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Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A little night-music)
Right after my piano lesson, on a sunny Friday morning, my teacher asked me if I would like to perform at a little private concert that she was putting together for her students. I hesitated a little and reluctantly answered affirmatively. My teacher was so delighted that she immediately began looking for pieces that I could perform. This by no means was an easy ask – I have been learning for just about 3 months. And even there, I’ve missed a few classes due to my haphazard work schedule. The challenge here was to pick a piece that is simple enough to fall within the purview of my limited performing abilities and yet is interesting enough to sustain the audience’s attention. My teacher flitted through pages of my piano song book, tried out a few random bars from pieces in the book and finally selected a little composition called the “Haunted House”. At just 16 bars, the piece was small (though not without its technical difficulties – more on which later) and so she supplemented my performance with another two short works that I had recently finished learning.

Your biggest nemesis when learning piano at the ripe age of 26 are your own fingers; they loose their suppleness after years of disuse. Not to say that you don’t use your fingers in your course of daily life, but holding a pen between your thumb and index finger is an exercise very different from playing the piano. Even typing on a keyboard for years does not work your ring and little fingers like piano does. Clearly, we are dealing with a very different kind of use here. The other challenge is that of synchronization between digits of your left and right hands. Works for piano are usually scored in two parts – the treble clef (nope, not terrible cleft), is played by your right hand, the bass clef, (pronounced as ‘base’) by your left. Now thanks to the queer ways in which our anatomies have been structured (a brain with two halves where left half controls the right half of your body and vice versa – God must’ve been an inscrutable thinker), attaining this very left-right synchronicity is a slightly teasing business when you get down to it.

The “Haunted House” was trickier than the trickiest pieces I had ever handled (not that I had handled many pieces, but still). It spanned two octets on the piano and the prescribed fingering involved stretching my little finger awkwardly to hit an accidental, not to mention both hands got an elaborate part.

The first 4 bars from the “Haunted House”:

The 5 parallel lines (beginning with what roughly looks like a big ampersand - &) form the treble clef, the lines below it are the bass clef.

And so began those practice sessions in right earnest – I had only 10 days for preparation. My teacher was a great help. She worked out a relatively simpler fingering that differed from the default suggested in my book, and took into account my strengths and weaknesses (which even now are far numerous than my strengths). She also suggested that I first get acquainted with the treble parts (right hand) of the piece independent of the base parts, instead of attacking the piece with both hands in the very beginning itself. With in a week I was playing the once daunting piece with relative ease (though I was still ‘stuttering’ in places).

The final performance was organized at a beautiful quaint bungalow (my teacher’s granny’s place) just a few paces from my house. Seven of us (including me) were to perform. We gathered at our teacher’s home an evening before our recital and it was here that I met my co-performers for the first time. Five of them were much younger than me, with at least three of them in single-digit age group! I dearly wished that I had started learning a little earlier. Somehow seeing these kids at piano, strengthened my resolve to work harder – what I’ve lost in years, I would make up for in my rigorous practice routine. We then went to the venue of our performance, practiced there for about ninety minutes on the wonderful sounding Steinway upright, and decided to meet once again for another set of rehearsals the next morning. That night I had a tough time sleeping – I was still hitting a few notes wrong and my fluency left a lot to be desired. Only more practice could iron those deficiencies out. After about seventy iterations or so on my synthesizer I was satisfied (and exhausted) enough to take to bed without the fear of being haunted by nightmares.

Our second round of rehearsals was lot better than one last evening. Our fingers had now apprised themselves of the tactile feel of the Steinway’s keys. The younger students, especially the two little boys who were listless till last evening now played with the grace and ease of a budding virtuoso. We parted once more only to meet again thirty minutes before our performance in the evening.

When I reached the performance venue (a two minute walk from where I stay) with three friends (my unsuspecting private audience) only one of the students had arrived (with his parents and younger brother). (I shunned my dear jeans in favor of formals to respect the sanctity of the occasion – a western classical pianoforte recital! (clears throat)). The piano on which we were to perform was lying open and was being tuned. Call me staid – but this was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I’ve seen a Steinway upright before; I’ve read volumes about the piano, its history, its evolution, and its inner-working but to see one being tuned in front of my very eyes left me spellbound. The complex mechanism of taut metal strings, levers and hammers lying open, bare, in front of my eyes brought a glint in them which even the sight of world’s greatest treasures cannot summon. The tuner after having satisfied himself by playing a few random notes replaced the piano’s lid and my teacher’s uncle sat down to play a little piece. He played (what sounded like a nocturne) brilliantly and at the end of it we could not help applauding. He turned around and modestly uttered – ‘just testing’. I wish I could test a piano like that!

People soon started trickling in. Most of them were friends, family members and acquaintances of the performing students. Within twenty minutes of our arrival, it was a full house. All of us (students) went into a small room behind the main performance hall and waited for our names to be called out.

Everyone did splendidly and very soon it was my turn. I introduced myself and the pieces that I were to perform and sat down to play my first piece – “March of the dwarfs” – a duet for four hands with my teacher. I got it woefully wrong – though since my teacher had an elaborate part in the piece – it did not sound jarring. My second piece – “Halloween” – was lot better; just one minor error in the end. Then came the “Haunted House” – my best piece which I had saved for the last – and at that very moment I got a terrible attack of nerves. My fingers quivered and stopped taking orders from my brain; as if all of them had evolved a little mind of their own. The piece went fine till the end of first four bars after which I lost track of what I was playing – no I wasn’t improvising. Blood rushed to my cheeks as my fingers continued to keel on the keys and somehow ran through the remaining twelve bars. My stupor was broken by the applause from the little gathering. Distraught, I got up and joined my friends in the audience. One of the advantages of playing an obscure, beginner level piece is that no one knows what it sounds like. Nor did we give score of my performance to the audience. Thus, all in all, my follies, both big and small, went on unnoticed. Had it been a Beethoven Sonata or a Chopin Nocturne, the composers themselves would have risen from death to chide me handsomely.

I consider myself a reasonably satisfactory public speaker. I can elocute and extemporize without even modicum of stage fright – irrespective of the size of audience (the more the merrier!). But this (wobbly fingers) was a humbling experience. I knew upfront that learning music is a lifelong journey – but I now know that the journey from being a pianist and to being a concert pianist is even longer, for this leg of the journey will be in my very mind and I’ll be carrying heavy baggage of shame, pride and knowledge accumulated over years, with me.

Once back in the comfort of my living room, I could execute the piece flawlessly. Here is a little recording that I made off my synthesizer recently (Windows Media Audio format, requires Windows Media Player to play):

Haunted_House_Piano.wma (~500 KB)

While a keyboard is a woefully inadequate substitute for piano, it does offer your one merit that the piano doesn’t – you can make a keyboard synthesize sounds of a hundred other instruments. (That the purported accuracy of reproduction of those instruments is highly questionable is another matter altogether). Nonetheless, here is another recording of the same piece using a different instrument (synthesized voice - ‘voice/bass oohs’). In fact, ‘voice bass/oohs’, do give the piece a haunted feel (I can imagine lots of tiny, cute goblins having a merry Halloween party, rejoicing in the Haunted House):

Haunted_House_Voice.wma (~500 KB)
posted: 31.10.04 | permalink | 10 comments

Not all meetings are eternally unproductive
'Mechanical Mouse' was inspired by TikTok from The Wizard of Oz. I had intially sketched just its outline on paper during one of those meetings that dawdle on forever. I later photographed the sketch with my digital camera (I was feeling too lazy to scan it) and colored it up on computer:

posted: 28.10.04 | permalink | 1 comments

The diary of Adam and Eve
On mentioning Samuel Clemens – known to us more commonly by the nom de plume of Mark Twain - you typically think of Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn. So when I saw a book titled ‘The Diary of Adam and Eve’ supposedly written by this very author, my curiosity was piqued to such an extent that I purchased it without even the customary cursory glance through the pages. To say that I thoroughly enjoyed reading it would be greatly suppressing the facts.

The book takes you to the Biblical epoch of mankind – when Adam and Eve were still ambling about at the Garden of Eden. As the book’s title suggests, the story of genesis is told to us through the pages of diaries that Adam and Eve keep. Through their diaries the author tells us about their daily discoveries, experiments, fears and learning. As Adam and Eve find out about each other’s existence in Eden we gradually venture into the territory of man-woman relationship:

Adam: “This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way. It is always hanging around and following me about. I don’t like this; I am not used to company. I wish it would stay with the other animals… Cloudy today, wind in the east; think we shall have rain… We? Where did I get that word? I remember now – the new creature used it.”

Eve: “All the week I tagged after him and tried to get acquainted. I had to do the talking, because he was shy, but I didn’t mind it. He seemed pleased to have me around, and I used the sociable ‘we’ a good deal, because it seemed to flatter him to be included.

At 93 pages or so, this book is a great read. The book starts on a light, humorous note but when the first protagonists of human race consume the forbidden fruit of knowledge, it progressively becomes somber. A few pages from the Satan’s diary have also been included in this compilation and they make for poignant reading. Pick this one up!
posted: 27.10.04 | permalink | 4 comments

Shelob and I
I discovered this colorful spider (relatively speaking – so far as the members of Arachnida family are concerned, the word “gorgeous” in this spider’s context won’t be entirely misplaced) toiling on its palatial cobweb close to my house. That it chose an old Ambassador for its abode was entirely coincidental (are Ford motors listening?). I’ve kept a keen eye out, and have observed that each week the spider demolishes the web – save for one or two skeletal threads – and starts all over again:

The hunched Gollum like reflection in the old rusty steel Ambassador bumper is my own. There are pockets of grass and tiny shrubs barely inches away from this web, which inadvertently attract little insects of different kinds; thus the plants involuntarily contrive to keep our friendly neighborhood predator well fed.

p.s. Alternative Title: Spider-Man (or his reflection thereof)
posted: 25.10.04 | permalink | 9 comments

Wizard of Oz revisited
I recently revisited one of childhood favorites – The Wizard of Oz. The book is full of wit, allusion and sarcasm but when reading the book as a seventh grader you miss most of it. My first copy of The Wizard of Oz was a borrowed one. It was a paperback, illustrated pocket edition that I thoroughly enjoyed. Though I never watched the cinematic avatar of the book, I did follow the animated version which they aired on Doordarshan for about a year, eagerly. In fact, the animation series also covered stories from later books by L Frank Baum where Dorothy visits Oz again. (My sister and I even named a hen at a small neighborhood farm; Billina!)

I had picked my current copy of the book some 8 years ago at Delhi’s North Campus. While returning from college one day, I had spotted a mini-bus parked near a bus-stop selling books. It was from this awkward mobile book shop that I had purchased two books – Robinson Crusoe and The Marvelous Land of Oz. This one is beautifully bound, colorfully illustrated and was published in Moscow in 1986 by “Raduga” Publishers. The book’s preface and notes section in the end are entirely in Russian (and are printed in Cyrillic script).

For a story that was published in 1900, this one is the big daddy of LOTR and Harry Potter (though it is much underrated). In fact in his introduction, L. Frank Baum humbly admits to taking the ‘winged fairies of Grimm and Andersen’ and juxtaposing them into stories with a more modern context. The old builds upon new. Does this passage not remind you of the Eye of the Sauron in LOTR?

“Now the Wicked Witch of the West had but one eye, yet that was as powerful as a telescope and could see everywhere. So, as she sat in the door of her castle, she happened to look around and saw Dorothy lying asleep, with her friends all about her’.

And no, fairy tales are not always genteel, they can be quite gruesome at times (and The Wizard of Oz is no exception):

“The King Crow flew at the Scarecrow, who caught it by the head and twisted its neck until it died. And then another crow flew at him, and the Scarecrow twisted its neck also. There were forty crows, and forty times the Scarecrow twisted a neck, until at last all were lying dead beside him”.

Then there is plenty of saucy humor to be found scattered throughout the book. Being a vegetarian, this little conversation between Dorothy and Billina obviously caught my attention (no offence intended to my non-vegeterian friends :-)):

“Why, eating live things, and horrid bugs, and crawly ants. You ought to be ’shamed of yourself!
“Goodness me!” returned the hen, in a puzzled tone; “how queer you are, Dorothy! Live things are much fresher and more wholesome than dead ones, and you humans eat all sorts of dead creatures.”
“We don’t!” said Dorothy.
“You do, indeed,” answered Billina. “You eat lambs and sheep and cows and pigs and even chickens.”
“But we cook ’em,” said Dorothy, triumphantly.
“What difference does that make?”
“A good deal,” said the girl, in a graver tone. “I can’t just ‘splain the differenc, but it’s there. And, anyhow, we never eat such dreadful things as bugs”.
“But you eat the chickens that eat the bugs,” retorted the yellow hen, with an odd cackle. “So you are just as bad as we chickens are.”

I don’t quite know how my copy of the book made it to India or to that book shop. The book lingered unread on my bookshelf for years and now - out of a sudden resurrected interest in the text - here I am writing about it in great detail. Some things are strange as the land of Oz itself!
posted: 20.10.04 | permalink | 7 comments

Visitor at lunch
I am not the only one that Airlines Hotel attracts on a bright sunny day:

I had brushed this caterpillar off my t-shirt in a rush of momentary panic and I later regretted not having clicked it on my t-shirt itself. Still it did just fine on the ground and I am glad that when planning its adventures, the little caterpillar, excluded a dip into my bowl of sambhar from its busy itinerary.
posted: 18.10.04 | permalink | 1 comments

Airlines Hotel
The last week in Bangalore was bright and sunny. On days like these it’s a pleasure to have lunch at this outdoor restaurant near our office (Lavelle Road) with a somewhat unusual moniker - Airlines Hotel. The restaurant gives you an impression of a place that grew ‘organically’. As you enter, you’ll see in a far corner, the restaurant’s indoor section of two cavernous, dingy, poorly lit rooms that you must avoid at all costs. Right outside is a small parking lot that leads you to an open area where you’ll see rows of tables with white rectangular marble tabletops, each surrounded by grubby blue molded plastic chairs. Dense, verdant canopies of tens of old trees shade the entire area - and this very aspect of the place makes it worthy of repeated visits.

The main indoor kitchen is reserved for serving typical south Indian fare – dosas, idlis, vadas, bese bele bhaat and so on. In addition, there are three improvised tin-shed outdoor kitchens. Of these, the largest one specializes in juices, aaloo paranthas, chaats and other greasy Indian dishes. One serves sandwiches and ‘imported’ french-fries, while the smallest one doles out dainty, hot, honey-laced jalebis.

One side of this place is overlooked by a tall ungainly chrome building (run of the mill glass-concrete structure). The high ten-foot stone wall that marks one of the restaurant’s perimeters feels as if it is zealously keeping the monster of progress (purported) on the other side in check. An old banyan close to this wall supports a steel drinking water tank and a white ceramic wash-basin.

When I first visited the restaurant several months ago, I was taken aback by seemingly rude behavior of the waiters. Several of them (in their scruffy, begrimed, white liveries) marched right past me nonchalantly - without taking my order or showing me the menu - as if I were a piece of tattered, useless furniture. When no amount of gesticulation helped matters either, it dawned upon me that their behavior was guided by custom not intention – the waiters are assigned a row each which they steadfastly stick to. Once you’ve managed to grab the attention of your designated waiter, the service is reasonably prompt and the food reasonably good value for money. But the dance of sunrays filtering through the shimmering mosaic of countless leaves comes gratis.

posted: 14.10.04 | permalink | 9 comments

That tree...
Wherever I’ve been to Bangalore these days, I’ve come across this tree laden with big, bright, deep-orange flowers:

Even if you don’t walk looking up at the tree (or at the sky; like I do), you are still bound to come across its flowers splayed out on road:

posted: 12.10.04 | permalink | 12 comments

Rain (ok so I am besotted with this one subject)
As evening drew closer, the shadows today not only drew longer but also grew hazy and soon faded altogether. After 5 days of spotless, sunny afternoons the skies were patched with grey clouds again. Once the sun descended, intermittent shards of lightening smote through the clouds, as if prodding them to empty their contents. The clouds themselves looked poignant and full of some pent-up emotion. If their tumultuous thunder is anything to go by, they had not abdicated the Bangalore skies willfully, but were deposed by treasonous act of some unseen forces. The breeze too has taken a cue or two and has begun its lively waltz. It seems, it was colluding with the clouds in some distant land far away. It is raining now but surprisingly its intensity is much reserved.

Now given this majestic backdrop, why on earth should I be struggling with vain matters - such as whether I should be getting a haircut or not (A part of me is keen to let them grow – Liszt style, and that part is dueling with this other part of me that insists on a sharp prim look and thus is keen on dislodging the former. I sure take the term “inner struggle” to new depths of frivolity)
posted: 11.10.04 | permalink | 0 comments

Manjusha recently posted a little satirical verse by Dolly Parker. I couldn't help but pen down a rebuttal to it:

In youth, youth seduced me with its promise
Two Twos then, could add to five.
The joie de vivre, the intoxicated senses;
Perfidiously, they connived.

Of all I did, not all was right
(Just like, a lot of what I said)
Our similar views thus invited a queer plight
As squabbles died, life grew staid
posted: 5.10.04 | permalink | 0 comments

ಇದು ನಮ್ಮ ಬೆಂಗಳೂರು [Idu Namma Bangloru]
If you were at the Delhi airport two years ago today, you’d probably come across a 24 something lad standing at the Jet Airways’ counter. The slightly slouched, tentative looking fellow, you would see, has two suitcases piled on the trolley in front of him and an ungainly backpack poised on his shoulders. The lady at the counter informs him of his excessive bagged (35 Kg as opposed to the 20 he is allowed). He utters back in a quavering voice something to the effect of him moving to Bangalore lock stock and barrel. The lady gives him one good look and perhaps owing to a sudden gush of generosity allows him to check in without any additional levies. This man then goes on to go through routine security checks, makes a short local call from the public phone and sits down (with his bag still on his shoulders) looking much relieved.

That 24 something lad would be me and today I finish my second year in Bangalore (though it certainly feels longer than that). The transition from a city where I spent 24 years of my life to a city that (for me) was distant, unknown, uncharted couldn’t have been smoother (or for that matter couldn’t have come at a better time in my life). In short – life has been very kind!

Spent the day doing things I love most in Bangalore. A late breakfast at the nearest Shanti Sagar, a long 90 minute walk to Oxford bookstore at Airport Road, a hot cup of mocha at the Indiranagar Barista with a friend, a quick hop to another bookstore (Landmark – incidentally neither of these bookstores existed when I had come here!), a late lunch at Little Italy, another hot cup of mocha at the Indiranagar Barista and an auto ride back home to log the day’s happenings.

Current mood – upbeat, current music – Beethoven’s D major mass – Misa Solemis (Gloria). Pictures of the day: Flight and Solitude:

posted: 3.10.04 | permalink | 5 comments

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