Short : “Sitar Seller”
Incidentally I was munching something on Medium on my late Lenovo “slate” which was a delightful read and suddenly there was something else approaching for my other pair of senses slowly and soundly making it’s presence felt down the lane which I couldn’t wait to jump over to, be it from my very balcony.
Like some announcement calling out every melancholic affected moody muggers to pay attention for a little while it was there. Like a municipal truck choking smoke teasing dengue and malaria momentarily causing nausea, this was for more aptly suitable for a social cause. Like a tip thuggish Fakir blowing holy smoke to heal the soul with performance of a wizard, this Man on the way would do the same with brutal honesty from a hand made wand bent like a bow held by a strip, like it was made to obey, which actually commands and slays off noisy demons. This man was no wizard though, not a magician, nor a musician but he rightfully owns all those attributes if he could loath.
I immediately pressed the back ‘button’ (or whatever you call it the machine world) couple of times in vain to push away the Medium app from my sight. I was scrambling for the sound recording thingy that was obscured by the flashy sleekly Icon pack from Play store, now lost in a the directory of apps stealing focus from each other, “stupid icons”. I became Hitch in Hitch scouting for Benadryl® in a battalion of anti attention mongering packaging, “stupid labels”. I terribly need that stupid simple little appie which needed to prove it’s very purpose any minute as the “Messiah” was almost near the gate. “Somebody stop him! No!! not what he is doing! Just him!!!”
I give up. I fetch my new cheap smart phone on the table which I didn’t bother installing any shit on. It was a smart decision as I found that thingy a tap away among the nitty-gritty factory bundles. “Yeah!” I yelled in my head followed by “Aaaaaah!”, the squeamish soothing stringing was at it’s peak!
“Pa paaa, Pa paaa”, “Pa paaa, Pa paaa”, “Pa Paaa…, Pa Pa Pa Pa Paaa…….!”
“Ah”, that was pouncing in my ribs too, but the rhythm changed as I could not see him clearly through the balcony grill followed by the tree guarding the building. He passed across, Gone! I grab myself to the living room window. “Wallah!” It stopped!, He stopped!! But because of a God sent Messiah no.2 in form of a Sikh man, and without a Patka! I could spot his Kes (any other day this was a glimpse to catch, not now). Wow!! Messiah meets Messiah! What an interlude. I weep the Paaji was residing in the ground floor in the opposite building. But I could only thank him now. “Pa paaa, Pa paaa” again. I now “pushed” that horny little red round button (finally it felt real) to scoop any stray magic left, all be it abrupt, before the spell faded. ‘I’ll live with it’ I convince myself. That tune rang my bell too!
I rush my lazy ass into the other room. “Mom, have you got any cash? Change?” I begged. A blow in return “No” is what got. I was almost dancing to the tune that began again after a few successive seconds during which I withdraw back to the computer table and dug through the stationery and grabbed two hundred rupiah (like I was saving it for a rainy day) which was already short for an delayed order from Shopclues.com.
‘God, bless you again!’ I mean “blessed me” again!!. His mysterious ways!!! Hallelujah! Allah-hu-Akbar! My heart went “Pa Paaa, Pa Paaa” again as I wait outside for the lift to come up. I could have been on my knees in the elevator as the tune stopped. “He’s on the move! Should I chase him!?” I meet ground. “And here I come!!”. I cross out the gate and there I spot them, and then Messiah no.2 exists into his abode (but with his newly owned magical apparatus) like his job was done there. Timing!
My scene now.
I walk to the magical man, as he lifts up his butti and rests it on his wrapped seating of pink scarf over his head. He turns around toward me before I even open my mouth to call him, like somebody signaled him. He crosses the road over to me as I’m nearer. “Destiny” resounded in my head. He comments ‘here I cometh’ if I could make out anything from his semi-wrinkled expressionless face, which also told me he wasn’t from anywhere here, in kurta pajama, very typical I thought. I ask him enthusiastically about their quality walking towards him.
“Yeh tootengeh toh nahi?”. He affirms me it will toot-jayengeh (break) if thrown to the ground with joorse (force).
It wasn’t sarcasm. He meant the product is unwarranted, untypical honesty from a seller disclaiming like a salesman (equally untypical). Putting the basket down which was half full of “Sitars” which looked like half identical clones (my eyes were ogling to see them), he picks up one from the lot which looked like a marriage between cane and clay. It was a little more than his arm’s length but perfect for mine, but again I could be wrong.
But my eagerness provoked me “ekbar bajake dikaho”.
‘Bathathahoo, bathathahoo’, his answers were all ready..
He quickly snaps a small flat piece of cane from his kurta pocket between the single string (the simplicity amused me) and the pot, it’s mouth covered with thin cardboard paper sheath. He held it ready to fire.
I couldn't wait “Yeh kaise banathe ho?”, He replies ‘Bammbu se’.
Anything made of Bamboo excited me. I kept gazing like it were an artifice. And discovered that it was more than a marriage, the cane ‘lakdi’ passed through the small drum like ‘matka’ through it’s punctures, which was pulled tightly towards itself with the friction of the string so thin that it camouflaged into the background making the bond look invincible, it was to producing something invisible. It’s intricately seducing artistry, hmm.
I inquire “Aap kahan ke ho?”. ‘Haryana se’, told ya not from here!
“Accha!”, no I wasn’t really that excited but I kept the momentum, “Yeh aap banatheho?”.
‘Nahi, yeh lakdi Chandrayangutta se lekar aathe hai, “Accha” (sorry me), aur matka Gowlipura se!’.
“Golipura??” the “ow” skipped my ear.
‘Gowlipura! Gowlipura! Old City!!’ (it was his haryanwi accent).
“Oh yes, Gowlipura!” of course that’s where my aunt lives and how could I not know?! And then a sudden kick of nostalgia somewhere back in my head when similar lakdi-matka objects made singular sounds singing in the background then, me as a boy playing in the gullies too busy to lend a ear to. That place is still strangely nostalgic even today away from all modernity. The Old city ‘Charminar’ screams with ethnic megaphones, heritage is in all it’s sounds.
Anyways, I asked him to to play it “hallu” (it’s hyderabadii for slow), as I didn’t want him to be so loud like a moment ago as he recited it couple of times, thanks again Paaji!. He of course knew how to demonstrate it reverently to his deserving few little audience. There was enough attention in the neighborhood already, I doubted. His orchestration had to pull the suffocating out from the cocoons and force the irritably unwelcoming to be in their holes, an additional skill he owned over the years no doubt.
I realized I have to keep all noting mental. And it begins with the bow with a stripped cloth ‘dhagha’ brushing the stringent metal ‘taar’ slash string and my eyes kept tracking the process while my ears remained stubbornly devoted to the resulting sound.
“Pa paaa, Pa paaa”, “Pa paaa, Pa pa……”
“Yeh ‘sound’ kaise change karthe hai?” I quipped as if it were a mechanical device with some tuner.
He professed ‘Sa!’, ‘Re!’, ‘Ga!’, ‘Ma!’, my eyes started rolling, ears open.
Choreographed by Pinky, Ring, Middle and Index finger nails respectfully which took turns to touch the string, from beneath as opposed to what you usually see (or maybe it was his style, maybe it was convenience of playing that way). It puzzled me further as he moves the hand closer to the matka at regular intervals to make more sense ‘or’ sensation.
‘Pa!’, ‘Da!’, ‘Ne!’, ‘Sa…’ back to pinky! Hail the Master!
“Accha!! (it became a habit), samajjgaya (eureka)!!”
In a couple of seconds the simplicity in engineering of the instrument revealed it’s purpose. It was a perfect display of ancient bond of tool and technique, which was fast to read or record in my geeky neurons and I was amazed thinking ‘could it be really that simple?’. I was enlightened with ancient knowledge. Like I was passed on the secret of everything Carnatic that eluded me for ages. It was all here! It was preached in what was a like a free music class. It just added to my excitement which reminded me to catch that tuning spell of this magic in full before it’s all over. So I request the Messiah. I was ready with the app open on my hand and he does something too quick to notice and here we go again.
The pitch popped out loud this time like it was in the oeuvre, as if he knew that’s how I would like it. My joy kept unfolding. I gave a dame about infusing any annoyance. For a moment it seemed deliberate. ‘I was desperate’. But I wonder was it tactic of his to allure and tempt anymore ignoring eardrums around? And now we talk business.
“Achha (??), ek kitneka hai?”. ‘Bees rupiah’. I regret not bargaining.
But before my anxiety hit a peak I make a one last request for how to actually play it ‘hallu’ (It seemed this was the question he was trying to avoid). You wouldn’t want to call out your sympathizers alike every other day out of their cocoons. And then what he showed admittedly made me his pupil. There was more to this intervention. He flipped the cane piece that was laying flat to hinge perpendicularly on the cardboard membrane forcing the lakdi to bow and ‘scream’ a little more. And a swipe onto the string concurs it “Pa….”. Truly majestic! The spell now felt like a bonus in comparison to all the wisdom that I could capture.
“Doh dehdho”, something hindered me to pick two. I wouldn’t regret this.
He (yet again) quickly snaps another little piece of cane for the sibling, this one rigged to obey. So I have one for the quaint and one ready as a bait (will tell you why in a moment). All is well that ends well, I thought. Before we parted I conclusively add another to an otherwise finished questionnaire.
So, I brought a couple of Sitars for ₹40, not bad huh? In my anxiety (mimicking a sinusoidal wave) I try demonstrate the class to my Mom, In vain as I figured that my hand was little big to envelope the arched lakdi as my fingers struggled to take position beneath the the string almost strangling it. She was still surprised with my child play. But who am I kidding I’m no master and she was no pupil. The music was over so was the magic.
The wave goes steep as I further try to show how the frequency changed by altering the orientation of the hinge. She warns me “don’t”. She doesn’t like to see me disappointing. The miserable happens as I force the cane piece to stand on the paper thin sheath almost puncturing it. Thus I dubbed this one the ‘bait’. My sixth sense aided me that there was something delicate about these Sitaars.
You see, Suresh was very cautious in hinging, he knew any untrained hands could damage the cardboard paper. His ‘quick’ actions were clever in hiding this aspect. He didn’t bother telling a prospective customer about it as it was a rear that some one requested a low resonating version other than the standard hinged ones. It supposed hinges were something not be meddled with. It made perfect sense again. This also explain why he pops in one just before handing it over to a buyer as any force on the string pushes the sharply cut cane pieces into the paper capping the matka slash pot. So his objective was to get rid of the Sitaar asap after hooking it with the cane piece. Suresh was indeed a tactical salesman than a innocent seller. Other than this the make of the Sitaar was rock solid and worth calling a steal, that is if you are too dumb to make one yourself but would it be this artsy? I doubt again.
Now the ‘quaint’ looks at me in fear. I was almost determined to try hinging it again, but hopelessly leave both of them in peace. Or maybe just keeping it low until sometime.