May 5, 2013

A Prelude

When I woke up, it was raining over Bombay. I knew I had arrived for I could recognize the wraiths that the twinkling nightlights of the metropolis and the rhythmic waves of rainwater were creating on my window. I had left in a hurry from Geneva, I just could not wait – I knew he did not have the time.

It was an after-concert party for all those who were someone in the classical music backdrop of Geneva and of course, me. I had played a good set; they said that I ‘had captured the essence of Satie’s ‘After The Rain’ between my quivering strings.’ I was entertaining the members of the Conservatoire at the time – we were talking about the peculiar artistic quality that surrounds the conservatoire grounds during winter. The messenger came in silently behind me like a ghost in harmony and lightly tugged at my elbow. Abruptly, I found my way, hiding from the guests, to the telephone receiver, which said
-         - I’m at the hospital U…
-          - What happened? Where is Rajesh?
-         - I’m alright, it is about Kedar Uncle.
-           - What?
-          - He’s critical
-           - Huh? Come again
-          - I said Kedar is in critical condition, he’s in ICU right now in P---
-           - He speaking?
-          - In fact, yes, I mean, he said he wanted to see you and all, but I told him you are studying in Switzerland and he…
I returned the receiver to the receptionist and walked back into the party – ‘It snows here as it rains in India – monsoon or snowfall – they temper art and life alike.’ The department Head of Piano had lit up delightfully at that comment, I wonder what he found so assuring about it. The seasons run their course and so do men, each must face his own lot of consequence. I must face mine.

Later that night, I spoke to my department Head, briefly, to inform him that I was to leave Switzerland as soon as possible and come, to pay my respects to a dying uncle, to India.
-          - That is most unfortunate, I must say. To hear such news on the eve of your proper debut in Europe
-           - It is indeed a pity, but I won’t be long.
-          - Long enough to cool down the buzz anyway, are you sure you can’t wait another day or two? I mean if it can be helped…
-           - No. It will be much less of a racket if I reach in time, the earliest. Then I can return immediately. I know it is a risk but I can’t irk the family.
-          - Ah..I guess I know what you mean. I’ll do you a favor and keep things tight with the press. Be quick and don’t disappoint me.
-           - I won’t sir. I must, leave now. I will be back by Thursday regardless and…, thank you.
His senile eyes approved with a glint of excitement in them, the excitement of youth in an old man. I took only my guitar case that I already carried and made for the airport for my late night flight to Mumbai. I would have left even if he had not permitted to. The moment he asked for me after all these years, I was bound to oblige.

By the time I made it out of the airport, my head was hurting from a hangover and a lag – as if a needle was stuck in a loop of the horrible noise of the jet in some track of my brain. The trip from here to Wai would be some 400 kilometers on a highway and another 70 kilometers to the town of P---, over bad roads. I had some eggs and juice and a huge helping of rice to qualm my hunger and hired the first decent looking transport guy I could find. A wiry fellow, him, but nimble and alert. Good driver anyway, bit expensive and also I haggled just once – have to be there quick Nick! Father dear calls as I wait for my coffee to be had on the go
-          - What’s going on son? I called at the dorm and they said you had left! I was telling you earlier it is OK, I mean he said it was OK if you couldn’t make it.
-           - Well, I’m on my way now. Who else is there?
-          - Your uncle Arvind made it here just now. Get down here as fast as you can. They say he doesn’t have much time – he’s getting worse.

I grabbed my coffee and sat in the car, signaled the driver and we sped off, trailing the nearest exit to the highways. As we pulled out, under the malevolent yellow light of the insomniac city I lighted a smoke and drank my coffee. While I also instructed the driver that we are not to stop till we reach our destination. ‘It’ll cost you extra sir’ – He looked at me in the rear view. The yellow light lighting up a band on his eyes. I agree – come on Nick – go as swift as the wind.

The motion of the car and the inertia of my battered brain lulled me to a deep sleep. Darkness, then light and again, I could feel them – I could hear still, the silent hum of the revving engine and with it the tapping of raindrops trying to break into the bubble. This was my lullaby – The Song of the Highway.