Stories

The Song of Death by Charles G. Chettiar

When we speak about dreams, there is a pessimistic shadow that is always at the back of the head, saying that they may not be achieved. That they will be very difficult to find. Everyone has a dream — even the most commonplace among us. It was the same with Avaranya Mistry, who wanted to have a PhD in music.

Avaranya could create valuable music, and had won accolades from her building and friends, but all without any commercial success. For that she came to know that her knowledge should be more than the plain nitty-gritty, like a child’s. With the confidence her parents had instilled in her about educaton, she decided to do a PhD in music and as she progressed with it, she was less than surprised to see her music grow. Side by side she was preparing her own score, maybe for a hit movie, and, if rejected there, had plans to bring out her own album.

She knew that academic success didn’t matter much, but was surprised to find that the more academically successful she became, the more she had vivid and mesmerizing inspirations as she sat and composed. And towards the end of her labors, she found herself with a terrifically written and beautifully thought-out score.

It was then that she saw great talent laid to waste. Then she saw a real genius entrapped in his own failings. She saw what had happened to one of the greatest conductors of an erstwhile opera.

He was locked in his own world, unable to get out, to feel the fresh air and to see the beautiful rose and scarlet sunset. He, by shutting himself in oblivion, had bereaved himself of the basic inspiration by which music is composed.

“… I hear him on the violin,” said his landlady, a rigorous lady, though already in her early sixties. “Beautiful music. But he only plays when the pangs hit him, it seems.”

Her thoughtful eyes grew graver than usual and she stared at her bespectacled visitor.

“He is not violent, is he?”

“Of course not!” said the landlady. “Otherwise I would have admitted him to the mental hospital long back. You can go & see. He is a very good mannered man.”

The staircase lay in front of her. It creaked and shuddered with her every step. She knocked.

From within came a resounding, “Yes.”

He was not a wasted wreck which she had imagined. He was not in any sort of alcoholic stupor. The room was immaculately clean, and was not littered with empty liquor bottles. A lone ceiling fan was noisily rotating above a wooden writing table in the centre of the room. A bespectacled man was sitting in the bed with a book.

“How can I help you?”

“I am Avaranya Mistry. I am doing a thesis on Mozart’s unrevealed music. For that I want your help.”

“First, will you please sit down?”

Avaranya took a seat beside the bed.

“It’s been a long time since I had company. I like it that way.”

Avaranya was unconsciously grooming her hair. She was a little on edge. Meeting a musician who was said to be reincarnation of Mozart would make anyone fidgety.

“Why have you locked yourself in, Mr. Kashinami?”

The old man on the bed knotted his brows.

“Are you a reporter? IF YOU ARE THEN THE DOOR IS THERE!”

Avaranya stared. She hadn’t expected such violence from the frail bed-ridden man.

“No, no, no, Mr. Kashinami. As I told you I am a PhD student doing a thesis on Mozart’s unrevealed music.”

“Prove it!”

Avaranya showed him her college ID.

“It can be forged,” said the bespectacled wasted man. “In that corner you will find a piano and written music. Let’s see if you can play it.”

Avaranya had been playing the piano since age seven. She started with delicate chords, and felt the tempo build up. The song was coaxing her fingers to become fluid, almost liquefied. She started playing consciously but lost her consciousness and became one with the task. Nothing mattered to her; nothing was of importance except to keep strumming the piano, and keep increasing the tempo of the music. She was in such a state that she wanted more and more. But the music in front of her stopped. The music was not complete. The climax of the song was missing.

“You have some talent, girl,” said the man on the bed. “Find a Xerox, and take these sheets with you. As your correctly guessed, it is one of the pieces which Mozart wrote just before his death. He only wrote the intro. The rest — around 95% of it — is my contribution. Take it girl, and complete it!”

Avaranya hesitated, but anyhow asked, “Why, sir, won’t you complete it?”

Kashinami showed his rheumatic hands and said, “I don’t write music anymore. Take that diary on the table. They have my notes. Goodbye, Miss Mistry.”

**********************

The diary was a wealth of information. Before she finally got to Mozart’s unfinished Sonata, she browsed and copied Kashinami’s scribbles. They were all scribbles — but if a Bollywood music director came across it, he would be surely able to churn out at least ten different movies’ worth of music.

She saw that Kashinami had changed some of the chords. She didn’t know why. Senility, she thought. She corrected the chords and went for luck.

********************

Avaranya was ecstatic. In her hand was Mozart’s unfinished score. The score, which would have been touted as a masterpiece, if only it had been completed. After checking the authenticity of the piece from the library, to make sure Mr. Kashinami was not lying, she knew he surely had the original Mozart’s score, with instructions on to finish it. Mr. Kashinami was genuine.

He had not told her when to finish it by. But she wanted it to be ready at least two months before her thesis presentation, so that she could get it from Kashinami and do any necessary changes.

She set down to work feverishly. The best way to compose, she had come to know, was while playing. She started the piece in her hostel room. The reverberations of the music continued from the tips of her fingers to her eardrums, to her mind, and then to deep within her. The music was so soothing that her inner being became freer and freer the more she played. And then the tempo started and conveyed to her a state which had no equivalent words in any language. The only language which could express it was music, and she was speaking it.

Just then the chords ended and Avaranya came out of the trance. Strangely, her heart was aflutter and her body had gone cold. When she tried to get up she collapsed on the floor in a heap. Only by slowly wriggling her toes and fingers, little by little, was she able to bring warmth back to her limbs and body.

Then she knew that the music was really a masterpiece. A masterpiece which would convey to the listener a location and make them forget the existing world.

She didn’t attempt another go at the piece. She had written scores which could be used for twenty different albums, but this score evaded her.

And then, a mere 65 days before her thesis deadline, she got the breakthrough. She started with the writing after attempting only half the score. She realized that with the original notes it became very difficult to get out of the trance, and so she replaced those with what Mr. Kashinami had written. With that the music just flowed out of her, and the score was complete.

The only thing remaining was the draft, which would take a maximum of three days. Her first draft was already complete. The missing link was the score in her hands. After its addition, it would be over.

She was so enthusiastic that she couldn’t wait to show it to Mr. Kashinami. Long had he wallowed in obscurity, but this would soon be the end of it. A composer of his mettle couldn’t be allowed to be obscure; couldn’t be allowed to waste away. She would convince him. Maybe he could get a Nobel or a Bharat Ratna for his contributions.

“You completed it, girl?” asked Kashinami.

Avaranya nodded and said, “Yes sir. The music is just mind-blowing.”

“Literally,” he said. He smiled.

Avaranya positioned the papers in front of the piano and started the piece. It started like dripping water, which then became a stream, which then became a rivulet, and then became a river. It went higher and higher, but it still had no limit. The flow was building up slowly and slowly. The reverberations of the music originated from the tips of her fingers, to her eardrums, to her mind, and then deep within. The music was so soothing that her inner being became freer and freer. The tempo continued building up and conveyed her to a state which had no equivalent words in any language. The only language which could express it was music, and she was speaking it. She went on higher & higher, and when the end note of the climax was reached in a shattering crescendo, all she saw was a blinding light.

********************

The bodies of Avaranya Mistry & Jaibhoom Kashinami were found by Mr. Kashinami’s landlady. The post mortem by the police only revealed that both had died of heart failure. The score was taken in by the police as evidence, and remained in the Mumbai police archives for quite some time before being released to the landlady. Mr. Kashinami had bequeathed everything to her as a mark of gratitude for allowing a failed, but non-famous, music star to stay under her roof. The shrewd landlady sold the remainder of Mr. Kashinami’s estate to a Bollywood music director for a sum, considered hefty by some standards.

THE END


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