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!”