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Rhythm & Blues Chap 3: Dreams and Schemes

R and B

Chap links

Chap 3: Dreams and Schemes

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Introducing Trish: Shan’s neighbor and ‘unofficial girlfriend’ who had escaped the clutches of her way too rich and overbearing parents and chosen to live in ‘hiding’ in Mumbai. She was supported by her brother Tarun who had resorted to the same earlier and now had established himself as a pretty successful model and dancer working in Shantanu’s company. But she had been too lazy to look for a job and this was a frequent bone of contention between her and her brother and a source of amusement for Shan who tolerated her only because she made him laugh.

 

Mumbai city: Home of Bollywood and the financial center of India

“Hey boyfriend! What’s biting you? Why didn’t you call me when you came in last night?”A pretty girl strolled without bothering to knock, into the swank top floor penthouse apartment of Shantanu Khadelwal, owner and artistic director of Jhankaar; a leading music and dance company based in Mumbai. She had borrowed the keys a long time ago; never remembering to return it. Why would she, after all she considered herself Shan’s unofficial girl friend.

Shan didn’t answer; he didn’t to a lot of her questions. Either he pretended not to hear or simply shrugged his powerful shoulders and flashed his 1000 watt smile.

 

She looked on in awe while he did his routine 100 pushups with his large Akita ‘Horse’ on his back who weighed close to 75 lbs. He’d been with him since a puppy, (a gift from one of his Oriental admirers) and ever since he’d used him as weights. It was another thing altogether that Horse had decided that he liked the position and had stuck to it ever since.

“I hope he doesn’t get any weightier or he’s sure to break your back one day,” Abhay had warned him several times and Shan had dismissed it in his usual fashion; he loved Horse.

But there was no love lost between the Akita and Trish and he let her know so with a low growl. He didn’t like anybody acting possessive with his master whom he guarded jealously.

“Why don’t you get rid of him Shan? What will happen when I start living with you?” Trish had ventured hesitantly one day, though she knew the answer already.

“That won’t ever happen as long as I have Horse with me. I don’t intend to give him up for anybody!” Shan’s short and blunt retort had ended any further discussion on the topic.

He wiped himself down with a towel and looked at Trish absently, “When did you get here?”

“I’ve been here for the past 10 minutes talking my head off but you never listen; do you?”

Shan smiled taking off his ear phones, “now what were you saying?”

Trish rolled her eyes–Shan and his music, constant companions.“Why didn’t you call me when you landed last night, I could have come over. I missed you like anything.”

Shan disengaged himself from her embrace, went over to the kitchen and poured himself a tall glass of Orange Juice. “Is there some sort of rule that I should call you?”

“Am I not your girl friend?”

“You’re just a friend, nothing more.”

“What about all those kisses and I love yous?”

“Just friendly ones; have I ever implied anything else?”

“No…,” she had to reluctantly agree knowing well she wouldn’t be able to win the argument. They’d had it already several times in the past.

Choosing to change the topic, she settled herself on one of the bean bags which lay scattered on the floor while her host made his eggs and smoothie breakfast.

“Want some? It’s a new recipe.” He asked knowing well she’d been aiming toward a size zero and had chosen to go on a salad and soup diet so to bag a top modeling assignment or audition for a movie. He didn’t approve of it at all.

“Naah! Too much cholesterol and calories!” She waved a royal hand in dismissal. “By the way did you hear about Tashu’s accident? Have you found a replacement yet? Why don’t you give me a shot?”

Shan laughed watching her try to do a pirouette. “You should try out for the circus, they will snatch you up in a heartbeat. You have two left feet. The girl who is going to dance for me has to be exceptional because Jhankaar is exceptional. Tashu did fit the role perfectly.”

“Blah, blah, blah! Tashu, Tashu all the time! Isn’t there anyone else besides her who can dance in this world?!” Trish exclaimed rolling her eyes.

“There is somebody who could take her place; if only she knew what she wants.” Shan murmured softly thinking of Khanak.

“What did you say?” Trish asked absently turning up the volume of her favorite TV show.

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Rhythm & Blues Chap 2: Tumult

R and B

Chap 1

Chap 2: Tumult

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Khanak flipped the card over, feeling the texture with her sensitive fingers. Hmm expensive card stock; Mr. SK isn’t exactly foraging for a living. She perused the lettering;

Shantanu Khandelwal

Owner and Artistic Director

Jhankaar music and Dance Company

 It was followed by a contact number; simple and to the point.

Very unusual for an entertainment company; it either spelt arrogance and self confidence or simply fame.

Then out of impulse she brought the card up to her nostrils and sniffed—a distinctive, unmistakably male scent that immediately conjured up an image of a pair of gorgeously seductive brown eyes. She recoiled as if stung and let the card drift to the floor.

What am I thinking? A hand drifted up to a rapidly fluttering heart. Control yourself, Khanak… such thoughts are forbidden. Girls such as you don’t think that way, at least not before marriage and not for somebody other than your husband!

She glanced at the card as it lay innocently on the floor. Let it lie, she had no use for it. This was her home; where she belonged. Turning the lights out, she settled down to sleep.

 

Meanwhile at the Chennai airport:

“Shan! It’s of no use dude! She won’t come! Girls like her are very traditional. Her parents would never agree.”

“But I thought I saw something in her eyes, a hunger to break out of the mold, to become famous! She has it in her Abhay!” He waited till the very last moment before dejectedly joining the line.

A Bright and early morning at the Mishra household in Chennai:

Like everyday it was greeted with the fragrance of agarbattis and the rhythm of bells; dancing bells which Khanak wore on her feet as she practiced her dance routine. She had done so without interruption ever since the tender age of five when she had begun learning Bharathnatyam.

Her aunt Komal, Shreya’s mother, frequently advised her to take it easy, “After so many years, dance must have become ingrained into every atom of your being; then why the need for such rigorous practice?”

“No matter chachi (aunt), the first and foremost principle of mastering any form of art is practice, practice and good practice, without which the artist will become a langur (monkey) as my Guruji says and I certainly don’t want that, do you?” Khanak laughed.

Komal shook her head, laughing along. Despite being a very mature and talented artist Khanak at times younger than Shreya who was two years her junior, “No baba, then your sasural wale (in-laws) will accuse me of sending a chimpanzee instead of the orangutan you already are!”

“Oh no chachi! I’m not going anywhere! I want to stay here with you as your monkey forever.”

“Yes my dear, you will stay with me always.” Her aunt nodded though without conviction.

Khanak was Komal and Sharat Mishras niece. Ever since her parents had been killed in a train accident when she was barely two years old, Sharat (her father’s younger brother) and his wife had taken her in and she loved them as her own parents. They had never differentiated between her and Shreya or their older son Shyam who adored her and was very protective. He was an officer in the Indian Army and had just been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. They were all very proud of him.

But this morning found Khanak distracted and unable to concentrate. She was feeling unusually irritable and listless.

“Bubbly di!”

She turned around briskly to see Shreya standing at the door grinning mischievously.

Khanak snapped, “What’s up? Don’t you see I’m busy?”

“What’s the matter di? You look all red and flustered as though you’ve been caught doing something you shouldn’t.” Shreya sauntered in hiding something behind her back.

Khanak ignored her cousin and began practicing her mudras–she had beautifully expressive hands. Shreya watched fascinated.

“Nothing, I’m just not myself today. I didn’t sleep well last night.”

“Aha! So that’s the secret behind the card. Your prince charming! Mr. Shantanu Khandelwal! Shall I tell brother and Anand?”

Khanak broke her pose and snatched at the card that Shreya was brandishing over her head. It wouldn’t do for her to spread the word. The whole household would turn upside down. The only reason why she’d been able to continue learning classical dance was because of Komal aunty’s and Shyam’s continued support and only because she had caught the eye of her Guruji as someone who possessed the potential of becoming a major exponent of the art.

Her uncle had never been for it. He was a staunch proponent of the old school which maintained that girls from good families do not perform on stage. “After schooling daughters take care of the home and hearth. It is our culture,” he often reiterated.

“Stop it Shree! He was someone who saw me as Shakuntala and wanted to know if I would be willing to join his dance company and I refused. That’s all! And don’t you dare tell anybody!”

“Aww… but di! What an incredible opportunity! Big city stage, international exposure, name, fame, I can already see your name blazing in neon: Khanak the diva of dance!” Shreya exclaimed, clasping her hands together and gazed dreamily into the distance unaware that she was giving voice to Khanak’s dreams.

“Not all dreams come true. So stop before chachu (uncle) comes to know about it!”

“Now what are we hiding from chachu? Are we making plans to go to a late night movie?” Komal walked in smiling brightly, bearing a string of fresh mallipoo (Jasmine flowers,) which she attached lovingly to Khanak’s luxurious mane; a daily ritual.

“Now my Khanak looks like an angel; Anand is very lucky indeed.” She stepped back to admire her niece whose thick black tresses contrasted most wonderfully with her smooth, glowing complexion and her classically perfect features which she had inherited from her mother.

 Anand Vaidyanathan and his family had been their neighbors for as long as Khanak could remember.  Her senior by a few years; he worked as an engineer for a major software company and  was doing very well. Khanak had always considered him a close friend and confidant.

“Why is Anand lucky? Are you hiding something from me chachi?” Khanak asked, suddenly anxious.

“Bubbly di, Anand and his parents…” Shreya began.

“Shh! Let me tell her.” Komal said turning to Khanak. She grasped her hands, “Anand and his parents are coming over to see you today!”

“But why?”

“Well, for some time we have known that you like each other and Anand is a gem of a boy. He worships the ground you walk on.”

“What are you implying?”

“I’m just saying that Anand is leaving for the States soon. His parents want him to settle down before he leaves. So when they asked him, he made it quite clear that he wished to marry you and no one else.  Your uncle obviously couldn’t refuse such a wonderful proposal!”

Khanak witnessed her whole world come crashing down around her. “But what about my opinion; did anyone care to ask me what I want? Yes, I do like Anand but only as a friend. I don’t love him; for me that is key for a happy marriage. Anyway I’m not interested in all that right now. I want to make a name for myself and I’ve barely begun my journey! Please, say that it’s a joke; a very cruel one but a joke nevertheless!” Khanak pleaded with desperation in her eyes.

“My child, I wish it was but it isn’t. You know your chachu quite well; once he makes up his mind no one can change it. I tried very hard but he is not willing to listen.”

 “But I cannot marry Anand! I cannot!” Khanak collapsed onto the floor.

“But di!” Shreya interjected, “Anand is such a nice guy!”

Komal said, “From what I’ve seen, Anand is a young man with a very steady head on his shoulders.  If you speak to him, I’m sure he will understand. He will never force your hand. He loves you way too much to hurt you.”

Khanak stared at her Aunt through tear filled eyes, “What do you mean?”

 “Yes, I’ve seen it in his eyes, whenever he looks at you. Though he has probably never said so. He won’t refuse you anything.”

Khanak smiled wanly. She’d always thought she knew Anand very well. She’d never had any inkling of his feelings towards her. Never had he done anything to make her suspect it. He had always been a ready, caring companion and friend— her best friend.

tbc

Rhythm & Blues Prologue/Chap 1: Follow Your Dreams

R and B

Rhythm and Blues

This story is my humble tribute to the wonderful world of music and dance.

Chap 1: Follow Your Dreams

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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! Shreya!”

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!”

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India Unveiled- Mughal India: Tomb of Salim Chishti

Salim Chisti TombIntricate Jali – Stone latticework window overlooking the Jama Masjid courtyard.

About 25 miles from Agra is the city of Fatehpur Sikri (Hindi: फ़तेहपुर सीकरी, Urdu: فتحپور سیکری‎), founded by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, which also served as his capital from 1571-1585. Here he proceeded to build a grand walled city which today is one of the best preserved collections of Mughal Architecture in India.

The Tomb of the Sufi saint Salim Chishti (descendant of Khwaja Mouniddin Chishti of Ajmer) built inside the imperial complex is particularly mesmerizing. Facing south toward the Buland Darwaza, the shrine is enclosed by delicately carved Jalis– marble stone screens and topped by a single semicircular dome.

Jama Masjid courtyard

Jama Masjid courtyard

The atmosphere of the place is beautifully exemplified in this haunting melody from the movie Garam Hawa (Hot Winds), 1973.

Live life Bollywood Style!

‘Chaiya Chaiya’ song composed by Oscar winning composer A.R. Rehman sung by Sukhwinder Singh.

Featuring ShahRukh (the King) Khan and Malaika Arora

The song is also featured in the end credits of the Hollywood movie ‘The Inside Man.’

Could anything be more wistfully nostalgic?

Nothing can bring forth the flavor of iconic Bollywood like this song, which has captured and still captures the imagination of movie watchers not only in India but across the world.

Nothing is ridiculous or impossible especially when you are the flamboyant hero precariously balanced on top of a tiny blue mountain train singing and dancing to a foot tapping rhythm along with a beauteous village belle who leaves you stunned with her impossible contortions.

 Even today this number fills one with an unbound thirst for life.