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Pages from a music score of silent melodies.

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

Consonance and dissonance

Consonance and dissonance: Arthur Retton Gopal. Blog by Anuj Nair

Arthur Retton Gopal

Garbed in an untucked aquamarine full sleeve shirt buttoned at the cuff and brown pants with a patchwork on the knee done with a strip of check-designed cloth, he could be lingering aimlessly along the streets of Trivandrum, like a vagabond. He very much resembled the infamous dictator Idi Amin of Uganda. A slow walker, he moved as if he's labouring to carry along his potbelly. In earlier days, Trivandrum Corporation used bullock carts to clear litter on the streets. It's known as a curious spectacle to the people of those days that the bullock stops on their own whenever they see garbage. Like those bullock, Arthur Retton Gopal used to stop right in front of those 'Adults Only' movie posters at the roadside and appear lost staring at them, while passersby giggled and laughed at him. He's never in a hurry, and I am sure he was rambling aimlessly. Not many know that he's a great pianist. The great musician K J Yesudas who identified his talent, brought him to Trivandrum from Chennai to work as a tutor in his Tharanganisari School of Music. I have heard that he lost his balance after his dear wife ditched him and fled with her lover, following which he turned to intoxicants and womanizing. Some say she gave him the elbow, fed up with his bad habits. Anyway, I have never found him drunk, though he 'appears' inebriated. He lost his job in Tharanganisari School, accused of 'misbehaviour' with his female students, and though exceptionally talented, he lived alone in poverty. At that time, one day, I got a call from Trivandrum Doordarshan (TV service broadcaster run by the Government of India) asking me whether I am ready to do a Western music program for them. I agreed, and as I met the producer, I suggested some variety to the show by introducing my Nigerian friend Chima and my dance tutor Mr John. Chima Nokenne is a Football player and musician who can play the guitar and croon, while Mr John, known more as 'Baldie uncle', is familiar with old songs. Chima selected the song ' Ready Steady Go', released as a single by a Nigerian Band named The Semicolons, which incidentally has the lead played by his guitar tutor. Baldie uncle selected the 1940 song 'Besame Mucho', the 1945 song 'The Falling Leaves', and the Jerry Vale version of 'Always In My Heart'. Chima provided me with an SP record of his song to prepare the sheet music for the orchestra. Then came the unsought obstacle. Though I am familiar with the songs and Baldie uncle can sing his songs, we didn't have a copy of all the three songs he selected. When it dawned on me, and as I almost decided to forgo the plan to include those old three songs, I suddenly remembered Arthur. Eureka! I am sure he knows all those old melodies by heart. I set out to find him. My search started from the streets, where I usually see him ogling at movie posters. The person always sighted on the roads suddenly appeared to have vanished. Subsequently, I came to know that he's then working as a piano tutor in the Indo-French cultural centre of the French Embassy. I succeeded in meeting him and informed him of the help that I need from him. I told him that I would be back within a couple of days, and he assured me that he would be at his workplace in the daytime and join me whenever I find it convenient. He kept asking me whether I could find a young female crooner to complete some work he's assigned to do for Kerala Tourism. I was very well aware of his 'notoriety' that even being just a teenager; I didn't believe his assignment story. The next task was to find a piano that works well in an ideal place. I remembered a sweet Anglo-Indian girl who had a crush on me and recalled that she had once invited me home to see her old grand piano. Contacted her, sought her dad's permission and fixed a date for the recording. All set, I approached the Indo-French cultural centre office and sought permission to meet Mr Arthur. To my dismay, they informed me that he left the job the very next day I met him. Crestfallen, I caught an autorickshaw and proceeded towards the house where I planned the recording. Since they were waiting for me, I have to tell them of the dropped plan. Dazed in confusion and disappointment, I didn't see the road that we drove through. Abruptly I notice that the rickshaw has reached the place where I usually see Mr Arthur. There he is! Ogling at a large, lewd poster of some third-rate movie from close quarters!. I screamed "Stop!" that the startled driver nearly lost control of the vehicle. The vehicle screeched to a halt, and clinging to it; I pulled Arthur inside. Before he could understand what's happening, we reached the house, just a few meters from where I found him. Baldie uncle was eagerly waiting for us at the house, along with the family. Arthur got seated right in front of the piano, and I had the recorder set to record the music. His fingers brushed the keys, and he scoffed that many keys are out of tune. To and fro, his fingers wafted over the keys like a butterfly as we watched in awe. I made the singer Baldie uncle sit right beside him. We started with Always In My Heart , and to my embarrassment, Baldie uncle kept singing without checking the tempo. Before I could stop the recording and request a restart, I saw Arthur's right hand in a flash fall on Baldie uncle's thigh, and along with a spank yell, "Stop, you idiot!". Red-faced, Baldie uncle felt badly insulted as it happened right in front of many people. As they started arguing, I donned the role of a referee in the boxing ring. Arthur stated that he would leave if Baldie uncle opens his mouth to sing again and Baldie uncle, to save his face, declared, "I won't sing if he plays the piano". What a relief! I did the recording without vocals, thanked the family, and left the house with Arthur. I took him to a vegetarian hotel where he had a set of Parotta, Vada, and tea. I asked where I should leave him. From his body language, I knew that he didn't have an answer. Yet, he mentioned a rookery, where I dropped him before dropping Rs.50 (about a dollar those days) into the pocket of his favourite or probably his only aquamarine shirt. A few days later, I heard that the second time too, he lost his tutor job accused of misbehaving with female students. People avoided him, and he lived secluded, the rest of his life. Many years later, or rather a few years back, his death was reported in mainstream media with the prominence it deserved.


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