zental men, the much awaited prize distribution that you have been eagerly waiting for” The Chairman seated next to the Chief Guest, bent sideways and cupped his palm to say “Kaain takaleef nathee ne saaheb?” (Hope you are comfortable, Sir). The Chief Guest in turn nodded benevolently and looked on. The audience, particularly the wife of the Chairman, assumed it must be something very important.
“The first prize goes to….. Nandini” boomed Ramesh.
The tiny figure of a pony tailed girl materialized from somewhere, stepped on to the stage from the wrong end, to the chagrin of the Vice Chairman, bowed to the audience, smiled and stood in front of Suresh Sir.
The Vice Chairman took her hand and made her stand in front of the ever-smiling Sevantilal. The photographer pulled up a chair hastily from nearby and stood atop to snap a picture of the first prize winner receiving the gleaming trophy.
“Next,…. the first runners up prize goes to … none other than Paaaaaarthaaa, the grandson of our very own Sevnatilal jee.” The entire auditorium resounded with cheers.
Mrunalini, the proud mother, who had gotten up to snap the momentous event, was all smiles, dressed in the finest Banarasi sari and exquisite jewellery. As the applause took a little longer to die down, she resumed in her seat, acknowledging the personal congratulations from ladies around.
“Poor Paarth too sang very well that day but he had this throat infection, you know” She explained to no one in particular.
“Of course, after all he has to carry the great music tradition you brought from Banaras.” Mrs. Jignesh was not to be quiet for long.
The ritual of Prize distribution continued for another 45 minutes. It was followed by the mandatory speech by Sevantilal, a vote of thanks by the Vice Chairman, the final hugs with a promise to ‘koparate’ even better in the ‘phewchar’ events. The artistes were led to the only 3-star hotel in the town by the Treasurer where they gorged themselves to whatever vegetarian fare that the hotel restaurant could manage.
After everyone left, the sweeper couple finished their task, humming a song on their lips “Dukh bhare din bitere bhaiyaa ab sukh aayo re”
(The sorrowful day is finally over; happy days are here again)