The 50-year-old piano seemed to fill the small room with its enormity. A violin lay in a corner as if condemned to obscurity by its more conspicuous cousin. A single bed cramped the remainder of the room. Clothes randomly crisscrossed over it slightly offset the meticulously set up furniture in the little apartment. Amidst the clothes lay some sheets of music, notes neatly transcribed around the ledger lines. Music, which he had composed in the wee hours of the previous day, for his performance at the city’s concert hall, adorned those pages, and now sprang into life as he practiced the piece.
He went through his scales rigorously, playing them with the immaculate precision he had attained as a result of his sacred routine. While he played the city slept peacefully, its denizens anxious to watch the musical wizard perform at the theatre the next evening.
“Tut Tut”, he muttered suddenly, bringing an abrupt halt to the melody he was playing. Nodding his head he picked up the sheet that lay on his desk, scribbled over a section and started playing the same tune again. But this time it swiftly raced on to a faster beat, as if he were energized by the small break he had taken.
It had been hard work, even for the genius. Nights spent over the piano with only a coffee mug for company, would have left any mortal bleary-eyed and sapped of any strain of energy he possessed. Yet now the musician’s face radiated with a glow that was distinctly anachronous at that early hour. It was the glow induced by a passion that he had pursued relentlessly, whose fruit he now bore with his skills reaching their consummate prowess, to be showcased in his hometown for the very first time.
When he was done playing, the city arose from its slumber, schoolboys on bicycles hurled newspapers at doorsteps that had just opened to let in the morning winter rays. As people across the town geared up for another day, the pianist satisfied with a day’s work, piled his sheets on his desk, and went to sleep.
The curtains parted and the spotlight fell on the thin bearded frame hunched over a piano. The theatre was packed to its capacity, with the audience a potpourri of the city’s literati, the maestros, the pseudo-intellects, and the wannabes. They had all heard about the pianist and his music, discussed him at their soirees and read about him in the papers.
They had come to witness his performance. For once everything else, their parties, their socials had taken the backstage, to be overshadowed by the ethereal splendour they would soon experience. They had come to see a musical genius who would inspire them to step out of the realm of pure existence and reach out for that tiny shred of brilliance that lay within them all, untended and unnoticed amidst all the chaos they had planted around themselves. They had come to learn what they had long known but had never acknowledged.
The hush in the auditorium was broken by the first note of the pianist – loud, resonant and harsh, proclaiming his arrival, mocking the intelligentsia seated in the front rows with all its rawness, as he caressed the clavier. Would they now believe that this was the same artist they had condemned to obscurity and cast aside as a no-hoper? Would they accept his avant-garde style which they thought was pure chicanery only a few years ago? Yes they would, for now the pianist had been acclaimed throughout the nation, showered by laurels from the government.
He played like a god. Notes flowed from his fingers and seeped into the obedient keys of the piano, which seemed obligated to obey the musician. An invisible but unbreakable cord appeared to exist between his magical fingers and the ivory keys, each riff filling the theatre with an energy that had long been trapped beneath his superficial stoic countenance. Each improvisation unleashed a tone they had never heard before, tones that had been pregnant with a pain borne for years in the wilderness. Those were the times he’d spent battling his own demons of despair and self-doubt, facing every barrage of ridicule with a courage he feared would crumble any moment.
It was the feeling of liberation, of true joy that had broken free of all inhibitions. It was a paradox – rushing to enrapture the earnest listeners with a mesmeric captivation, yet rebuking the elite who stared wide-eyed from the front rows.
He played on. The music graduated into a fury fuelled by every note he keyed, consuming the pianist, spurring him on. Its vigour filled the concert hall with a vibrancy that refused to be tempered or tamed, flowing wild with an unbridled enthusiasm that augmented as he progressed through his performance. When he reached the climax of his composition, the crescendo held the listeners enthralled and invigorated.
While his fingers rested over the keyboard, the spectators sat benumbed by the experience. Then, a few excruciatingly silent moments later, the auditorium rang out with the loudest applause it had witnessed for years.
The virtuoso stood up from his stool, bowed to the audience and walked off the stage.
The next day he was back in his apartment in the suburbs, listening attentively to the C-minor scale being played by a nervous but keen pupil. Little pink fingers, all of eight years, waltzed over the keyboard, then stumbled and continued in a march, the notes laced with a juvenile fervour. His teacher was pleased by what he saw – another potential genius was taking his initial hesitant steps on a path the master himself had trod