It isn’t too often that Indian musicians get together just for laughs. But when they do, they can cause quite a riot, recounting hilarious stories with unmatched embellishments. If I were ever to publish a collection of such anecdotes, there are two I would definitely include under the title “String Section”. Of course, they are about strings snapping in concert, a common enough occurrence that both musicians and music lovers would have witnessed. But mind you, the stories aren’t about sitar or sarod strings breaking mid-concert.
The first of these anecdotes was told to me by some of my dancer friends. Each brought in his/her individual style in the retelling, while remaining faithful to the basic outline. Years ago, in the Capital, dance and music lovers took their places at a popular auditorium to witness a Kathak dance recital by a well-respected husband and wife duo. Both pirouetted and struck poses with dexterity and ease until suddenly, at the climactic end of a really fast bout of whirling, the lady raised her hands above her head to strike a flamboyant pose at the sam, only to find that the drawstring of her lehnga had snapped and landed in a round, crumpled halo around her ankles.
A gasp went up in the audience, followed by the beginnings of sniggering and tittering. Embarrassed though the lady must have been, caught onstage with just her uppers and inners, (choli, dupatta and the churidar all dancers wear under their lehngas to ensure that there’s no leg show when their skirts whirl), she and her gallant spouse showed remarkable presence of mind. As she nimbly stepped backwards and out of the crumpled circle around her ankles, he bent down gracefully, swept up the offending garment, held it up like a shield in front of his wife, and both danced out sideways into the wings—he holding aloft the lehnga at the waist, she hidden behind it!
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
The other story is about two iconic instrumentalists of the country, one a formidable tabla legend and the other a master of the sitar. It seems that the two performed at a hugely prestigious, la-di-dah, very private, by invitation only event overseas, with the British royalty in the audience. The music was enthralling and the maestros were given a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of the concert. While the sitar maestro stood up to bow and gracefully accept the admiration of the royal listeners, the tabla player would not budge. Politely, the royals and their loyal subjects kept up the clapping to give him a chance to accept their salutations. By this time, the suave main performer had unsuccessfully tried to nudge and signal to the tabla player, hoping to catch his eye. But the tabla maestro was steadfastly gazing at nothing but his tabla. In exasperation, the main artiste then bent down and hissed in his ear, saying something to this effect: “Rani rukee hai yaar, utho bhi” (The queen is waiting. Stand up!). The tabla player hissed back, “Naheen uth saktaa yaar, naada toot gaya hai!” (Can’t stand up, mate. The drawstring of my pyjama has snapped). What happened thereafter is unclear to me, because of the many versions that exist. Readers can draw their own conclusion.
Write to Shubha at firstname.lastname@example.org