Friday, October 7, 2011
Small City Blues
Music arrests me. It immobilizes me. It evokes a stream of emotions in me. And like many of you I am not a music scholar but just a lover.
Left alone in the middle of a city with familiar language and unfamiliar streets, I am led by a song sung in male voice. I am sure it is not coming from a record because the sound is different. Also I know that it does not come from a sophisticated synchronizing machine. It comes from somebody’s soul.
Across the street I see a Maruti omni van fitted with two stereo boxes. Night has already fallen in the streets of Trissur, Kerala. Work worn people amble back to homes and I could smell the fragrance of liquor in the air. Young girls in identical sarees walk past and I recognize them as sales girls who work in big malls and shops where they sell the items that they never ever would be able to buy or consume.
Buses parked along the shores of the streets and have dim lights inside and people look like silhouettes. They all look at this Maruti van from where the music comes. Standing in front of a fruit juice stall I look at the man who stands with a pair of crutches under his arm pits. He is the singer. He is wearing a white dhoti and a cherry red half sleeve shirt. While singing he shifts his body weight from one leg to the other.
He sings the old songs, nostalgic and full of pangs of lost love. He uses the karoke tracks for singing. A friend of his sits inside the car and handles a humble synchronizing machine. He is so adept in playing along the track and I could make out that he must have been a professional singer.
Next to him there is a small bucket, orange in color. Lit by the white neon light emanating from inside the car the bucket looks like a lamp shade. People walk with some kind of an inexplicable guilt and put some notes into it. Some tipplers gather before the singer and shake their head, obviously with a rhythm that does not sync with the rhythm of the song.
A sense of guilt engulfs me. I take out my purse and pulls out a ten rupees note. I cross the street and put the note in the bucket. I share the collective relief felt by all those people who are not disabled but could not sing.
He smiles at me. My grey moustache and beard, and my visible appearance of a stranger in the city might have made him feel sympathetic towards me. Or he might have sensed my feeling of discomfort. Or he must have been singing in streets like this and must be seeing people like me all the time.
He is Balakrishnan. His curly hairs and thick moustache show his bygone charm. I am sure he might have enthralled several people before the advent of music live programs in televisions. “I used to work with the Mangalam Orchastra’, he tells me as I strike up chat with him. I have heard about Mangalam Orchestra.
“I used to climb coconut trees also. One day I climbed a coconut tree in my house and I lost my grip and fell down,” he tells me as I ask him about the handicap. I purse my lips in shock. “I don’t want to sit at home. So I go to towns like this and sing,” Balakrishnan tells me.
I know it is not just about money. It is all about the applauses and appreciation. It is all about the invisible happiness that he used to impart to thousands of people in temple and church premises. Sitting alone at home would fill his ears with the roar of the audience. He wants it. He wants to feel it and live it.
Balakrishnan does not tell me all this. But his silent but very pearly smile conveys this to me secretly. I know how difficult to live in disgrace.
When Balakrishnan winds up his show with a professional announcement with the words full of gratitude and happiness, I walk away thinking that I could find my way back to the hotel.
For a new person Trissur Round is a maze. It will take you to nowhere. I had marked my way to the hotel. But after half an hour of walk I reach the same point where Balakrishnan was singing. Now he has gone. So were the tipplers and weary people.
So I call an autorickshaw and ask the driver to take me to my hotel. From the auto I could see the places that I had just passed while walking and like a magician the driver conjured up a left turn and it took me away from the maze like round.
From a distance I could see the hotel where I stay. It is so tall and all lit up. It must be a couple of kilometers away when I hear a priest giving a lecture to a few hundred strong audience and I ask the driver to stop the rickshaw. I get down there and go into the makeshift pandal where the religious treatment was going on.
The young priest is a good orator. He speaks like a motivational therapist. He asks the people whether anyone in the crowd was ready to go beyond what knowledge has given to them and be with Him, Jesus Christ. People raise their hands and say they want to. Then the young priest using his histrionic skills tells the audience that Jesus Christ was walking amongst them. He tells them that He was going to cure them.
Suddenly some people start convulsing. Some start shaking violently. And he declares that the clutches of Satan on them are now being removed by Jesus Christ. And he wants witnesses and approvers. People are called to the stage and they say that they have just felt Jesus Christ removing their back pain and neck pain.
A few young men wearing saffron lungis stand outside the pandal where I stand and chuckle. Inside people were getting relived of Satan.
I ask myself whether I felt Jesus Christ near me. I do not feel.
I walk into the darkness towards the hotel lit in lights.
I see destitute gods spreading their rags on the pavement for a dreamless sleep.