“Even the amount of effort we put in is all about luck. One needs to have the genes for hard work, and genetics is all luck. Don’t you agree?”
“You do know what kind of people say that, sir, don’t you?”
“Lazy people, no?”
“Yes, lazy people.”
Sujoy did not have a good reply to give. Shinjini was too quick-witted for him.
She was staring at him intently, with no hint of mockery or disrespect. It was as matter-of-fact a statement as it could be.
He looked at her, and smiled like a fool.
But Shinjini was smart by any standards. Even when he had started as the tabla-player for her, when she was a mere stripling of thirteen, she was way too quick-witted for Sujoy. She is twenty-three now.
He tried to change the topic. “So you will be going away next month?”
“Hmm. 16th August. My independence will be a day after this country’s”.
Another foolish grin spread out on his face. “Accha, should I leave now? I can come by tomorrow.”
“Could you wait, if you are not a big hurry? It’s not only about the fees, Ma wanted to speak with you too.”
“Okay, okay.” Sujoy fidgeted on the large leather sofa. He had never had much to speak about with this super-intelligent young girl. And anyway, he had always been the background music. If anything, it’s the largess of these people that they referred to him as ‘sir’, and not Sujoy-da or even Sujoy.
Ten years ago, Gourishankar-da had asked to speak with Sujoy at the music school. Sujoy had met him that evening.
“Dada, namaskaar. Are you well?”
“I am good. Listen, I have a job for you. Just two hours every Saturday and Sunday. Music tuitions. I will be teaching them, and you can come along as the tabla-player. We will have to go to their house and teach, though. The money is good. Very good, in fact.Five hundred rupees for you every month. Interested?”
“Five hundred rupees per month for just four hours every week? Of course I am interested! Who is the student?” Sujoy assumed that this must be some hotshot. Gourishankar-da was a classical singer of some repute. He rarely agreed to take private tuitions. They must be paying him a lot of money. Two or three thousand, surely.
“Students, not student. Have you heard of Jyotiprasad Roy Choudhury? National Chemicals? His wife, and his two daughters. Ranjini and Shinjini. All three will be learning music from me.”
“Whims of a rich man’s wife? Heh heh heh.” Sujoy let out a burst of toothy, nasal laughter.
“Not so simple. She has learnt classical music. Studied it and all, this degree and that. Pucca Dover Lane regular. The daughters have only basic training in music, though. They will be tough to teach. You know how young girls are these days.”
“Thirteen and fifteen. And don’t you start having day-dreams with Somu now.” Somu, Soumitro, was Sujoy’s sixteen-year old son.
Sujoy forked out his tongue. “Aha, what do you say, dada. I am not that big a fool. This dwarf has no intention of trying to catch the moon. I know my place.”
Sujoy remembered the amazement of visiting the Ray Choudhury house for the first time. These were not the nouveau-riche that peppered the city these days, this was old money. The pebbled car-track, the garden, and the large olden-days house. Marble and chandeliers. Opulence and class.
The footman opened the large British-styled door and ushered them in.
Sujoy remembers feeling very inconsequent, very insufficient in his old grey trousers, his white shirt and his Bata sandals. These clothes were very unsuitable for this place. He should have worn a pyjama-kurta, like Gourishankar-da.
Mrs. Roy Choudhury and her daughters were waiting in the living room.
As the footman announced them, Sujoy remembers that Mrs. Roy Choudhury and the daughters had stood up to greet them and offer them tea. And had been unerringly polite.
“I think I am older to you in age, Sujoy-babu, so you can call me Mandira-di if you please. Of course, if you want to call me Mrs. Roy Choudhury, that’s perfectly okay too. They will call you sir, unless you have an objection”, he remembers Mandira-di say.
And the Roy Choudhurys have been that way for the last ten years. Even after Gourishankar-da had stopped taking the classes more than once a month, Sujoy had been a regular weekend fixture at the Roy Choudhury home. And they had always been good to him. He has always got the respect of a teacher in this house. Even Ranjini, who had discontinued with her training after three years, had been perfectly respectful to him whenever Sujoy has encountered her in the house.
These are good people. Good upbringing. What’s that word in Bengali? Abhijaato? Yes, they are just that.
Sujoy was making some small-talk with Shinjini, mostly about Washington, where she would be going to study for her Doctorate. Is it very cold? Is the college close to the White House? Is it a famous college? Why US, why not London?
There was the sound of a car outside.
“Your mother?” Sujoy asked.
“No, Ma’s car is bigger. This is the sound of a smaller car. Ranjini, probably.”
A little while later, Ranjini walked into the music room, followed a long-haired, unshaven young man with a guitar case on his shoulder.
“Sir, namaskaar. Didn’t Gourishankar-sir come today?”
Before he could answer, Shinjini chimed in, “Gourishankar-sir will only be here next weekend.”
Ranjini didn’t sound disappointed at all. She directed her gaze at the long-haired man, and then to Sujoy.
“Bobby, this is Sujoy-sir. He and Gourishankar-sir taught me music when I was younger. So all the music-sense I have is thanks to this man.” And then “Sir, this is Bobby, Gaurav, my friend. He plays the guitar for Connection. Have you heard of Connection?”
“Connection, you mean the rock band?”
“Yes, yes, that one. Bobby was just mentioning to me that I have a great voice and a super sense of music. So I thought I will introduce him to the men who taught me music.”
Gaurav walked up to Sujoy and extended his hand. “Sir, very nice to meet you“.
Sujoy could feel his eyes go moist.
He gave Gaurav’s hand a shake and then released it.
“Have you been playing the tabla for a long time?”
Sujoy stammered, “Me… I… no… I mean… I have been playing the tabla almost all my life. Last forty years, I think.”
“Wow, amazing. Do you play at concerts?”
“Yes. I mean, never solo. I have been supporting other artistes…”
“Oh okay, cool. Hey, great to meet you. And you have trained this Ranjini well. She has got awesome range.”
And then, Gaurav added, “Shinz, you done? Sir, have you packed up for the day?”
“I mean… Yes. Just waiting for Mandira-di.”
“Hey but the tabla is still here. Wanna jam? With me, I mean.”
Sujoy looked at Gaurav, and then, almost despondently, at Ranjini and Shinjini.
Shinjini came to the rescue. “Jam mean he is asking if you are okay to play the tabla, with him on the guitar”, and looks at Gaurav.
What is this new thing now? “But I don’t know how to play rock.” Sujoy managed to say, a little crestfallen.
“Arey sir, of course. I have been trained in classical music for seven long years. Malhar, Malkaush, Iman-Kalyan, even Darbaari-Kanada… I cannot say that I am super excellent or anything, but I can manage to play all of those on my guitar.”
Sujoy’s face creased into a grin now. These are names he has lived with all his life. Of course he can play tabla to Malhar or Malkaush or anything else this rockstar asks him to.
“Oh accha accha. Sure. What do you want to play then?”
“What do you suggest, sir?” Gaurav was grinning too, and taking the guitar out of its case.
“Let’s have Iman-Kalyan then?” Sujoy said while sitting down next to his tabla.
Gaurav guffawed “Oh thank God you didn’t say Darbaari Kanada. I cannot really play that. Just said that to impress the ladies here. Yeah of course, let’s do Iman-Kalyan”.
They all burst into laughter.
And then they started.
Playing with a classical guitarist was not new to Sujoy, but these Spanish guitars have a different texture to their sound. But this boy couldcertainly play. Of course Connection is quite famous, and this Gaurav plays for them, how could he be bad?
They played for a while. It was not a vintage performance, but it certainly was not bad.
Mrs. Roy Choudhury had walked in, and Sujoy has stopped immediately.
“Hey Aunty” Gaurav waved.
Sujoy stuttered “I mean, I was…”
“It’s excellent, Sujoy-babu. Carry on, carry on please. Bobby, you too.”
And they played on.
After a while, when they finished, Gaurav shook his hand again, all smiles now.
“Man, loved it, loved it! Sir, you are superb. Hey, I wasn’t too bad either, what do you say?”
“No, of course you weren’t. You have great command over your instrument”, Sujoy said in all earnest.
“Here, this is my card, sir”, Gaurav yanked out a green-white-and-orange card from his guitar case. “Call me if you ever want to play. I have been thinking of doing a side-project, a fusion with Indian classical. So please call if you are ever willing to pawn your art, playing along with a rock-and-roll man.” And he laughed out loud.
Soumyadipta ‘Shom’ Biswas is an engineer/MBA and works as a business consultant in Chicago. His work has been published in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS), Out of Print, Reading Hour and Spark magazines. He is a collector of antique sports books; and is consistently one of the best EPL fantasy football managers in the world. He is also an active community member of the Bangalore Writers Workshop. He is NOT in the process of writing a novel.