A mix of stupidity and over enthusiasm is the birthright of all schoolgirls. They do incredulous things that go down in family folklore as youthful extravaganza. The situation is much worse if two girls hit upon a bright idea all at once. A tragic tale ensues. I live to tell the tale of how I was tortured during those miserable years.
When you have a blank mind that can't be put to use into anything productive, strange things happen. Sangita was didi's best pal. The two were inseparable since KG and couldn't imagine staying apart during school hours. Such things happen when someone needs the espousal of the other to endorse one's imbecility. That explains their finding comfort in each other's company. So far so good.
They must have been 6th graders when they hit upon the brilliant idea of foraying their non-existent talents into singing. It hit upon us like a bolt from the blue. Mom liked the idea. Dad like the idea. Since I was more clairvoyant, I was terrified of the idea. Dad managed to find a 'good' music teacher who was suddenly praised to the skies and revered as an unheralded Parveen Sultana or Girija Devi. Sangita and didi were indeed lucky to have her appointed as their guru, it was thought.
So the two girls bought a harmonium each. I considered the cello as the only instrument that sounds worse than the harmonium. The inventors of these instruments should be tried for treason. Didi's was a 2nd hand instrument that seemed to be bear the scars of World War 2. It came in its own Pandora's box. Well ventilated from all sides, it was all set to become the Las Vegas of all the cockroaches in town. No amount of policing by my parents could dissuade them from having a party in there 24/7. You could see them scurrying each time the box was opened. No one had ever imagined an innocuous little harmonium would become a health hazard to all the residents of our locality.
A thousand instructions were flooded upon didi about the nuances of correctly playing the damned instrument. Even experiments in the chemistry lab wouldn't merit such detail. By the way, does the harmonium even qualify for a musical instrument? It's just a contraption that makes noise at different frequencies. Anyway, the tragic day soon arrived when the two friends set sail on a promising voyage to the revered world of Hindustani classical music. Starry eyed, the girls must have harbored big dreams at the outset of their yet-to be-famous singdom! My miseries were about to begin.
Part of didi's study time every evening was now dedicated to her aural experiments. I would be blissfully wrapped in my daydreams with academic books lying on the table to fool my parents; when, all of a sudden came the blood-curdling screams from didi's throat. A little investigation revealed that everything was okay and that she had only begun her music session. It took me many months to get used to this daily alarm that nearly scared me to death initially. She had this notebook that listed all the permutations and combinations of notes she was supposed to scale with fanatic zeal. And she never disappointed us. Her totally out of tune screams needed the dentures of her faithful harmonium and I saw this as a clandestine plot to make me go insane. But the occasional cockroach angrily barging out of its abode in some remote chamber within the boxy instrument, not being able to take Didi's plaintive cries or the instrument's polyphonic rants anymore, was a delight. I loved the way she would leap with a start, leaving behind her poor instrument at the mercy of the little fellow. The indignant creature, its head reeling, would abandon its home and go look for a new place to invade. Although I was terrified of cockroaches, I would be indebted to the little creature for rescuing me from my agony. I cherished those precious few moments of silence amidst human hysteria.
Saturdays were cataclysmic. I had to stay at home and this was enough to egg her on to sing from dawn to dusk. I felt miserable the whole day. The evanescent respite I got each time she took a break felt like Heaven. And since I had nothing better to do myself, I tried to dabble with the instrument as well. To everyone's surprise, I learnt to play our national anthem on it. Dad thought the scale was too high
though I thought otherwise. Then came the brainwave. Mom suggested I join singing classes or at least learn the tabla. I went a step further and showed how ludicrous the idea was by proposing she learn the tanpura while Dad could pamper himself with another instrument of his choice, as we toured the whole of India begging for alms with our musical troupe . We could soon be world famous beggars. That idea was laid to rest then and there.
I don't remember how many years I suffered thus under didi's aural assaults. Sangita had finally come to her senses and stopped taking classes. It was a unilateral decision that shook all and sundry. I guess it had finally dawned upon her that learning to sing was as impossible a task as making as ass recite Shakespeare's sonnets. Didi was more obstinate. I guess you don't realize how horrible you sound if the sound happens to emanate from within your own head. Gradually, however, sanity prevailed and her odyssey into stardom was finally aborted.
The harmonium and its container box remained in our house as a relic of youthful exuberance while the cockroaches multiplied exponentially. Pest control, as always, was futile. We felt the urge to get rid of the extraneous baggage once and for all. Dad managed to find someone who was as enthused to buy the harmonium as he himself was in selling it. Perhaps the gentleman had an equally foolhardy and obstinate daughter. I only hope she didn't have siblings.