“Come in or else you will catch cold”, mumbled Basant.
Vasu obliged, but found it difficult to get his big frame through the door of the old rusting vehicle. But he managed to somehow.
“If I had the keys to this vehicle, I would have dropped you to your house”, said Basant chuckling.
“I am sure you would have, but for now can I drive you to my house?”, asked Vasu.
The rain pitter-pattered on the roof of the van. It was creating a nice rhythm.
“You can but before you do, I need to know why you are trying to help me?”, replied Basant with a counter question.
“Don’t worry! My intentions are good. Trust me I need you as much, if not more than you need me”, said Vasu.
Basant somehow felt an urge to trust Vasu. Why that was, he did not know.
He decided to trust his instincts.
“Okay, but I still need to know”, replied Basant assertively.
“Sure. Now can we leave?”, asked Vasu.
“Yes”, replied Basant.
Both headed out of the van and rushed towards Vasu’s car.
Without wasting time on any further conversation, Vasu started the car and drove towards his bungalow. They reached in no time.
Once both had dried themselves up, they met in the living room where two steaming cups of coffee awaited them. Basant noticed that Vasu’s house was very opulent. His love for everything vintage was apparent from the décor of the room and that he was famous was evident from the photographs on the wall with eminent personalities. It was enough to intimidate most but not Basant. Being irreverent to such things was his great characteristic. Moreover, he did not have any clue who those eminent personalities were and that helped. Sometimes, ignorance can be bliss!
Vasu sat down on his big leather sofa. Noticing which, Basant sat down on one corner of the big woolly carpet which was laid down neatly on the floor. It was warm and comfortable to sit on.
“Why are you sitting on the floor? Please come and sit on the sofa”, said Vasu.
“No, I am more comfortable here”, replied Basant. Vasu did not insist any further.
“So why is such a famous personality like you trying to help a poor but obstinate person like me?”, asked Basant, taking a big sip of coffee from his cup. The sound of the air that he sucked in with the coffee reverberated within the room.
Vasu got up from the sofa with the cup of coffee in his hand. He walked slowly towards an old vintage gramophone player, which was kept just behind the sofa on a marble pedestal. He gently put his hand on it and replied,
“You see my friend, I once wanted to be a singer. But I couldn’t. I had the talent but not the guidance. I come from a family of businessmen. Nobody, in my family cared about music. They only discouraged me from getting into it. Hence, I failed in my quest to be a singer. Subsequently, I put all my energy into growing my father’s business and became very successful. I grew the business ten-fold. Today, I have everything that a man needs but deep within I am longing for something. Deep inside, I feel the anguish of not being able to fully realize a talent that I had or maybe I still have”.
The pain in his voice was unmissable!
Basant was pleasantly surprised because Vasu had shattered his dominant image without even a slight confrontation. He laid himself bare without any inhibitions. But Basant was still not clear about Vasu’s intentions, although he now had a better understanding of the man.
“But what do you want of me?”, asked Basant.
Vasu turned around and sat next to Basant on the carpet. With a hand on his shoulder he replied, “Although I know I cannot be a professional singer anymore, I want to realize a childhood dream and that is to sing in front of a big crowd”.
Vasu’s reply only led to more confusion within Basant’s mind. He wore a puzzled look.
Realizing the same, Vasu continued, “There is a singing competition organized by our colony members. It will take place next week. A renowned singer from the film industry has been invited to be the judge. I have enrolled my name for the competition. My grandchildren will be coming to see me sing and I do not want to disappoint them. The problem is that I do not have the courage to sing alone. It’s been many years since I last sang. I want you to sing a duet with me. Will you?”.
Upon hearing this Basant felt a strong urge to burst out in laughter, but he managed to curb his instinct. This was nothing short of an anti-climax. He had never anticipated that Vasu could be so vulnerable, inside his own grand and opulent mansion.
Basant got up, looked Vasu straight in the eye and replied, “I will sing with you, but on one condition”.
“And, what is that?”, asked Vasu.
“You will have to leave the comfort of your living room for a day and come and practice the song with me in my shack”, replied Basant assertively.
Although, the demand was not unreasonable. It was a difficult one. The hesitation was showing on Vasu’s face as he stuttered to answer.
“Why are you hesitant? It is a small ask!”, asked Basant.
Vasu realized that it was now or never, hence he replied, “Sure if you insist”.
Vasu again managed to surprise Basant and this time with his open-mindedness.
“Well done! Let us meet tomorrow evening at nine pm at our usual spot”, said Basant. Both shook hands. The rain had stopped, and a cool breeze made its way into Vasu’s living room.
The next evening Vasu picked Basant up and headed towards the slum. The roads were clear, and this rare occurrence owed itself to a cricket match that was being played in England. Vasu’s car was too big to enter the tiny lanes of Basant’s slum. He parked the car at a safe spot on the main road and headed into the slum on foot with Basant leading him.
Entering the slum was like entering a maze. Although, there was chaos the place had an obscure sense of organization. They passed by the settlements of auto drivers, house helps and sweepers before they reached the shacks of the rag-pickers. Each of these settlements were clearly partitioned. The stench coming from the leaking sewer line was unbearable. But Vasu was careful to not show his discomfort.
An old red ragged piece of cloth was laid out at the entrance of Basant’s shack.
“A red-carpet to welcome you. Rich people living in mansions should not feel that people living in slums are not hospitable”, remarked Basant chuckling.
“I had no doubts regarding that”, replied Vasu.
Both sat down on a bed sheet laid out on the floor of Basant’s tiny shack. The only chair in the room doubled as a television stand holding Basant’s small black and white television in place.
“This is an old vintage TV set. You see, I also have a fondness for vintage items”, said Basant with a big grin on his face. The cheeky humour was a bit over-powering for Vasu as well as the sights and smells of the place.
“Can we start now?”, asked Vasu.
“Not yet, give me a chance to show my hospitality”, replied Basant.
Basant opened a big suitcase kept next to the TV set and took out two plates and two spoons. It was chinaware! Then he served some lentil gravy and rice on to the plates.
“Please have it. I am sure you will like it. I have made it specifically for you”, said Basant.
The aroma of the lentil gravy was surely tempting. Vasu obliged. Both ate the food in silence.
Once, they were done with the food both headed out of the shack for a smoke.
“Along with being a good singer, you are also a good cook”, remarked Vasu.
“Usually, I don’t cook much. I eat with my friends. Someone or the other here cooks for all of us”, replied Basant.
“Now that you have shown me your hospitality, can we begin rehearsing for the act”, asked Vasu, visibly anxious since it was getting late.
“Patience sir. You need the right ambience to sing and that we will get only when there is absolute silence”, said Basant.
“And, when will that happen?”, asked Vasu.
“Most probably around mid-night”, replied Basant.
Vasu knew that Basant wasn’t going to take no for an answer, hence he decided to wait patiently for a few more hours.
Two hours passed and it was 15 minutes to midnight.
Once the ladies had finished fighting over water and the lone drunkard who was yelling out a folk song had dozed off, things miraculously calmed down. Although, the stench was persistent there was a sudden calmness which had engulfed the place and it felt very soothing.
“The time is now right”, said Basant, much to the relief of Vasu. Vasu nodded in agreement. Basant took out his tape recorder and placed it at the entrance of his shack.
“Do you know, why I sing?”, asked Basant.
“No. Why?”, replied Vasu inquisitively.
“All these troubled people you’ve been seeing, if I can make them forget their worries even for a couple of hours at night, it is enough for me. I am sure they will be secretly listening to us sing today”, said Basant.
The sky was beginning to clear, and the moon which had just come out of the clouds was shining in its full glory. There was pin drop silence except for the trickling sound of the leaking sewer line.
“Don’t worry about that trickling sound, it will give our performance a magical touch!”, said Basant. Vasu had no clue what that meant. Hence, he just stared back.
“So which song should we try?”, asked Basant.
“Kuch tho log kahenge”, it’s an old favourite of mine”, replied Vasu handing over a cassette to Basant.
“Oh yes, it is a favourite of mine as well. I must say our tastes match”, said Basant, as he put the cassette into the tape recorder.
The tunes slowly started emerging.
“Kuch tho log kahenge (People will keep saying things)
Logon ka kaam hain kehna (It is their business to talk)
Chodon bekaar ki baton mein (Ignore the cacophony)
Kaheen beeth na jaaye raina (Lest the night shall pass in these useless things)
Both cajoled each other to go first. Basant went ahead.
He sang as usual devoid of any inhibition and dived fully into the melody of the song with his eyes shut.
Just then, he was interrupted by an unconventional yet very melodious voice. At once Basant stopped, opened his eyes and saw Vasu singing. He was completely absorbed in the song. His eyes were closed, and his hands moved to the tunes of the song.
Basant was pleasantly surprised by the newness that Vasu brought to the table. It was like a breath of fresh air.
After a brief pause, Basant also joined in and miraculously their voices complemented each other perfectly. It wasn’t that there weren’t any flaws but there were enormous possibilities for improvisation. They sang till the end and once it was over both opened their eyes and looked at each other. A bond had undoubtedly been struck!
“What was that you were going to teach me?”, asked Basant.
“That sometimes you need to trust someone else’s judgment”, replied Vasu. Basant laughed and said, “Also, to lend your own originality to the song”.
They practiced for the next couple of hours and discussed everything including the possible improvisations. The only thing they needed to do hereon was to follow through on their plans.
As Vasu was about to leave, Basant grinned and asked, “What am I going to get out of all this?”.
“Well, I am going to make you famous”, replied Vasu.
“I am already quite famous, don’t you know?”, asked Basant. “That you are!”, replied Vasu. Both had a good laugh before they parted for the night.
The only thing that was missing in their relationship had now been gained and that was trust!
From here on, everything flowed like water over a smooth mountain cliff. News about their performance reached far and wide. Vasu had a big part to play in it. He even gifted Basant an orange kurta to wear on the day of the competition. He got a green kurta for himself.
Vasu felt that the contrast in the colours was symbolic of their differences and yet how they could complement each other perfectly.
The day of the competition had arrived. Basant who was clad in his orange kurta and was looking all neat and proper, realized that there were people who had come specifically to hear him sing. Vasu’s efforts had paid off.
The show began and it took more than an hour for the two to get their chance. Vasu’s children and grandchildren managed to get front row seats. The stage was set!
The music started and Basant noticed the jitter in Vasu’s movements. Singing on stage after such a long period of time was making him nervous. Being a famous song, the crowd had already gone into a frenzy. Basant moved his hand in a roundabout motion suggesting to Vasu that he will be giving the cue to start. But Vasu did not seem confident, his eyes were indicating so. Hence, when the time came to sing Basant took charge and sang confidently.
The crowd went into a rapturous applause as soon as he started singing. Vasu who was just managing to mumble all this while, slowly managed to revive himself after seeing the reaction from the crowd. He soon found his mojo back.
Soon the two began to improvise on stage and slowly Vasu began to take charge. His grandchildren could not believe what they were seeing. They too went into a frenzy. As the performance went on, Basant slowly realized that this was Vasu’s moment in the sun. The moment he had been waiting for an entire lifetime! He decided to subdue his urges and play second fiddle. Vasu though was oblivious to all this and continued singing. He was fully absorbed in the song and was basking in the glory of all the appreciation that he was getting.
Once, their performance ended everyone in the crowd stood up to applaud this highly unconventional pairing. It turned out to be the performance of the night. The two were declared winners and it wasn’t a difficult decision to make for the celebrity judge. Vasu’s grandchildren were all over him.
“Grandpa you were super!”, shouted his five-year-old granddaughter, which made Vasu teary eyed. He hugged her tightly and then glanced at Basant and said, “Thank you for everything”. The joy in his eyes was clearly evident.
Within the next thirty minutes the crowd dispersed, and the auditorium wore a deserted look. For Vasu and Basant who were the only ones present inside the auditorium, the loud cheering of the crowd was still ringing in their ears.
“So, did you manage to realize your dream?”, asked Basant.
“Yes, I did and thank you for that”, replied Vasu. Both smiled.
“Did I manage to make you famous?”, asked Vasu.
“Wasn’t I already?”, replied Basant letting out a cheeky grin.
“Yes, you were. But I gave you a chance to make a 60-year-old man happy. Didn’t I? Wasn’t that the reason you agreed to get into it this?”, asked Vasu.
“Yes maybe!”, replied Basant.
There was silence.
“I guess we both got something out of this. We were like two seas which were destined to meet at the ocean. Our meeting has given both of us something which cannot be described in words”, said Vasu.
Basant looked into Vasu’s eyes. He could clearly see the contentment.
(end of story)