Kharaharapriya

The room wore a desolate look. With just a pile of cartons in one corner, the living room seemed pretty spacious without all the furniture and electronic gadgets. Remove all the clutter and it looks so large, she thought, just like our lives.

She sat there with a roll of duct tape and scissors, trying to bind the last carton that had to be packed before nightfall. She had placed two of her fingers on the roll and rotated it slowly, hoping that she would be able to identify the free end. She had done this four times over without any luck, her gaze on the window, hypnotized.

She was moving out. This house had been her only companion through all the turmoil and chaos that had played out in recent years. And now, the time had come for her to move on from this as well. It had not been an easy decision to take.

Something in the other room caught her eye just then and brought her mind back to the present. It was an old iron trunk, rusty and caked in a thick layer of dust. She could not recognize it immediately; it had stayed hidden in the attic all this time, resurfacing only now that she was vacating the house. She tried to open it, but it was jammed shut. Intrigued, she bought a wet cloth and wiped the trunk clean. Another jerk, and success greeted her in her attempt to open the  stubborn trunk.  She was not prepared for what she found inside.

She was a young girl of five when she first held a violin. The memories of waking up before sunrise to her mother’s shrill voice and the smell of freshly-brewed coffee were crystal clear in her head. She could recollect rubbing her eyes as she headed towards a prehistoric bungalow where Madam conducted the music classes. As a young adult, she had found her calling in music, falling in love with the classes and more so with the instrument. The diligence lasted for years, and she became a good musician.

She was now staring at the a black case which contained the old violin which she used to carry to the music class everyday. Its presence had escaped her mind completely. In a flash, she zipped open the beautiful wooden violin from its solid case and held it upright; this was a reunion of the master and her instrument. She bowed to the small picture of Goddess Saraswati in the case in an involuntary act as she held the violin in position. The cool scroll of the violin nestled on the side of her foot and the chin rest found its familiar position against her collarbone.

Memory now took her back to the day when the announcement came. The music school had been given a slot in the annual concert and they had called for interested pupils to audition. She was jittery with excitement when the results were announced; she had been selected. Weeks passed with little rest and incessant practice. She placed everything else aside – academics, friends and the weekend outings – as she devoted herself to preparing her piece. She could recall how nervous she was backstage. The troupe consisting of musicians on the mridangam, the veena and the violin was called on stage and after a quick sound check, the concert began. The horsehair bow on the strings made its mark right away; the notes were spot on. As the first piece came to an end with a thunderous applause, she started to feel a little uneasy. The unease increased as the second piece began. Subbu, who was on the mridangam, was giving cues which soon turned into stares as he saw the violin miss a couple of notes.  The aarohana of the second rāga began.

Sadja,

Chatusruti Rishabha,

Sadharana Gandhara,

Suddha Madhyama,

Panchama…

Her hands froze. The subsequent notes flowed in her mind but her hands gave up on them. The last thing she could see before the blackout was the image of her parents rushing towards the stage.

Her own sigh jolted her out of this painful memory. The violin was still positioned perfectly, with beads of sweat forming around her fingers where she was holding the bow. Why she had collapsed on that day, she did not know. All she could remember was how she had failed Madam and insulted goddess Saraswati when it mattered most. She had not played the violin since that day.

Sitting in her empty living room, she wanted to laugh at her younger self. Older and wiser now, the things that she had seen and the pain she had endured in these intervening years put this memory to shame. How naive it was of her to see that as failure and give up her passion. The disrespect to the goddess lied in abandoning the art, she realized.

She started playing the violin. The notes, now clearer than ever, hit their mark. The metal strings dug into the skin of her fingertips, giving her the familiar sense of belonging. The sultry afternoon departed, so did dusk, with rāga after rāga flowing from her violin. She started playing what she had erred with, years ago, with all the seven notes of the sampoorna rāga flowing effortlessly.

She felt joy for the first time in years. A rare smile made an appearance. It had all started with an old trunk, with its lid tight shut. In a serendipitous instance that afternoon, a spark had been reignited.

She was reminded of a verse by Camus.

“In the midst of hate, I found there was, within me, an invincible love.
In the midst of tears, I found there was, within me, an invincible smile.
In the midst of chaos, I found there was, within me, an invincible calm.
I realized, through it all, that…
In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

She played on.

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