About The Author-
Ms. Nidhiluxmi is an Educationist and the co-founder of Achilles Centre of English. She did her BA (English Literature) from Delhi University and Masters in English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia. She also holds an Education Degree from Amity University. She has worked in Publishing Industry and has also held important roles in various Educational Institutes including British Council. Her belief in the Learn, Grow, Excel Mind-set has led her to begin her entrepreneurial journey in 2019. At the ACE Clan, she promotes the love for Reading and Writing amongst her students (aged 6-17years), many of whom have already published their stories. She also holds degrees in the areas of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Hindustani Classical Music.
Surat- the land of love.
The train was stuck in the middle of a long tunnel. I was travelling with my parents to
Surat — the land of diamonds. I opened my eyes and looked outside the window. All was dark outside. But they were already serving morning tea to my parents. Was I dreaming? I covered my head with the rough quilt and slept.
I found myself on a big platform like structure.
A girl sat there, her harmonium before her. Close by lay a pair of tabla and drums. Suddenly the tabla smiled and began to play on its own. The girl did not think this strange; she became intent on the tabla’s beat, trying to tune her harmonium to it.
“Dha dhin dhin dha, dha dhin dhin dha…” The beat grew louder by the minute. And the tabla and drums inched closer to the harmonium. Soon they were so close she could barely see anything else. By now the “ta tin tin ta, ta dhin dhin dha” had completely drowned out the voice of the meek harmonium.
My father woke me up to say that we were finally in Surat, though the train was twelve hours late. We got down from the ac coach. I could smell the freshly fried ‘fafras’. My stomach growled. I turned to the left and saw the man behind a big black karahi of oil. The man was so intent on the besan dough he was rolling in his hands that I wondered if he had been put on earth just to do this. He turned the dough into several perfect circles then cylinders that he fried till they turned golden brown. I am not the sort that usually eats street food – but these looked delicious. I was tempted. I looked at my watch; it said half past seven. There wasn’t much time left for the show to begin. I grabbed my suitcase and ran to catch up with my parents who were already climbing the stairs.
Surat City. Tall glass buildings, some as high as twenty-four floors. Our car went over a couple of flyovers, negotiating its way through a rush of two wheelers. Suratis call these spluttering two wheelers activas, with a pride I found puzzling. These activas were all over the place. There were even some parked on the pavements. These had couples sitting inside, munching their favourite Chana- jor-garam. I noticed that these lovers had no age bar. In fact, one man, smiling dreamily at his beloved, definitely looked like a grandpa. The street itself seemed flooded with love. My mom told me that these “love birds” spend quality time with each other every Sunday. They even bring home made food and eat on the pavements.
About a half hour away from the street of love, we reached our destination, a big auditorium. My father gave me a hug and said “Don’t worry baby, we are just in time. See you onstage in ten minutes.”
Mrs Manchandani waylaid me on the steps leading to the Audi. Her skin shone, her lips were beautifully painted. She had a big rose stuck on the nape of her neck. She obviously felt younger than ever. She looked me up and down, then smiled. “Aye, Nidhi dikra, tame sundar lagu cho” she said. You look beautiful, she said, as if she couldn’t see that my face was unwashed. Maybe her eye for beauty should be rewarded — should I ask my father for a special gym package for her?
I was backstage now, pushing my way through the crowd. I could see Sneha, a ten-year-old whose starry airs could put any of our Bollywood heroines to shame. Sneha and her friends were fussing with their heavy yellow anarkali suits. Their parents hovered around them, carrying big Gucci bags stuffed with bottles, make up kits, fruits and juice. I gave Sneha a quick hug and rushed into the washroom. It was getting late. I opened the tap but all I got was a sad little trickle of water to wash my face.
Then it was time. The stage looked beautiful with its sparkling white walls. I took my position in the centre, with my harmonium. As I tuned the harmonium, I could hear other sounds as well. Though the auditorium was still half empty, people’s voices made it seem full.
Mrs Gupta was instructing the soundwale bhaiya to increase the volume when her child sang. She must have thought the soundman was not willing enough, because suddenly she roared at the poor fellow and stamped her feet on the floor. The high heels she wore made quite an impact on the floor, the soundman, and thought she didn’t intent it, me as well. I heard a gentle male voice in my ear: “Beta, can you fix me somewhere in the end? I want to collect my prize immediately after my dance.” I turned around to see old and wide-eyed Mr Jhunjhunwala bowing humbly. Obviously I could do nothing but agree.
The program began. I welcomed the guests and began to play a tune on my harmonium. The tabla accompanied me. The moment I opened my mouth to sing, my father waved at me. He looked angry. I couldn’t understand what was going on. I looked at my mother in the front row. She too seemed confused. I looked for the manager, but he wasn’t there. My father came running towards me. He gave a stern look and called me backstage. I apologised to the audience and went offstage. “We can’t hear either you or your harmonium at all,” my father said to me. Now, I felt nervous.
Thanks to Mrs Gupta, the soundwala was in a state of confused panic. I calmed him and my father, and went back onstage and welcomed the guests again. But now I was nervous. Luckily, everything went as planned – or almost.
The program was almost done. I was about to announce the winners. Then Mr Jhunjhunwala wandered onto the stage and asked for a mike. I went to him, ready to be tactful, but he snatched the mike from my hands and broke into a song. I stood by him like a foolish little child whose toy has been snatched away. The audience – even my father – seemed to enjoy the music. They clapped cheerfully when Mr Jhunjhunwala finally went offstage. He was surrounded by well-wisher’s backstage. I found another mike and did whatever else I had to. To fulfil my duty, I thought to myself.
The next day, I met some of the audience in our health club. They were talking about the program and about how Mr. Jhunjhunwala had held everyone enthralled. I smiled meekly. Then Mrs. Manchandani asked me, “Nidhi dikra, where were you last night?” All the women turned to me with the same questioning look. I was shocked. My dream had come true: no one saw me, but they saw Mr. Jhunjhunwala. Surat’s tabla had overpowered my harmonium.