Saturday, August 26, 2006

The master earned his living

She sat down on the choir mat with a red border. It was a hot afternoon and she could see the sweat beads on master’s forehead. Mother brought a steaming hot cup of coffee and laid it down by master’s side in a shining steel tumbler. Why does he drink hot coffee on a hot afternoon? She pushed aside this thought and cleared her throat for the day’s lessons. His teeth look so crooked and stained, how ugly she thought. She saw him take a few gulps of the hot coffee noisily. In the few seconds of silence while he took his coffee, she could hear the hum of the ceiling fan. She noticed his clean white shirt with patterns of sweat. She could see the sacred thread across his chest. She looked away at the cup on the floor so she could look at something more pleasant. She cleared her throat again. He adjusted his thick black spectacles and wiped the sweat off his forehead with a white hand-kerchief and stuffed it back into his shirt pocket. He started playing the shruti potti (tuning instrument). “Ahm..” he said, signaling her to start with the usual “Sa, Pa, Sa”. He followed on before she could finish. He sang the Arahonam and Avarohanam for "Bhairavi". She waited for this moment. It never failed to happen. That moment of transformation. The man who looked so unappealing to her physically now filled up the room with his reverberant voice. He became the object of her envy. Every note in its place. Precisely. She wanted to prostrate before him at that moment. Bow to his talent. He was the guru. Not any ordinary person in front of her. She yearned to sing like him. And he did it so effortlessly. She listened intently and repeated after him as he began the song. She felt like a little child looking up to her teacher. How does he do it? Why does it come to him so easily? She sensed the note falling out of tune as she kept the beat while letting her mind wander in desperation. “Yerangardhu paaru”(note is off key), he said casually. She had hoped he wouldn’t have noticed. He sang a few lines for her to follow after. What a deep voice, what sense of control, she thought to herself. She looked down for a second to see the envelope to be given to him at the end of the class. Five hundred rupee notes. She felt a lump in her throat, cleared her voice and started over.