Curtailed Melodies

by Gauri Trivedi

[box]Ever attended lessons for something you were good at but never liked? We’re sure it rings a bell. Gauri Trivedi writes about her trials and tribulations with her mother around classical music lessons that she was enrolled in as a teenager.[/box]

My friend walked in unannounced with her daughter yesterday, both of them agitated and exhausted as a result of a lengthy argument. The mother wanted the little girl to continue with her piano lessons and the daughter wanted to quit. The mother insisted that her daughter was good at it but lacked the seriousness to pursue. She got her daughter to me hoping somebody else would knock some sense into her.

“Just come and listen to her play the piano, you will see right away that she is gifted,” the mother in question implored me.  How could I possibly tell her that I was probably the last person on this earth she should have come to with this pickle? Me, who had failed to appreciate her own gift, passed half a decade in denial and who never had the courage to resume from where she left. If I had the moral fiber to own up, even to myself, this was probably the moment, but it passed quickly, saving me from going down the path of regret, this once.

Some people have a knack for spotting talent. My mother probably fell into that category.

“I have some wonderful news,” she announced, coming home beaming with joy, face flushed pink slightly from climbing the stairs that led to our apartment and partly from the excitement of what she was about to reveal.

“Mrs. Chitnis, our new neighbour in the next building, comes from a musical family and is a trained classical singer herself. She has performed at various stage shows and her songs have also been played on the radio! How lucky for us that she has agreed to give music lessons for a small fee!”  Now, this instant connection might have shocked some, but not us. With my mother, these kinds of occurrences were not uncommon. She would meet people anywhere, get them talking and find out things about them. Things that don’t get uncovered in the very first conversation with a person, but like I said, some people just recognise a talent when they see one!

“But doesn’t she work in a bank the whole day?” I asked.  It was 1987 and to be very honest, back then, I didn’t know too many working mothers and that there were mothers who worked and agreed to work more after coming home seemed a little fishy to me. I believe the phrase “Multi-tasking Moms” was not so much in fashion then, or I would have known about it.

How I knew that Mrs. Chitnis worked for a bank and that she had a son who was in the same class as my younger sister and a daughter who had just started to walk and that Mrs. Chitnis’s mother stayed with her to help out, wasn’t really a surprise either. Without cell phones and Facebook, the world was better connected.

“Yes, but you know how these banking jobs are, there’s hardly anything to do!” Mother spoke from her own rendezvous with the bank employees who could be seen doing everything from peeling pea-pods to laughing away on the telephone to having snack breaks any number of times, any time of the day. (Tickles my funny bone now when I think of people who witnessed this scenario and aspired to be bank officers).

“We can start this Thursday, she has a holiday and it’s an auspicious day,” she announced. While I totally approved of learning at any age and was utterly supportive of my mother’s creative pastimes, accompanying her to a classical singing lesson was really an embarrassment I was keen to save myself from. “I really have a lot of homework this week,” I said, suddenly eager to leave the room as if hit by some kind of a premonition. “Just plan it out so that you have an hour to spare for your classical music lessons every week,” mother casually dropped the bomb.

“Classical music lessons? Me? Mom! I thought you were talking about yourself. You love to sing, it was always your dream to learn some form of music or an instrument.” I looked at her with disbelief. This was gross violation of my freedom of choice; in fact, this was no less than vocal exploitation. She had gone ahead and enrolled me and my voice to chase a target that we found mildly annoying and awfully uninteresting.

“But you sing so well,” she went on, as if my denial had gone unregistered. “You are in your school’s prayer group and with proper training your voice will improve. If you practice you will get better at it,” she persisted, hoping flattery might do the trick. “Mom, singing a prayer is different from singing the same seven notes again and again,” I screamed, letting her on to a small part of the whole truth. The momentous portion of the veracity that remained well concealed was that singing the “ragas” was going to make me a laughing stock amongst one and all, my modern image was going to take a serious beating and peers would promptly label me the next “behenji” in town. This was social suicide and it was all happening because SHE had dreams that remained unfulfilled. I was getting angry now and on the verge of tears.

The thing about mothers is that they have not one or two but about a million secret weapons up their sleeves, coupled with thorough knowledge on when to use which one. Normally, a disciplinarian and a no-nonsense instruction-giver, her demeanour changed on my vehement defiance.  And before I could cry, I found myself consoling her. At 12, I was rebellious but not enough to cause so much grief to my mother; that stage came much later.

In her first ever emotional outburst, she described how certain limitations and lack of opportunity had  prevented her from following her dreams of learning music, and that I would be a fool to turn down the same when it had come to stay next door. “Time flies, never to come back. Grasp this minute, learn whatever you can, as much as you can – because if you don’t, all you can do later is repent.”  She said those words with the urgency of a spectator who saw something slip away faster than it could be stopped.

And just like when a child is forced to gulp down the morsel of food shoved down her throat even when she has refused to eat, I swallowed my denial and agreed to trail ambitions I was supposed to have inherited.

The four years that I took music lessons coincided with that difficult period of progression in human life when sweet little daughters turn from followers to protestors. Music did nothing to decrease the altercations that occurred periodically between a teenager and her mother. If anything, it became a sporadic source of conflict, an undercurrent which surfaced now and then, testing tranquil waters.

As months and years passed, mother kept hoping for some kind of a turnaround from me. She discussed my progress in detail with the teacher whenever the opportunity came and believed someday I would appreciate the encouragement and support  (which she herself was sadly deprived of) she had provided me with, to take up a creative pursuit.

But I was far from grateful. To me, it felt like a forced ambition, a borrowed dream. I would of course never admit to her that my music teacher thought I had a natural flair for classical music. I passed my written and vocal exams with flying colours year after year, but those results did not fool my teacher. She had caught my obvious disinterest long back but patiently waited for me to finally come around to realising my own worth. That, of course, didn’t happen when it should have.

The fifth year of training in classical music requires the student to practise singing with a Tanpura (a stringed musical instrument). That was when I put my foot down. No way was I going to walk down every week with a Tanpura in my hand for the music lesson. My mother pleaded with me but this time around I was emotionally less vulnerable, foolishly strong-headed and adamantly blind to my capabilities. And so I let four years of training go down the drain and secretly prided myself on finally having my way.

The perfect proverbial ending to this saga would have been my daughter doing the same thing to me. Fortunately for us, the Gods have decided to wait on their revenge.  For now, she seems to be interested in every possible activity under the sun and her motto at this tender age is “Try it and you may like it!” While she doesn’t always excel at everything she takes on, my suggestion to drop a class is immediately brushed off. “Mom, if I practise, I will get better at it,” she says, and I feel like I have heard that line somewhere before.

P.S. Last I checked, mother had bought a brand new harmonium and my music teacher, now retired from her job at the bank, has never been busier.

Gauri Trivedi is a former business law professional who makes the law at home these days. A Mom to two lovely daughters, her days are filled with constant learning and non- stop fun. All of her “mommy time” goes into writing and finds itself on her blog pages and and if she is not writing she is definitely reading something!

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