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Music is Forever Episode 3: Music lessons

It is the morning after the concert and after the visit from Sangeetha and Anil, at Ram's place. Malini wakes to hear the tambura in the living room. There is no singing, but she can hear somthing small and light jumping up and down on the carpet - Shruti.

A cry from the little girl warns her to wake and rescue Shruti from Ram's wrath.

Malini threads her way over scattered toys, gathering them up in her arms and dumping them into a half-full crate as she comes to the living room. Already the room is permeated with the aroma of fresh filtered coffee, and her mother-in-law emerges with two mugs.

"Thank you, Ma," Malini says, graciously accepting the second cup (after the first has been offered to Ram and laid aside). "Ram, please drink your coffee before it gets cold," she admonishes.

Shruti bounces up onto the sofa with a doll she has wrested from her mother. She is humming the notes of the tambura.

Ram is plucking the tambura and with his free hand beckons to Shruti. She sits obediently in front of him, her legs crossed "Indian-style" and her eyes wandering to the doll on the sofa. She fidgets with the lace on her nightgown, and Ram pulls her hand away with his.

"Sing sa pa sa," he instructs.

She does so, holding each note until she is out of breath and has to gasp for air. Ram sings along whenever she is slightly out of tune, as if to correct her pitch by drowning it out.

"Mm, what will we sing today?" he asks, his brow furrowed. "Start with sarali varisai."

"Nooo.." Shruti whines, making faces.

"Then?"

"I want to sing paahi ramachandra," she insists, firmly.

"Sing sarali varisai first."

"Ohhh," she whines, hoping to win him over, but as usual, failing.

She begins sarali varisai half-heartedly.

serigamapadhaneesa saanidhapaamaagereesa.

Her "ri" and "dha" have a pronounced accent, acquired from other kids in kindergarten. She continues,

seri seri seri gema seri gema pada nee sa (deep breath)
saani saani saani dhapa saani dhapa maaga reesa.

Ram watches her with attention, wondering how to correct her accent. Is it too late? He makes a mental note to teach her a sloka later that will help her pronunciation.

His mother is less critical, admiring her granddaughter but thinking that children were not so disobedient in her day.

Malini smiles proudly at her daughter. She has such perfect pitch, and sits so obediently, but isn't she too young for such strict lessons?

Shruti continues her lessons, hoping she can get to sing paahi ramachandra soon, but knowing that it will be a long time before she can get to that point. Already her ankles hurt from sitting too long.

*****

Sangeetha arrives at the music school just five minutes late. One student's parent is loitering around the entrance chatting with other parents. Another music teacher is just leaving and discussing with the parents an upcoming violin concert by a local artist, Raja Anthony. The music teacher says she is amazed that there are Christian Carnatic musicians, how rare they are, and one of the mothers expresses concern that he might not know the full emotions of the songs, since they are Hindu songs. A father interjects that Yesudas is Christian and lends beautiful emotion to both Christian and Hindu songs.

Sangeetha enters and in passing tells them that there have been many non-Hindu Carnatic musicians, including Muslim and Christian vocalists and instrumentalists. They gape after her, wanting more, but she rushes off, afraid to enter a deep conversation when class is beginning.

Three girls are seated waiting for her. A fourth student, the only boy, follows her in, holding his mother's hand. The girls are whispering something while the boy sits down silently. All the children are about six years old. A couple of parents sit in the back of the room.

"How was everyone's week?" Sangeetha asks cheerfully.

They all erupt into conversation.

"My class went to the zoo!"

"Guess what? We're going to India next month!"

"My mom was really busy so I couldn't practice."

Sangeetha entertains their conversation patiently, and the parents confirm or deny their children's statements. When they settle down, she turns on the shruti box and asks them to sing sa pa sa.

They do so, in much the same way that Shruti does.

Before they can continue, Sangeetha's cell phone rings. It's Anil.

She ignores it, thinking, "he knows better than to bother me in the middle of class!"

"So, what do you want to sing today?" she asks her class.

They all offer suggestions. "Vara veena." "That bhajan." "Jumping varisai." "Silanga katti." "Let's do a new song." "I couldn't practice because we went to Disneyland."

"We can only sing one song at a time!" Sangeetha laughs. "Ok, Pratibha's turn today, what do you want to sing?" she asks the girl sitting on the far right.

"Hmm," Pratibha thinks dramatically, rolling her eyes up to the ceiling.

"I know!" says the girl beside her, her ponytails bobbing. "Let's sing that Ganesha song!"

"Shh, Sheela" says the boy, "She said Pratibha!"

"Raara venu," volunteers Pratibha, finally.

"But I don't know that yet!" complains Sheela, who joined only a few weeks ago.

"Don't worry, I'll teach you guys again. I'm sure everyone's forgotten it," says Sangeetha, as she picks up her phone, which is ringing again.

"That's Anil again!" she sighs. "Fine. One minute - Pratibha, get out your notes and show them to Sheela and Janani."

"What is it?" she says into the phone.

"Hi Sangeetha," says a familiar voice shakily, not Anil's. "It's Jon."

Sangeetha is surprised and slightly worried, but shrugs it off. "Hey Jon, what's up?"

"Anil's kinda hurt. We're actually at the General Hospital. You should get down here."

Sangeetha stares at the children, chatting away happily, and then at their parents. "I've gotta go."

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updated on 01/13/2013