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The Singer

September 25, 2013

I want to dedicate this piece of literary work to my wife, who celebrated her birthday a few hours,days,weeks month back She has never asked me for anything but has only been giving…… occasional headaches,  a few ulcers and some gray hair included.

ImageI am a typical house-wife. A typical home-maker, if you please, to show that I have moved with the times. Not that it has added anything to my persona. I live in an old colony with my husband and our 13 year old son. I say an old colony, because it must have been formed before the Metropolitan Development Authority had come up with Floor Index and other such regulation. As a result the houses are all conjoined. The colony had 4 parallel roads running East- West with back to back houses. Old houses with 1 or 2 floors. There were also 3 roads running North- South connecting to the main road. So you literally share walls with 3 or 4 of your neighbours depending on the location of your house. Six years back when we moved into this locality, it was kind of scary. Especially after having lived in a house with a nice little garden where the only sound you will hear would be the chirping of the birds or the squealing of the squirrels. But here, we could hear very clearly what your neighbours were talking, as if they were standing right next to you. We opted for this locality because it was close to my son’s school, but more importantly because we could afford the rent. Anyways after initially being conscious of all the jabber from all sides and of being conscious of how and what we talked, we got used to it.

We are used to the fight between a wife and husband that happens only on weekends. Maybe both are busy getting ready for work in the mornings and/or too tired after coming back from work in the evenings. The man’s voice always muted as he talks presumably from their bedroom, while the wife hollers from the kitchen amidst banging of utensils.

We know precisely when the telephone would ring in the house below us where an old couple live and the conversation they have with their son who lives in the US. The old man shouting at the top of his voice, making you wonder if the telephone instrument is really needed at all. Must be he is hard of hearing because he is loud at all times. The old lady is more serene entreating her son and daughter-in-law to take care of their health and to their granddaughters to be good children. I always detect a sense of yearning in her voice, to be with them. Loneliness is tough. More so in old age.

We have come to accept the parties a bunch of bachelors who live on our left, have on week-ends.  Most of them have traveling jobs and their merry making usually starts late on Friday nights and very early on Saturday nights. I know of some people who want to evict them from that house. They do create nuisance with the loud music and chatter, but I feel that they are entitled to it.

            But this is not about any of them; it is about the house just behind ours. The house appeared vacant for a month or so. There was nothing much to indicate the type of people who the earlier inhabitants were, except for the sounds that showed that the house was occupied. One afternoon I was sitting on the terrace, in a shaded corner which had become my favourite spot to read my books. I am not given to watching television. I believe it only stresses me out- the serials or even the news for that matter, Books are a good company on these lazy afternoons, before my son comes back from school absolutely ravenous ready to devour anything.  So it was that afternoon I had just started reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Stung by the powerful first line, Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice, my mind conjuring up an image of a boy seeing ice for the first time. I squinted up at the spotless blue sky on that bright sunny day, astounded at the immenseness of the universe; it is then that I heard the sounds from the house behind ours. It spooked me momentarily to hear the echoey sounds that only an empty house can make. It was garbled at first, slowly becoming clearer as they walked towards me.

A male voice asked, “How do you like it?

After a minute of silence, a female replied, “okay….

“Don’t okay me lady; you know how much trouble I took to find this place?”

“Yeah. 5 minutes? Probably less, this must be the first house you might have seen…..

           The voices trailed off as they walked away from me but I could still hear the throaty laughter of the man.

   I already started liking them.

 Two days later they moved in. After the hustle and bustle of the ‘movers’ unloading their things and a cacophony of voices, the house fell silent. Later that evening Beethoven started wafting from their house. I think it was Beethoven. Though music is equally my passion as my books are, I am not well versed enough to know the difference between a Beethoven or a Mozart or a Strauss or a Vivaldi. They must have had an excellent music system I thought, for the sounds were clear. They must have played it on the turntables for I could distinctly hear the crackling hiss that only the vinyl plates can make.

My love for them more than doubled.

I could hear them clearly when they were in their kitchen. I assume it was their kitchen, listening to their conversation.

“What do you want for dinner? She asked one day

“You”, he replied

“How do want it, well-done, medium or rare?

“Rare, soft, tender and juicy”, he said.

The rest of their conversation was lost in giggles and laughter.

I know what you are thinking if there was a nauditory equivalent of a voyeur, I was she. But I couldn’t help but overhear. Come to think of it I wasn’t even overhearing, I was hearing. I wonder if they were aware that people were tuning in to their frequency. But you had to give it to them; they were a couple very madly in love with each other.

My days started to be filled with music. They had a huge collections, some of them familiar, a few vaguely familiar and a lot I didn’t have a clue about. There were all types of music. Popular, R & B, Jazz, Classical, Regional, International, Happy, Sad, Haunting, Peppy and mind blowing stuff. I was feasting on music like never before. Occasionally they would sing, he in his guttural voice and she in a voice that was melodious and fluid that could transport you into another plane. I don’t know quite how to describe the feeling, but I can say one thing, over days I became so obsessed with her singing. I longed to hear her voice. Over a period of few months I noticed that they went off for a longish period of time, but when they came back, they were back to their merry ways as if they picked up from where they left off. I was always wondering who these people were and what they looked like.

Though we were a old colony, we are very modern in our outlook. We kept to ourselves and never interfered with our neighbours. In fact we didn’t know anything about our neighbours. Intelligence inputs in such communities always came from the maids. It is through my maid that I learnt that the couple who were always fighting, had eloped some 20 years ago to get married; and that she was a Muslim and he an orthodox Hindu Brahmin, It was once again my maid in her conspiratorial voice who told me that the old man in the house below us had fudged the community certificate to get his son admitted into a prestigious college. The maids have a good network and they know some of the deepest secrets in the colony. I can only wonder what secrets of mine were being shared. The new comers hadn’t sought any maids to do their chores. So there was no way of knowing anything about them. A few days later, my maid said that the lady in the house was a very beautiful.

“Did you see her?, I asked very excited. I was getting possessed by her. Hearing her sing in her beautiful voice, I was forming a mental image of her. In my imagination she was one hell of gorgeous doll.

“No Amma, the flower girl had gone to their house under the pretext of asking if they needed flowers. The door was locked but she could see a photo of a beautiful lady on the showcase, when she peeped through the window”. She said.

I was disappointed.

Months went by. Her voice was driving me crazy. I wanted to see the woman who had such a divine voice. A few times I had passed by their house hoping to get a glimpse of her. I couldn’t see anyone in their house. One day I saw the man. He was leaning out from the balcony, a burning cigarette dangling from his lips. He had long hair up to his shoulders. He was clean shaven. His eyes half closed to avoid the rising smoke. He looked like a quintessential Greek god. I haven’t seen a Greek god, but this is how I imagine a Greek god to be when I read about them. There was no sign of her.

The next time I saw him was at a wedding reception. He was on the stage where a music troupe was playing some popular songs to entertain the gathering. He was looking handsome and dapper in his burgundy coloured kurta and white dhoti. I scanned the stage to see if I could find a woman who matched my imagination of the woman. As the opening strains of the next song played, he stepped forward along with a boy of about 16. As the violins rose to a crescendo, the boy started humming in a bass voice, while he picked up the microphone from his kurta and started signing in a girl’s voice. A voice that I had gotten so used to and had fallen in love with.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. September 28, 2013 18:10

    The first here?
    Ahan.

    Absorbing narrative, as always; with the intriguing close that did not really satisfy. I wanted it to go on 🙂 So, that is a good sort of not-being-satisfied state, if you understand!

    The story is also about the openness of the mind for me; for beauty; for the love of leisure; and for love. I did love it.

    Thanks Usha! I know it was a little abrupt in the end. Did you read the dedication I started this to be able to post it on my wife’s birthday on 22nd August, but it was just sitting to be completed. After a period of time I wanted to be done with it. So there goes.
    And about you being the first, most times you are the only one. Ha ha 🙂

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