Updated: Jul 4, 2021
Consonance and dissonance
John (Baldie Uncle)
My father used to take me to the best store in town in my childhood, and standing right in front of the glass shelves that tidily display all those enticing toffees and chocolates, he would ask, "Which one do you want?". I would say "No, none, nothing", even if he repeatedly ask the same.
I didn't have toys and was not at all demanding. The shop owner used to remark that he had never seen such an 'undemanding', rather considerate child.
Those days I depended on the radio and an old HMV gramophone to listen to music.
One of my uncles ran an electronic goods shop just outside my school compound wall. The shop had a music section, an air-conditioned soundproof cabin stacked with LPs and SPs. I frequently visited the shop with my dad and used to linger around the 'Record Players' on display and the music room where the records are stacked. I knew the disappointing fact that it's not possible to play those 33rpm LPs and 45rpm SPs on my gramophone. So, the routine was to visit the music room, watch and listen to the latest releases, come outside, stick around the beautiful stereo and mono record players on display, and reluctantly leave along with my dad. All the way, I would be vehemently eulogizing the advantages and performance quality of those record players with a scant hope that he may ask me whether I want one. That never happened, and day by day, the strong desire kept growing till I could no more repress it.
As always, the child presented the subject to his mother but couldn't succeed in convincing her. Yet, he didn't give up hope and kept reminding her, day in and day out. The mithering took a new turn when the child learned the politics of applying sentiments. I whined that I have never demanded anything in my life, and yet the good boy is treated without mercy or solicitude. No, that didn't work too. Every day started with the image of those record players doing a slide show on my mind till I sleep at night. For a long time, though I wanted to learn music, my wish was ignored and denied because my parents thought it would affect my studies. In a trice, the child got a new idea. I told my mother that the constant thought of procuring a record player is interfering with my studies.
Woohoo! It worked! Father took me to the shop that day itself, and though I revealed my inclination for a stereo player, I got an HMV Fiesta Popular mono record player. Only after the purchase did I understand the coming problem. Those LPs are very expensive for me, but I didn't want to trouble my father anymore. So I planned to save money to buy disks. Anyway, my father was generous enough to let me choose an SP record of my liking, and I bought my first Vinyl record then itself. It's the single 'Summer Night City' by Abba, with a medley of 'Pick a Bale of Cotton', 'On Top of Old Smokey', and 'Midnight Special' on side B.
This long introduction is necessary to introduce Mr John. He's the one who managed the music room of the mentioned shop. I found him to be a gentleman who spoke with the manners and mannerisms of a European valet, and he reminds me of Jeeves in the Wodehouse series and Nestor in Tintin comics. He used to call me Sunny.
After procuring the record player, I frequented the music room of the shop to check the latest releases and listen to some of them. Mr John was glad to introduce all the latest arrivals, and he was way too eager to play them till I leave. Occasionally, I would buy an SP record which cost around Rs.18 those days, which is quite a high amount for a kid. I often visited the shop on my return from school in my school uniform. As I knew many popular songs of those days and many old hits, Mr John was quite keen to discuss music. On many such visits, he told me that he knows most of the early Western dance styles and assured me that he would train me if I am interested. I told him that though I'm curious, I need permission from home, which is doubtful. He used to be extremely polite with my father, that he was shy or very anxious even to face my father, not to mention talk with him.
Anyway, when my dad visited the shop the next time, Mr John gathered the courage to approach him and said, "Sunny has a good sense of music, and I understand that he's interested to learn classical Western dances. If you permit, I shall train him for free". That's what I heard from my father, and he also told me that he retorted, " What is the advantage that you think he could attain if it shouldn't be considered a waste of his time?"
Even being just a child, I had the freedom to move around freely, go to the theatres to watch movies, dine from outside and go for evening walks. With the subject already presented to my father, I decided to proceed as he did not object. I discussed the matter with one of my close friends, and he was thrilled with the idea of learning something new. So, I informed Mr John, and we fixed the following Sunday for the first visit and the class.
Mr John was the adopted child of an Anglo-Indian lady who lived in an elegant grand mansion with a beautiful garden at General Hospital Junction in Trivandrum. Remember the big gate and the topiaries leading to the patio of the beautiful bungalow in British colonial architecture. She lived alone in the old house, and he was provided accommodation at a separate home adjoining the property. He stayed alone in his house with his dogs Tresa and Charles. He says he served the Indian Army, and I have heard that he was a cook in the Army. Anyway, he had excellent culinary skills.
The sessions started with Foxtrot and Waltz, followed by the primary steps to sway, and later to Cha-cha, Jive, Rumba, Samba, Swing and Twist. Few girls from the neighbourhood joined us as it necessitates a partner to do most of the specified dance forms, and I grew accustomed to the smell of those colleen cosmetics. I came to know that Mr John is known more as Baldie uncle. Though I never addressed him with a name or any formal honorific address, we used to say 'Baldie uncle' when we talk of him elsewhere.
Baldie uncle used to organize a get-together of some Anglo-Indian families at his home, at least once a month, and he taught us the etiquettes of the ballroom. He solely used to make preparations for the occasion. He would polish the floor using Mansion wax and cook the food for the guests. Being a teetotaller, he didn't allow alcohol consumption or smoking inside his house and didn't invite those who can't give it a miss.
With his consent, I invited one of my friends who could strum the guitar at one such bash. He plays it quite well and has turned up number one in most competitions in which he had participated. I very much love the title music of the classic hit film 'Sholay'. I love it because, like a smile that hides pain, it has something hauntingly melancholic about it, concealed by the peppy rhythm. It's the clever use of an arcane style by the composer R.D.Burman, which I later assayed in my song 'Dad'. I often used to make my friend strum the rhythm of that piece while I sing "La la la" for the entire lead. We performed that number, and the people assembled appreciated it very much that they requested me to sing a few more songs. We were not prepared nor have done much practising, as I invited him to play just a couple of solo instrumental pieces. Since he knew the chords of 'Magic Is The Moonlight' by Cliff Richard and 'Norwegian Wood' by The Beatles, I sang them both, and the guests showered praises to encourage us. It was one of the guests, Mrs Rodricks, a beautiful, graceful lady, who suggested I take singing seriously. That's the first time I sang for a gathering and the reason for me to venture into the music field.
When I turned to music, I couldn't visit Baldie uncle as frequently as earlier, and gradually the visits stopped.
Many years later he died on a Christmas day.
Bésame Mucho was one of his favourite songs.