The Flautist

The Flautist

Driving a bike is second nature now, and so I do get to do some musing when on my bike. Musing yesterday was bordering on a muddle. Life has some classics to offer and I was in the thick of things musing on the roads not taken, fighting lost battles and so on. I was on my way back home yesterday. In Malleshwaram I was crossing 9th cross, going towards Sankar Mutt. The pleasant sound of notes from a flute hit my drums. So I slowed down to check out who was playing it. To my surprise an elderly gentleman had decided to sit on the footpath (just to please himself, I guess) and play the flute. I drove ahead, turned back and inconspicuously lingered and noticed from behind a car. My knowledge of music not being much to write home about, it took me a while to capture that he was playing the atAna rAga. It had the works, the classical sanchaaras (movements) that makes the rAga catchy and dignified at the same time. He took his time to explore the details of the rAga, enjoyed himself and ended it gracefully. He then started wrapping up his flute in a neat bag. He did not look destitute. He was impervious to the fact that not many understood what he was playing or the intricacies of it. He was not perturbed either that people found it strange to see a neat, elderly gentleman playing a classic carnatic tune on the footpath.  I found it strange too, but I was at ease with the effect he was creating at that place. I decided to have a chat with him.

“Sir, neevu atAna nudusthidhree allva?” I asked in Kannada.

Sir, you were playing atAna, weren’t you?

He must have been in his late sixties and was a fair man with spectacles. He wore a coat that old timers in Bangalore still wear and a cap. A neat piece of cloth cushioned him as he sat on the stone to play. He probably did not understand Kannada. But he latched on to my mention of atAna, held my hands and exclaimed: “Yes that was atAna. How do you know that?” He seemed to have, with sound reason, taken that people who can appreciate a classical carnatic rAga, much less identify it, were too miniscule a population to meet in the street. I told him that I have an interest in the same and know a wee bit about rAgas in carnatic music. We chatted a bit more about where I stay and all that, but then he was already leaving by then.

He told me his name, but I did not get to probe into why he was playing there on the footpath. I later realized that I did not want to question, for even by a remote chance, I did not want to find out some truth that he was destitute, and a neat, learned one at that. It takes years and years of effort to play atAna the way he did.

I don’t know if I will ever run into him again, but it was a nice feeling to have met him yesterday. If I do meet him now, I guess I can take any story he’s got to tell me; if he wants to. But yesterday he, in some strange way, infused me to do what I thought right with courage – a quick meeting and a lesson from a stranger that life thought was warranted for my case.

A train of thoughts chugged as I mounted my bike again, this time on a proactive note. I thought about the gentleman enjoying the rich texture of a carnatic rAga on the street. Though I didn’t know the exact intent he had, I assumed it could have been to share the rAga with others or at the least, introduce it to people at random. I thought that this should be done with a more systematic scheme. Kids going to school do not get to learn much in the arts segment. Even if they do, such subjects are treated with slight. Science and math take precedence right from the primary school level. In their formative years, I feel, kids should be trained in music. Western countries do impart an overall education to their kids and Indian schools have equal, if not more, reason to do so.

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