In A Fine Balance – Rohington Mistry’s gentle masterpiece of modern Indian literature – one of the main characters attends western classical concerts during her younger days. She goes to these concerts alone, and initially, she is not at ease in that atmosphere:
She lingered at the periphery of the crowd in the foyer, feeling like an imposter. Everyone else seemed to know so much about music, about the evening’s performers, judging from the sophisticated way they held their programmes and pointed to items inside. She longed for the doors to open, for the dim lights within to disguise her shortcomings.
Our situation was somewhat similar when we – my wife and I – reached the concert hall a couple of weeks back to watch The Nutcracker ballet. At the entrance, I gave my coat to the lady at the counter and received a token in return, only to realize that our tickets were inside the coat’s inner pocket. A glare from my wife was followed by an explanation to the lady, who, in an attempt to save the effort of lugging the coat to me and back spent a minute rummaging through all my pockets. I winced, and tried to think of all the things I had stored in those pockets, things that were now being stroked by the fingers of the lady trying to conjure up images from the outlines she was feeling. After an unsuccessful minute she brought the coat to me; I fished out the tickets and thanked her profusely.
Inside, in the lobby, there were few people around. We were early, and my wife suggested we go into the theatre and take our seats instead of simply hanging around. I consented; didn’t have much of a choice anyway. We looked into the seat plan, identified the door nearest to our seats, and walked up to it confidently. When I tried to push the door open, it did not budge. Pull – no movement either. Another time, a little harder – no difference. I looked around and noticed the only two people in that part of the lobby – a middle aged lady and her young daughter – observing us with amusement. When we turned and walked past them I gave them an affected smile that was almost a blush, muttered something like “Too early!”, and wondered if they thought we were first timers. We took our seats near them, and as more people came in, we watched with amusement as some of them tried to open the door in a similar fashion and reacted in different ways: exasperation, disbelief, indifference and embarrassment. People-watching can be an entertaining pastime.
A few minutes before eight the doors were opened and we went inside. Soon everyone settled down, the lights were dimmed, and the show was about to begin when my mind wandered back to the days of my initial encounters with western classical music.
It was during my college holidays – when I came home to my parents – that I picked up my first collection of western classical cassettes from a local music store. A series compiled by HMV, it featured an assorted mix of famous and not-so-famous pieces. Something in those strings struck a chord within, and I was hooked.
It was a solitary pastime; no one I knew listened to this kind of music. So during post graduation when I met this petite girl who spoke of Tchaikovsky, Strauss and Chopin as if they were household names, I was smitten. To cut a long story short, we fell in love and married a few years later. These days we attend concerts together.
The Nutcracker began at the announced time, and almost instantly we were drawn into a different world: the merry atmosphere of the Christmas party at the Stahlbaum house. The entire performance, lasting two hours, was exquisite in every way. There was also a trumpeter in the audience, who blew his nose precisely during the pause between the movements of the waltz, which was followed by dark outlines of several heads in front turning towards him – all this creating between the audience and performers a synergy even the great Tchaikovsky could not have conceived. A pity he did not live to see this momentous performance.