Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Crown

We were watching (yet another) film based stage show on TV. A singer/composer, was singing a song which had made him famous overnight, couple of years ago. Someone remarked "by now, how many times would he have sung this song?" And that thought forced me to attempt this.

Mahesh, the protagonist of our story, is a singer at a bar when it begins. Every evening he and his band entertain the customers with songs from films, albums and every other source of interest to the lay man.

He was quite popular among his audience because he sang to their moods. He sang almost every song that was requested, and any times "ordered", regardless of his liking for them. His friends in the band told him that he was going too far with this at times, but his view point was that the beauty of music, like that of every other art, can be judged only by the emotions it invoke in the audience.

There were the heart-broken lovers who requested sad melodies of separation and he sang them with so much grief that they assumed that he was one among them, and felt relief in company. There were the rich guys celebrating their youth, who requested dance numbers and he sang them with so much spirit that they realized that there may be others happier than themselves, and they felt urged to do something different. There were the dreamy romantics, the nostalgic widowers, the aimless pensioners, the shady men on business, the teenagers sipping their first forbidden glasses and for each of them he had special songs which he poured onto their hearts. In time he began to identify people with the songs, and vice-versa, and he began to suspect that there were only as many different kinds of people in the world as there are tunes.

There was another facet of him that only his band mates knew - he was also a gifted composer. The bar-owner, brought up in a middle class family and hardened by the bribes he paid to get the bar opened, was not too keen on experimentation. So he named the band "nostalgia" and insisted on proven songs. He reasoned his decision further by noting that the bar was a place to reflect, and the late evenings a time to relax, and innovation was out of place and time.

However, his exposure to music was limited, and so the band found ways to fool him which made them happy with mixed and overblown feelings of creative satisfaction, defiance against ban, vengeance for low wages, and freedom from mediocrity and many other protests. The way they did this was by playing some of Mahesh's own compositions in between the more famous ones. They did some careful planning, categorizing each composition by finding the existing songs closest to this by lyrics and by music, and noted down the corresponding lyricist and composer. Mahesh always sang them with voice resembling some known singer. Also making up a fake film name was quite an easy job. Most of the customers in the bar, lost in their own worlds, did not care about such technicalities but whenever there was an occasional question, the names of the creators were ready at hand. More often than not, the reply was unheard and when heard it was agreed upon with a statement "oh yes, I thought so".

Mahesh, on his part, convinced himself with effort that this was not very unethical. The tunes are like the far away lands, he theorized, they've always existed and just need to be discovered. If he does not discover, some one else would do it. Through his compositions he was just trying to discover some tunes which the known composers had in their minds but could not give shape due to some harsh realities of life.

His life went on like this, until fate decided that it was turning too mundane. One evening, the bar had a new customer, whom some people seemed to recognize. Mahesh could not place the face though it did not look very unfamiliar. But what struck him was that this person looked more attentive to his music than the rest. He was drinking and his eyes were becoming drowsier, but there did not seem to be any loss of attention. He seemed to enjoy the music, but without any obvious emotions. Mahesh liked the challenge and tried to locate the man's mood by singing different tunes, but he did not succeed. So when he reached the first of his own songs, he felt slightly uneasy. The nervousness might have affected the voice, for as soon as it was complete; the man stood up and asked "what song was that?” The confidence in the voice shook the band, but they gave their pre-decided reply. Even in his drunken state, the man started listing down names of all films where the singer-composer combination had been involved, and their film was not among them. He charged them with maligning the name of famous musicians, and demanded an explanation. The turn of events brought the bar owner onto the venue, who apologized to the customer and tried to impress him by asking the same explanation using the same words but in a louder voice.

Mahesh confessed that it was his composition and he had made the band play it. He conveyed that the reason for disguise was the bar owner's ban. This seemed to pacify the customer, but before he could say anything, the owner had sent Mahesh out of his job. He was angry, to some extent because he knew who the customer was, to a larger extent because his ban became public, and to a still larger extent because he had been listening to the same song for the past many evenings and had begun to like it and it had given him some pride that he has joined the league of those noble men who enjoy great music.

That night, with his companions at the band practice room, he sang each and every one of his own songs, which were never before sung together. He dedicated each song to some customer of unknown name and address, but of known eyes. It was clear that he was grieved at missing the audience who he loved and this raised thoughts of an appeal in his band mates. But as he went from song to song, they became more and more convinced that he had much better things to do in life than singing in the bar. So they bid him farewell and wishes of a larger and greater audience in future. He reached home and fell into his bed in exhaustion, and saw a dream. The bar was unusually empty, and he was searching for some song which fit the loneliness mood. But as he started to sing it, he realized with terror that he had lost his voice, and he sank into depression. Suddenly the doors opened on all sides, and people started flowing in huge numbers, their emotions, thoughts, words, glasses blending together to set the stage for him. Never before had he seen such big crowd at the bar and he felt nervous, but eager to perform. He was desperately trying to get his voice back. Requests for songs started to flow in from every table, and he wanted to sing every one of them. The bar owner started ringing the bell to indicate it was time for him to start. He felt a strong urge to cut his throat and get out the voice ..

He woke up in tremor and realized that the ring was that of his telephone. He did not recognize the voice on the other side, but got the message. He was asked to meet some Mr. Anand at his residence. He did not get the reason, but nevertheless wrote down the address. He went back to rest until curiosity pulled him up fro bed and put hi out of the house. He had little difficulty in locating the address, and during that search he realized that this man was a film director and this made him more anxious. As he entered the house, he was greeted by the face whose question had cost him his job. His emotions flew from curiosity to rage to guilt to sadness and returned to curiosity. The man broke the silence and apologized for what had happened the day before partly due to alcohol. Mahesh, in turn, confessed that he had the feeling this would happen one day or the other and his only regret was the audience he had loved and now lost.

The director informed that he can offer him a much bigger audience, people in their full senses, with knowledge about and adoration for music, spread all over the country. He had heard the songs Mahesh sung the previous night (one of the band members had recorded the songs without his knowledge and had handed him the cassette when he went back to apologize). Mahesh tried to prevent himself from assuming anything, and seeing this obvious effort the director quickly told him those words which he wanted to expect - "I’m signing you for my next film". As he collected all his senses, which had already begun partying, back into business, he understood that he was being asked to compose a single song in the film, which would create or destroy his career and the prospect of the great audience. He did not know how and when he reached home that night, but from early morning next day he was lost in tunes.

The film industry at that time decided that the story situation he was composing music for, needed a fast song. He was fine with it, for he did not want to believe in such distinctions though at heart he loved melodies more. He worked day and night, aiming for that tune which would set the huge audience ablaze. He composed and rejected tunes one after another. By the time he started his attempt at fine tuning some of them, he had become weak and the makers of the film had become impatient. One day the director and producer walked into his room, and informed him that it was time to record. And they persuaded him to agree on one of the tunes he had with him. He still felt that it needed fine tuning, but they were of the opinion that it would adversely affect its appeal with the audience. He, still unsure about the audience pulse, conceded and the song was recorded in his own voice.

The film was released and the song became a big sensation. For the first time, he felt the expanse of his country, as he got appreciation from places he never heard of before. The media were after him, day and night, and he basked in the glory of the success. . He was hailed as the one who had the greatest music debut of the century. There were the music critics who lambasted the song for lack of purity, and though this hurt him, he reasoned that he had not created the song for them. He began to adore the song along with the masses and started talking eloquently about it and singing it at every request.

In every interview he gave, he sang the song. In every party he attended he had to sing the song. For every stage show he was invited, before an audience which could occupy a thousand bars, he sang the song. He realized there were many more celebrations in his country than he had ever imagined. Festivals, inaugurations, awards, anniversaries, charity, special days, state events and so on. and for every occasion he had to sing the song, The film was remade into any languages and he sang for each of them, increasing interviews and stage shows even more. On many occasions he received requests for "once ore" ore than once and he, in his old habit, almost always relented.

And then one day, he was at home due to a cancelled show, he felt the small wound in his heart which had started bleeding. He had always felt it, but had been ignoring it. He reasoned it out and concluded that it was just boredom, and it was high time he began to concentrate on his next project. This time around he had more say in the proceedings, so he got the required time and ore
Authority to decide which of his tunes would go into the film. He decided to do just one song for the film, without any compromise. The recording was completed, and he was extremely happy. This single song would touch millions with its beauty; He would sing the song on a thousand stages.

However, he was in for a rude shock. The film did not succeed and the song went under noticed. There was some rare words of appreciation fro the critics, but he knew that he had not made the song for them. The media dubbed it as a song which was nice to hear but out of current trends and a rather disappointing one after the dream debut. The television channels played the song only during odd hours. He was never allowed to sing the song completely during interviews, quoting lack of time, though the interviews still started with a request for the entire first song. Parties and any other celebrations had an implicit ban on such songs. On stages, he was still asked to sing his first song, and sing the second if tie permits. To his queries, the organizers explained that people come to such shows for enjoying and forgetting everything else in life, and hence his latest song did not quite fit the expectation.

As days passed and his desperate attempts at getting his favorite composition to the large and great audience were yielding no results, he grew more and more sick.. He withdrew to himself and spent time in reflection. Was he a composer who not qualified enough to know the large sensible audience? Or is it that the audience themselves were ore fanatic than sensible? Why is it that he never met the eyes of a single person in the big crowd even after a hundred stage shows? Why did he sometimes feel that there was lesser number of people for such shows than in the bar, even when his eyes told him the opposite? How can a thousand different throats ask for the same song? A thousand different minds hate the same tune? He did not know the answers, and he was tired of reasoning. He started hating, or discovered his original hate for, his first composition for films and felt terrible. As terrible as one would feel when he realizes that he has started hating his own child. On one of those turbulent nights, he saw another dream.

In the dream, he was a king who had two sons. The older one was strong and ambitious for which he was adored by his father. The younger one was humane and sensitive and was loved by his father. The time had come to choose the successor to the throne, a dreadful time for any king with more than one son. He wanted to crown the younger one, and he reasoned his partiality with the observation that the younger son would spent more time for the much-needed welfare programs than for unnecessary wars. He was however apprehensive of the retaliation from his older son, so he decided to call a public gathering to gather support. He invited all his prajas to the big army ground announcing that he was choosing his heir. It was a huge gathering and the sight gave him comfort, for he knew that his prajas loved him. However, as soon as he announced his decision, and before he could explain it, the crowd had become violent. They wanted a ruler who can give them pride more than food. They praised the achievements of the older son, the one who deserved the throne by birth and deeds, and accused the father and younger son of injustice. The older son, strengthened by this support, snatched the thrown from his father and ordered his father and brother to be sent to prison. Help came from some unknown sources, and the king escaped from prison and sought shelter in a tribal village on the outskirts of the kingdom. He was welcomed with some familiar music and celebrations and he felt quite comfortable. The tribal leader came out with a thrown and as he walked closer towards then king, the latter was more and more convinced that he had seen the man before. The tribal leader knelt down before him and then slowly stood up and while the crown was being placed on his head, the king recognized the hands. They smelled of alcohol cash.