While wiping out the dust from my old diaries today, I got hold of something interesting, a small piece of writing, filled with some hastily written lines – well, I recalled that day, when I wrote that quickly because I didn’t want to forget about that experience. Actually, almost nine years ago I wrote that. It was the time, when I used to save every penny to buy those music cassettes with a price tag of 120 rupees. It was a flourishing time for all those boy bands (Boyzone, Backstreet Boys and a few others). Well, my only source of English Music, Channel V and MTV - were also showing their tracks most of the time. So, whatever was hit on TV or coming more often on TV – was hit for me. Though, I didn't understand the lyrics of many of their songs, I hummed them in the bathroom and tried to imitate those good looking boy-singers, when no one was watching me. Well, I started this post with this small introduction to recall that what I was listening during those days, when I met that guy on that day.
Now, lets’ come straight to the point here. It was one of those days, when I was going to my friend’s place, I boarded a bus in South Delhi (Madangir – the exact place) and after the bus reached the fourth bus-stand, I saw a guy standing, facing the passengers of the bus. He was using the metal rod cover of bus-bonnet to support his body – with his back sticking firmly to those rods. He had a unique kind of musical instrument in his hand. I quickly related that one instrument to Ektara, I once saw in a play in my school titled “Meera”. Actually, it was an Ektara or one string guitar as I would like to call it with a big base or head made of pumpkin. It was a blue-line bus and anyone who lived in Delhi during those days must be aware about that killing fleet of buses, which were driven by pokerfaced drivers, who were always competing with others to get more and more passengers and very rarely I saw them saying anything. Whenever they opened up their mouths, either it was to abuse someone or to order conductor to do something – sometimes to change the side of the cassette in the music player - something I always liked!
Let’s come back to our protagonist or the guy with Ektara. Like he used to do with every other passenger, conductor approached that guy and asked for tickets, this guy smiled and balanced himself as he was preparing to play and gave a few coins to the conductor – who counted them and immediately shifted his focus on another passenger. Interestingly, our protagonist was not playing it like Meera (as I saw in that school play), as he had another stick, which he was using to play it like a violin. Initially, I didn’t notice it as I was busy enjoying the race between our driver and other – as both were stepping on the accelerator every now and then to reach to the next bus-stop quickly before other. My head was moving to and fro every now and then with the frequently altering speed of the bus – but that guy was standing firmly there, with his back-body sticking to those metal rods – meant to keep the passengers away from the bus-bonnet or driver. That guy stretched out his arms, held the Ektara like a violin and started playing, with the utmost focus. Passengers were boarding and alighting, but this guy was right there with that Ektara – and he was playing the tunes of some popular Hindi tracks. While balancing my head with the wobbly speed of the bus – I tried to concentrate on those tunes and found that he was changing the tunes without any break. So, I had to focus hard as he quickly shifted from Pardasiyon se na akhiyan milana to tu mera jaanu hai tu mera dilbar hai.
He was absolutely focussed on that Ektara and gradually, I found myself in a kind of trance created by that music – sometimes those tunes were crushed by the cranky horns of the bus and other vehicles - but I didn't lost my grasp on those quickly altering tunes. I must add here about those interruptions by the conductor, who was pushing that guy every now and then to accommodate more and more passengers in the bus. Those pushes were nothing as compared to the abrupt alterations in the speed of the bus – but this guy was skilfully balancing himself while his Ektara and he looked as one – both were working as a perfect unit to captivate me and others, who were listening to those tunes, seriously.
As the bus reached the fourteenth bus stop this guy stopped playing and opened up his palm before passengers. A few guys sitting in the front tossed up a few coins in his palm and then he came to me. Gradually coming back to my real-self, after experiencing that pure ecstasy of music for a while, I seriously took notice of that guy – a man between his forties, looking somewhat dishevelled in those sweat-laden dirty clothes, with a few wrinkles emerging at the edges of both sides of the eyes and a few white hair on his beard further worsening his looks. He had dark lips – which were looking parched may be due to relentless smoking or cruel Delhi weather of May. Then I noticed his petite smile – not the one you see on the faces of those who ask for the money after performing something in public. And, if you don’t give anything to them – they come up with that wry smile to leave you with a biting-thought – What the hell, I didn’t ask you to perform that. This guy had a very assured smile and he didn’t stop smiling before those who didn’t even look at him.
I gave him a five rupees coin and then he got down at the next bus-stop. I travelled on that route many times after that but never saw him again. That day I didn’t feel any pity or sympathy for that guy. Good Music attains sublime form – no matter, where you play it. That guy had every good reason to smile and feel too good for himself because he played like a virtuoso during those ten minutes or so and touched my soul with his music.