Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Some Memories Haunt You

Growing up, our radio occupied the pride of place in the family rooms of the various houses in which we lived. The radio was a wide, rectangular, wood-paneled Phillips model with gray serrated knobs for dials and square, off-white, push down buttons for the different wavelengths. Ameen Sayani's voice filled our home with his dulcet tones and simple commentary introducing beloved songs from Hindi cinema.

My aunt (my paternal uncle's wife) was a gold medalist at the state level in Carnatic music. My maternal grandmother played and taught the veena and the harmonium. My father and another of my paternal uncles broke into "Lambodara, Lakumikara" at the drop of a hat.

So there was no way I was going to escape from having to take music lessons.

Being the first grandchild on my mother's side, everyone was in awe (rarely justified, I will confess) of my supposed abilities at numerous activities. Singing was one of them.

My mother found a Carnatic music teacher for me when I was in fourth grade. We lived in Tumkur then (we moved every two years to a different town going wherever my father's work with a bank took us). My classes were in the evening, after school.

The teacher's house was about ten minutes away from our house by walk. His house itself was very modest. My teacher's family owned two cows and they supplemented their family income by selling the milk. The cows were tethered to the right side of the front door.

Inside, in the main room of the house (the "hall"), they had a large wooden vessel sitting on the redoxide floor and a long wooden stick resting in the vessel for churning butter out of buttermilk. The wooden stick was tethered to a pole loosely near the top and about three quarters of the way down, and in the center, it had a rope that had two large knots on either end.

The process of churning the buttermilk with this contraption is really simple and if you did not have to do it every single day, even fun.

You stand with your feet planted firmly against the vessel and hold on to the rope with both hands with the knots serving to hold your grip. Then you pull on each end of the rope alternatively. The wooden pole spins clockwise and anti-clockwise repeatedly and churns the buttermilk. After a while, you see chunks of butter floating to the top.

If I went in early and if my teacher was not ready to take my class yet, I churned butter while waiting. Dipping your fingers in and popping a fingerful of freshly churned butter into your mouth is everything it's chalked up to be, I assure you.

The room in which my teacher taught me singing was on the first floor, up a very narrow and steep flight of stairs at the back of the house.

One day, as my teacher and I were climbing up the stairs, I spied the moon between the trees. It was a spectacular full moon, creamy against the starless, velvety sky.

"The moon is so beautiful! You've got to see it!" I burst out.

A nanosecond later, my heart dropped. I wished the stairs would just fall away and take me with them. I was so ashamed, horrified, aghast at my own colossal stupidity. It is one of those things whose memory makes you cringe even years later.

A long, awkward silence followed at the end of which my teacher just cleared his throat. As he reached the top of the stairs, he ran his left hand along the wall, reached the door to the room on the left and slowly ran his hand along the door till he found the light switch.

He turned on the light. It was for my benefit alone because it was of no use to him. He knelt down and felt around the floor under the switch for the mats. He handed me one, spread one out for himself, sat down with his back against the wall and asked me where we had stopped last.

The class began. But it was a life lesson I learned that day.


The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

lovely piece sujatha. remember, you were only a child though. hugs

Pritika Gupta said...

i liked the way u naratted the incident

Shruthi said...

A very moving story. And beautifully, poignantly narrated. And yes, I second Shoefiend's statement.

Anonymous said...

lovely writing sujatha.

i used to be an exam writer for blind students and have done this same thing a few times.

Anonymous said...

sorry but i totally missed the focal point of your narrative. i had to read the comments to understand it.

i guess i can blame it on a conversation we had in the office today, about tomorrow being a lunar eclipse and how when we were kids, we had been told not to look at the [full] moon during a lunar eclipse. i just glossed over the rest of your narration because, for instance, in a dark room, one would need to traverse the wall with one's fingers to get to the switch...

- s.b.

Anonymous said...

I third shoefiend's statement.

Tina said...

Nicely written...and yes the last part did stop my heart for a nanosecond.

Cuckoo said...

Beautiful piece of writing. I read your posts quite often if not regularly. I agree with shoe fiend's statement. I understood the scenario immediately.

Chitra said...

Sakkathaagide :)!

Artnavy said...

So poignant and evocative- did u do justice to your master and classes after that?