Rhythm and Blues
This story is my humble tribute to the wonderful world of music and dance.
Chap 1: Follow Your Dreams
Chennai city one December evening:
It was a pleasant evening in this major metropolis of the south. This city has a reputation of being more or less not a very ‘happening’ place when compared to the other major hot spots in the country. But things have started to perk up. Many more shopping plazas such as malls, chic restaurants, and other means for time pass entertainment besides the traditional movies, classical music and dance shows had added more columns to the city’s CV. The noveau riche from the professional 20 – 30 some things had started showing interest in spending rather than conserving their sizable incomes that was diametrically opposite to the Pravachans of their fathers and forefathers. But then who cares?
Yet there were some things that hadn’t changed and perhaps never would such as the welcoming of each new day with the haunting chant of ‘Suprabhatam,’ on the radio, the refreshing aroma of South Indian filter coffee, the humongous crowds lining up outside cinema theatres to watch Rajni God’s movies, and the ritual congregation of our ‘Gossip Ammas (mothers)’ every evening at the corner temple. As Schools, colleges, government offices and banks closed down for the day; children, youngsters and adults made their way back home to relax and rejuvenate.
One among them was a sprightly young woman in a bright blue-green cotton salwar suit, riding one of the innumerable Scooties which plastered the busy streets every day. She made her way down Cathedral, turned left on Binny then headed toward Stella Maris College, one of the premiere institutes of higher education for young women in Chennai. Parking in front of the gates, she frantically searched the faces of the young women drifting out, hoping she hadn’t missed her cousin again. Removing her helmet, she shook out her thick wavy black hair, and pulled out her mobile.
As she waited for a response, her wandering eyes spotted her cousin’s familiar slim figure across the street at a bus stop apparently enjoying a tete- a- tete with a tall young man dressed in standard office attire. Sensing a mixture of relief and irritation, she crossed over and tried to catch her attention. When several attempts were not met with success rather stirred up unwanted male interest she hollered;
Shreya stopped her chatter mid sentence and looked up to find her cousin Khanak, looking her usual bright and beautiful self, not so subtly waggling her eyebrows at her.
With a markedly guilty look on her face, she hurried up to her cousin without so much as a goodbye to her good looking companion.
“Sorry di, but when you didn’t show up I thought I’d take the bus home,” she blurted out in a hurry in an attempt to ward off the inevitable questions that were bound to follow.
But Khanak was too sharp to be dissuaded so easily. Turning her scootie around and indicating her cousin to sit behind her she said sternly,
“Accha bahana dhoondha hai! (You have found a great excuse) Disn’t I call just 10 min ago saying that I’m running a little late? Did you forget everything after seeing Mr. Cool Dude?”
“No di (elder sister) I…”
“Leave it! I was just teasing!” Khanak laughed, “but you have been very secretive! Never mentioned your bus stop buddy! What’s up?”
“Khanak! Shreya said relieved. “Thank Heavens! You really had me really scared there for a while! I was just advancing my Swayamvar (self selection of husband)!”
“What? Are you planning to get married? Or run away? What will mom and dad say when they find out or do they already know and am I the only one steering blind?”
“No Khanak it’s not what you think! Anyways these things wouldn’t make sense to a crackpot like you who always is in favor of ‘Life taking its own course.’ But that’s not me, I believe in action. I’ve already started the procedure of audition and elimination. It may take a few years before I find him but I anticipate loads of fun in the process! What say Ms. Dancing Doll, shall I start one for you too? Will surely get applicants aplenty with your incredible allure and out of the world talents!” Shreya giggled; her excitement infectious.
Khanak laughed but shook her head vehemently, “Thanks but no thanks! You are not going to change my mind. In fact you are sure to get into trouble soon yourself! Better abandon these foolhardy projects! Where do you get these ideas? Concentrate on your studies and work on standing on your own two wobbly feet first and everything else will follow. As I’ve always said, for every person, God has made someone else somewhere. Believe me, he works in mysterious ways!”
“Okay Di! No one can win with you! By the way, how are the preparations for the grand finale tomorrow night? Isn’t it going to be Kalakshetra’s first attempt at performing this dance drama? I’m so excited and you in the lead role would be like icing on the cake! Isn’t it?”
Khanak smiled. Yes she’d been waiting in the wings for too long. Tomorrow she would get her long awaited dues.
Dakshin, Park Sheraton:
Shantanu was in culinary paradise as he worked his way slowly through the South Indian sampler at the popular Dakshin restaurant. His palate had never before savored such a myriad blend of exotic flavors and heady combination of fresh spices. Everything so different from his native fare yet still very much Indian. He was glad that he’d taken his friend Abhay’s advice and gone easy on breakfast and lunch for an empty stomach was a prerequisite to do justice to the sumptuous spread.
As he slurped up the savory Sambhar and took another bite of the unusual yet delicious Banana dosa, Abhay chipped in, “didn’t I tell you? Now you owe me one!” He chuckled.
“Oh definitely! I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this for anything! Waah! This beats continental any day! Maybe I can send Dibubhai here to get coached. Wonder if they’ll part with their recipes. Thanks for insisting on bringing me here!’ He relaxed back in his chair. “What a wonderful week we’ve had. Great music, dance and food! I’m already having withdrawal symptoms and we haven’t even left yet,” he said, a look of profound regret coming over his classically handsome features.
“Ha!” Abhay exclaimed shaking his head, “You are always one for melodrama. Behave like regular people for a change!”
“No Abhay! I’m serious. I swear! After coming here, thanks to you, I’ve realized that our country has so much to offer that a lifetime may not be enough to explore it. We should celebrate our culture so the whole world sits up and pays attention! In fact I’m thinking of including some Bharathnatyam in our show. What do you think Abhay?” His eyes shone with excitement.
“That’s a great idea Shan! It’ll be a first, but how?”
“Yes, how?” Shan repeated pensively while watching the musicians play live mellifluous Carnatic (South Indian Classical) music. His hands and feet kept involuntary rhythm with the talam (beat).“Let’s sleep on it tonight. Meanwhile, if we don’t hurry we are sure to miss the opening act of the Grand finale performance.”
“Oh Yes, I almost forgot! Kalakshetra’s putting on Shakuntala for the first time! What a way to end the season!”
“Yes, isn’t it? I’m curious as to who would play the title role!”
“Me too. Let’s go!”
The following morning on the day they were supposed to return to Mumbai, Abhay woke up to the strains of guitar coming from the adjoining room. It was unusual, not only because Shan was up before 10 but also because he was strumming his guitar and singing too! Though his instrument always tagged along wherever he went, he rarely found occasion to play it. When asked his usual reply would be that he was waiting for inspiration.
Hmm, seems like he did get what he was looking for! Abhay smiled recalling Shan’s demeanor during the show last night. He had sat still throughout, spellbound. His eyes fixed on the stage, more so on just one particular performer; the strikingly beautiful star of the show. In fact, almost the entire audience had watched the whole hour and a half dance drama in perfect silence. The dancers had brought the classic tale of love, loss and redemption to life. But the heroine had stolen the show and captured their minds by her stupendous performance.
Tune mujhe pehchana nahin
Jana main koi anjaana nahin
Aashiq hun main tere naam ka
Deewana hun main deewana nahin
(You didn’t recognize me
Sweetheart, I’m no stranger
I’m the lover of your name
I’m mad with love, not a madman)
Shan did not have the remotest idea why he was singing the song. He felt compelled by an unknown yet irrepressible force. He knew it had something to do with the intense emotional experience he had undergone the night before, something with almost no parallel. The image of Shakuntala (he hadn’t paid attention to her real name) had taken a permanent residence in his mind. He had never before come across such a combination of beauty, grace and talent, not even in his own well known dance company. She seemed to breathe life into her art and that was the best compliment he could give anybody.
Just then his mobile rang. He picked it up reluctantly and soon the bliss on his face vanished.
The Bustling Shopping District of T- Nagar:
“Don’t worry Shan. Such things do occur and we have to be prepared. So what if Natasha has broken her ankle? It’s a shame yes, but we still have her understudy. What’s her name…?”
“Simran. She’s alright but not as good as Tash, and this is not some run of the mill kind of set up. It’s our piece de resistance, and Tash is our show stopper. But now she’s out of commission and left me high and dry! And why the hell have you brought me here, this fish market?” Shan muttered irritably; the surrounding melee rendering sane thought impossible.
They were in a gigantic jewelry store that Abhay had stepped in to shop for a token gift for his wife, in order to placate her for leaving suddenly without notice.
“Sorry man! But if I give Sush some gold she will stop asking questions. And I heard this place was one of the best in town. Tell me, will this earrings suit your bhabhi (sister-in-law) better or this one?” Abhay held up the precious trinkets to his ears.
“May all the women in the world have husbands like you! I’m leaving!” His friend retorted and wandered off in search of relative peace and quiet. He took the stairs to the next level, and was subject to admiring glances from most everybody he came across; his suave appearance unaffected by internal turmoil. His eyes skimmed over the brightly lit displays without actually seeing them. He leaned over the balcony overlooking the main floor of the store when he heard the sound of loud feminine laughter. Smiling, he shook his head. Women! He thought without looking behind.
“Ma! You are too much. Why in such a hurry to get me married? My talent’s finally been recognized. Didn’t you see how many encores I got? Hmph! I won’t stand here anymore listening to all your rubbish!” A soft musical voice resonated.
He whirled around to see her retreating back, and hurried behind, desperate to confirm his suspicion. She walked like a gazelle; swift, graceful and light. She skipped up another flight of stairs and zeroed in on a display of shiny gold bangles. Curious he stood back and watched her interact with the attendants who at once jumped to her beck and call. She tried on various designs. He noticed that she had the most delicately expressive hands. She turned slightly, enough for him to recognize her lovely face. She was his Shakuntala! Thrilled at chancing upon her again, wishing to establish some sort of connection, he bide his time waiting for the right opportunity. She walked toward a long wall of end to end mirrors and began adjusting her brightly colored dupatta (scarf). As she ran her fingers through her thick wavy hair, her eyes met his and when he didn’t look away, she swung around obviously annoyed and directed her blazing eyes at him.
If looks could kill, he thought amused and smiled. It seemed to incense her even more.
“What’s the matter? Haven’t you seen a girl before?” Her hands clenched into tiny fists.
“I’m sorry.” He replied laughing, “I’m just a fan. I saw you on stage yesterday and what a mind blowing performance. You are indeed a phenomenon!”
Immediately, her anger vanished and ,was replaced with a shy smile and a becoming flush crept over her cheeks. “Thank you,” She said, her voice much softer.
“By the way, I am Shan,.. Shan Khandelwal!” He extended his hand.
“I am Khanak Mishra.” She said, withdrawing her’s quickly. “I must be going. My family is waiting for me.”
“No, please wait. I have a proposition for you.” A wild idea suddenly struck him.
“What kind of proposition?” She asked with some trepidation.
“No, it isn’t anything to be concerned about. I was just wondering if you’d be interested in displaying your talents on a much bigger platform. I am the owner of ‘Jhankaar’ a big music and dance company in Mumbai and I just found out that our lead dancer has broken her ankle. It would be awesome if you would consider taking her place.” He blurted it all out in one breath.
“But I can’t do that. This is my home, besides I don’t dance contemporary.” She dismissed his suggestion with a shrug of her shoulders.
“It’s just for a month that’s all and I believe that a great dancer like you could dance anything if she puts her mind to it. Your basics are all in place; all you need is a little practice and I can provide that for you. What say? It is something you can’t refuse!”
She stood dumbstruck as she caught the full force of his charm. All she could do was stare at him, bewildered.
“Here’s my card! I’ll be waiting for your answer. Please call me no matter what you decide. But I’ll be expecting a yes.”
He knew he was taking on a big risk as he walked away, but it was well worth it.
Comments welcome 🙂