It was a hot and muggy August evening in Chennai. A day that meant different things to different people. A small crowd had gathered at a Syrian Orthodox church in the old Broadway area of the city, to celebrate a wedding.
As the congregation waited for the ceremony to start, photographers languidly shouldered cameras in the front yard, family members bustled about seeing to last-minute arrangements and the church choir shuffled about on a narrow upper floor overlooking the main hall and altar. They could only be heard, not seen, and strains of the wedding march and snatches of songs wafted down to the hall.
There were two people on the keyboards that day. Jacob John, Jim to friends and family, was a hugely gifted musician and a much respected music teacher in the city. He was the founder and leader of the Broadway church choir, and as the bridegroom’s grand uncle, had been keenly involved in putting together the music for the wedding. Accompanying him was one of his favourite students (“The boy is destined for big things”, Jim had told us) from Musee Musicals (an iconic Chennai institution where he trained youngsters in classical pianoforte). The 19-year-old Dileep had brought along his brand new keyboard for the occasion.
And so on that day which meant different things to different people, Jim played the old church organ and young Dileep proved a worthy understudy on his shiny new keyboard, as they played and improvised together to create a new backdrop for an old ritual. Many who attended said the music was something special.
No one, certainly not the photographers, paid much attention to the choir in their alcove. Certainly no one looked twice at the young Dileep who hovered respectfully around “Jim Master”. Knowing him, he probably packed up his keyboard and departed as quietly as he had come.
I remember that unusually hot and muggy August evening 23 years ago for several reasons. Not the least because I was the bride, and the young organist who accompanied uncle Jim is now A.R. Rahman.
Elizabeth Eapen is editor of Mint’s Business of Life pages.