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The Violin Class

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By Savitri Narayanan

“Wonder where I kept that file!” said Gulab Singh, his hands on his hips.

The cupboard was open. Sheets of paper, cartons and files lay scattered all around. Since morning he had been looking for a document.

“I remember keeping it here, along with the income tax files,” said Gulab Singh and continued to ruffle through the papers.

Papaji, what’s this?” asked Mitali.

“Oh! That’s a violin!” said Gulab Singh. There was tenderness in his voice as he continued, “My father’s violin! Your Dadaji used to be a violinist!”

Mitali had no memories of her grandfather as he had passed away before she was born. But his photos were everywhere and Dadaji was so much part of the family conversations that Mitali had grown fond of him.

“I want to learn violin!” Mitali said at the dinner table.

“Up there in the heaven Dadaji must be smiling!” said her father. “He was keen to teach me but I wasn’t interested to learn violin!”

“We’ll look for a teacher,” said Mummyji, “There’s some music class in Anand Nagar.”

“I’ll check with Purushottam,” said Chachaji, “His son learns some instrument somewhere!”

That’s how the next evening they landed up in Shamlal Music Classes off the main road. The class was in progress. A few children squatted on a mat around Shamlalji. They were practising their violins.

Shamlalji looked up, smiled in welcome and said, “Please could you wait outside till I finish this class?”

Mitali sat with Pitaji in the verandah listening to the strains of the violin floating from within.

‘I too will play the violin like them,’ thought Mitali.

Guruji calls you inside!” said a child who came out of the music room. Mitali followed her father inside.

“So you want to learn violin! Let’s start now!” the teacher addressed Mitali, “Take that violin and hold it like this!”

Remembering what she had seen in the movies, Mitali bowed in respect to the teacher as well as to the violin before picking it up.

“Not like that,” said the teacher, “Hold it like this!”

He held the violin against his left shoulder and played a tune, his fingers gently caressing the strands.

Mitali tried but couldn’t hold the violin correctly.

“Hold the violin this way!” said the teacher, impatience creeping into his voice.

Mitali tried harder to watch and imitate the teacher’s fingers moving on the strings.

“You’re wrong!” said the teacher, “Watch me carefully, hold the violin like this and play like this!”

However much she tried, Mitali couldn’t get it right. The teacher turned increasingly impatient. It was then that her father spoke up.

Guruji, my daughter’s left-handed,” said Gulab Singh, “She eats, writes, draws – does everything with her left hand.”

The teacher took a thoughtful look at both of them, put down his violin and got up.

“I don’t teach lefties,” he said with a dismissive gesture. “We all know what the left hand is meant for, don’t contaminate my violins, don’t waste my time!”

This was nothing new to Mitali. There were several occasions when Mitali was reprimanded. Whether to serve tea to a guest, pass on a notebook to a teacher, or to receive the prasad in a temple, using the left hand came naturally to Mitali. Some found it offensive and scolded her, some found it amusing, and some found it insulting. Over a period of time, Mitali had learnt to accept and live with her left-handedness. But the rejection by the music teacher was painful.

The day she had set her eyes on her Dadaji’s violin, a dream was born. Mitali imagined herself being part of an orchestra, playing the violin on various stages across the world! All that was shattered in a few minutes. The teacher’s rejection, ‘I don’t teach lefties’, was like a door being closed in Mitali’s life! The exciting world of orchestras and concerts were closed for ever, for no fault of hers!

Mitali was on the verge of tears as they walked back home. Papaji too was quiet. As they approached their gate he said, “Don’t take it to heart beti, we’ll find a way!”

It was dinner time. One by one the family members came down and took their seats as Mummyji and Chachiji brought in the phulkas and the jug of water.

“What’s the matter?” asked Chachaji as he walked in, “Why is everyone so sad and quiet?”

Chachiji was quick to answer. “It’s about Mitali’s violin class,” she said. “The guruji refused to teach Mitali as she’s left-handed.”

Papaji was thoughtful as he said, “I tend to think Dadaji was left-handed too; was only in primary school when he passed away, so I’m not really sure…”

“No clue if there’s any link between violin and being left-handed,” said Chachaji. “Let’s find a teacher who’ll teach Mitali how to play violin, that’s it!”

“If left-handed people can write, cook, drive and work on the computer, why can’t they play a violin!” said Sushma Didi.

“Amit is the wicket-keeper in our college cricket team,” said Ronu Bhaiyya, “He’s left-handed too!”

“I’ve heard that the famous violinist Charlie Chaplin was left-handed!” said Sushma Didi.

“No big deal!” said Chachaji. “We just need to find a teacher!”

***

Next morning Mitali followed her father to Sangeet Sangam Music Classes behind the post office. In her mind she kept chanting all the prayers she knew.

The Guruji was in his shorts, watering the plants in the front yard.

“Please be seated,” he said gesturing at the verandah. “Need a few more minutes to water those lilies and chrysanthemums.”

Mitali sat in the verandah and watched as the Guruji moved slowly with the hose in hand, humming a tune.  Before long he put away the hose and joined them,

Papaji said, “My daughter Mitali is keen to learn the violin but she’s left-handed!”

Mitali held her breath and prayed harder. This was her crucial moment. She didn’t dare look at the guruji’s face!

“That’s not an issue,” Guruji looked at Mitali, ‘The question is do you really want to learn the violin!”

‘Yes sir, I do!” said Mitali.

“Are you willing to work hard and practice regularly with discipline?”

“Yes sir, I am!” said Mitali.

The Guruji turned to Papaji.

“Very often it’s not the children but the parents who are keen about the violin classes, he said, “I don’t teach such students!”

“Mitali wants to lean but she’s left-handed…,” Papaji said hesitantly.

“That’s about the brain-orientation,” said the Guruji. “It’s harder for the left-handed student to learn to play the violin; they need to do put in more effort and do rigorous practice.”

Both, Mitali and her father were at a loss for words. The Guruji addressed Mitali, “Due to the brain-orientation, you’ll  instinctively pick up the violin with your left hand and hold it this way; it’s up to you to reverse this! With regular practice, the brain gets re-oriented and you’ll play the violin like anybody else!”

“But that Masterji…,” said Mitali and was a little scared to continue.

The Guruji burst into laughter.

“I’ve been wondering why both of you are so apologetic, now I get it,” he said. His tone turned sober as he explained,

“There ARE some teachers who refuse to teach left-handed students because it’s as difficult for the teacher, too!  We too have to re-orient, be more patient and put in extra efforts to teach a left-handed student. But ultimately it’s up to the student! Be focussed, be disciplined and keep up the practice, success is sure to come!”

As they walked back home, Mitali said, “Papaji, surely I’ll practice and will be a violinist like Dadaji! Let’s take home a packet of ice-cream!”