When Namita is ten, her mother takes her to Dhondutai, a respected music teacher from the Jaipur gharana. Dhondutai’s antecedents are rich- she is the only remaining student of the legendary Alladiya Khan, the founder of the gharana and of its most famous singer, the tempestuous Kesarbai Kerkar. Namita begins to learn singing from Dhondutai, at first reluctantly and then, as the years pass. With growing passion. Dhondutai sees in her a second Kesar., but does Namita have the dedication to give herself up completely to music-or will there always be too manu late nights and cigrattes?
It was a little before five. Dhondutai shivered as a breeze wafted in through the window. She lay in bed for a few minutes, mouthing a silent prayer, and sleep so she could resume her favourite dream of sitting on a swing near the goddess temple by the river. When the rooster crowd a second time, she roused herself and shuffled towards the bathroom.
Dhondutai walked into the music room and picked up the tanpura, wincing slightly at the pain in her leg as she sat down to tune it. She ran her fingers over its taut strings and adjusted the ivory beads at the end, where the instrument’s slender stem ballooned into a gleaming gourd. When the pitch was perfect, she began to strum the four strings in a regular motion. The notes swirled into the air pain, the cold room, the milkman who always delivered late, and melted into the timeless drone.
She started with the lower notes, chanting them one at a time like in a guttujral prayer. Then, gradually, as a silver of morning light slipped into the room, illuminating a square o the faded paisley-patterned carpet, she started moving higher up the scale. She was singing Bhairavi, an early morning raga filled with plaintive half notes.
Bhairavi is the wife of the cosmic dancer-destroyer Shiva. The raga is moody, like the mythical goddess. She is sometimes a pining lover, at other times a devotee, sometimes a seductress and, always the mysterious female force which overpowers evil.
Dhondutai sang with her eyes closed, touching each note with renderness, as if she slowly wrapping herself into a great cocoon of sound. Sensing an unnatural source of light, her eyes opened, but she continued to sing while her vision followed the trail of light to the corner of the room. As she reached the raga’s highest and most sublime note, she heard a sigh of pleasure and the goddess appeared before her, smiling. Startled,Dhondutai shut her eyes, and when she opened them, the vision was gone.
She put down her tanpura and went to the door to pick up her milk bottle. Her day had begun well.
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