Science Fiction and Fantasy | An Indian Experience

Issue 32

Jugalbandi by Sumit Barhan

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The auditorium overflows with people. After filling up all the seats, the crowd has spilled over to the aisles, and people sit there on the floor, packed shoulder to shoulder. Even the otherwise exclusive balcony is packed with people. With a hum of rotors drone cameras flit around in the air and autonomous cameras strut about on their heron legs, trying to get the best shot of the stage.

This city has never seen such a large gathering in the last few decades. For the two musicians who are shortly about to perform a duet have never ever been seen together on the same stage till today. Hence this mad rush of people, all for at least a glimpse of these two greats performing together.

The time for the performance draws near. The lights around the auditorium dim imperceptibly slowly, the excited chatter of the crowd falls silent. In the hushed silence, the melodious voice of the announcer wafts out from hidden niches. In a cultured and measured accent, she introduces the two performers and their achievements. 

Circles of light now paint the stage as the curtain rises. The young musical star is seen seated on one side. The anticipating multitude greets him with a thundering applause. 

From the other side, accompanied by the tabla player, the senior musician now ascends the stage. The rising crescendo of applause reverberates around the auditorium like a deafening drumroll. 

When the noise quietens, the voice of the announcer floats in once more, “Today, we will listen to a recital of Raag Hameer.”

Smiling, the senior musician greets the crowd with folded hands and picks up his instrument. A deft touch of his fingers on the strings sends out a bevy of musical notes across the auditorium. Rising from gandhar, in a single movement the notes bridge madhyam, dhaivat, nishad and touch shadaj

The young musician’s instrument now sings out in response. Starting from gandhar his notes touch nishad and then resting a while dhaivat returns to pancham.

Very soon the audience is held spellbound in a web of musical notes exchanged between the two performers. 

Moving through alaap and jod, the musical sequence soon reaches the bandish. Along with the instruments of the artistes, the tabla now rolls out its beats in the sixteen beat rhythmic cycle of the teentaal. Soon, completing the bandish the artistes move on to the vistaar, weaving a musical tapestry of Raag Hameer through the warp and weft of notes. 

Next starts taankari, the complex permutation of notes and rhythm. With lightning speed the young musician’s fingers run over the strings. Covering all the three octaves of the mandra, madhya and the taar saptak in a single pass, his notes culminate in the pauseless iteration of a bedam tihai. The senior musician smiles lightly, and answers speed with rhythm. His bol-taan, played in a coordinated symphony with the tabla, spreads across the auditorium like the rhythmic patterns of a dancer’s ankle bells.

The music now rises to the crescendo of the jhala, the tempo ascending newer and newer heights, immersing and submerging the audience in a magical world of auditory perceptions. Then, finally, after the hearts of the listeners have been completely emptied out, the music ends in a complex tihai

Silence reigns for a few moments, and then thunderous, tumultuous applause threatens to bring the roof down.

The senior musician raises both his hands to quieten the crowd. Then folding them together he looks up towards the balcony, “Your ovation should be reserved for the one without whose support this performance would not have been possible.”

The young musician nods in agreement. He too looks up in the direction of the balcony with folded hands.

The lights now focus on a corner of the balcony. With an impatient hum the drone cameras rush towards the spot.

In the circle of light a lady stands up, her firm posture belying the advanced years that her white hair hints at. 

The voice of the announcer wafts in from the corners of the auditorium one last time, “Ladies and gentlemen, let us welcome Dr. Tanima Dev. Without her solution to the complex mathematical problems of the paradox of time travel, we would never have been able to present Pandit Ajay Nath and his earlier, younger self together on the same stage.”

* Originally published in Bengali on Kalpabiswa Webzine

Cover pic by Salvatore D’Alia.

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Sumit Bardhan is an SF authour and enthusiast. He writes regularly for the Kalpabiswa Webzine and has published in a number of print magazines. He has published two books, Nakhtra Pathik and the first Bengali steampunk novel Arthatrishna, while a third, Asishapta is on the way. His book reviews have also been published on the portal.