One more story from my favourite author, Thi Janakiraman. We all go great length to look and sound knowledgable and this story captures that. The story must have been written somewhere in the 1950s which goes to prove that it’s not a modern fad.
The story will be of interest to people who have little understanding of Carnatic or Hindustani or for that matter any classical music.
Mr. Dash Dash Dash
(A Story Narrated by a Musician)
திரு கோடு கோடு கோடு
(ஒரு இசைக்கலைஞர் சொன்னக்கதை)
“You are a writer. You write stories and all. I know only to sing. Not to write. So you write, as it is, what I tell you. Anyway you write whatever you see and hear”
I studied and graduated from a Music College thirty years back. Nineteen of my fellow students and I took the degree certificate. There was convocation. All the twenty of us were fortunate because the man, who handed over our certificates, was one of the experts in Politics – Economics – Art and Industry in India. We were so fortunate to get the certificate from him! He handed over the certificate to me, with a smile, a firm handshake and a Namasté. What a big opportunity! He had flown 1500 miles especially for this occasion to handover the certificates. You can imagine – as you are a writer, how proud we must have been.
You must be itching to know the name of the man who made us so proud! No I should not tell you his name. Even if tell you the name, I should not tell you where he came from. Even I tell you where he hailed from, I should not tell his caste. That’s why I am calling him Mr. Dash Dash Dash. Mister _ _ _.
If I say Thiru (Tamil word for Mister), you will figure out he is from Tamil Nadu. That’s why I am calling him Mr. Dash Dash Dash. You must be aware that ‘Mudaliar (Mudaliar – a caste) Road’ is called ‘____ road’ or ‘Dash Road’; ‘Krishnamachariroad’ (chari – a caste) is called‘Krishnama____ road’ or ‘Krishnama –tar painted road’ as the caste names were removed from road signs with a coat of Tar from road signs. So I am calling the noble man Mr. Dash Dash Dash. The first dash is for the village name, the second dash for given name and last dash is for caste.
Before handing over the certificates, the noble man spoke about India’s ancient art of music and more ancient Tamil music for an hour. He quoted from Silapathikaram, Sama Veda, Thirukural and many other ancient classics. We had Goosebumps all over when he spoke about ancient Indian music in general and Tamil music in particular. We felt so small in front of him and so did our teachers. I felt this man knew so much about our cultural heritage and the teachers who taught us did not know a thousandth of what this noble man knew about music. I felt I was duped by our teachers. Our teachers, in the name of teaching music to us, just shouted for five years without teaching us anything. I cried that they have not taught a thousandth of what the noble man spoke about. The teachers have arranged for me to sing after the convocation. I had started shaking vigorously as Mr. Dash Dash Dash was sitting in the first row. He had oceanic knowledge of music and he was sitting in the first row as if he knew nothing about music. How could I sing in front of him? At last, I prayed to Gods and sang a song on Lord Ganesha – who is called the First God. As far as possible, I sang without looking at him. But I could not help looking at him a few times though and I could see he was looking at me without any expression. Sometimes he would look at people sitting close to him. If someone appreciated me with a‘wow’ he would look at him. Then he would look at me. If someone else uttered ‘Ha ha’, he would look at him and then at me without expression. I realised that it would be a herculean task to please him; so I tried harder. Even if he was making thalam, (thalam – a pattern of tapping fingers on your lap in synchronisation with the music or song) he was making thalam with just two fingers gently tapping his thighs, without anyone noticing him. I felt I was under a guillotine for an hour and half and somehow finished singing.
After the performance was over, the principal came to me. He said, “You have passed with flying colours”. Others wished me in front of Mr. Dash Dash Dash saying, “Fantastic”, “pure music” and “you will become great musician”. Then Mr. Dash Dash Dash shook my hands and said, “You sang really well!” I felt that I had back to earth alive. I came alive from the jaws of a lion. I thanked my maker. I knew about people who wrote critiques in Art columns in newspapers and magazines. I knew three fourth of what they wrote was pure drivel and they were all cats under tigers’ skin. I was afraid only about people who were ministers or leaders or corporate bigwigs. They were in big positions, but without letting anyone know, they became experts in Music. They knew pure music. Since music is not their profession, they were not afraid of anyone. That’s why when Mr. Dash Dash Dash said, ‘you sang very well’; I got my life back and became bold. I wanted to shout out those half backed critics, “Come on!”
But there was no chance for all these to happen. The next day the principal called me.
“Mr. Dash Dash Dash is running a big school in his city. There he wants to introduce music as a subject. He is calling you to head the department. You are very lucky. No one will offer so much salary at the start of your career”. When he mentioned the salary, I immediately accepted the offer. With this kind of offer in hand, I did n’t have to take music tuitions to make money. For marriages and temple functions they called only well-known musicians. To tyros like me, they only offered dhoti (The dhotialso known as veshtiis the traditional men’s garment in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is a rectangular piece of unstitched cloth, usually around 4.5 meters long, wrapped around the waist and the legs and knotted at the waist)and bus fare on a plate. Musicians, who wanted to sing in Radio programmes, would be very lucky if they get two chances in a year; and that too after repeated auditions, endless applications and lot of fees. Even after all that one was never sure whether he would be called. So I immediately accepted Mr. Dash Dash Dash’s offer as music lecturer in his school.
Four months had passed; due to some arguments with the government, Mr. Dash resigned his job with provincial government and came back to the city to look after his industries and educational institutions. He refused big job offers from abroad and stayed back to take care of his factories and educational institutions.
Our college correspondent Mr. Subramaniya ___ (forgive me for not mentioning the surname) mentioned often, “The noble man wants to meet up with you”. I was afraid! Why would he want to meet me?
Couple of occasions came when I when I was scheduled to meet to him. The first time, my father died suddenly; so I escaped. Second time Mr. Dash Dash Dash himself called off our rendezvous as he had to attend an urgent meeting. Third time I could not escape as no one in my family went to heaven (died) and Mr. Dash Dash Dash did not have any urgent meeting. It was a Sunday and I thought I would get struck for an hour or two. There was a lock-out in two of factories and he was relatively free.
Why was he calling me? Was he going to ask me to sing a song in some raga which I did not know? Or was he going to ask me to translate some songs from Sanskrit or Telugu? Or was he having even tougher tasks in mind? As usual I believed Lord Ganesha, the first God, would save me and put the weight on his shoulders and started walking towards his house.
Mr. Dash Dash Dash’s house was like a big palace. There were two security guards, manning huge gate which looked like railway crossing. One guard, who was in a cabin which looked like a pointsman’s cubicle, was dressed in Khakis with a telephone in hand. He called someone inside, got the approval and allowed me inside the house.
Mr. Dash Dash Dash was sitting in his room, smartly dressed in dhoti and shirt. As soon as I went inside he offered me cookies and traditional south Indian snacks. He ate with me as well.
“So much work pressure. That’s why I could not meet you earlier” he offered an explanation almost in an apologetic tone.
“Don’t I know? Can anyone sit like this and talk to you? You have so much work”.
There was no one else in the room.
The noble man said, “Nothing much! I want you to teach me something!”
“Oh very well”
“I was having this desire for a long time. Because of work pressure, constant travel abroad and looking after these industries, I could not get time…”
“Don’t I know? Do you have to tell me? You wanted me to teach you something. I can teach you whatever little I know. But I know only music!”
“I want to learn something in music only”
“What can I teach you sir? You are an ocean!”
“What’s use being an ocean? You can only run ships in ocean or catch fish. But you cannot drink a spoonful of water from it”
“I don’t understand what you mean sir”
“Nothing! You can only teach me this”
The noble man continued, “Assume a great musician like you is singing, many people in the audience suddenly say, ‘ha-ha! Ha-ha. Sometimes they say, ‘very good, very good’. And some other time they close their eyes. How do they do this? When one should do this? When should you shut the eyes? When should you say ha-ha ha-ha? When should one say ‘wow?’ They listen quietly and suddenly they close their eyes and the eyes become wet. I have attended few concerts with my manager. Suddenly he says ‘ha-ha’ and sometimes ‘wow’. Sometime he wipes his eyes. How? When should one do all these? I just want to know only this much about music. That’s why I called you”.
I felt that indeed I had put my head inside lion’s mouth.
“Mr. Dash Dash Dash is not alive now. He died few years back. Even today, if I think about that meeting with the noble man, I shudder all over. Tell me why? You should be able to – as you are a writer!!”
He was born in a Tamil Brahmin (Iyer) family of Madras Presidency in 1921. He worked as a civil servant. His writing included accounts of his travels in Japan and the Crimea.The writing style of Thi Jaa is simple and narrative. His best-known novels are Mogamul, Sembaruthi, and Amma Vandhaal. All these novels have feminine feelings embedded in their subject. Though the story is spun around delicate feelings, the author’s narration is flawless and spontaneous. His short stories such as Langdadevi (a lame horse) and Mulmudi (Crown of Thorns) also follow the same style of writing. – Wikipedia