Sunday 10 June 2012

And the music goes on ...

Aadesh and Sanshi exchanged anxious glances: No music today, please!
The loud notes blaring across the verandah were as usual drowning the news being read over the radio, but today was critical for Aadesh. He had to present an analysis of two morning bulletins in his office meeting.
The couple had a baby to bring up, and it was impossible to run the family on just Aadesh’s salary. To supplement their income they had sub-let their sprawling government-provided accommodation. It was illegal, but in the 1960s and even early 1970s everyone rented out their servant quarters, what with incomes being just above subsistence levels.
The music came from their tenants’ room. Ramanna, the husband, was also in government service. His wife Samya was a stay-at-home mom, like Sanshi. They had two sons, both of school-going age.
Samya loved to play loud music.
Digital sketch: Harjeet
They looked normal enough as a pair, but for some oddities that left Sanshi wondering how they had managed to stick it out so long.
When they moved in with little baggage, despite the two boys in tow, the reticent Sanshi decided to turn nosy. “That’s all you have?” she asked Samya.
“I don’t believe in collecting garbage. Use and throw – that’s my motto,” came the careless reply.
And furniture? “Minimal. Two double beds, two chairs and one table … what more do we need?” Samya added.
Two trunkfuls of clothes and an assortment of vessels made up the rest of their belongings.
Samya was ahead of her times. She sported bob-cut hair and always wore brightly coloured sleeveless shirts over loose pants and shiny, pointed shoes. That was how she liked to be seen, whether in the kitchen or out shopping.
Cooking, of course, was a mish-mash of whatever came to hand in the morning. She cooked only once a day. The children had no choice but to eat whatever she served up.
Sanshi, herself a fabulous cook, was aghast. Aadesh warned her to stay out of their tenants’ affairs.
“It’s their life, they seem happy the way they are, so why interfere? It’s none of our business,” he stressed.
Easier said than done, this, considering that the large windows of the master bedroom and the kitchen opened into the verandah, across which Ramanna and Samya had set up house in the servant quarters.
The morning after the tenants had moved in, Sanshi was rudely woken up by the sound of loud, raucous music. She rushed to the kitchen and peeped out. Samya was cooking. But it was what Ramanna was doing that stopped Sanshi in her tracks. She pulled Aadesh out of bed. “Look at what’s going on outside,” she urged him.
Ramanna was standing on one leg, loudly reciting “Om Namah Shivaye” – apparently deaf to the sound of Samya’s music.
They were stumped. The routine was played out daily. Ramanna’s placid countenance betrayed no sign of annoyance at the music his wife obviously loved to sway to. Samya on her part appeared completely oblivious to her husband’s religious chanting.
Sanshi told Aadesh that weekend the little she had gleaned from the bird-brained Samya. The tenants had fallen in love at college, and eloped after Ramanna’s parents refused to allow the “too modern” Samya into their household. That explained why he was so tolerant of her, but why was she the way she was?
The next week unravelled that mystery too. She came from a very rich family and had no notion of how to run the house. Dining out those days was an option few in their situation could afford.
By trial and error, she had figured out how to fry an egg, put together a sandwich and make crude chapatis. Ramanna loved rice, and they had learnt that adding vegetables or lentils to the rice when it was being cooked produced an edible enough concoction.
“Sanshi,” Ramanna said one day when Samya was away on one of her flighty expeditions. “I am a foodie, but know little about cooking. For Samya’s sake I eat whatever she cooks. But I know it is not fair on the children as well.”
He hesitated, adding: “The wonderful smells that waft in from your kitchen have set me thinking. I feel wretched that the children are deprived of good food. Is it possible that you could persuade her to cook a little like you do?”
“I’ll do what I can,” Sanshi promised.
“Please don’t even hint to her that I asked this of you, or she will walk out on me,” Ramanna pleaded.
Sanshi set Aadesh to work on it. He loved children, so he would call them over to share story books, and Sanshi would treat them to some of her famous savouries.
It was a matter of days before the boys started pestering their mother for similar dishes. Upset at first, Samya tried to keep them indoors and avoided the landlord’s family. However, endearing little Mohna was too much of an attraction for Samya. She liked to play with the child while his mother attended to her own house.
Sanshi began to invite Samya to lunch now and then. She saw her getting interested in the food, and subtly dropped cooking tips which, to her delight, Samya diligently tried to follow.
They became good friends, and soon the two families were dining together occasionally, sometimes with Samya playing the hostess.
Under Sanshi’s affectionate tutelage, Samya came to cook almost as well as her.
In the three years that Ramanna was posted in the city, he refused to take up residence elsewhere. His family life had improved no end. His children were now nicely plump and happy, they played every evening instead of listlessly dreading the next meal, he came home eager to taste the next dish that Samya had learnt to cook, and both families went out to wonderful picnics when the sun shone in winter.
The only unchanged feature of their family life was the morning scene.
Breakfast and tiffin could not be prepared without morning music, and the religious Ramanna could not start his day without chanting “Om Namah Shivaye” a hundred times, standing on one leg.
For Aadesh and Sanshi, it was difficult to explain to young Mohna why, one fine day, the music went missing from their mornings.
Ramanna had been posted to a distant town, and the family had moved out.
Mohna, who later joined the same school where Samya’s children had studied, learnt from his schoolmates over Facebook years later that the family now ran a chain of stores selling Indian food across multiple locations in South East Asia. His Facebook friends did not forget to mention: “Each store plays loud Indian music too.”


  1. Amazing one as usual!Makes me wonder that after all there are some well intentioned "nosey-neighbours" too!! :D

  2. Thoroughly njoyed the 'And the Music goes on..' chapter.Sting in the tale made it more interesting. Wd like to read the book in full. Wishes Avi

  3. Nice story :)