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Stifled Rhythms

“Go away, you are not welcome here”, screeched a voice hysterically, as I entered the small stuffy room, which was engulfed in semidarkness.

“Varun dear, it’s your uncle Praveen, I have come all the way from Dubai only to see you, man!”

All my hopes were dashed when he replied, “I don’t care who you are. Now clear out or allow me to leave the room.”

  I do not know how long I sat thereafter, alone in the basket chair kept in their balcony. A whirlwind of emotions had blown away my thinking, at least temporarily. I looked up finally when I felt a gentle hand patting my head affectionately. It was Nalini, Varun’s mother, my cousin sister who was several years my senior.

“Relax, Pravi”, she murmured softly, wiping away my tears, as well as her own with the edge of her sari, “You know something Pravi? It may be some small comfort to know that he has been relatively polite to you. Varun always had a soft corner for you.”

“What has happened to our Varun, sis?” I burst out finally, “He was never like this! Though you have been telling me about these changes in him----- it is shocking nevertheless!”

“Shh! Not so loud please!” said Nalini, looking quickly around to see if Varun was within earshot. “He has been like this since more than five years now--- ever since—“

Nalini’s voice trailed off as I nodded knowingly and gestured her to silence.
I closed my eyes and tried to recall the Varun I used to know so well, the shy, handsome youth who had magic in his fingers. Suddenly, my memories came alive as I recollected the mesmerizing beats of Varun’s Mridangam, his fingers flying in perfect rhythm, leaving the audience in a trance. That was over nine years ago---  
***
The fragrance of scented sticks wafted gently in the air as I approached the music platform within the Ganesha temple. I loved these music recitals in the temple, in the evenings, after the worshippers had left and only the music lovers remained. This day was all the more precious as my dear nephew Varun was to play the Mridangam, first to accompany the vocalist and then as solo. Varun gave a gentle smile of welcome as I took my seat on the raised platform.

As expected, it turned out be a feast for the ears. Though the singer was good, his performance was outclassed and eclipsed by Varun. The vibrations from his Mridangam sent shudders of joy down our spines and we were in raptures.

After the program, I embraced my nephew and announced, “You are a genius, Varun. You will be great one day.” Varun, smiled sadly and said, “What’s the use, uncle? Mom and dad do not encourage me. In fact they are very much against my participating in these events.”

“Why? What do they want?” I asked, surprised that they were not proud of his talents. Varun shrugged and said, “They want me to be an engineer and go to the USA to earn pots of money”

That piece of information didn’t surprise me very much because I knew the present day aspirations of most Indian parents, especially the ones from the South. It was almost a formula: Ensure an engineering or medical graduation and pack them off to the wealthy West!

But Varun was different! He was born for music!

 Varun was exceptionally good at playing any percussion, particularly the Mridangam. I have heard his music Guru declare once with tears of joy streaming down his face that he had nothing more to offer his disciple.     

***
I sighed in great sadness as I rose to leave. It was probably too late now.
 The unreasonable ambition of Varun’s parents had stifled his magic rhythms forever.


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