Can anger turn into a smile? Can a lathi become a drumstick? - The Honest Truth By Ajit Dayal
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Can anger turn into a smile? Can a lathi become a drumstick? A  A  A
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22 NOVEMBER 2012


It was 8.45 am on October 8, 2012 and the rush hour was beginning at Bombay's Churchgate station. I am not a train commuter but I was there to watch the first musical performance under the aegis of the National Streets for the Performing Arts (www.NSPA.in). Leaning against the side wall of a closed book shop, I had positioned myself to observe the faces of the crowd as they would walk by the music which was to be performed about 50 feet from where I stood.

Would people notice? Would they be able to hear musicians performing without a microphone and amplifier system? And what would their reaction be? Would the harried commuters walk by and ignore whatever sounds they may hear? Would they slow their pace and channel their way through a wave of humanity to get nearer to the source of their sound? And when they got closer, and heard the music, would they walk away smiling? Or disgusted? Or bored?

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People have theories about what other people want. Then they go and test them to see if they what they think they have is what people really want. So, I had a theory. Based on my travels to New York, London, and other cities in Europe, I felt a sense of lightness, a sense of happiness each time I walked by a musician on the streets. It did not matter if I knew the song or the tune - or even if I only heard the music for a few seconds. The end result was a certain smile, or even a half-smile. What if we could bring musicians back to the streets of Bombay (and eventually urban India) and pay them salaries to perform. Give the musicians an opportunity to earn a steady income (no uncertainty of the variable tips) and give people some joy as they went about their stressed daily lives. That was the hypothesis in the laboratory. Now it was to be tested in real life.

The death of the lathi

And then my eyes fell on a young boy, probably 12 years of age, running around with what looked like the lathi - the kind that the policemen of Bombay carry to stress their authority. The boy's lathi was making slow and deliberate circles in the air as he chased two boys and one girl - all probably a little younger than him. The three helpless children were ducking between the pillars and the hordes of harried commuters, frightened by the prospect of the stout stick making contact with their frail bodies.

No one stopped the boy with the lathi.

No one sheltered the distraught children.

Some commuters seemed irritated that the haphazard children, zigzagging across their paths, were breaking the rhythm of the city jungle. The click-clack of their shoes on the tiled floor had a purpose in life. There was a bus to catch; there was an elevator queue to surge into; there was a soulless office to get to on unforgiving time. And the random motion of these four children was breaking their beat.

I knew what my mother would do, if she were still alive and with me at the station. She would have rushed to the three children and comforted them and shouted at the boy with the lathi. And then told the boy to give her the stick or beat her with it. But I don't have those angelic, selfless qualities. Education - of the college kind - has trained me to rationalise and then make decisions. You never know what you may be getting into. Postings on Facebook are not safe. Stepping into a school could get a bottle of acid thrown at you. Walking by a lonely BPO office in the night could get you killed.

As my well-trained brain was processing the situation and trying to figure out what to do (a bit like the Opposition parties trying to figure out whether to support a vote of no-confidence or dine with the Prime Minister) the first "aaahhh" of Smit Dharia''s rendition of a raag cut through the tense air.

The boy with the lathi turned to see what the strange sound was. But only for a few seconds. Realising his loss of focus, he turned his attention back to the prey - now given a few more crucial seconds to hide their shrub-high bodies amongst the marching army of commuters.

And then K. K. Singh got his tabla going. The Indian drums ripped through the heavy air like a clarion call.

The boy with the lathi froze.

People swarmed around the boy as he watched, mouth open, the sounds of music permeating his soul.

Something stirred.

He put his stick down to the floor, letting it drag listlessly behind him, and started walking in the direction of the floor mats where the musicians were sitting. Hypnotised, he sat at the edge of their mat. His hand was still on his stick - now dead like a snake that was once energised to strike its victim only to be put to sleep by the sapera (the snake charmer).

Within a few minutes the hand was tapping the stick on the floor. Drumsticks of the vegetarian kind.

A few seconds later, the hands were off the stick - and the boy was clapping.

Completely out of tune.

Not in synch with the vocals or the tabla.

But clapping.

The 3 other children - now no longer the prey - had cautiously moved closer to the boy with the stick. Now with his hands occupied in clapping, they came and sat next to him.

The moment of fear had vanished.

The anger and hatred had gone.

The stick was now motionless.

The soul had taken over.

The thesis in a distant laboratory had been proved right.

It was time to claim we had a theory.

Music soothes, music heals.

And as the Krishna-like, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia had said in his first recital in Bombay at Gateway of India after the terrorist attacks of November 2008: I wish the people who had come in from the sea behind me had carried flutes, and not guns. The note from a flute is a more powerful sound than that of a bullet from a gun.

So, that is the first step of NSPA: bring some soul, bring some joy back to our lives - and reward the musicians who help bring us that joy.

On Thursday, November 29th, some of the NSPA musicians will be performing at Nehru Centre, Worli, Bombay from 6.30 pm till 7.30 pm followed by a performance by sitar-legend Ustad Rais Khan and his son, Farhan Khan. Please click on this link to register online for your complimentary passes.

And, yes, there is a second hypothesis brewing in the laboratory...but that is for later.

Till then, sit back and enjoy the music - at Nehru Centre with us; or see excerpts on the website www.NSPA.in; or, like thousands of others, enjoy their live performances on the stations of the Western Railways.

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Disclaimer: The Honest Truth is authored by Ajit Dayal. Ajit is a Director at Quantum Advisors Pvt. Ltd and Quantum Asset Management Company Pvt. Ltd. The views mentioned above are of the author only. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and has not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author, Equitymaster, Quantum AMC and Quantum Advisors do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. Please read the detailed Terms of Use of the web site. To write to Ajit, please click here.


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2 Responses to "Can anger turn into a smile? Can a lathi become a drumstick?"

Paro Gabriel

Dec 6, 2012

A man of Finance with a heart & soul? :) The Winds Of Change are surely here and I pray they swell up to a Tornado. God bless you Mr. Ajit Dayal !

Like 

Hitesh Agrawal

Nov 22, 2012

Salute to you Ajit!

Its not just Music, but your writing too soothes and heals on several occasions.

Thanks.

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