MUSIC IS THE ART WHICH IS MOST NIGH TO TEARS AND MEMORY
There are some moments in life that remains etched deep in our hearts even though they have no significance what so ever to anything at all. It may even be an event which would have happened when we were so young that we are not supposed to have any memory at all of that age.
To be precise, this incident with no significance in my life happened many moons ago when I was a four-year-old child studying in the nursery of the Sir Bob Bristow School in the Island. The school was named after The Knight from England who was the architect and builder of this manmade island. The school was not as attractive as it’s name or the Island. It was just a government high school catering to all children of junior level employees and the labour class. This was exactly the reason why the school was established at the southern end of the Island. The British had cleverly implanted a silent divide between the junior and the senior employees by segregating their abodes geographically in to the southern and northern end of the island (except for senior employees of Medical, fire and such essential services located at the southern end). The demarcation lines were subtle, simple and crazy yet very effective. Both the main roads in the Island connecting to Mattanchery and Ernakulum had cow traps; one for each road. In the north of the cow trap stayed the affluent senior staff and south of the cow trap stayed the not so affluent junior staff and labourers of the port. The excuse given by the Port administration was that the south end dwellers had cows, which had a tendency to wander to the rich pastures of the northern end where the Port administration and other important offices of the port were established. In those days I feared thatmy leg would get trapped in the cow trap while walking to cross over from north to south and visa versa.
Coming back to our not so significant incident, there I was shouting my A, B, C, D with the rest of my nursery mates in front of the bespectacled, curly haired, ebony beauty Miss Molly. She was a very sweet, loving lady and I had been in her class probably for just two months. I vaguely remember the outdoor classes and games, the heavenly siesta after lunch on the “PulPaaya” (grass mattress) spread on the class room floor, The taste of milk I used to carry in a makeshift milk bottle which I presume was originally my Vappa’s medicine bottle(Remember we were from the south end and not so affluent). As the class was still shouting out the alphabets, unusually I heard loud yells from the adjacent building where senior classes were functioning. Students of all ages and sizes were swarming out of the building and running helter-skelter. I heard a loud barrage of words, which at that age I could not realise to be a slogan commanded by the leader of an agitation. It grew into a non stop hum that had a rhythm and was musical. This continuous loud slogans grew louder and slowly approached our part of the school and soon we saw the leaders and the followers of the student’s wing of a political party holding huge red flags walking towards the veranda of the nursery school. They walked past our classroom shouting the same slogans, which I vaguely remember as “ Buddha” and “Pokhran”. Many years later in primary school, I understood that it was an agitation that erupted in certain parts of Kerala against nuclear proliferation after the successful test of India’s first nuclear device at Pokhran in the Desert of Rajasthan in 1974. The project was named” Smiling Buddha”. That day is also the first vivid memory I have of my brother Abdul Asthar Kostum. He participated in the rally during the agitation on that day. He walked into my class room after the rally had walked past and I had looked at him terrified due to the commotion outside. His tall, muscular and lean figure of an eighteen year old towered over me while he kindly smiled and lifted me, placed me over his shoulder and walked out of the class room with his friends. Molly miss couldn’t help but watch the scene in dismay. I don’t remember if we had taken my school bag, books, or my milk bottle with us. We reached our cottage within a few minutes never realising that it was the last time I would ever see Sir Bob Bristow School and that my nursery life was over. For us, a small twist engineered by our elders usually change our lives.
Abdul Asthar was not a rebel or a revolutionary. He didn’t have any agenda of changing his siblings let alone the world. He was a simple man, leading a normal life; the only difference between him and the rest of the household was that he was updated on fashion, style and modern way of life. He knew what was happening on the other side of the world. Indeed a hard worker and driven to support his family, he joined Indian Customs as their patrol boat crew at the age of 20. Soon he started to bring in hard needed money into our family establishment which partially relieved my Vappa. I started noticing changes at home; my parents were in lesser stress and I could see happiness on their faces when they started to provide more for us children due to this additional income.
But the biggest most conspicuous change I noticed was the way our house started changing its rustic look. Abdul Asthar started to decorate our house with ornamental stuff he bought and with antiques and other foreign made things brought from the far away land Yunan by Mohammed Sharaff, the sailor (My eldest brother). Gradually our house got converted into a beautiful home. It is true that a house becomes a home when there is love, happiness, sadness and all other human emotions within. But I dare say that furnishing the house cosily and decorating it to beautify the rooms also plays a major role and adds a value to a home. It automatically converts into a beautiful home by default. The inhabitants of such a home will not think twice to invite their friends and neighbours for a cup of coffee. To play the role of a host becomes much easier. Well, I learned that lesson from Abdul Asthar Kostum at a very young age. He acquired many artifacts and decorated the living room and other rooms by placing them on new corner stands and wall stands. A new showcase (Glass cupboard) was bought and placed in the living room. It became a new dwelling for the beautiful tiny sofa sets, chairs, bicycle, banana bunch, dolls sewed and handcrafted in beads by Sheherzada beegum, Nooriya beegum and fairoosa beegum(my sisters). Unfortunately my only two toys (A battery operated army tank and a scooter) brought for me by the sailor from Yunan also found a cosy corner in the show case. As it is I was deprived off these toys from the day I received it because my elders had decided that they were too expensive and I would possibly break them and hence they were stowed inside a cupboard. Now my agony increased tenfold since the toys were visible to me throughout the day and I would not be able to lay my hands on them. My plight was bad for a 4 year old to comprehend. After many years these two corroded toys were thrown into the dustbin when the showcase was shelved for good. The final remnants of my childhood that was never touched by me for three decades vanished from my life for ever.
A very interesting change I noticed was happening with Abdul Asthar Kostum himself. He discarded wearing traditional Mundu (White sarong) and instead started wearing Corduroy and Denim jeans gifted by the sailor yet again from Yunan. He also started wearing “ Tie and Dye” printed long shirts, which were typically worn by fashionable youngsters and was the trend in those times after the fall of the Hippie counter culture in the west. Among these changes, the most important one was his wavy hair. He grew it long up to his shoulders, his dark muscular and sleek figure added to his looks to be alternate and handsome. He soon became the style Icon for me and the younger siblings of the family. He introduced the “Mutty cheruppu” (High healed platform sandals) and the bell bottom pantaloons that had metallic zipper sewn at the bottom for protection of the fabric while it swept the floors he treaded.
One fine day Abdul Asthar walked in with two huge boxes (Speakers for sound system), one custom made amplifier, a record player (turn table). He established the first effective sound system at our home by using these gadgets and the cassette player gifted by the Sailor yet again from Yunan. This event kick started the musical revolution within our family.
My friends please bear with me for the next few lines and allow me to brag a little about my family. Unfortunately there is no other way to explain what I need to tell you with all the honesty. Well from my young age I have heard my Vappa singing very beautifully; rendering soul stirring romantic songs was his hobby. One song I remember is “Jab Dil hee Toott Ghaya… Hum jeekke kya karenge” (When the heart itself is broken….What is the point to be alive). He probably related this to his long lost love before he got married to my Umma, or may be he was heart broken due to the hardships of life to run his huge family. Almost all his children were talented in singing and ardent followers of music. Mohammed Sharaff the Sailor (my eldest brother) was an established celebrated singer during his university days and continues to surprise us with his talent as a musician. Abdul Asthar, Allalath, Abdul Jalaal Dabbu and I were also talented in singing in our own ways and with limitations. Through out my school days, I used to sing and win in music competitions. Abdul Asthar taught all those songs to me. He spend time with me to teach me the lyrics, rehearse me through the song and ensured I sang well. As for my turn, I delivered what he taught me and won laurels quite often in school, interschool, district and state level competitions, which I competed with current day, celebrated singers of the industry. It was all due to his dedication in teaching me. I dare say that his teaching is the only music lesson I have had ever. Unfortunately I was never trained in classical music or was encouraged to go anywhere beyond, due to religious reasons (excuse) and I believe that my Vappa could not afford to send any of us for music lessons (reason).
Abdul Asthar also introduced me to the beautiful world of English pop and Rock music. He is the living proof that music has no language (Malayalam language is all what he knew then). I relate to him as the flower power man, The Hippie of my home, my motivator in music. The young man who introduced me to fashion, style, alternate dressing; the Hippie who introduced me to Rock n roll and pop music greats like The beatles, The carpenters, The rolling stone, Pink Floyd, The Doors, Abba, Boney M, Bob Dylan. Through his genre of music, the spark of the rebel within me got kindled.
Now when I go back in the realms of time, I realise how lucky I was on that not so significant day when Abdul Asthar kostum picked me up from Sir Bob Bristow school nursery. He did not know at that juncture that he was literally picking me out of mediocre education and paving my path to join the Kendriya Vidyalaya Central School that got established in the same year and I was enrolled into the first standard without a Kindergarten certificate.
Years later one morning when I was packing my suitcase for my journey to Bombay for professional training in Engineering, Abdul Asthar walked in to the room, gave me a packet, and left for work hugging me goodbye and good luck. I opened the packet and was overwhelmed with the gift. It was a complete Gillette shaving kit. The first of its kind ever gifted to me by anyone and the first gesture of recognition from anyone that I have moved on from being a child to a young man.
He is the second son and the third child in my family of ten children. For all his seven younger siblings, he is “Kochikka” (Small big brother).
I join them to salute you Kochikka…for being with us all the time, filling our hearts and home with music and colour. As for the little me, for opening up the enchanting world of music; the music which has grown with me and still remains within and part of which I am trying to pour into the open vessels that my kids are today. Without you, I would have been a lesser human being; twice!
Illustration Courtesy:- Kabeer (Dr. Farhan Kabeer)