A discordant note

This article originally appeared in Sulekha

After what seemed to be the most agonizing moments of my life, he said, “Come back tomorrow.” At home, my mother called up every relative and friend in town to share the good news.
“What a stroke of luck,” she exclaimed breathlessly on the phone.
When my father looked bewildered by the commotion, I explained, “The maestro’s agreed to take me on as a student. I passed the interview.”

Before this momentous event, my music lessons had always been the cause of constant strife between my mother and me. When I had turned ten, my mother began scouting the market till she found the right teacher. He was a young fresh graduate from the local music school. He would arrive exactly on time, first have the tiffin (snack) my mother painstakingly prepared and leave on the hour. Sometimes I wondered whether he really came for her upuma and dosa, which he always consumed with great enthusiasm. I never did find out since he didn’t last very long.

Over the years, though my mother managed to maintain a constant stream of teachers, I remained unschooled. One day she declared much to my joy, “Enough! I wash my hands off this matter!” After the brouhaha had died down I summoned up the courage to ask her, “Can I learn how to play the piano instead?” The silence that followed was deafening, till she asked, “Where did that come from? ” She was quite perplexed by my request. When she finally nodded her head resignedly I found myself conjuring visions of playing at Carnegie Hall!

My piano lesson started off with a bang the very next day. “Scales! Scales my dear. I want you to play only scales all day long!” my new piano instructor insisted. He’d come in the scorching heat of the afternoon, have a good siesta while I played and wake up only when I started banging on the keys. This phase did not last too long, as after my first few lessons, the neighbor’s dogs started baying the moment my classes began and wouldn’t stop till I quit. Henceforth it became a constant battle between woman and beast with the canines finally emerging as the winners. That was the end of the piano phase.

For the next few days I was in the doghouse. Mother walked around with an injured look on her face and I had to act pronto. “Give it another shot,” my conscience urged me. Nevertheless she was taken aback when I declared over the dinner table, “I’ve decided to learn music from the maestro!” I mentioned the name of a well-known local musician.
“You’re on your own. And no fooling around this time. He is a hard taskmaster,” she warned.

That was how I ended up taking and passing the test with the maestro that had so overjoyed my mother. The next day, I found myself on tenterhooks as I waited for my first lesson with the maestro. Finally there I was seated in front of him. “Sing a piece you already know,” he commanded. When I started to sing he bellowed, “Stop! I heard a discordant note there!” When he sat there glowering at me I wished my mother would walk in that very moment with the customary coffee and tiffin. I knew that half the battle would be won once he started digging into that uppma!

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