Hands – Part 1

Nilofer
She looked up from the fabric stretched taut across the frame. The design was just beginning to take shape. Another couple of weeks and it would be ready!
She took out the thimble from her finger and looked out of the window. The silence was making her uneasy. No, it was not as if there was no noise- traffic flowed as usual on the noisy Sardar Patel Road. The street hawkers on Penderghast road advertised their wares in the same loud voice. Yet there was silence. A silence that was now almost deafening!!

She looked up at the source of this silence – the open window on the first floor in the building opposite hers. She craned her neck to get a better view of the room beyond the open window. But it seemed to be all dark inside. It was nearly a week now!

Nilofer’s world was defined by the shades of  the colors that she embroidered into cloth. The delicate patterns that came alive when threads at the end of a needle merged with cloth. She had an eye for color and design which coupled with her skilled fingers made her a reputed crafts person in the neighborhood.

She could not remember how long it was  since she had been using her fingers to conjure up beauty. It had been a hobby in the beginning but today it took care of her basic needs and helped her keep up the pretense of being one of the descendants of the blue blooded family who owned the crumbling “Zamarrud Mahal”. A family that now existed only in name- coming together to meet sometimes in court rooms to deal with the litigation around the “haveli”. Having no home of her own, she continued living in the crumbling old mansion hoping for an end to the litigation and the sale of the property when she would get some money in her hands and be able to move out of its prison like walls.

It was ironic ,that the life of a person who dealt with colors on a daily basis, could be so colorless! She rarely left the mansion. She met few people except her clients. She had a couple of old men who came in sometimes to do the zardosi work on the large frames. But old age and failing eyesight made it difficult for them now to come for work .

She flexed her tiered fingers and looked out once again. It was all silent like before.

Alan

His earliest memory was that of his grandmother teaching him to play the piano. He remembered how his feet had struggled to find the pedals. He moved up and down on the stool to hit the pedals correctly. What had started as curiosity surrounding the grand instrument in the living room one afternoon, soon became an all consuming passion!!

His grandmother taught the piano. She had students coming over in the afternoons and took them through the notes, teaching them the bass and the melody as he watched from a corner.

He hated these girls (yes, most of them were girls) who came to learn the instrument not so much because they loved music but because their families viewed it as a social accomplishment. He watched them with scorn as they giggled and whispered to each other while pretending to have a go at the keys. His ears flinched at every wrong note, making him want to punch their silly faces.

But Gran had told him to control himself. These classes helped her make money. Grandad’s pension from the school, was not sufficient to keep their body and soul together. His parents had not left behind any money when they had died. In fact, most of what they owned had to be sold to repay the debts that his father had incurred during his life time.

That her grandson was some sort of a musical prodigy was something that soon became apparent to Beatrice. She taught him all that she knew about music but after a point, realized that she had nothing more to offer. The student had surpassed the teacher!

She felt bad about not having enough money to fund his musical education. But Alan did not care about formal education. He did not want any grades from the Trinity college of music. He was a natural, seeking out teachers wherever he saw one. He spent time with old Mr. Samuel , the organist at St. John’s church and with other musicians in the town, honing his musical skills until he started composing his own music.

A man, chasing notes of the musical variety rather than the currency  ones, Alan cared little about making money out of his music. He played for the music and an appreciative audience rather than the money that could be made. He soon developed a reputation of being eccentric.

When his grandparents died, all that he was left with was the house, his grandmother’s piano, some faded black and white photographs and few pieces of  furniture. He sold the house, threw out the photographs, got rid of most of the  furniture and moved in with his piano into a small apartment on the first floor of a warehouse on Penderghast road. He did not want the burden of managing a house.

That had been ten years ago. He had no idea who his neighbors were. He paid his rent to the clerk at the warehouse below. His life within the walls was defined by the music he made sitting at his piano by the window.

Nilofer and Alan

It was Khadija bi who finally told her about him.

After nearly ten days of unbearable silence from across the road, Nilofer had asked the old family retainer who lived with her to find out what happened to the musician across the  street. When she heard that he was unwell, she was not sure what to do. She felt a little embarrassed asking her to find out more. After all, why should it matter to her if an eccentric musician living across the street had fallen ill! But after some deliberation, she decided to find out for herself.

She tried to rationalize it as neighborly concern. But deep down inside her she knew it was something more than that. Somewhere in  those ten years, the music that he played from across the street had become a part of her life. It had entered her soul and found expression through her fingers, seeping into the needle that threaded beauty in the fabrics. That mop of grey hair bent over the keyboard at the window opposite hers, had become a comforting presence in her life.

So, she did something that ten years ago, she would never have imagined doing. She, Nilofer Mirza, daughter of Dewan Sayeed Mirza came out of the gates of the haveli, crossed the street and made her way towards the gate of the warehouse. In her mind, she imagined a million eyes watching her. She walked up the steps to the apartment on the first floor, clutching her dupatta under her chin.

There was no door bell. She felt very conscious about banging on the door. After nearly ten minutes of banging, she heard someone yell from inside “ Who is it?”. Difficult question… What could she answer?

The muttered curse was followed by the sound of shuffling feet before the door swung open! He stood towering over her, an angry man with an unkempt look. She tried to find her tongue and introduce herself. She had just managed an “Aadaab” when she noticed it- his left hand was heavily bandaged!

He saw her looking at his hand and put it behind himself.

“I am Nilofer. I stay across over there” she said quietly.

“In that haunted house?” he asked her with a guffaw.

“Yes. I am the ghost that  haunts it” she said with a smile.

Now that the ice was broken he held the door open wider for her to enter.

The room was in an absolute mess!! There were clothes strewn on the floor, stale food rested on unwashed plates in corners and the piano was coated with a layer of dust.

“What happened to your hand” she asked softly.

“An accident” he muttered. She wanted to know more but he was not willing to talk. So she went around the room trying to tidy up the mess.

It felt awkward, to be alone with a stranger inside his house. He watched her for a full five minutes before asking “Why are you here”?

Before she could stop herself, the words escaped from her mouth “To look for the lost music”.

“You can keep looking. It is now lost forever” he said angrily .

“Why forever? Won’t your hand heal” she asked?

“ I have multiple fractures on my finger bones. It requires surgery to get them working again. A surgery that would cost a lot of money” he said bitterly.

She did not need to ask him anything further to know that he did not have the money.

“My life is now over. You can come sometime later to attend my funeral” he said laughing  hysterically.

“I am sorry” she said quietly.

“What are you sorry about?” he shouted. “Do you even know what it is like for a pianist to lose the use of one hand? My entire life and everything that defines me begins and ends with these!” he said waving his hands in front of her.

“I know the value of hands . You see I also live by them” she said before             walking out of the door.

 

 

 

 

( to be continued)

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Christopher Vasanth
    Sep 10, 2014 @ 08:43:20

    Touching to say the least. Paints a picture that brings out the flavour of old Hyderabad.

    Reply

  2. Meera
    Sep 10, 2014 @ 13:11:03

    Thank you for the comment CV. I must say, your insights were very useful in developing Alan’s character. At the moment I am a bit stuck about how to take this forward. 😦

    Reply

  3. KP
    Sep 10, 2014 @ 13:46:34

    Even at the beginning of this serial,you have whetted my desire to know how the story would proceed.If you had indicated the ages of Nilofer and the pianist,I could have started imagining the various outcomes.I am waiting eagerly for the next par twitching couple of days

    Reply

  4. Jyothi Varma
    Sep 10, 2014 @ 17:50:19

    Looking forward eagerly for the next part

    Reply

  5. KP
    Sep 10, 2014 @ 18:50:49

    The first part itself has set the pace for an interesting and promising serial.If only you had indicated the ages of Nilofer and the pianist,I will let my mind go wild with imagination of the possible outcomes.The story has whetted the desire to know how you plan to take it forward.Come up with next part very soon.

    Reply

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