All of 6, I strode sleepy eyed into my living room. The sound of a room filled with musicians tuning their instruments had woken me up. The living room was packed with a stringed ensemble setting up for their practice session. Bows occasionally clashed, and stands were shared as clips held sheets upon sheets of music in place.
My dad is a musician and the sight was far from unfamiliar. Tonight the likes of Mozart, Handel and Bach would be brought to life in my very own home. As I stood at the far end of the dining room – after having made my way through a maze of instrument cases, music stands and towering uncles- only one thought ran through my mind: “There goes my TV time!”.
But that was a long time ago. Unknowingly, all the pieces they played stayed with me. I often find myself humming along to those melodies of yesteryear when I hear them at concerts and in churches and wonder how I know them. Then I remember.
I grew up with music. I was four years old when my father bought me a violin and taught me how to hold a bow. “No one else can hold the bow as gracefully as you do Gredel”, he’d say to me as my tiny fingers struggles to hold the bow steady. And I’d grin. My father was my first teacher. Now, that was a boon and a bane because god forbid I missed a single day’s practice. I’d better have a good excuse or the death stare would be mine to shudder at. However, there was something so enriching about being taught an art form such as music by my own father. It created a very special bond.
When we heard a song on the radio, he’d turn around and say “So, is the song in a minor scale or a major scale Gredel?” To me there was and still is nothing more important than getting the answer right to a question related to music. If I got it right he’d look up, smile, nod and say, “Good Gred”.
But my most favourite father-daughter activity is going for a concert or better still: watching my father play for one. I still remember going to Alliance Française as a child, dressed in my formal best and grinning from ear to ear at the prospect of watching my father in concert.
There was this one time we went to watch a concert by an amazing orchestra from Germany (I’m afraid I don’t remember the name) and I was supposed to leave to Kerala that very evening. My father promised my grandfather, who booked our tickets and planned the trip that he’ll have me back before it was time to leave. To our rather unfortunate luck we got tempted by the bright red of ‘SREE RAJ LASSI BAR’ sign and stopped off for a glass which gave us enough and more time to discuss the concert in full detail.
Need I say I felt like quite the cool cat having a proper discussion with my father about music with fancy terms flying all over the place and careful critiques being exchanged?
I was bloomin’ thrilled!
But when we got home, Appappa looked beyond displeased.
I understood at a very early age that being a musician by profession wasn’t as rosy as it seemed or as fancy as it sounded. It’s a struggle right from the get go. My father used to play at The Oberoi and even for regional films back when actual instruments and not different keyboard tones were used to record a song. So every time I hear the word ‘Recording’, I knew daddy was off to work.
As a kid I would often wonder why he didn’t have a nine to five job like all the other fathers. Back home at six, playing badminton with their kids or sipping chai on their balconies while they watched their young’un play hop scotch on the road. Whenever I bring it up now, my mother cuts in and recounts the story of how I confronted my dad and said to him, “Why can’t you come home and play with me like all the other daddies?” and then stormed off. Mum says Dad cut down on the number of recordings he did in a month, stopped playing at The Oberoi and began focusing on teaching music in order to be able to spend more time at home. I don’t quite remember. So I just laugh every time this story is told.
What was so different about my father and his profession? Why were people always so amused when they heard that my father was a musician? Oh, and they never failed to ask, “So what does he really do?”
But that’s just it, isn’t it?
When there’s one thing that doesn’t conform with the ‘norm’, like my father’s profession in this case, then you can’t expect everything else to follow a perfect code of normalcy.
The relationship we share is different. What might seem as just a hobby to bond over, like cricket or football, is actually is our entire lives. And who we are as one entity is so strongly defined by the crescendos and diminuendos of music itself.
To me, my father is music and music is my father.
The life he leads as a proud musician has and always will give me an unsung strength to take on the augmented tunes of life. He inspires. In fact musicians all around the world like him are real heroes. They weren’t afraid to make their passion their profession and believe in its ability to provide.
We may not have been able to do some of the things that other father-daughter duos did, but we created a bond in our own special way.
Ours is a relationship that’s built on the principles of love and sacrifice. Principles that stem from an eternal ambrosia we know so simply to be: music.
PS. Thank you Daddy. Thank you for the music.
Here are links to a few of the pieces I grew up listening to my father play: