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“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.
HONORABLE
MENTION

Gemini Magazine
Flash Fiction
Contest
The
Percussionist
by V.R. Shankar
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.