2009
FLASH FICTION CONTEST
Honorable Mention

THE PERCUSSIONIST

by V.R. Shankar

“Go away!” screeched a hysterical voice as I entered the small dark room. “You are not welcome here!”

“Varun dear,” I pleaded, “it’s your Uncle Praveen. I have come all the way from Dubai only to see you, man!”

All my hopes were dashed when he replied, “I don’t care who you are. Now clear out or allow me to leave the room.”

I do not know how long I sat thereafter, alone in the basket chair on the balcony. A whirlwind of emotions had temporarily blown away my thinking. I finally looked up when I felt a gentle hand affectionately patting my head. It was Varun’s mother Nalini, my cousin sister who was several years my senior.

“Relax, Pravi,” she murmured softly, wiping away my tears, as well as her own, with the edge of her sari. “You know something? It may be of some small comfort to know that he has been relatively polite to you. Varun always had a soft corner for you.”

“What has happened to our Varun, Sis?” I burst out. “He was never like this! Though you have been telling me about these changes in him, it is shocking nevertheless!”

“Shh! Not so loud, please!” she said, looking quickly around to see if Varun was within earshot. “He has been like this for more than five years now, ever since….” Her voice trailed off as I nodded knowingly and gestured her to silence.

I closed my eyes and tried to recall the Varun I used to know so well—the shy, handsome youth who had magic in his fingers. Suddenly my memories came alive as I recollected the mesmerizing beats of his Mridangam, his fingers flying in perfect rhythm, leaving the audience in a trance. That was over nine years ago….

* * * * * * *

The fragrance of scented sticks wafted lightly in the air as I approached the music platform within the Ganesha temple. I loved the music recitals in the temple, in the evenings, after the worshippers had left and only the music lovers remained. This day was all the more precious as my dear nephew Varun was to play the Mridangam, first to accompany the vocalist and then solo. He gave a gentle smile of welcome as I took my seat on the raised platform.

As expected, it turned out be a feast for the ears. Though the singer was good, his effort was outclassed by Varun’s performance. The vibrations from his Mridangam enraptured us, sending shudders of joy down our spines.

After the program I embraced my nephew and announced, “You are a genius, Varun. You will be great one day.”

He smiled sadly and said, “What’s the use, Uncle? Mom and Dad do not encourage me. In fact they are very much against my participating in these events.”

“Why? What do they want?” I was surprised that they were not proud of his talents.

He shrugged and said, “They want me to be an engineer and go to the USA to earn pots of money.”

That piece of information didn’t surprise me very much because I knew the present day aspirations of most Indian parents, especially the ones from the South. It was almost a formula: ensure an engineering or medical graduation and pack them off to the wealthy West.

But Varun was different. He was born for music! He was exceptionally good at playing any percussion instrument, particularly the Mridangam. I once heard his music guru declare, with tears of joy streaming down his face, that he had nothing more to offer his disciple.

* * * * * * *

When I broke out of my reverie Nalini was still standing there, looking at me with immense sadness. “We should have listened to the voices of reason” she sobbed. “Even you advised us to encourage his music. But we ruined his life by insisting on his college education.”

“So why not now, Sis?” I asked.

There was a long pause and a deep sigh. “Too late. He has totally given up on music also. From depression, he has gone on to schizophrenia. We have tried every doctor in and out of town.” She then wept her heart out.

I could do nothing to comfort her. The fine musical rhythms had been stifled forever.

______________________________

V.R. Shankar works as an engineer in the steel industry in India. He writes poems as well as short stories, and occasionally contributes general interest articles to an in-house magazine. This is his first published story.